Council’s Coup Affects East Main Street Improvements

News

 

A coup of sorts took place at the Special-Called Blue Ridge City Council meeting on August 26.  Council Members Harold Herndon, Angie Arp, Bruce Pack and Rodney Kendall decided to take back the power of their posts.  They want Mayor Whitener’s role to be implementing the decisions and advice the Council gives.  They agreed that Mayor Whitener takes on too much responsibility and the end result is potholes not getting filled, sloopy city pool management, phone calls going unreturned and miscommunication.  Councilman Kendall officiated the meeting.  Mayor Whitener and Councilwoman Rhonda Thomas were not present.

Discussing the Mayor and Council Members separation of responsibility was not on the agenda. To be clear, no motions were made and passed about the Mayor and the Council’s responsibility.  When Arp wanted to pass a motion regarding the responsibilities, Kendall said he didn’t feel comfortable with this because the topic wasn’t on the agenda.

Arp initiated the discussion after presenting designs and costs for the City Park.  (see “Park to Open for Play in Late September” ). She began by reading the News-Observer editorial from Wednesday, August 24th.  The editorial paints an ineffective and inefficient elected city government.  “Mismanagement, miscommunications and a total lack of cooperation have once again proven Blue Ridge is a city with no direction” begins the editorial.  It ends with “They deserve leadership that makes solid plans, then carries out those plans.  Citizens are not getting what they deserve.”

“I don’t operate this way.  I ran for office to get things done.  The council makes decisions for everything in the city.  The Mayor is supposed to implement  decisions” said Arp.  During her statements she used Jarrard & Davis’ Inquiry to support her argument.  The inquiry findings stated that the total of all that the Mayor manages now is “too burdensome for any one individual to handle.  One of the Inquiry’s recommendations is “Council Members should be returned to their previously held “Commissioner’s” role: Herdon – Police; Kendall – Water and Sewer; Thomas- Streets; Arp – Office; Pack – Parks.

Indeed, all Council Members present thought that they had been elected to these roles and have been surprised at how Mayor Whitener described their responsibilities.

Arp told Herndon, Pack and Kendall that the root of the matter is a difference between how the Mayor interprets the City Charter and Council Members interpret it.  The passage in question is “For the purpose of electing members of the council, the City of Blue Ridge shall consist of one election district with five numbered posts.  Each person seeking election shall designate the post for which he [sic] seeks election.”  According to Arp, the Mayor, on advice of City Attorney David Syfan, interpreted the passage to mean that the Mayor appoints Council Members to commissions when she sets up one and this can be considered “posts.”  The City Charter outlines the Mayor’s responsibilities as “Recommend to the city council such measures relative to the affairs of the city, improvement of the government, and promotion of the welfare of its inhabitants as he [sic] deems expedient.”

Pack said, “I felt like we should have all been involved in what we were voted in for.  I think we would have done a lot better if it had been from the beginning the way it’s supposed to be.”

Kendall stated that there had been a lack of communication and things weren’t cared for.  He specifically referenced losing the Kiwanis grant for playground equipment.  “Don’t know where the lack of communication is.  We have made decisions.  If I’d been told, you need to go back to Kiwanis, sit there and talk to them, say, hey you need to take care of this.  My assumption was that we had made the decision and it was being taken care of.  But, apparently that was the wrong assumption to make.”

After agreeing with Arp that Council Members  should manage different department functions of the city government and services, Council Members went on to assert their regained power.

Their first action was cancelling an Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant to build a restroom/ welcome center at the site of the restrooms on the corner of East Main and Church.  The cost estimate of the center is $880,946. The grant was for $300,000. The City would pay $580,946, with $355,750 coming from the yet unapproved SPLOST 2016 and $225,196 from the City’s budget.

