McCaysville Police Department year end activity report

Community, News, Police & Government

McCaysville, Ga. – McCaysville Chief of Police Michael Earley gave the year-end stats for his department’s activity, as well as the latest update for the month of December 2020, at the city’s January 2021 monthly meeting.

The City of McCaysville Police Department had a busy year in 2020 with the following duties being carried out:

  • 149 Arrest Warrants
  • 897 Dispatched Calls from 911 Center
  • 178 Citations 
  • 678 Warning Citations
  • 430 Walk-In Reports
  • 84 Arrests made
  • 83 Investigator Call Outs
  • 2463 Phone Calls to the Office
  • 67 Traffic Violations
  • 1 Runaway Juvenile
  • 17 Alcohol Related Incidents
  • 2 False Statement Incidents
  • 6 Obstruction of Police Officers
  • 4 Death Investigations
  • 5 Shoplifting Cases
  • 5 Firearm Cases
  • 9 Thefts
  • 4 Terroristic Threats/Acts
  • 2 Forgery Cases
  • 17 Disorderly Conduct
  • 2 Fraud Cases
  • 5 Harassing Phone Call Cases
  • 5 Juvenile Cases
  • 1 Disorderly House
  • 1 Illegal Dumping
  • 3 Drug Related Object
  • 1 Psychological Call
  • 30  Drug Related (where drugs were found on person)
  • 17 Civil Standbys (officers present during removal of property due to divorce, eviction…)
  • 1 Conspiracy to Commit a Crime
  • 2 Businesses Break Ins
  • 5 Aggravated Assaults with a Deadly Weapon (a weapon was drawn)
  • 8 Warrant Service Call Outs
  • 11 Battery Reports
  • 4 Retrieval of Items (lost or stolen property)
  • 2 Suicides
  • 1 Reckless Conduct
  • 1 Animal Call
  • 5 Cruelty to Children
  • 1 Stalking
  • 1 Interference with Government Property
  • 4 Burglaries
  • 11 Criminal Trespass
  • 5 Damage to Property Reports

 

Monthly Report for December 2020

  • 65 Dispatched Calls
  • 33 Traffic Stops
  • 5 Citations
  • 25 Warnings
  • 32 Walk-Ins
  • 3 Arrests
  • 2 CID Calls
  • 10 Warrants
  • 194 Phone Calls

Earley also referenced that the department was off to an interesting start in 2021 with the recent theft of a Fannin County school bus.

“We had a school bus stolen here in the city,” Earley stated, “Thank God we got that recovered before he got too far down the road.” 

Earley acknowledged the help of other law enforcement agencies in apprehending the individual responsible for the bus theft, in particular Pickens County Sheriff’s Office.

The individual arrested, David York, has been charged with three felonies and one misdemeanor. Other charges are still pending.

Zoning request for Hastings Development tabled

Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, News
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Zoning, Hastings, Development, College Street, Highway 515, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, James Balli, Utility Director, Rebecca Harkins, Integrity Development Group LLC

Blue Ridge, Ga. – A development that has drawn the attention of many in Fannin County has once again come to a temporary halt as the developer seeks to have land rezoned in the City of Blue Ridge to accommodate the plans.

What has become known locally as the Hastings Development is a residential development set in the City of Blue Ridge with access points to Highway 515 and College Street. The 14 acre property sits adjacent to Overlook Subdivision.

The proposed development itself has seen a number of changes based on community feedback and most recently the city zoning board gave approval for an 83 town-home high density site. The Blue Ridge City Council has final say on whether zoning of the land will be changed for the development to take place.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Zoning, Hastings, Development, College Street, Highway 515, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, James Balli, Utility Director, Rebecca Harkins, Integrity Development Group LLC

Developer Johnnie Hastings addresses concerns of the citizens and presents a revitalized plan for the development.

The Hastings Development has been met with concerns ranging from the possibility of high volume traffic on narrow College Street to whether the city’s infrastructure can handle the additional stress of the new units.

A vote was expected to take place at the Jan. 12 Blue Ridge City Council meeting but with last minute changes to the proposed plans, a motion was made to table the decision until next month’s meeting.

“We listened,” Johnnie Hastings, the developer of the property, spoke to the council and citizens, “What is the need in the community? What is it that you guys need in terms of housing?”

Hastings explained that the original concept for the development dating back to Jan. 2020 was for affordable housing in the $250,000 range, but after gathering further community input the design was changed to upscale town-homes in the $450-500,000 range.

“I want to do something…that’s good for the community, that we can all get around,” Hastings said as he revealed the revised plan based on community push back to the suggested 83 town-homes, “Believe it or not but that’s my heart.”

Hastings’ new plan consists of 56 freestanding family homes at 4 homes per acre. The price will still be in the range $500,000 per home.

“We’re here to compromise and bring a little unity to this project,” Hastings said, adding, “At the end of the day you’ll be very pleased with what I did up there.”

Citizens who had come to the meeting to speak in opposition or at least express concerns over the development were taken off guard with the proposed changes to the site.

The main concerns echoed by the citizens present was the need for the new changes to be approved by the planning commission or flow through proper channels, whether the city’s infrastructure could handle the added usage and traffic coming onto College Street.

“It concerns me that you would vote on this when the planning commission has not,” one citizen spoke.

“The sewer system won’t handle it. The water system won’t handle it,” another citizen voiced.

Utility Director Rebecca Harkins addressed the concerns of city infrastructure stating that the city has more than enough capacity remaining in their system to handle the proposed development.

“I don’t have a position on this development,” Harkins stated adding that she simply wanted to present the public with the facts.

Harkins confirmed that the city did have capacity to handle the additional units to the system and that there are issues that need to be fixed and updated throughout the city’s infrastructure, but that those issues would have to be addressed regardless of the development adding on.

“I agree that it needs to be worked on and it needs to be worked on diligently,” Harkins said of the city’s current infrastructure and reassured residents that the development would cost nothing to the city: “The city does not fund any portion of the water and sewer system for a new development.” 

Harkins also pointed out that the developer would be financially responsible for any impacts on the system from the development to the plant caused directly by their connection.

Mayor Donna Whitener confirmed that City Attorney James Balli had sent in writing that council could vote on the rezoning if Hastings had lowered density but that it would need to go through proper channels before coming to council if the density had increased.

Council member Mike Panter made a motion to table the vote until the next regular meeting in Feb. giving the council more time to look over the proposed changes. 

All council members voted in favor of tabling the vote with the exception of Council member Rhonda Haight who stated her reason as “I think we’ve kept people waiting long enough”.

Charter changes and reopening of City playground

City Council, Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Citizens could see a change in the way the City of Blue Ridge is managed after the city council voted on charter changes that would allow for the hire of a City Manger.

According to council member Rhonda Haight, the move to a city manager or a full-time mayor has been discussed among councils for several years. Haight stated that when looking at projected growth of the city, citizens would benefit by “making sure someone is here full-time to answer questions”.

Many municipalities in the area have this form of government, council member Mike Panter cited the cities of Jasper and Cumming to name a few. Council members also pointed to an example in Fannin County of the County Chairman holding a full-time position to oversee day-to-day operations.

