GoCo donates receptacles for city to use during Georgia Cities Week

Community, News

[Featured image: Pictured are, from left to right: Jeff Stewart, city zoning; Glenda Herndon, city hall receptionist; Robbie Cornelius, city councilwoman; Kelsey Ledford, city clerk; Josh Golden, owner of GoCo; Donna Whitener, mayor; Becky Harkins, water and utilities director; Barbie Gerald, clerk of court, Sally Smith, city taxes and licensing; and Alicia Stewart, finance director.]

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – GoCo recently donated four trash receptacles to the city of Blue Ridge to use during Georgia Cities Week April 22 through 28. With the two dumpsters previously by Advanced Disposal, the city has six trash receptacles for residents to use during Georgia Cities Week.

As a part of a citywide clean-up to celebrate the week, residents are asked to bring any waste or trash except for items containing Freon, liquid paint or tires to three area locations:

  • Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market (only small brush and bagged leaves in the Advanced Disposal container);
  • Kiwanis Fairgrounds; and
  • First Baptist Church of Blue Ridge parking lot on the corner of Church and East First streets.

Two other locations – Blue Ridge City Hall and the Ada Street, LLC property near Hampton Square –  have containers in which small brush and bagged leaves can be disposed.

The city of Blue Ridge would like to thank the following people and organizations for their help with this clean-up during Georgia Cities Week: Josh and Erin Golden with GoCo, Richie Walker with Advanced Disposal, the Blue Ridge Kiwanis Club, First Baptist Church of Blue Ridge, and the property owners of Ada Street, LLC.


Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com


Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Finances discussed, ‘interim’ tag removed from Chief Scearce at city council meeting


[Featured image: The Blue Ridge City Council welcomed Richie Walker, territory sales manager for Advanced Disposal, to its April meeting. Advanced Disposal will be donating two dumpsters to be used during Georgia Cities Week April 21 through 27 during which the city will be sponsoring a city-wide clean-up where residents are encouraged to dispose of yard trash at one of two dumpsters located at City Hall and the Farmer’s Market. Seen here are, from left to right, front: Councilwoman Robbie Cornelius, Councilwoman Rhonda Haight, Walker, Mayor Donna Whitener; back: Councilman Nathan Fitts and Councilman Ken Gaddis.]

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Blue Ridge City Council addressed potential projects and city finances as well as removed the “interim” tag from Police Chief Johnny Scearce at their Tuesday, April 10, meeting.

Alicia Stewart, city finance director, presented an extensive break-down of the city’s finances along with current projects being undertaken by the city during a capital planning session. The purpose of the session, as explained by Mayor Donna Whitener, was to develop 12 to 18-month plan for the city.

Stewart began by addressing the city water fund and announced the amounts of revenue versus the cost of current projects, such as the current Community Development Block Grant project match ($79,244.46), phase II of the East Main Street project ($372,243.41), and a payoff for a 2015 Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) loan ($108,000) among others. All told, the city has approximately $884,780.81 in cash available remaining in the water fund balance, according to Stewart.

However, also in her presentation, Stewart presented the council with a list of prioritized water infrastructure needs anticipated for the city over the next five years. Among those needed projects are an over $2 million line relocation project for water lines required by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) for the forthcoming state Route 5 highway expansion, a $500,000 upgrade project to the Aska Road sewer substation and a projected $640,000 for phases III and IV of a meter replacement project.

“Bottom line is we have $884,000 in spendable money, and we’ve got about $4 million in projects,” Whitener said. “So the next time somebody says, ‘Oh, we’ve got all these projects,’ we don’t have money … and these are projects that really can’t stay on the back burner too much longer.”

As far as this year’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) revenue, Whitener suggested two road projects: a turning lane for Blue Ridge Elementary School and a repaving project on West First Street. The mayor stated after those projects and factoring a negative balance of $46,707 from last year’s SPLOST, about $50,000 will remain in SPLOST funds this year.

Stewart also explained there is an amount of $320,523.09 in cash available from the general fund and close to $584,000 in reserves, which is $400,000 from the sale of the marina property and a $183,000 cd (certificate of deposit).

“Those two together put us just right at the $600,000-ish that would be needed to meet our policy of holding 25 percent of our budget as reserve,” Stewart explained. “So, if we dip into that, we’re not reserving according to our policy.”