The City doesn’t have that kind of money.  I thought the City was only responsible for $355,750 in in-kind work and only $80,000 from city budget said Arp.  The in-kind work Arp is talking about is $355,750 for demolishing the current retaining wall and sidewalk structures at the corner and rebuilding the corner to accommodate the new structure and sidewalk improvements plus $5,000 for the preliminary architectural design, more on this later in the article.

The Council said paying $880,946 for bathrooms and welcome center is an outrageous price.  However, the actual cost of the facilities is $530,196.  The remainder of the estimated cost pays for corner improvements.

Then Arp told the Council she thought that grants sometimes cost more than they are worth because they obligate the city to use specific vendors and contractors.  Kendall agreed saying that grants also have hidden costs because of regulations the city must follow.  Pack said that the most important improvements at the moment is getting the playground back in City Park and East Main Street improvements.

Arp also brought up that ARC wanted the City to sign a contract with RDesign Works for $53,000 before the City applied for the grant in addition to the $5,000 for a conceptual plan.  RDesign Works, owned by Morganton resident, Rick LaRossa, won the bid for the center contract in spring.  City Attorney David Syfan advised the Council that the city would be obligated to pay $58,000 to RDesign Works whether the city received the grant or not.  However, in the same email, Syfan states, “I have not yet studied the contract in detail.”

Arp said that the grant itself costs $8,000 to submit,  bringing the total sum to $66,000.  Arp believes that all $66,000 would be lost if the City applied for but didn’t win the grant.  The city has already paid $4,250 to prepare the grant.

The four Council members present agreed with Arp and cancelled the grant application.  They did not suggest how to fund renovation of existing bathrooms.  Arp did say that the county already has a good welcome center at the Chamber of Commerce so one downtown isn’t so important.

However, in a series of emails obtained by FetchYourNews, the company that prepared the grant advises the Mayor and Council, “This application must go to DCA this week. (Emphasized in red font) All future applications are at stake.  The delay primarily has been due to a lack of response and direction from council regarding the project funding balance and estimated operating expenses.”

The Council’s actions returned full-circle to the News-Observer editorial that Arp quoted in the beginning. “Years ago, when city officials got involved in restoring the downtown Depot, that project was only supposed to take a few months.  Three years later the occupants were able to move back in, but work still had to be done.”

The second action made by the Council to reassert their power was to refuse to pay RDesign Works $5,000 for its preliminary architectural design.  Kendall said the Mayor had told the Council that the design was a non-paying thing.  Arp added “We never approved of it.  I don’t know why it is being billed to us.”  Fair enough agreed Kendall and the four Council members voted to not pay the $5,000 invoice.

The Council did not discuss how withdrawing the ARC grant would affect future grant applications from the Blue Ridge. The Appalachian Regional Commission, a division of the US government provides grants for high cost projects like infrastructure, housing, telecommunications, leadership development, civic capacity, business development and entrepreneurship.

Recent actions, though, have shown that the Council has misjudged repercussions. The Council’s inaction and miscommunication caused the city to lose the Kiwanis grant and harmed the city’s future relationship with Kiwanis.  The Council’s decision to tear out the downtown city park landscaping puts the city in jeopardy of losing the $120,000 Vaughn-Jordon Foundation grant.  (see “Park to Open for Play in Late September” )

No word yet on how not getting the ARC grant will affect the Council’s other premier project –  East Main Street street and sidewalk renovations.

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City Council Completes $26,635 Investigation: Summary of Jarrard & Davis’ Findings

News

Blue Ridge City Council and government received the outcome of the eight-month investigation into unethical behavior and decision-making by City Council members and the Blue Ridge Police Department.  With the release of these findings, the investigation is finished.  Jarrard & Davis law firm conducted the investigation.  Council Member Angie Arp initiated the investigation which cost Blue Ridge taxpayers $26,635.32 to-date.  There is still an outstanding invoice.