“The council still has control over everything, including the budget, hiring and firing of the city manager,” Haight explained of the proposed move, saying that the only difference would be that a City Manager would not be an elected official and would therefore be able to be held accountable for their job performance.

“We know there is a need for leadership,” Haight said, adding that while council members are currently overseeing departments, most members hold other full-time jobs giving them less time to keep track of everyday business. 

“Our job is really to set policy,” Council member Nathan Fitts stated agreeing with Haight : “I think there needs to be some accountability to the public and this is the only way we’re ever really going to get there.”

Fitts added, “I think this form of government takes power out of people who want to be in the position for power. The mayor doesn’t have power then. It puts the workload on someone who is being paid to do it.”

Council voted in favor, with Mayor Donna Whitener and Council member Robbie Cornelius absent, to send a Resolution to the Georgia State Legislature requesting that the city be able to move to a City Manager form of government.

The Resolution would need to pass on state level before any charter changes can take effect. 

If enacted, there would be a transition period of 1 year taking place in 2021, with the official City Manager style government going into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

The City Manager position would oversee and have executive power over all day-to-day activities including inner workings of all departments, tax collection, and grant availability.

CITY PLAYGROUND TO REOPEN

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Charter, Change, Election, Resolution, City Manager, Playground, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, James Balli

Council member Mike Panter going over his findings in a previous meeting regarding the city’s playground.

The City of Blue Ridge Street Department has been hard at work correcting the issue of drainage at the city’s playground.

With the corrections having been made, the council voted in favor of new padding and turf to be added and the playground be reopened to the public upon completion.

The issue of the drainage system was one that had previously halted some council members from moving forward with the new playground turf, concerned that there would be significant unforeseen expenses once corrections began to take place.

Panter, who wanted the playground corrected in a manner that would cut costs in the future, had been a strong proponent of moving to the padding and turf option rather than continuing with mulch.

“I do believe we have ample funding to do this at this point,” Haight said of moving forward with the project.

The company responsible for installing the padding and turf will have to do an initial inspection of the area and drainage system before their work would begin. The process is expected to begin as soon as next week.

Panter stated that he hopes the playground will be reopened by March 1, 2020, and could possibly be open sooner. Weather permitting and void of an unforeseen circumstance, once work has begun the process could be completed in as little as 3 weeks.

“It’s going to be done correctly. It’s going to be done right,” Panter said of moving forward with the padding and turf option.

The city has also received approximately $19,000 from a private donor for shades to be installed at the park. The city could have to spend an additional $5,000 in this area.

Moving forward with work on the playground, at a cost of $60,743.75, was voted unanimously in favor with Cornelius and Whitener absent.

Haight announces intent to run for Mayor

City Council, Election, News
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Charter, Change, Election, Resolution, City Manager, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, James Balli
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Charter, Change, Election, Resolution, City Manager, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, James Balli

Council member Rhonda Haight

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Rumors have already begun to circulate regarding who may or may not be running and for which seat they will seek in the 2021 Blue Ridge City Council / Mayor election.

One such rumor is that of current council member Rhonda Haight and her intent to seek the seat of Mayor in the upcoming election.

Haight confirmed with FetchYourNews that she does intend to qualify for the seat of Mayor next year.

Haight said that this is an option that she had contemplated for awhile, but recent city council meetings were what solidified her decision. Her hopes as Mayor would be to bring unity to the council so that city business could run more efficiently.

Council votes to stagger elections

City Council, Downtown Blue Ridge, News
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Charter, Change, Election, Resolution, City Manager, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, James Balli

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Blue Ridge City Council made moves to bring about changes to the city charter which according to council member Rhonda Haight has not been updated since 1989.

While it has been discussed in previous years, council members voted unanimously to begin the process of staggering elections for city council and mayor.

Currently all five city council seats, along with mayor, go up for election simultaneously after a four year term. This leaves the possibility of all seats being filled with newly elected officials at the same time. Council members agreed that not having an experienced member to guide newcomers is a vulnerability for the operations of the city.

“I can’t name another city who does it like we do,” Haight said of the city’s current election practices, “Even the county, they stagger their terms.” 

While all changes to a city’s charter must be passed on the state level, council members voted in favor of sending a Resolution to the capital for consideration. 

This resolution would stagger the terms of council and mayor in the following manner by dividing seats into two elections. One election would be for Mayor and council seats 2 and 4. Another election would be for council seats 1, 3 and 5. The elections would take place in off years of each other.

Council member Mike Panter also presented the idea of reducing the council size altogether: “Looking at where we are growing, with our budget, how our budget’s grown over the last five to 10 years and how projected growth is, I’m not sure that we shouldn’t go to three council members, a mayor and then a city manager.” 

Panter cited the Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) as an example, stating that the county budget is almost $5,000,000 more than the city budget and that the BOC is able to operate with two part time commissioners and a full time commission chair.

“I think that it would put more responsibility on the councilmen,” Panter said of switching to a three person council.

Council member Nathan Fitts said that he while he mostly agrees with Panter, he had spoken with a few citizens and had not found anyone in favor of the major change: “Citizens need input on that.” 

“We have a hard enough time just meeting with five and that is an issue,” Haight shared her opinion on the reduced council and explained why she felt the change would not be good for the city. 

Haight said there are many times where items need to be discussed between meetings and with the current five member council, council members can reach out to each other to talk about issues: “If you have only three you can’t do that because then you’re breaking the Sunshine Law”

The Georgia Sunshine Law states that members of a board (or council) cannot speak privately to one another if a quorum (majority vote) is present. With the five member council this means that three members would have to be present in the discussion to violate the Sunshine Law. 

With a three member council, however, two members constitute a quorum meaning that members of a three person board may not speak on official matters outside a public meeting.

Haight feels that a better alternative would be to keep the five member council but move the city toward a City Manager style of government or compensate the seat of Mayor to a full time position.

“City manager government is the most prominent form of government according to GMA (Georgia Municipal Association),” Haight said of the suggestion, pointing out that a city manager would be trained to supervise departments and all working aspects of the city. This would free up council to vote on decisions without having to oversee individual departments.

Mayor Donna Whitener suggested a town hall meeting to get citizen input on these proposed changes. 

Haight pointed out that 2021 would be an election year so the changes need to  be “done quickly” adding, “That’s why I don’t even know if we have time for a town hall meeting. Even if we have a town hall meeting they don’t understand the inner workings like we do.”

Haight made a motion for the City Attorney James Balli to draft a Resolution for the City of Blue Ridge to move to a City Manager form of government but the motion failed with council members Robbie Cornelius, Harold Herndon and Mike Panter in opposition.

Arguing erupts over City Park playground

Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, News
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Playground, Park, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Zoning and Project Manager, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, Jeff Stewart, James Balli, Legal, Safety, Reopen

Blue Ridge, Ga. – It was clear from the onset of the Blue Ridge City Council meeting that tensions were high between fellow council members Rhonda Haight and Mike Panter.

During approval of the minutes from a Special Called Oct. 20, 2020 council meeting Haight made the motion to accept the minutes but with it being noted that Panter had brought forth non agenda items at this meeting and that this was illegal according to the Open Meetings Act.

