Blue Ridge, Ga. – City Council, along with the Mayor, say that a sidewalk ordinance is in the works. Still in the beginning stages, the sidewalk ordinance stands to address complaints and concerns expressed by local business owners and visitors.
Drew Dillard, owner of Juliana’s Boutique, a clothing and accessory shop on East Main Street, spoke to council about his personal dealings with a particular street performer who regularly sets up in front of his store.
“For the last year I’ve had a street performer set up outside of my store over two dozen times,” Dillard spoke during the Blue Ridge City Council meeting, “He has a donation bucket, a microphone stand, an umbrella , an umbrella stand, his guitar case, a speaker and a large piece of luggage that he uses to role all of his equipment in.”
Dillard pointed out that this vendor essentially blocks the sidewalk and he has witnessed pedestrians having to walk into the street to get around the performer. He questioned if this would cause a liability issue for the city should there be an accident.
The noise from the performer, however, was Dillard’s main complaint when addressing the council. In order to combat the music being played by the performer, Dillard says he has to close the doors to his shop and turn up his own music: “I have had dozens of customers who have complained to me about it, and there’s nothing I can do because there’s no ordinance in place.”
Beyond the noise, liability, and inconvenience street vendors could cause in the city, Dillard also pointed out that “legitimate business owners” also pay a plethora of fees and taxes, including licenses fees, property taxes, and individual taxes. Local businesses also collect sales tax which in turn gets reinvested in our community.
Dillard suggested that vendors should pay a permit fee and that the city could designate areas for them to set up.
Upon Dillard completing his argument, Mayor Donna Whitener immediately replied that an ordinance was already being worked out.
Council member Nathan Fitts backed Dillard’s complaints stating, “I’ve had several complaints and phone calls too.”
“Just so you know we’ve already started that process,” City Attorney James Balli spoke of city efforts on the matter.
Balli pointed out that the city has to do its due diligence in composing the ordinance and must be careful in the wording due to First Amendment rights. The City of McCaysville passed a vendor ordinance earlier this year that was met with controversy for this reason after a street preacher claimed that preaching was no longer allowed on the streets.
Regardless of the wait while an ordinance is being drafted, Balli did say referencing the safety and liability issues: “There may be some other things that can be done if someone is blocking the sidewalk.”
McCaysville, Ga. – With growth comes crime, and McCaysville is not immune to this statistic. McCaysville Chief of Police Michael Earley made a plea to city council to help him keep the citizens of the city safe.
“I know we just passed the budget, but I am asking the council to help me out,” Earley began as he asked council members to find funds somewhere in the budget to hire another full-time officer for night shift.
The McCaysville Police Department is currently comprised of only 6 full-time officers with the remaining force being part-time.
August has been the busiest month that the department has experienced. Earley laid out statistics for the month stating that the department received 53 dispatch calls, 121 phone calls, 15 walk-ins, and 68 vehicle stops.
Among the calls to come in during the month of August, Earley referenced one in particular that reinforced his feelings that the city and his department would be safer with another full-time officer. This incident made statewide news as an officer involved shooting.
Patrolman Bill Higdon was first to arrive on the scene of an unstable gunman holding 3 citizens hostage. According to Earley, Higdon, alone on the scene, screamed into the radio for backup as the suspect was actively discharging a weapon inside the home.
Earley stated that he does not want his officers working alone on night shift. Being in pairs will provide extra security to the officers and enable them “to effectively protect the citizens of this city that we live in”.
“I know this is going to take more money and I don’t know where that money is going to be found, but if you all would consider trying to find that money somewhere,” Earley said about the need for another full-time officer, and added, with visible emotion, about the night of the hostage situation, “We came out ahead and lives were saved that day and we all went home safe. This is just one event that could very easily happen again.”
Council member Rodney Patterson answered Earley immediately addressing fellow council, “I think we could find it in the budget for him to have help.”
Patterson also made mention that the purchase of 3 new body shields at a price tag of $300 a piece would add to the safety of the force.
“I think if our chief needs something then we try to get it for him,” Council member Sue Beaver agreed with Patterson.
Patterson made the motion for a full time officer to be added to the police force and for the purchase of three body shields, council member Richard Wagner gave a second and the council voted unanimously in favor.
Earley mentioned the possibility of moving a part-time officer to the full-time position. This hire would save the city money in that the officer would already have the necessary training to fill the full-time spot.
Pastor protection in the state and Citizen protection in Blue Ridge.