There was no “smoking gun” evidence that Council members or the Blue Ridge Police Department committed any crime.  The investigation did note some areas where Council Members and the Police Department should act more wisely.  Several times the law firm chided those under investigation for lack of transparency.  Also, Jarrard & Davis said city officials should act more responsibly in recusing themselves from votes where there is even just a glimmer of appearance that the vote or action would result in private benefit or financial gain for oneself, family or friends.  Ken Jarrard stated, “The best guidance we provide is if you believe your official action may carry with it appearance of impropriety, consult city attorney.”

The report said that one accusation needed more investigation – the free give-a-way of city property at the end of West Main Street to a City resident at no cost.  This happened in 2009 when Bill Sowers was City Administrator.  The City Charter said that the land could be given away, but state law says that the land couldn’t be given away without payment.  State law supersedes City Charter.  The final recommendation is that City Attorney David Syfan edit documentation about the sale so that it complies with Georgia law.

“we could not compel individuals to cooperate nor were individuals placed under oath during the course of providing their responses.” – Jarrard & Davis

There were additional witnesses in the Phase II interviews.  In Phase I, Jarrard & Davis only questioned current Blue Ridge officials and employees.  In Phase II, Jarrard & Davis spoke with former City Administrator Bill Sowers and several unidentified individuals.  These people did not work with the city government.  However, they said that they had additional relevant information about city officials due to their relationships with Blue Ridge.

Jarrard & Davis were only able to interview willing witnesses.  The law firm could not subpoena witnesses or documents.  In their findings, Jarrard & Davis emphasized “we could not compel individuals to cooperate nor were individuals placed under oath during the course of providing their responses.”

The Phase II investigation set out to answer:  is Mayor Whitener’s residency legally within Blue Ridge; did the Blue Ridge Police Department knowingly and illegally mishandle funds; and did city officials use City of Blue Ridge resources for personal gain and betterment of friends and family.

Mayor Whitener’s Residency

According to all documents received, voter registration, and official letters mailed to her house, Mayor Whitener lives at 266 Orvin Lance Connector, in a loft dwelling above her Town & County Furniture store.  She has lived there since March 2006 when she received her Certificate of Occupancy.  The report also referred to rumors running around that the Mayor doesn’t actually spend the night there, i.e. her real house is somewhere else.  Jarrard & Davis’ response is that the only way to dispel the rumors is to hire private investigators and “stake out” the Mayor following her from work to home or to subpoena friends and relatives to give sworn testimony about where the Mayor spends the night, so strong is the documentation that Mayor Whitener is a legal resident of Blue Ridge with her home on Orvin Lance Connector.

Back in October 2015, Council Member Angie Arp questioned the legality of Mayor Whitener’s Blue Ridge residency and called for the Jarrard & Davis investigation.  To date, the investigation has cost  $26,635.32.  The documents that certify the Mayor as a legal resident of Blue Ridge are the same documents that certified her as a legal resident of Blue Ridge before the investigation began.

Financial Accountability of Blue Ridge’s Police Department

The investigation looked into two different events:  police department officers’ buying back their handguns and money earned through advertisement sales for the yearly police calendar.  In both cases, Jarrard & Davis found nothing illegal had taken place, but the firm advised the Police Department to be more transparent in how it sets up financing schemes that are out of the direct control of the City’s Finance Department.

In 2014, the Blue Ridge Police Department financed buying new guns from citizen donations, selling of the department’s 10 older Glock guns and using some money from the confiscated assets fund.  Smyrna Police Distributors bought the handguns from the department for $315.  Officers bought back their guns at half the price – $170 and the department was to receive $1700.  The report states that the convoluted reimbursement procedures and the city’s antiquated financial record-keeping meant that the $1700 check got lost along the way.  The check was written in December 2014.  In late spring the city’s Finance Department told Blue Ridge Police Chief Johnny Scearce that a check was missing.  In July 2014, Chief Scearce returned the money.  Jarrard & Davis said that the complicated financial transaction was a bad idea, but it wasn’t an illegally motivated idea.