Whitener then announced a list of potential projects and the ensuing costs she told the council to consider, including approximately $100,000 for repairs to the city hall roof, $75,000 to $100,000 for stormwater run-off projects, up to $300,000 for a grant match for downtown bathrooms, $350,000 to $400,000 for major upgrades and renovations of the city pool, and undetermined amounts for potential renovations of the farmer’s market, renovations of the deck at the depot and several street projects.

“I need you all to be thinking about this before the next meeting because you are going to have to make some decisions,” Whitener told the council.

Later in the meeting, Councilwoman Rhonda Haight proposed the idea of hiring an independent contractor to conduct a comprehensive parking study for the city. Haight explained that she and Councilman Nathan Fitts had recently participated in several meetings in an effort to obtain grants for enhancing downtown parking and installing downtown public restrooms.

“Everybody we’ve met with so far they’ve asked do we have a comprehensive parking study in place,” Haight said, “and pretty much, for us to get any money, if we even can with grants or even a loan, we’re going to have to have a comprehensive parking study.”

Haight also stated the city, last year, had received an estimate for a parking study that would cost $28,000 to $30,000.

Concerning the requirement of the study to apply for grants, Fitts added, “We’ve been sitting down at a lot of these meetings and the requirements to even apply for grants and get grants is more comprehensive than I ever even realized, so we’re going to have to have this regardless.”

After this, Haight made a motion to proceed with steps to conduct the study, which was followed by a second from Fitts with the provision for the city to receive estimates for the study. Initially, the vote was stalled when Fitts and Haight voted in favor of the study, but council members Robbie Cornelius, Ken Gaddis and Harold Herndon all delayed in voting. Cornelius and Gaddis both questioned the financing of the study.

“One of reasons I asked Alicia (Stewart) to look at doing as much as she did on the (capital planning information) you got today is so you understood where the money is and where it will have to come from, so therefore, if you approve up to $30,000 for this study, remember that you’re pushing something else (another project) down the road,” Whitener told the council.

Another vote was taken with Fitts and Haight again voting in favor, Cornelius and Gaddis voting against and Herndon abstaining. After consulting with City Attorney James Balli as to the nature of the vote, Mayor Whitener voted in favor of the parking study to break the tie, allowing for the city to proceed with the study as proposed.

In other items, the council also unanimously voted to appoint Johnny Scearce as the Blue Ridge City Police chief without the attached tag of “interim”. At the first city council meeting of the the new year and new administration Jan.9, the council voted unanimously to add the title of “interim” to Scearce’s role as police chief until such time as another permanent police chief could be installed to replace Scearce. At this month’s meeting, the decision to remove the “interim” tag was made without discussion or explanation as to the council’s reasoning behind the move.

First readings for two city ordinances were given at the meeting. The first ordinance, as explained by City Attorney James Balli, would condense both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the city Planning Commission from seven members to five members each. Balli further explained each city council member would appoint one member to serve on each board and appointees would be allowed to serve on both boards. According to Balli, the ordinance, if passed, would amend an already established city ordinance to be compliant with the City Charter and state law.

The other ordinance, termed an Illumination Ordinance, would, according to the wording, make it “unlawful for any person, organization of persons, or entity to willfully tamper with, illegally project light upon, mutilate or deface any City personal or real property, including, without limitation, trees, other plants, buildings, drive-in theaters screens, vehicles or other equipment for lighting, firefighting, police protection or water and sewer installation and
maintenance.” First-time violators of the ordinance would face a civil fine of at least $500 and subsequent violations would be punishable by a civil fine of at least $500 and up to 90 days in jail.

The council voted to increase water rates for wholesale users from $3.25 per 1,000 gallons to $4.25 per 1,000 gallons. Becky Harkins, city utilities director, explained that the cost to the city to produce and provide water to wholesale users has recently increased to $3.75 per 1,000 gallons. Harkins also added that, if approved, the rate increase would take effect in 90 days, beginning with the July billing cycle. After Mayor Whitener asked Anita Weaver, chairwoman of the Fannin County Water Authority (FCWA), about the fairness of the 90-day advance notice to the FCWA, Weaver stated the Authority, one of the wholesale users that would be affected by the increase, would prefer a six-month notice. As a compromise, the council approved the rate increase, which will take effect in 120 days as opposed to 90.