During this meeting Panter asked to speak and used this time to point out the history of dysfunction within the city council.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Playground, Park, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Zoning and Project Manager, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, Jeff Stewart, James Balli, Legal, Safety, Reopen

View of playground in City Park showing height of slide.

Mayor Donna Whitener pointed out that it was a council member who had made the request for this for the time to speak.

“It doesn’t matter if it was a council person,” Haight responded to the Mayor’s comments, “I’ve never been allowed to do that.” 

The motion to accept the minutes with the added note passed 3-2 with council members Robbie Cornelius and Panter opposing.

Contention didn’t stop there, as Haight then moved to have the agenda amended, moving Panter’s line item (Presentation of playground and Purchase) from Action Agenda Items to Purchasing Approvals.

Haight stated that according to the city charter and for clarification in minutes that the item should be moved: “Are we going to be purchasing?”

Council member Nathan Fitts backed Haight stating, “If we’re going to go by procedures, let’s do it correctly.” Fitts added that everyone needs to get on the same page.

“An action item can be an action item where you are taking action on something and a purchasing approval,” City Attorney James Balli clarified whether the item had to be moved. “Legally you can do it under either one.” 

The motion to move the item passed with only Panter in opposition and council member Harold Herndon expressing his opinion that it didn’t really matter.

Panter had previously presented to the public his research and opinion on the route that should be taken when considering reopening the City Park’s playground area.

During his presentation at the current meeting Panter reiterated that his concern is with safety and the lack of upkeep the city has done in maintaining the playground area. 

Panter advocated for using rubber padding in lieu of mulch and stated that while the initial cost would be over $60,000, the benefits of not having the upkeep of mulch would save the city money in the years to come.

“We had two grants of over $150,000 offered to the city,” Panter stated of the park’s history, “We got zero because we couldn’t make a decision.” 

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Playground, Park, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Zoning and Project Manager, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, Jeff Stewart, James Balli, Legal, Safety, Reopen

Panter presenting his research and findings into reopening the City Park playground.

Arguing among council and mayor erupted over who had been previously responsible for the decisions made about the park and playground.

“Ms. Whitener went down to the park yanked all the equipment out and left it totally blank,” Haight said of the park’s two year saga of renovation between 2015 – 2017.

Haight acknowledged that there was a grant for $120,000 to be used in the park but that the grant was for a botanical garden and not for the playground. 

Mayor Whitener retorted to Haight, defending the landscaping that began but was later removed, “You were moving the park to the other side.” 

“And yes I did want it to go at the other end but it was too late at that point,” Haight responded to Whitener’s remark.

One thing that the two did agree on was that $12,000 was spent during this time on sod that was later removed and a sprinkler system.

Conversation became more heated when Whitener pointed out that council member Haight’s husband had been involved with the park at that time. Haight acknowledged that her husband had volunteered some of his time but was not involved in the ultimate decisions that were made.

“I think you’ve told so many lies over the years, you don’t even know what the truth is,” Haight spoke directly to Whitener.

Fitts tried to steer the conversation back to addressing the playground as it is today instead of discussing the history: “We need to do what is best for the citizens right now. What would it take to get the park open to code?”

Cornelius finally made a motion to purchase the turf option presented by Panter, stating that the problem should just be fixed rather than “putting a band-aid on it”. The motion, however, failed to pass with only Panter and Cornelius voting in favor.

“I’m not interested in taking the liability and doing that,” Panter said when suggested that the city use mulch for now.

Haight responded to Panter,  “Just because we voted you down, you don’t want to participate even though you’re over the park?”

“I’ve done my job,” Panter responded “You do your job. I’ve done mine.”

Haight motioned for $10,000 to be spent in bringing the playground up to code with the use of mulch and to address drainage issues in the area. This motion passed 3-2 with Cornelius and Panter in opposition.

Planning, Zoning and Project Manager Jeff Stewart agreed to take on the project of the City Park playground and will oversee the steps necessary to reopen the playground to the public.

Panter doesn’t back down from decision to close park

Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Blue Ridge City Council held a special called meeting last week, but due to a lack of a quorum no votes could be taken and business for the city remains at a halt. While lack of a quorum seemed to be a contentious issue, it did not stop the remaining members of the council along with the mayor from presenting information to the public.

Council member Mike Panter has recently come under fire for his decision to close the playground area of the city park. With citizens and even other council members questioning his decision and authority, Panter did not back down from his stance and took the time to explain his reasoning.

“I did not want the liability. I did not want the city to have the liability, and I felt like it was my responsibility to close the park,” Panter said of recent events, adding, “I know I did the right thing.” 

For Panter, the issue of public safety came to his attention during the state mandated shut down of the city park during the onset of Covid-19.

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Plans for Blue Ridge City Park Playground area showing where the height of the slide stands at 12 feet.

Panter had examined the 12 inch bumper placed around the park and realized the mulch had not been properly maintained.

Municipal playgrounds are required to maintain a certain depth of “padding” around equipment for safety purposes, and for the City of Blue Ridge that depth should be maintained at 12 inches considering the height of the slide, standing at 12 feet tall.

“How much mulch do you think we have underneath that slide,” Panter questioned and then answered, “three inches.”

According to Panter, the mulch in the city park should be maintained every six months and that the park itself should be inspected once a year.

“We haven’t had any additional mulch added in three and a half years. We have not had an inspection in three and half years since it was put in,” Panter remarked of the current state of the playground area.

Panter discussed a number of options for remedying the situation that included mulching, rubber mulch, and his preferred option of padding and synthetic grass. 

While the synthetic grass option would be more costly upfront, it would allow for proper drainage to be installed and would also come with a 15 year warranty.

Panter stated that “the cost is half (compared to the mulching option) over that 15 year period”.

Mayor Donna Whitener also commented that using the synthetic grass would make the park more accessible for those with mobility issues and for very small children.

“Everything that you look at has positives and negatives,” Panter said of the possibilities to get the park back up and running.

There is expected to be a more in depth discussion on the matter along with costs of the project at the Special Called Blue Ridge City Council meeting to be held on Thursday, Nov. 12.

All Special Events Canceled for City of Blue Ridge

City Council, Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, Festivals, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – In an unanimous vote the Blue Ridge City Council decided that any special events within the city limits will be canceled until further notice. This includes the cancelation of Blue Ridge’s Halloween SafeZone and Light Up Blue Ridge.

Discussion of canceling future events for the remainder of the year had previously taken place among council but no official vote had been made on the matter.

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Blue Ridge Halloween SafeZone 2019

“We need to make it official,” Council member Rhonda Haight spoke, referencing that since their previous discussion special events had been permitted to take place: “I felt like we should have voted last time.”

Mayor Donna Whitener expressed that she didn’t fully agree with the idea of canceling all events with no exceptions and pointed out that the recent prayer vigil held for Blue Ridge Chief of Police Johnny Scearce would technically fall under the special event category.

Haight made the motion of  “no more events allowed until further notice”, which carried without opposition.

Although the Halloween SafeZone has been canceled an alternative has been set up according to Cesar Martinez, President of the Blue Ridge Business Association (BRBA).