The second allegation was over the obscure way the Police Department obtains money from the sell of advertisements in the calendar.  The Police Department doesn’t not handle any money from the calendars.  The printer , The Police & Sherriffs’ Press, Inc  out of Vidalia collects the money from advertisers and gives the money to the Police Department to purchase equipment as needed.  Jarrard & Davis said that in this day in age, citizens and donors expect complete transparency in an organization’s financial procedures.  So, the Police Department needs a written contract with The Police & Sherriffs’ Press that shows how money will be distributed.  Up to now, the contract has been a “gentlemen’s agreement”.

Angie Arp, Rodney Kendall, Michael Eaton’s Use of City of Blue Ridge Resources

Jarrard & Davis looked into whether current Council Members Angie Arp and Rodney Kendall and former Council Member Michael Eaton (currently Mr. Eaton is on the city’s Zoning and Appeals Board) used their power and their “insider” knowledge to benefit themselves.

The first question was about Mr. Kendall’s driveway.  The accusation is that Mr. Kendall had his driveway repaved at the city’s cost.  Former City Administrator Bill Sowers said that in the city’s best interest to pave Mr. Kendall’s driveway for two reasons.  One, the city had to cut out a portion of the driveway to connect to a water main, and, two, the new piping had a valve on it which could be broken by a garbage truck’s once-weekly trip up the Kendall driveway to collect the garbage.  The investigation found no evidence that Mr. Kendall requested the driveway work.  In fact, Mr. Kendall states he was out of town when the paving took place.

The second question was whether Mr. Eaton or Mr. Kendall’s wives monetarily benefited from the city contracting its cell-phone service through AT&T. The wives of both men were managers at different local AT&T stores.  There was no evidence of kickbacks.  Mr. Eaton recused himself from voting on the AT&T contract. Jarrard &Davis said that to avoid any glimmer of impropriety, Mr. Kendall should have recused himself as well.

The third question was over graveling of a city lot on the corner of Messer and East Main.  Jan Eaton, mother of Michael Eaton, owns the property.  Ms. Eaton claimed that after a 2013 curb renovation by Blue Ridge, her property started to flood.  The City Council decided to go ahead and gravel her lot because Ms. Eaton threatened a lawsuit if the city did not reduce flooding on her property.  Jarrard & Davis said that the decision was ultimately in the best interest of the city because it stopped a potentially more expensive lawsuit.  However, as in many of the events investigated, there were issues of accountability and transparency.  Notably, the city never made a settlement contract with Ms. Eaton against litigation due to storm water runoff.

The fourth question was if Council Member Angie Arp used special information learned during her work as a City Council member for personal gain.  The question arose from Ms. Arp’s purchase of a West Main Street property around the same time a developer approached the city about building a hotel or multi-residence dwelling on West Main Street.  As the Jarrard & Davis report said, it is hard to figure out a person’s inner motivation.  What the investigation did find out was that there were two bids on the property.  Ms. Arp’s bid of $210,000 was higher than the other bid.  And, if there were to be a windfall, it certainly was not immediate.  Ms. Arp paid $164,000 over the assessed value of $46,000 for the property

The findings concluded by reminding all City Council members and the Mayor that personality conflicts and relationship struggles have hindered the city’s ability to professionally serve Blue Ridge residents and businesses.

 

Related articles:   Jarrard & Davis’ City of Blue Ridge Investigation: Phase Two Findings

 

  Jarrard & Davis’ City of Blue Ridge Investigation: Phase One Findings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fannin and the BRCC 6/15/16

GMFTO

BKP highlights the fallout of the Jarrard and Davis Investigation, what it’s like to be an Attorney in Blue Ridge, and the City Councils folly.

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Jarrard and Davis Give Status of Blue Ridge City Council Inquiry

News

Jarrard & Davis, the law firm which is conducting the investigation of the Blue Ridge City Council, provided FetchYourNews with an update on its investigation.