In a follow-up discussion from the March 13 meeting, Councilman Gaddis stated that steps are being taken by the council in coordination with City Clerk Kelsey Ledford and City Attorney Balli to amend the city council’s rules of procedures for meetings to allow for more public commentary on action items before a final vote is taken. Gaddis explained he would like to see speakers be given a chance to address the council in an open-mic forum. He also added he did not want to place a limit on the number of speakers allowed to speak. However, Haight suggested setting a time limit for speakers, and Fitts suggested only allowing one person from a given organization or group to speak on a particular action item. Balli stated drafts of the amended rules of procedures are being composed, and Gaddis said he would like for the issue to come to a vote at the May meeting.

The future of the farmer’s market property was again addressed by the council. Haight stated she had received some feedback from two different groups interested in using the farmer’s market in some capacity. Gaddis said he personally had received no interest from anyone.

“If we don’t have anything by the next meeting, I would ask that we maybe could open this up for leasing options,” Gaddis said. “Obviously, strict leasing options to preserve the farmer’s market and everything about the history of the farmer’s market.”

After a brief executive session, the council reconvened and approved two personnel decisions. The council approved Chief Scearce to hire Ricky Henry as an officer starting at a rate of $16 an hour. Also, the hiring of Mark Patterson as water treatment plant supervisor was approved at the rate of $21.50 an hour.



Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Blue Ridge City Council hears flooding complaint


BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Blue Ridge City Council met Tuesday, March 13, with a number of action and discussion items on its agenda. Headlining those items were an adoption of a city open records policy, potential improvements and repairs to City Hall and residential property flooding near Ada Street.

Regarding the open records policy, City Attorney James Balli stated the city is governed by the state Open Records Act, which preempts any city ordinance or policy. The attorney explained the Georgia Municipal Association advises all member municipalities to adopt an official opens records policy.

“(The policy) provides more explanation,” Balli added. “It doesn’t change any rules, which we can’t do that.”

Balli further explained the policy would allow “faster access to routine documents to citizens and the press” and that citizens of the city would be given priority on requests but that all requests would be fulfilled in a timely manner. Balli told the council the city previously did not have an official open records policy. He also stated while the state Open Records Act does not require a request in written form, a written request utilizing the city’s open records request form is encouraged and required to ensure the fulfillment of requests to those making the requests.

According to the city open records policy, from the time an open records request is made, the city has three business days to determine whether the requested information is subject to disclosure or redacted disclosure and to either produce the information upon payment of any applicable fees or provide the person requesting records with a timeline of when the information will be produced if said information is not immediately available.

The policy further states, “If the requested record is not subject to disclosure, or full disclosure, the City Attorney (or his or her designee) shall identify in writing to the requestor the provision of law that makes all or part of a record exempt from disclosure. The City Attorney’s decision regarding exemption or partial exemption of a record shall be the final decision.”

The Georgia Open Records Act O.C.G.A. § 50-18-70 defines public and open records as “all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, computer based or generated information, data, data fields, or similar material prepared and maintained or received by an agency. Public records also mean such items received or maintained by a private person or entity in the performance of a service or function for or on behalf of an agency and such items transferred to a private person or entity for storage or future governmental use.”

A budget allotment of up to $10,000 was approved for a kitchen remodel project at City Hall. Finance Director Alicia Stewart explained city Clerk of Court and Office Manager Barbie Gerald had requested the amount to cover costs for cabinets, counters, hardware, a sink, a faucet, grout, tile, mirrors, an oven hood and labor. Stewart added the estimate for the these items stood at $6,850.31 and did not include appliances. “I think Barbie (Gerald) wanted a little higher than ($6,850.31) just in case there was something that came up,” Stewart said of the potential additional allotment.

During the approval vote, Councilman Ken Gaddis voted against the allotment and Councilman Nathan Fitts was initially undecided, stating at one point that he had seen some repurposed items listed on social media recently that could alleviate costs to the city and also admitting he had not reviewed information on the materials. After a second vote was taken, however, Fitts voted in favor of the allotment. Councilman Harold Herndon was not present for the meeting.