“We get 5,000 or 6,000 people downtown and we just can’t do it this year,” Martinez said and noted that state guidelines would just not make it feasible for the city to accommodate.

The BRBA will be partnering with Blue Ridge United Methodist Church to offer a drive thru option for families to enjoy. Booths will be set up along this route, where participants can hand out candy.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, City Council, Mayor, Blue Ridge Business Association, United Methodist Church, Halloween, Christmas, SafeZone, Light Up Blue Ridge, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Cesar Martinez, Cancel, Special Events, Covid-19

Lighting of the Tree – Photo courtesy of Light Up Blue Ridge Facebook Page

Other locations that are offering Halloween festivities include Dairy Queen, Home Depot, and Kevin Panter Insurance Agency.

Light Up Blue Ridge will also not take place in an official manner. Festivities of the weekend that draw a large crowd in close proximity have been called off. This includes the annual parade and the lighting of the tree.

Even with these changes, Blue Ridge plans to make the city Christmas ready for those visiting the weekend following Thanksgiving. 

The tree will be lit in the park but without the lighting ceremony and Santa can still be found at the park’s gazebo but with safety precautions made due to the ongoing Covid-19 risk.

“We are suggesting that the city close East Main Street for the two days after Thanksgiving,” Martinez recommended to the council stating that this would give more room for the large crowds to social distance that weekend.

No official plans were made on how to handle the influx of visitors for the weekend following Thanksgiving, but discussions are expected to continue in future meetings.

McCaysville Police Department face major budget cuts

Community, News, Police & Government

 

McCaysville, Ga. – The City of McCaysville Police Department (MPD) recently saw major cuts in the form of lay-offs and overtime elimination. 

The McCaysville City Council voted unanimously on the cuts (with the exception of Larry Collis who has a conflict of interest and must recuse himself from voting on police related matters).

After an executive session, council returned with council member Gilida Carter stating, “We’ve been in here making some very, very difficult decisions,” and adding, “This has been really gut wrenching. We’ve worried about it. We’ve put time in on it, but we are going to have to make some changes.”

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(L) Officer Gary Holloway (R) Captain Billy Brackett

Among the changes made by council were the elimination of the position of Investigator that was held by Captain Billy Brackett, also the elimination of MPD’s most recent full time hire Officer Gary Holloway, and eliminating overtime pay for Chief of Police Michael Earley by moving him to salary.

“We are definitely going to have to cut or the city is not going to have the money to go on over the next year,” Carter said of the motions being passed. “These gentlemen will have the opportunity to apply for unemployment. This is not firing. This is layoffs.”

Earley spoke during the monthly Police Update starting off, “I would like to ask the council why they lied to me?”

According to Earley, council member Collis had assured him two days prior to the meeting that everything was fine with the department.

Collis, who was visibly upset by the events, later in the meeting spoke up saying, “I would make the suggestion that those that voted for this fiasco forfeit their 911 service and show some solidarity.”

Of main concern to Earley is the dangers his officers would face working shifts alone. Earley informed the council that overtime would more than likely be unavoidable: “I’m asking the council, begging the council, don’t let my officers be out there by themselves during the night or during the day.”

“Well with the staff that you had, you had tremendous overtime. Why was that?” Carter questioned Earley.

“Cause calls keep coming in,” Earley answered back.

Earley spoke of the job that police officers do and the dangers of the job, “Police officers are willing to do what most people cannot or will not do on a day to day basis. They put themselves in dangerous situations that could end with them being hurt or even killed.” 

He later likened the council’s move to that of the national political movement to defund the police, “You are creating that animosity that should not exist. You are putting that target on our backs. You are making it unsafe for us to go to work. Is it money? Are we trying to distract and deter for political gain? What is the reason?” 

“For the people out there that are hypocrites, who say you support the police and pat us on the back and then stab us in the back saying we got too many police officers and we need to cut. You should be ashamed of yourself because you know you are doing this for political reasons,” Earley spoke to the council.

Council member Jason Woody replied to Earley’s questioning, “We are not defunding the police department. If we keep going the way that we are going right now, within six months we will not have a General Fund. It will be down to zero.”

Council members stated that every department in the city has cut their budgets and there have also been layoffs in these other departments.

The other departments which include, Administrative, Street Department and Water Department had already cut their budgets, with the Police Department stating that they couldn’t find any cuts to be made and were still requesting an increase.

As of May 22, 2020 the total fund expenditures for the City of McCaysville was estimated to come to $1,413,184.32 with revenues coming of $866,805.17, giving the city a $546,379.15 shortfall. Of these numbers the Police Department expenditures accounted for around 70 percent of the current revenue.

“Right now the money is not there. It’s not been there for awhile,” Woody said of the cuts and the city’s budget, “For every department, as the year progresses we will reassess, we will see what we can do to help alleviate the pressure off these departments.”

The McCaysville Police Department Statistics for the month of June were:

  • 76 – 911 calls
  • 90 – traffic stops
  • 10 – citations
  • 98 – warnings
  • 75 – walk-ins
  • 1 – arrest 
  • 139 – phone calls
McCaysville, Georgia, Fannin County, Police, Budget, City Council, Michael Earley, Gilida Carter, Jason Woody, Billy Brackett, Gary Hollloway

McCaysville Department Budget Overview

 

McCaysville, Georgia, Fannin County, Police, Budget, City Council, Michael Earley, Gilida Carter, Jason Woody, Billy Brackett, Gary Hollloway

McCaysville Police Department Budget 2016 – 2020

 

McCaysville, Georgia, Fannin County, Police, Budget, City Council, Michael Earley, Gilida Carter, Jason Woody, Billy Brackett, Gary Hollloway

McCaysville Administrative Budget 2016 -2020

 

McCaysville, Georgia, Fannin County, Police, Budget, City Council, Michael Earley, Gilida Carter, Jason Woody, Billy Brackett, Gary Hollloway

McCaysville Street Department Budget 2016 -2020

 

McCaysville, Georgia, Fannin County, Police, Budget, City Council, Michael Earley, Gilida Carter, Jason Woody, Billy Brackett, Gary Hollloway

McCaysville Water Department (Water Distribution Only) Budget 2016 -2020

The Maze of Answers That Answer Nothing : City of Blue Ridge

Citizens Speak, Downtown Blue Ridge, Opinion

Remember the days of old when you went to the Fair and visited the House of Mirrors.  You made your way through the maze looking at the confusing, funny and often times distorted reflections.  It was something fun, amusing and sometimes challenging to go through that maze.  Yet, why are those childhood memories suddenly replaced with the challenge of the maze citizens find themselves in while trying to discover answers to questions from government.

I recently attended the City of Blue Ridge’s Town Hall on Annexation.  I was called to the podium and quickly voiced my concerns to the Council as you only have two minutes.  After I went through the questions, I was told to leave a copy and they would respond.  A week later that response arrived.

My first question was why are developers ‘driving the bus’ with annexation?   I’m not certain how the response was even relevant to the question, but it basically said the expansion of new business and developments in the designated area would create the need for city services. OK, but what I asked was why are developers leading all these efforts.