This current stage was authorized by the City Council on Feb. 2, 2016.  According to Jarrard & Davis, during this stage they have interviewed “city government personnel, city residents and other non-resident individuals with relevant knowledge regarding each of the “Master List” topics that were identified in our Phase I Findings Report, as well as the review of relevant public and private records and correspondence.”

The inquiry’s “Master List” topics for further action are: investigating a City government department’s liquidation of city assets and accounting of cash transactions; concluding the debate around the Mayor’s legal place of residence; and a review of City officials potentially using their office for the betterment of their friends and family.

FetchYourNews asked Jarrard & Davis which departments and people listed in the recommendations have been cleared of illegal misdeeds.  The firm cannot comment at this time.  FetchYourNews also asked which departments and people are being investigated.  Again, the firm cannot comment at this time.

After completing the investigation, Jarrard & Davis will prepare a report for the Mayor and City Council which contains their determination of which problematic actions of City of Blue Ridge government call for disciplinary action or civil or criminal prosecution.  Attorney Ken Jarrard says that a date for release of the investigation findings has not been set.

Council Member Angie Arp instigated the Jarrard & Davis investigation, which began in December 2015.  She contacted the the firm, which specializes in providing legal services for counties and municipalities, to investigate the legality of Mayor Whitener being the Mayor of Blue Ridge.  Mayor Whitener agreed to the investigation and recommened to open the scope of the investigation to all Council Members and city government departments.

 

Related Posts:           Jarrard and Davis’ Blue Ridge Phase One Investigation Report (inquiry findings Jarrard & Davis gave to the City Council)

Jarrard and Davis Release Blue Ridge City Council  Inquiry Report

Feb. 2 Council Meeting:  Council Inquiry, Water Bills and Street Repairs

Alicia Stewart Praised in Jarrard & Davis Inquiry

    Jarrard and Davis Investigation Phase Continues

 

 

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Alicia Stewart Praised in Jarrard and Davis Inquiry

Downtown Blue Ridge

Blue Ridge’s  Finance Department, especially Alicia Stewart, Blue Ridge’s Finance Director was the only bright spot in Jarrard and Davis’ inquiry into the Blue Ridge City Council and operations at the City Hall.  The inquiry stated, “While it does appear that financial policies were largely non-existent or incomplete in years past, the City’s current Financial Director Alicia Stewart has worked to implement purchasing policies that are complaint with the law.  Later, in the same paragraph, Jarrard and Davis compliment Ms. Stewart saying, “The City’s Finance Director displayed a strong understanding of local government financing.”

Ms. Stewart took came to work at Blue Ridge City Hall in 2011, when the former finance director stepped down due to health reasons.  Prior to beginning as Blue Ridge’s Finance Director, Stewart worked at Land and Associates in Ellijay where she performed governmental audits for the firm.  After that she worked as the Finance Director for Calhoun for four years.  Taking the job at Blue Ridge gave her about two and one-half more hours in her day; the hour and fifteen minute commute became twenty minutes from her home in Epworth. In fact, Fannin County has always been her home except for a few early years and time away at university.

Stewart trained in accounting during the early 2000s when tales of crooked books were constantly in the news with the most publicized example being the black holes in the accounting books of Enron Corporation and the dissolution of Arthur Anderson, one of the five largest accounting firms in the world.  Needless to say, the concepts of transparency and ethics were constant lessons in her accounting and business management classes at the University of North Georgia. To keep her CPA licensure current, Stewart must take 40 hours of classes per year.  Her classes are always specific to government financing and are through Georgia Government Finance Officers Association. Blue Ridge’s hiring of a CPA to run its Finance Department is in line with the trend in local government finances.  As people retire from positions of local government finance directorships, small towns and rural counties are hiring CPAs because of their knowledge of how to create budget transparency.