The council later discussed whether to repair the overhang roof of the drive-through area outside City Hall or to demolish it entirely. The roof of the overhang and a portion of the main building’s roof was damaged in an April 2017 storm and the city recently received an insurance claims check for $20,165 for the damage to the overhang. Last month, the council weighed repair options but ultimately agreed repairs to the overhang would not be frugal given the city’s hopes to eventually adapt that side of City Hall and the adjoining parking lot into a two-story parking deck.

A suggestion was made to demolish the overhang and erect an outdoor drop box for any payments to the city. Fitts questioned where the city fire engine would be parked if the overhang was demolished and the idea to approach the county about possibly storing the engine at the forthcoming public safety complex on Windy Ridge Road was mentioned. Mayor Donna Whitener further explained the city is hoping to still receive further insurance claims funds for the damage suffered to the main building’s roof. She also stated the council would have to decide between repairing the roof with shingles or with metal roofing.

Ultimately, the item was tabled to allow the council more time to gather further information.

In public commentary, Ben Kissel, a city resident, addressed the council concerning recent flooding to his property as well as neighboring properties off of Ada Street. In his statement, Kissel explained the flooding issue was a direct result of a collapsed pipe on his property and related the collapse to an artificial concentration of large amounts of water funneling into his property from developments approved by the city. Kissel also noted before the pipe collapse, flooding had never been an issue on his property, but during the month of February, his property had flooded three times.

Ada Street resident Ben Kissel, left, discusses a flooding issue on his property with the Blue Ridge City Council as Councilmembers Ken Gaddis, center, and Nathan Fitts hear his complaint.

“Therefore, I feel it has become the city’s responsibility being that we nor the property owners before us have ever been compensated for these actions,” Kissel stated.

Kissel said in discussions with the mayor and city council members during the past year, he and his wife, Natalie Kissel, “have been given the runaround” concerning the issue. Infrastructure, Kissel stated, was a top priority mentioned in nearly every candidate’s campaign platforms during last year’s elections for city council, at times, “even citing my property in your campaigns.”

“But what it really comes down to is your actual priorities. Three months into your terms, and I have seen the approval to supply water to a cherry picked development (Staurolite Mountain) outside of the city limits,” Kissel continued. “I have heard that the price tag for this venture is upward of $50,000. That is almost 8 percent of the total cost to fix the entire drainage infrastructure to our city. That is 8 percent that the residents and business owners will have to wait even longer for you to come up with.”

Kissel went on to cite other recently discussed potential expenditures, such as the $10,000 allotment, approved earlier in the meeting, for the kitchen remodel and a sound system for the downtown area.

After this, Kissel presented the city with three options: fix the issue themselves, allow the Kissels to fix the issue and “the third option, and your most expensive, is to continue to do what you have done and that is nothing.”

Kissel also presented the council with a copy of the Georgia Nuisance Law, which requires land owners, developers, municipalities and counties to protect the rights of adjoining property owners from the unnatural effects of land development. “The city is in direct violation of that law,” Kissel added.

Later, Councilman Gaddis explained the intricacies involved in creating a drainage area and suggested that the city’s engineering firm, Carter & Sloope, investigate the drainage issue immediately. “I would love to get this done, and I think we should get Carter & Sloope on this as soon as possible,” Gaddis added. “I just want to apologize to Mr. and Mrs. Kissel here for this issue.”

Mayor Whitener reminded everyone that the previous council had already approved for Carter & Sloope to conduct engineering studies in the drainage area near Ada Street last year but added that the council had not yet approved for any work to take place.

Near the end of the discussion, City Attorney Balli told the council, “For the record, I hear what the council is saying and I don’t necessarily agree with some of the legal opinions as to who may or may not be responsible … We go by your decisions, not mine.”

On Thursday, Ben Kissel confirmed action was being taken from the city council to resolve the issue and representatives from Carter & Sloope are slated to visit the drainage area near Ada Street next week.


Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Transparency discussed at Blue Ridge City Council meeting


BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – “Transparency” was a word heard and a topic addressed frequently during the Tuesday, Feb. 13, Blue Ridge City Council meeting.

The topic discussion began in earnest during the council’s first reading and adoption of a purchasing policy amendment. The amendment was explained by Blue Ridge Finance Director Alicia Stewart after Council Member Rhonda Thomas-Haight recommended the policy’s changes be read in an effort to produce “transparency with the audience.”