One developer initiated the discussion on annexation in 2017 and later brought in a few others who wanted it. Four developers discussed their plans at the City Council Meeting on May 19.  Now the City has confirmed there are 10 interested in annexation.  Since we now know what the developers want, it would be nice if the City would share what their vision is for Blue Ridge.

We need to know, with certainty, that the City has development plans, zoning and land use protocols in place.  What is even more important is those plans should have been developed with input from the public and be accessible for public review.

The City is embarking on an attempt to secure rights to portions of two highly trafficked roadways, one of which is scheduled for a significant expansion, but what are their plans for the area?  If the first developer who spoke at the May 19 Council meeting is any indication — hold on — because their plans look more in line with Gwinnett County than Fannin.

My next question focused on the public and what they wanted for their community.  I was told that the majority of letters and conversations the City received had supported annexation.  The majority of letters?  Where are those letters?  Better yet, if there was such overwhelming support, why would three Council members suggest they needed to get input from the public and County Commissioners and ask to schedule the Town Hall?

One Council member told me it was uncertain how they could move forward when the majority who spoke opposed the annexation.  It is disappointing the Council did not include any information concerning annexation at its most recent meeting (June 9).  From what I’m told from the County ‘nothing more has transpired’ with regard to meeting with the Commissioners.  We also know a letter was sent to Speaker Ralston asking him to hold off on the Annexation Resolution unless the City advised otherwise.  So what is the status of the annexation and why is the Council now silent?

Probably the key question in everyone’s mind is what is the total cost for the annexation.  While this question has been asked numerous times and the response varies only a little, it remains vague and unknown.  Here are the responses I’ve received so far:

— We’re only annexing the road and right of way – there is no cost

— Some things are paid by GDOT at no cost

— Minimal costs for legal fees and an ad for the newspaper

— The cost is minimal compared to the revenue that would be generated

We still have no clear understanding of what the cost will be and continue to be told there is no cost and they will apply for a grant.

Impact studies are important for any city considering a change in zoning or an annexation.  What will the impact be on existing infrastructure? How many car trips in and out of these large developments will impact existing roads and neighborhoods?  Has the City analyzed what spare capacities their systems have and when they will need to be increased?  Are there any backlogs in maintenance to existing systems and if so what is the financial burden of those backlogs?  What is the impact to a current homeowner who could very well see their taxes increase?  Noise impact?  Quality of life impact?  The list goes on.

No one knows, but the response said that GDOT makes the decisions for the roads, traffic lights, access lanes, etc.  Yes, GDOT is responsible for the road, but they are not responsible for zoning, land use, what current systems can handle, current debt load and an understanding of what the citizens want their community to look like.  This, again, is where developers are leading the parade and the City has willingly joined it.

I asked about sewer treatment because this falls in the category of impact when looking at infrastructure.  I’ve heard there are some concerns with the facility.  I’ll quote the response:

“The 22 year old sewer plant has been experiencing problems with repair cost.  There is a need to comply with NEW EPD regulations, temperature control, belt press, dehydrator and various other issues to keep the plant operating efficiently.  A Grant/Loan was applied for to correct these issues in the amount of $5M and has been awarded in the past few weeks.  A portion of these upgrades is funded by a Loan requiring a payment to be offset by current customer rate increases or by adding NEW customers.”

My question to citizens is, did you know the City made a commitment to a loan that will come from either current customer rate increases or adding new customers?

With the first developer stating his is a twenty-year plan, at what point will they be adding new customers to share the load?  Does the developer pay a connection fee and then the new home owner assume the role of ‘new customer’?  What happens if something goes wrong with the development and the City’s outlay is not matched and exceeded by that magical anticipated revenue?  Based on their response – customer rate increases.

The financial part remains a ‘smoke and mirrors’ situation.  For as many times as citizens have asked what is the cost, what is the financial impact, the response remains “there is no financial burden to taxpayers”.  The City states “The proposed annexation would increase sales tax dollars for the City and County and NEW sewer revenue for the City.”  I have yet to figure out how those sewer lines will suddenly appear in the dirt and who will pay for them to be placed there.

There is one question that haunts me trying to get through this maze – What if?  What if these developments are not quite as successful as they are being marketed?  Any challenge to the economy or the housing market will greatly impact the success or failure of development plans.  Blue Ridge markets itself as a place to slow down and relax.  What happens when you build high density, new urbanist developments?  Will tourists be drawn to the same crowded developments and traffic they have where they live now and want to escape from?  I don’t think so.

An additional impact is what happens when a high-price development is built in close proximity to average priced homes for the general population.  When I asked if people would be able to afford their taxes due to the impact of high-priced developments nearby and increases in assessments, the response was “the impact is unknown at this time.”

Annexation is often thought of as a quick fix to bring in revenue without really doing all the math.  I’m not convinced the math has been done.  I also remain steadfast in my concerns for how these decisions will impact taxpayers.  The fact most of these discussions were done without any public knowledge sends a clear message and one of concern.  Why would a City not want public input and support so the project is a win for everyone.

My last question asked what possible impact could the thoughts of the citizens have on the Council when most had already expressed their strong support for this annexation in the May 19 meeting.  The project manager encouraged me to reach out to the Council members to determine their position on annexation.  He did say he supported the annexation based on economic progress and job creation.  He also said the City has zoning and any development would have to adhere to those guidelines.  It should be noted that the developer who first sought this annexation chairs the Planning Commission and also sits on the Zoning Board of Appeals.  Since I have found no published minutes from either of those Boards, I can only wonder if he was or will be involved in anything regarding the review of and decision making with this annexation.  Speculation, of course, but a real concern.

The closing comment from the project manager was “It is imperative that the growth along those highways have regulations to protect adjoining neighbors and maintain the beauty of our community.” Why was that not the focus and commitment spoken by every Council member and the Mayor?  It should have been the first comment made.  It should make me feel more comfortable, but a few questions earlier he said “the impact (on surrounding neighborhoods) is unknown at this time”.

The fact that impact is unknown is what just turned this maze into a house without an exit, when/if they move forward with annexation, there will be no way to escape whatever consequences may result.  Annexation is a critical decision and one that should not be made hastily.  I certainly hope the City will step back, get the public involved in developing a future plan, include the County and work together for a better tomorrow.

I want to close by saying I know our elected officials have an enormous responsibility, but I also strongly believe in public input.  I don’t want to see a community lost to the direction of developers while the public is pushed to the sidelines.  I hope our elected realize there are citizens who are knowledgeable and they should not be dismissed.  If they are so quick to buy into a developer’s pie-in-the-sky projected revenues, then why not give equal time and respect to the average citizen.

Donna Thompson

Blue Ridge, GA

Distractions and Last Minute Additions : City of Blue Ridge

Citizens Speak, Downtown Blue Ridge, Opinion

My Dad always taught me, ‘keep your eye on the ball.’  I first learned that lesson at age six when he was hitting grounders to my older brother.  He gave me the glove and proceeded with my first lesson.  My Dad hit the ball, the ball hit a rock, ricocheted quickly and hit me hard in the throat, knocking the breath out of me.  Yes, I learned don’t be distracted, keep your eye on the ball so you will not be blindsided.  Recently, I have found the same truths in baseball can apply to our local government.