Her job as Finance Director is more like being a pipeline for financial transactions.  She cannot approve purchases or write checks.  She makes sure that the withdrawals and deposits accurately represent their respective budget categories and that there are enough reserves in the budget categories.  Stewart says that her role in monitoring the finances is one of the checks and balance systems in place so that the same person cannot purchase and write the check. Her first project as Finance Director was to set different procedures for purchasing and paying for different dollar thresholds.  Also, she advises Blue Ridge in its bid processes.

Previous accounting methods used by Blue Ridge were more informal.  According to Stewart, there wasn’t conscious intention on the part of the previous generations of Finance Director; it was just how small town governments used to work.  Stewart believes that financing procedures must be black and white, clear and concise, workable without too much paperwork.  In addition to Georgia’s Sunshine Laws, another reason to step up more formal accounting procedures is Blue Ridge’s incredible growth.

One accounting task that Stewart is not responsible for is the end-of-year audit.  This year Welch, Walker and Associates in Ellijay will perform the audit.  For the previous 15 years or more, Renee Bidez, CPA performed the audits.  He went into retirement last year, but still assisted Welch, Walker and Associates with the audit so that there was a seamless transition.  Georgia governments must post their audits on the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts website 

Stewart also gave an outlook of Blue Ridge’s financing.  Right now, there isn’t a lot of extra money, but overall everything is fine.  There are big projects requiring heavy expenditures coming up within the next year and one-half.  First is repair to Blue Ridge’s water infrastructure.  This includes laying water lines in Mineral Bluff and water plant upgrades.  The other extremely large expenditure is Main Street renovations including repaving, storm water drainage and sewer line connections.  She says, “We can pay for it.  We just have to plan for it.”

 

See Related Posts:

Jarrard and Davis Release Blue Ridge Council Inquiry Report 

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Alicia Stewart Praised in Jarrard and Davis Inquiry

Downtown Blue Ridge

Blue Ridge’s city Finance Department, especially Alicia Stewart, Blue Ridge’s Finance Director was the only bright spot in Jarrard and Davis’ inquiry into the Blue Ridge City Council and operations at  City Hall.  The inquiry states, “While it does appear that financial policies were largely non-existent or incomplete in years past, the City’s current Financial Director Alicia Stewart has worked to implement purchasing policies that are compliant with the law.  Later, in the same paragraph, Jarrard and Davis compliment Ms. Stewart saying, “The City’s Finance Director displayed a strong understanding of local government financing.”

Ms. Stewart took came to work at Blue Ridge City Hall in 2011, when the former finance director stepped down due to health reasons.  Prior to beginning as Blue Ridge’s Finance Director, Stewart worked at Land and Associates in Ellijay where she performed governmental audits for the firm.  After that she worked as the Finance Director for Calhoun for four years.  Taking the job at Blue Ridge gave her about two and one-half more hours in her day; the hour and fifteen minute commute became twenty minutes from her home in Epworth. In fact, Fannin County has always been her home except for a few early years and time away at university.

Stewart trained in accounting during the early 2000s when tales of crooked books were constantly in the news with the most publicized example being the black holes in the accounting books of Enron Corporation and the dissolution of Arthur Anderson, one of the five largest accounting firms in the world.  Needless to say, the concepts of transparency and ethics were constant lessons in her accounting and business management classes at the University of North Georgia. To keep her CPA licensure current, Stewart must take 40 hours of classes per year.  Her classes are always specific to government financing and are through Georgia Government Finance Officers Association. Blue Ridge’s hiring of a CPA to run its Finance Department is in line with the trend in local government finances.  As people retire from positions of local government finance directorships, small towns and rural counties are hiring CPAs because of their knowledge of how to create budget transparency.

Her job as Finance Director is more like being a pipeline for financial transactions.  She cannot approve purchases or write checks.  She makes sure that the withdrawals and deposits accurately represent their respective budget categories and that there are enough reserves in the budget categories.  Stewart says that her role in monitoring the finances is one of the checks and balance systems in place so that the same person cannot purchase and write the check. Her first project as Finance Director was to set different procedures for purchasing and paying for different dollar thresholds.  Also, she advises Blue Ridge in its bid processes.