Blue Ridge City Council, from left, front: Mayor Donna Whitener, council members Rhonda Thomas, Robbie Cornelius; back: council members Harold Herndon, Nathan Fitts and Kenneth Gaddis.

According to the amended policy, the changes will allow purchases up to $500 to be approved by a city department supervisor or the city clerk in a single transaction with no required quotes. Purchases between $500.01 and $2,500 will require one supplier quote, verbal or written, and approval from the department supervisor. Purchases between $2,500.01 and $5,000 will require one written quote, approval of the department supervisor and written authorization of an elected city official. For purchases from $5,000 to $99,999.99, two written quotes, bids, or proposals will be required along with approval from the city council prior to issuance of a purchase order.

Any expenditure over $100,000 whether supplies, equipment or service contracts will “require a contract and
sealed bids or proposals and shall be advertised in the legal organ a minimum of two times, with the first advertisement occurring at least four weeks prior to the opening of sealed bids or proposals.” Also, council approval will be required for these expenditures.

When asked by an audience member why the changes were being made to raise the spending thresholds, Stewart stated the new city council requested the changes to give more responsibility and freedom to department supervisors to make needed expenditures within their allotted budgets.

“An example: we had an issue where we had a fire hydrant that was damaged and (Water and Utilities Director) Becky (Harkins) couldn’t even order a fire hydrant without getting three council members to approve (along with) a department head and all those things,” Mayor Donna Whitener said, “and when a fire hydrant is leaking, you really need to get it replaced or you’re going to have a lot of water on the ground. So, it’s enough to take care of emergency purchases like that.”

After Brian Pritchard, publisher of FetchYourNews, questioned the council about the $100,000 limit and the requirement of bids, Stewart reiterated bids would still be required for purchases below $100,000.00, but the public procedure of advertising the request for bids through the legal organ for four weeks would not be required.

Also, the amendment as originally drafted would have raised meal allowances for city officials on city business trips from $30 a day to $40. However, after council members Robbie Cornelius and Ken Gaddis agreed the amount should be left at $30, the amendment was approved provided the meal allowance remain unchanged.

Later, a conflict of interest disclosure was read concerning a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) awarded to the city in 2016 to upgrade water and fire protection infrastructure in portions of neighborhoods east of or near East Second Street. The disclosure gave public notice of technical conflicts of interest among all city council members, except Gaddis, who either live or own property in the area, have family members who live in the area and/or have business interests in the area. Whitener said that although a similar statement was read previously concerning the project, it occurred during the previous city council administration. The mayor further explained there were similar conflicts among the former council members as well.

“Hopefully, since we’ve read the conflict, there shouldn’t be any issues with that,” Thomas-Haight explained, “because it is transparent.”

Of the public notice, City Clerk Kelsey Ledford explained, “We’ve disclosed all of our conflicts of interest and then at our next council meeting, we’ll have all the paperwork to formally request an exception to the conflicts of interest.”

Also concerning the CDBG project, the council approved to add Ledford to the bank account designated for the project, approved the contract from The Renee Group, the construction firm that will be overseeing the project, and gave approval to Mayor Whitener to sign the notice to proceed with the project after City Attorney James Balli reviews the notice.

Before the council entered into executive session to discuss personnel issues, Pritchard again addressed the council, asking them about the possibility of utilizing workshops, similar to those seen during the former administration, to allow for better transparency to citizens. “This is the second regular meeting and one special called meeting (during the new administration) and you’re doing a lot of first readings, and I’m really not understanding where the council is having these discussions,” Pritchard stated.

Mayor Whitener stated, in regard to the purchasing policy amendment, that she, council member Harold Herndon and all the department supervisors had a previous meeting to discuss the changes to the policy.

“The citizens don’t know this till they get here … You made a major first reading on a purchasing policy tonight,” Pritchard continued. “Could you go back to workshops because I just have a little concern on transparency?”

To this, Thomas-Haight replied, “You will notice too tonight, we have taken interaction from the audience. Our previous council did not do that, and we want people to be involved … We are 100 percent transparent and we are allowed by law to communicate with each other via email, we can call each other … We talk all the time, but we’re not breaking the Sunshine Law because we don’t meet.”

“All I ask is if you could look at (using) workshops. That’s it,” Pritchard said again.

“We’ll consider it,” Thomas-Haight told Pritchard.

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com


Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

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