The City of Blue Ridge has embarked on a journey and, sadly, they did not allow citizens on the same ship of knowledge, but instead, put us in the rowboat they are towing behind.  Unfortunately, when you don’t know who’s driving the boat, you can’t see where you are going, you have no idea as to the challenges along the way and you have no clue what you will end up with, it’s difficult to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Generally, a government entity does not schedule public meetings on Election Day.  Why would anyone want to compete with such an important civic duty for every citizen?  They give us an opportunity to participate in government by voting for those we believe to be the best representatives, someone to make the best decisions in the day-to-day matters of managing government responsibilities.  Yet, Tuesday, June 9, the City has a regularly scheduled meeting which will be in direct competition with Election Day. You may know your candidates, but few have a clue what’s going on at City Hall.  I can’t help but wonder about this distraction.

What is so important that it needs to be addressed on Election Day?   Better question, why is annexation, currently the hottest topic in the County, not on the agenda?  The vote on annexation was tabled on May 19, but must be decided at some point.  I wish I had the answer, but it seems more like trying to catch the grounder on that rocky surface and no one has any idea which direction this issue is headed.

The annexation debacle started three years ago.  Apparently it was mostly discussions between a developer, the mayor and perhaps a few other staff.  Not until February of this year was the public made aware of the proposed annexation at a Town Hall regarding parking issues.  Suddenly, the evening Town Hall included annexation as part of the agenda.   Who would be distracted by a quick summary and vote on annexation when you came with a focus to discuss all the issues with downtown parking?

Why would the City add such an important proposal to a Town Hall on February 5, when they had a regularly scheduled meeting on February 11?  Most government entities utilize Town Halls for public discussion and concerns, not for matters of official business, like voting on an important issue.  The City did not even have a quorum present at the Town Hall to vote on the issue and had to have another member phone in her vote.  Unfortunately, without a quorum present, this vote is not in compliance with procedures.

At some point the Resolution for Annexation was forwarded to Speaker David Ralston and Senator Steve Gooch at the State level for approval.  The Mayor stated in a meeting that this method was the best way to handle this annexation, but it was also the method with the least public involvement.  Distract the people with the threat of paying to park in their own hometown, slip a critical matter on the agenda, get a quorum together, whether legal or not, approve it and straight to the State Capitol.  Just another ricocheted ball to try to field.

Fast forward to March and the County Commissioners all expressed their surprise and concern for the annexation, resulting in the Commission voting in opposition.  Next was another City Council meeting held on May 19 that was nothing short of watching a pro wrestling match on TV.  Where is Hulk Hogan when you need him because the citizens just got a body slam with the information shared at that meeting.

The saving grace from that Council meeting was two members pushing for public input via a Town Hall that was held June 1.  There were no distractions at that meeting as citizens were allowed to share their perspectives, with an overwhelming majority against this annexation.  It remains to be seen if their comments will make any impact.  Yet, if the Council ignores their concerns, it will send a very clear picture as to the intent and transparency of these elected officials

This annexation project has been described as a simple matter of choice, but the distraction of our simple ‘yes or no’ choice is far outweighed by a plethora of choices already made by developers, supported by some in the City, that will change this County forever. Our future is being planned and pushed forward without an ounce of detail shared.  Many citizens moved here for what Fannin County offers now and have no interest in the over-built density and traffic they left behind and that desire is certainly shared by those who have called Fannin home throughout their lives.

While I am not against growth, I support smart growth with the City, County and citizens working together to guide the future of Fannin County.  There are aspects of this annexation that should be known now, like funding, impact studies, ability of current infrastructure to handle the increased demands, impact to current property owners, etc.  Yet, these details are unknown.  It is much like being asked to vote for a new leader, but having no information on any of the candidates.

We should not be distracted by, nor subject to, our elected and developers trying to rush this annexation through this session of the General Assembly.  The pressure is on with only a couple of weeks remaining in session.  Even one developer stated he was in contact with Speaker Ralston, checking on the ‘d-day’ deadline they needed to meet for approval.  Should this bill make it to the floor and be approved that developer stated he could see his gross revenues increase by a projected $67 million.  Meanwhile, the citizens are still trying to figure out how all of this is going to be funded and the impact it will have on them personally and their quality of life.

I have no idea how this story will end.  The Council’s next agenda has been published, but you should not be distracted by the limited list of agenda items.  They have the ability to add items, like annexation, at any time, even last minute before the meeting.  Keep in mind, you have to sign up a week ahead of the meeting for public comment, yet they can add to the agenda at any point up to the meeting.

Witnessing this series of events and how distracting it has become reinforces why it is critical to know the candidates in an election, see how they respond to issues, understand their vision and ask them questions — then GO VOTE!

I do believe that we should be able to trust our elected officials.  We should expect their trustworthiness.  They are a fiduciary for the citizens, managing something they do not own, for our benefit.  Somehow I wonder if they have been distracted from that fact.

Donna Thompson

Blue Ridge, GA

Silencing the Citizens for Public Safety

Citizens Speak, Opinion

Opinion – Is it possible to get accurate citizen input at a town hall meeting and ban the citizens from attending? Unlikely. Regardless, the City of Blue Ridge is forging ahead with their “town hall” meeting to get resident input on the annexation of portions of Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 515.

I guess we are lucky that the city is even pretending to care what the residents think. Had it not been for council members Nathan Fitts and Rhonda Haight, this deal would be signed, sealed and delivered.

Haight and Fitts put a halt to the annexation after feeling that Mayor Donna Whitener had been misleading in the information that she had given, and misleading she was. One glaring point that stood out among the misinformation train was her swearing that citizens had already voiced their opinions.

Well, they had….in 2017. Hardly what I would call a reasonable time-frame of considered public input. 

County officials were also taken off guard with the vote in favor of annexation. 

Whitener, along with others present at the recent city council meeting, all agreed that County Commission Chairman Stan Helton had been present in a past “annexation” meeting, with Whitener stating that he was in favor of this annexation.

What Whitener fails to mention, once again, is that this meeting took place well over a year ago and that the meeting was only to discuss the possibility of receiving a grant to run sewer to Mercier Orchards and by default INOLA Blue Ridge.

Annexation and the discussion of, was not the purpose of this meeting.

After details have been brought to light, the city sends out a notice of a town hall meeting, but once again transparency does not seem to be their top priority. 

The notice clearly states:

“The public is encouraged to attend however, social distancing will be practiced, and everyone is encouraged to wear a mask. Seating will be limited in order to follow the guidelines set forth by the Governor of Georgia.”

Is it really fair to the residents of the city to not have their voices heard under the guise of Public Safety? 

You tell me, how easy would it be to stack the speakers in favor of your agenda with only a limited number of people able to attend? I would think pretty easy, especially when big money is involved.

The City has in no way attempted to accommodate their usual or even possibly larger than normal crowd, and Fannin County does have the resources for them to seek help in this arena. The Performing Arts Center (PAC), the Blue Ridge Community Theater, or even outdoors at the City Park to name a few, but the City has no intention of moving this meeting.