Previous accounting methods used by Blue Ridge were more informal.  According to Stewart, there wasn’t conscious intention on the part of the previous generations of Finance Director; it was just how small town governments used to work.  Stewart believes that financing procedures must be black and white, clear and concise, workable without too much paperwork.  In addition to Georgia’s Sunshine Laws, another reason to step up more formal accounting procedures is Blue Ridge’s incredible growth.

One accounting task that Stewart is not responsible for is the end-of-year audit.  This year Welch, Walker and Associates in Ellijay will perform the audit.  For the previous 15 years or more, Renee Bidez, CPA performed the audits.  He went into retirement last year, but still assisted Welch, Walker and Associates with the audit so that there was a seamless transition.  Georgia governments must post their audits on the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts website.

Stewart also gave an outlook of Blue Ridge’s financing.  Right now, there isn’t a lot of extra money, but overall everything is fine.  There are big projects requiring heavy expenditures coming up within the next year and one-half.  First is repair to Blue Ridge’s water infrastructure.  This includes laying water lines in Mineral Bluff and water plant upgrades.  The other extremely large expenditure is Main Street renovations including repaving, storm water drainage and sewer line connections.  She says, “We can pay for it.  We just have to plan for it.”

Related posts in Blue Ridge City Council Inquiry:

Jarrard and Davis Release Blue Ridge Council Inquiry Report

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Angie Arp’s Citizen Comment Changes on Agenda

Downtown Blue Ridge

On February 10th, FetchYourNews.com reported that Angie Arp was making last minute attempts to change Citizen Comment rules for Blue Ridge City Council meetings. Now, the Citizen Comment rules are on this week’s agenda at the Blue Ridge City Council meeting on Tues. March 1st at 10 am.  This means that the changes will be voted on at the March 8th meeting of the Council.

The changes Arp, along with support City Attorney David Syfan, wishes to make to the rules are to reduce citizens’ comment time from five minutes to two minutes and curb the contents of what citzens can speak about.  The proposed regulations will state that comments cannot express “criticism and discord toward elected or appointed officials” or City employees.  Public comment must only be about “matters of the City.”  Also, in the proposed regulations, citizens cannot directly question the Council during the Citizen Comment time.  Instead, citizens must direct their questions through private, non-public channels such as individual phone calls, letters or emails to Council Members.  Proposed changes also regulate audience behavior.  Audience members can’t clap, cheer, make opposition gestures or other disruptive actions.  Only two Council members need to feel that an opposition gesture or disruptive action has been made for an audience member to be kicked out of the Council meeting and possibly be fined.  In other types of Council votes, it takes a majority of Council votes, which means at least three votes, in order for action to be taken.

In comparison with the Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Blue Ridge City Council’s meetings already restrict citizen comments.  At the Board of Commissioners, any citizen can speak during the Citizen Comments segment of the meeting.   However, at City Council meetings, citizens must sign up for a slot at least five days prior to Council meetings.

Arp’s proposed changes arise during an interesting juncture in the ongoing Blue Ridge City Council inquiry.  She began the groundwork for changing citizen comments just five days after Jarrard and Davis released their findings to the Council.  The findings state that there is an ongoing insurance fraud investigation center around the Council, murmurings that a city department has not fully disclosed all money it handled in cash transactions and a hint at possibly illegal ethics violations surrounding zoning decisions made by Council members.  Remarkably, Arp began her maneuvers to change Citizen Comment rules on Sunday morning, Feb. 7th at 2:03 am so that she would have concise and correct wording prepared for the 10 am Feb. 9th meeting of Blue Ridge City Council.  The Feb. 9th meeting did not take place due to snow and ice conditions.

Blue Ridge residents Jack Morton, Nancy Page, Cindy Trimble, Bobby Bearden and Carlie Hammond will speak Citizen Comments segment of the meeting.  They will have five minutes to speak.

 

 

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