They did give citizens another option:

“With social distancing in process we understand that some may not wish to attend. Therefore, questions regarding this meeting or annexation may be answered prior to the meeting by calling Jeff Stewart at 706-632-2091 ext. 2. If you would like to submit a letter of support or opposition but do not wish to attend the meeting, please email them to [email protected].”

With the absence of transparency and honesty shown so far, I have little faith that any of these emails would be read aloud at the meeting or even acknowledged, and we the people would be none the wiser.

While this town hall meeting or lack thereof is not technically illegal due to the declared State of Emergency, it is unethical.

The people should demand that their governments either open up all the way or hold off on major decisions until a time when they can accommodate their populous.

Transparency obstructed at McCaysville City Council meeting

Community, News

McCaysville, Ga. – Mayor Thomas Seabolt tried to bring to an end the reading of the monthly bills, as new councilmember Gilita Carter had done at previous meetings since taking office.

Carter had stated in a previous meeting: “I’ve been coming to a lot of meetings and it always comes up, about paying the bills. Well, I often sit there and wonder, what bills? Whose bills?”

Click Here to read about previous meeting concerning McCaysville finances.

Since taking office Carter has read each line item of the monthly bills aloud to the public, but Seabolt put a stop to this by asking for a motion before Carter could address the public.

McCaysville, Fannin, Georgia, City Council, Transparency, Finance, Bills, Mayor, Attorney, Thomas Seabolt, Sue Beaver, Gilita Carter, Susan Kiker, Jason Woody, Larry Collis, Cortney Stuart, Expenditures

Council-member Gilita Carter and Mayor Thomas Seabolt exchange words over the city’s transparency.

“I just don’t want to take the time to read everything because they’ve already been approved through payment in a sense,” Seabolt spoke to Carter of his reasoning behind not continuing to read the individual bills submitted by city departments.

After asking for a motion to pay the bills with no further explanation, council-member Sue Beaver gave that motion, with fellow council-member Larry Collis gave a second. When asked all in favor Carter abstained along with council-member Susan Kiker.

“In the basis of transparency and in the fact that I stated before, that no one ever knew what the bills were, I will at least give the total for each department,” Carter said before reading each department’s total bills.

Mayor Seabolt responded to Carter’s reading of the totals by saying, “If they want a copy they can ask for public records.” 

This sparked a short exchange between Carter and Seabolt, with Carter ending, “I won’t read them individually any more, but for transparency purposes people need to know what the city bills are. Transparency is what I’m going to stand for.”

Council-member Jason Woody proposed having a print out of detailed monthly bills available for citizens at the regular monthly meetings.

Ultimately, Carter voted no to paying the bills to show opposition in how the City Council is handling getting the information to the public.

The department totals for bills in the month of Feb. are as follows:

  • Administration – $3,828.24
  • Police Department – $2,439.42
  • Court – $519.60
  • Street Department – $3,693.45
  • City Park – $295.39
  • Water and sewer – $29,889.85

Later in the meeting Carter proposed that the City put in place a system for filing expenditure reports and receiving reimbursement. Her proposal includes basing the City’s millage rate reimbursement on Federal standards and having clear cut forms so that reimbursement would be organized and uniform.

Another topic of financial discussion came about when City Attorney Cortney Stuart pointed out during the meeting that no resolution actually exists that requires spending over $500 to come before the council for approval.

This topic and the topic of expenditure reports are expected to be discussed by council in a workshop meeting.

New council members halt previously unchecked city spending

Community, News

McCaysville, Ga. – The City of McCaysville has been spending outside of their means and newly elected council members are making it a goal to bring the City’s spending back under control.

Revenue for the city for the month of  Jan. 2020 was $109,309.44 and the expenses came to  $201,502.12 

“We’re going in the wrong direction,” Council member Gilita Carter spoke of the city’s financial situation. “We’re going to have to tighten our belts and look at things very very closely.”

Carter referenced that the procedure for the departments of the city is for any expense over $500 to be brought before the council for approval: “These things are put in place for a purpose and should be followed.” 

Carter had consulted with McCaysville City Attorney Cortney Staurt about the legalities of this process not being followed, and according to Stuart there are legal ramifications for city employees not following the protocol.

“Anything over $500 has to come before the council for approval,” Stuart explained, “That has not been followed in the past. The danger with that is that if it is not followed and the council does not approve it, the council member could then become personally liable for it and the city could have to sue the council member to pay that.”

Stuart added, “We are in a financial situation right now and we do need to have more oversight on it.” 

Among the departments that did not seek approval for spending was the McCaysville Police Department. After having several items questioned at the Jan. 2020 meeting, Chief of Police Michael Earley was once again questioned about his spending.

Several of the City’s officers had attended continuing education courses and while the expenses for these courses exceeded the $500 pre-approval limit, nothing pertaining to these courses were brought before council for approval.

“Let’s face it, we’re not doing very well with our expenses,” Carter said as she questioned Earley over his department’s spending.

Earley explained the state mandated the schooling process, “We have to have a minimum of 20 hours a year training or we lose our certification as a police officer. I have to have 40 hours a year as your Chief of Police training or I lose my certification.”

Earley, who is a post certified instructor, admitted that he is able to provide this training and moving forward would try to offer more in house solutions: “I know the city’s under some constraints with the budget. I’m going to do everything I can to make our budget fall down.” 

Carter did not hide her feelings as Earley made the request for the council to hire a full-time officer: “We have too many policemen in this city.”

Carter along with other council members did vote to hire the officer on full-time.

More financial woes came when Mayor Thomas Seabolt read from a prepared statement: “About the new city park, I made a mistake when we filed for the work that Holloway Trenching, LLC. completed on our new park.” 

Anna Hensley with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and Executive Director of OneGeorgia informed Seabolt that the City would not be getting reimbursed for approximately $340,000 of money already spent on park renovations. This leaves taxpayers responsible for the bill.

Seabolt did tell council that the city could file a six month extension for the $300,000 left in grant money if they would like to move forward with completing the park, and assured everyone that all outlines of the grant would be followed in the future to receive reimbursement.

Some of the work left to complete the park includes renovating the building in the center of park, building two large pavillions, and purchasing and planting an estimated 70 trees per EPD (Environmental Protection Division) recommendation.

“Well we want the park finished for certain.” Council member Sue Beaver motioned to proceed but follow all rules laid out by the OneGeorgia grant. Council unanimously approved to move forward.

It was later brought to the attention of new council members that this “move forward” is how the city ended up on the hook for the money not reimbursed through the grant. The Revitalization Committee headed by Mayor Seabolt took the vote to proceed previously as an okay from council to not bring any purchases before them for approval.

Newly elected council member Susan Kiker wanted to be sure that this process would not be repeated.

“We need to see the plans,” Kiker said of proceeding with the park and added that anything over $500 was to brought before the council for approval. “We were elected by the taxpayers.”

Carter, who began her term providing more transparency to the citizens of McCaysville in regards to finance, said, “Everything is falling through the cracks. Everyone spent money like it is going out of style and that’s why we’re trying to get a hold on everything.”

McCaysville Revitalization Committee fires back at Council and Attorney

Community, News

McCaysville, Ga. – The McCaysville Revitalization Committee had a lot to say after they felt that their work had been villainized by the City Council and the City Attorney in a previous meeting.

“It has been stated that this committee has way too much power and I am here to assure the council and the citizens that we have no governing power at all,” Chairman of the Revitalization Committee Zachary Welch spoke first on behalf of the group. “We can’t hire. We can’t fire, nor can we bind contracts or vote on anything on behalf of McCaysville.”

McCaysville, Fannin County, Georgia, City Council, Attorney, Revitalization Committee, Chairman, Zachary Welch, Ann Williams, Marilyn McNeill, Mayor, Thomas Seabolt, Susan Kiker, Cortney Stuart, Michael Earley, Spending, Finance

Council discussing the Revitalization Committee at the previous meeting.

Welch added of the committee’s members, “The make-up of the Revitalization Committee is well represented with people who have been and are invested in this community.”

Welch pointed out that the purpose of the committee was to bring new ideas on ways to improve the city and cited some of the accomplishments that this group has brought forth. Among these accomplishments Welch pointed out that the committee had acquired new park benches to tune of approximately $51,000 and all of this had come in the form of donations.

Welch also listed flower boxes and hanging baskets throughout the city, with these and other area landscape projects being undertaken and maintained through donated material and labor.

The Revitalization Committee has also taken advantage of an LMIG grant (Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant) that had been available to the city for some time with the city not utilizing it. The use of this grant provided a sidewalk from the Welcome Center to the City Park.

“Time, talent, energy and hard work,” Welch said of the committee and stressed, “all as a donation (to the city). This committee has excelled at making this happen.”

“This committee has helped raise over $600,000 in new money being received for improvements to our community in the last 2 years,” Welch explained and stated that beyond this the committee had garnered the attention of both local and state governments and was  recently awarded the Community Service Award from Fannin County Chamber of Commerce.

Committee member Ann Williams was less subdued when addressing the council and McCaysville City Attorney Cortney Staurt.

“That is untrue,” Williams spoke to Stuart about whether the grant writing for the city park had been given to a person in Blairsville to complete, “It’s a lie.” 

Stuart clarified that while she had heard that Williams, who had been paid by the city to do grant writing, did hire someone from Blairsville for this reason, that she had never stated this rumor was true. Stuart did not back down when Williams confronted her over her comments of the committee having too much power: “Yes ma’am, I do believe that.”

“Getting out and begging money for flowers and benches,” Williams retorted to Staurt’s remark, “if you call that power, then I’ve got it and I’ll accept it and I am proud of everything I’ve done.” 

City Council member and Revitalization Committee member Sue Beaver came to Williams’ defense, “Ann is such a hard worker and we just have to give her all the credit because she works 8 to 12…14 hours a day, volunteer. She does not get paid.”

Beaver added that Williams had been selected because of her previous work in similar scenarios to that of McCaysville. 

The meeting had to be called to order during Williams’ address by Chief of Police Michael Earley after citizens in the audience began to go back and forth with Williams.

Committee member Marilyn MacNeill was last to address the council:  “It’s unbelievable that the Revitalization Committee is here this evening defending the work and the accomplishments that’s been made over the last two years.” 

“Let me make this perfectly clear, to be lectured or called on the carpet by an attorney is just not going to happen,” McNeill spoke of Stuart’s suggestion to have the committee present to make the boundaries of their roles clear.

McNeill ended wishing everyone well moving forward and added, “It has been my pleasure working with the McCaysville Revitalization Committee and the council, and I thank those who have been supportive and with that I’m stepping off of the Revitalization Committee.”

“None of this stuff is coming before the council.” Staurt said not only of spending by the committee but also of the grant process. “Going forward perhaps a resolution would be if a member of the Revitalization Committee, it could be the council members on there, come every month and there’s a report as to what’s going on with it (the committee’s progress).” 

Mayor Thomas Seabolt appointed new City Council member Susan Kiker to sit on the Revitalization Committee, taking the seat vacated by former council member Rodeney Patterson. The seat vacated by Marilyn McNeill remains open.

 

 

Featured Image courtesy of Fannin County Chamber of Commerce.

New council shows more transparency in city meeting

Community, News

McCaysville, Ga. – The new year brought in new faces to the McCaysville City Council, and these new members wasted no time stepping away from the status quo of city council meetings. 

Council member Gilita Carter brought pause to the meeting’s proceedings early on when a motion was made to “pay the bills for January”.

“I’ve been coming to a lot of meetings and it always comes up, about paying the bills,” Carter spoke to the Mayor and Council, “Well, I often sit there and wonder, what bills? Whose bills?”

In meetings past, a motion would come to pay the city’s bills for the month, followed by a second, and unanimous approval. There was never given any explanation or break down of what these bills were or an amount to be paid.

Carter, who is assigned to look at city financials, continued, “We (the city) did operate at a loss and we need to look closely at these things and keep track.” She followed this statement by reading a detailed list of the monthly bills to be approved broken down by department.

The department totals for the month were as follows:

  • Administration – $1,633.37
  • Police Department – $17,190.74
  • Court – $519.50
  • Street Department – $1,272.94
  • City Park – $1419.39
  • Water and Sewer – $15,971.69

After completing the list of bills due, Carter questioned, “Have all of these, to this point, been approved? Is there anything on here that had to go before prior approval?”

McCaysville City Clerk Nancy Godfrey clarified the spending process of the city for new council members: “We do have a policy or resolution in place that anything over $500 is supposed to be approved by council.”

“The water department is different. All of those things don’t have to come before the council because they’re chemicals that are required to treat water,” Godfrey explained, but added that there was one item in the department’s bills that was questionable.

No representative from the Water and Sewer Department was present to give insight to council about this item.

McCaysville Chief of Police Michael Earley was present and did explain his department’s bills that had a total over $500.

One of these bills in particular accounted for the bulk of the department’s expenditures for the month. $11,300.87 was requested to pay Resurgens Orthopaedics.

This item was easily explained by Earley. Resurgens Orthopaedics is where suspect James Larry Parris, Jr. was treated after the officer involved shooting that took place in Aug. 2019.

“Once, you discharge your weapon on someone, they automatically become in custody,” Earley explained and continued, “so we assume all of their medical bills from that point forward and while they’re in jail.”

There were a few more items listed for the police department that had needed prior council approval. Council member Jason Woody questioned Earley, “Was it in the budget to purchase those items?” 

Earley answered Woody that all purchases were in the budget and offered to code his budget showing where each line item is taken from.

In the police department bills was an invoice for $702.08 for new tires (including balancing and mounting) for a Tahoe.

While Earley agreed that moving forward he would seek approval on expenditures over $500, he added, “There’s a few things in a police department that, if we have a few blow outs on our vehicles, I can’t wait to get tires for a vehicle. I have to get our vehicle back on the road.” 

Earley suggested that he meet with council to go over necessities for the department and get an ongoing pre-approval of certain items that his department needs to function immediately, so that if need arose he would already have the go ahead to purchase.

Council agreed to this suggestion by Earley.

Moving forward the City Council agreed that all department purchases over $500, that is nonessential for the department’s continued operation, would need to have prior approval before spending can take place.

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