Ralston responds to Blue Ridge city manager issueNews June 22, 2021
BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Georgia Speaker of the House and District 7 Representative David Ralston (R – Blue Ridge) issued a response concerning the proposal of a city manager for Blue Ridge.
Ralston stated that he does not have “a position on the merits of this idea. [His] only objective is to be sure that a change in city government of this magnitude be made openly and based on the facts. It should not be based on personalities and rumors.” He’s also glad to discuss the issue.
In an FYN obtained email, Ralston informed citizen Richard Arnold that before December 30, 2020, no one had contacted him about changing city government. Mr. Balli was the individual who forwarded a letter and proposed bill. After investigating the matter further, the Speaker of the House uncovered that there had “been little to no public discussion prior to city council action” and two council members were absent at the time of the vote.
“A few days later, I met with Mr. Balli at the State Capitol and expressed concerns with the unknown cost of the proposal and its potential for expanding the size of government,” Ralston explained. “The more serious concern I had was the lack of public hearings. During the pre-pandemic portion of the 2020 session, opponents of the annexation proposal, then under consideration, argued forcefully for public hearings. Because I shared their desire to have more information, the annexation plan was tabled.”
He went on to further explain that the bill didn’t take into account taxpayer cost, salary, or benefits package.
According to Ralston, 92 cities in Georgia are comparable in size to Blue Ridge and only 35 have city managers. Those individuals’ annual salaries, excluding benefits, range from $50,000 to $90,000.
The proposed bill also lacked a job description.
“Candidly, I believe strongly that the residents of Blue Ridge deserve more information and the opportunity to have a public discussion before this bill moves forward,” Ralston remarked.
He ended with advising that proponents for a city manager “build a strong and clear consensus” and that the bill could be considered during the 2022 General Assembly.
Read the entire email below:
Thank you for your email dated June 16, 2021 regarding a proposal to implement a City Manager form of government for the City of Blue Ridge.
I apologize for not responding to the email you sent previously. However, I have no record of receiving such an email from you. In fact, but for City Attorney Balli forwarding yours of June 16, I would not have received it.
But I am happy to share with you my views on this issue.
On or about December 30, 2020, Mr. Balli did forward to me a letter and proposed bill. Prior to that date, I had not been contacted by anyone with the City of Blue Ridge government or any citizen expressing a desire for such a major change in city government. Upon investigation, I learned that there had been little to no public discussion prior to city council action and that two of the council members were absent when the vote was taken.
A few days later, I met with Mr. Balli at the State Capitol and expressed concerns with the unknown cost of the proposal and its potential for expanding the size of government.
The more serious concern I had was the lack of public hearings. During the pre-pandemic portion of the 2020 session, opponents of the annexation proposal, then under consideration, argued forcefully for public hearings. Because I shared their desire to have more information, the annexation plan was tabled.
It is my opinion that this proposal to change the form of government is at least equally deserving of public explanation and discussion.
The bill does not address basic but important questions: what will be the cost to the taxpayers of Blue Ridge? How much will the annual salary be? What will be the benefit package in terms of insurance, retirement, phone and vehicle and what is the total cost.
My research indicates that of 92 cities in Georgia comparable in size to Blue Ridge, only 35 have a city manager form of government. the annual salary (exclusive of any benefits) ranges from $50,000 to $90,000 per year.
Some of those cities report having to add additional support staff to assist the city manager.
Another issue not addressed is the lack of a job description. This is an interesting omission because the bill provides that this position would be that of the Chief Executive Officer who answers only to the City Council.
Candidly, I believe strongly that the residents of Blue Ridge deserve more information and the opportunity to have a public discussion before this bill moves forward.
Let me be very clear: I do not have a position on the merits of this idea. My only objective is to be sure that a change in city government of this magnitude be made openly and based on the facts. It should not be based on personalities and rumors.
I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish on behalf of the City since I have been Speaker. I continue to want only the very best for the place that is home to me.
The 2022 session of the General Assembly will convene on January 10, 2022. If the advocates for this plan wish to build a clear and strong consensus for this change the bill can be considered during that session.
Representative, House District 7
Speaker, Georgia House of Representatives
Ralston reviews the 2021 legislative sessionNews, State & National April 7, 2021
ATLANTA – Speaker of the House David Ralston (R – 7) commented on the General Assembly’s accomplishments for the 2021 session.
Starting off with the hottest issue of 2021, Ralston stated that he was “very pleased” with the Election Integrity Committee’s work. Chaired by Barry Fleming, they reviewed numerous bills submitted by Republicans and Democrats until the final version of SB 202 was passed. It added two optional Sunday voting days into Georgia law and added another mandatory Saturday.
“I expect many rural Georgia counties won’t vote on Sundays,” Ralston commented, adding that rural Georgians go to church and eat with families on the Sabbath. Also, some smaller counties might have issues staffing polling places on Sunday.
The reason the legislature didn’t touch no-excuse absentee voting in SB 202 is their legal teams warned against it. A Republican General Assembly added no-excuse absentee ballots to Georgia Law not long ago and removing it now threatens the entire law being declared unconstitutional.
Ralston explained that they were tasked to produce the safest bill that will stand up in court and he believes this one will.
As for the recent disagreements with Coke and Delta, the Speaker of the House expressed his disappointment with the organizations. However, in a cheeky response to Coca-Cola delivering drinks to Georgia state representatives, he said, “Pepsi is pretty darn good.”
He spoke more about Delta and how previously the company lobbied for and received jet fuel tax breaks. The General Assembly wanted to work with Delta as one of the top private employers in the state, but that relationship might not continue with several representatives prepared to remove Delta’s tax break next year.
Ralston commented not all Georgia businesses are taking Delta and Coca-Cola’s stance, calling attention to balanced statements from the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Power, and The Home Depot.
As for Major League Baseball moving the All-Star Game from Truist Park, the Speaker wanted to know if MLB intends to move out of New York. The state has more restrictive voter laws than Georgia.
“If you’re going to place this righteous game, you’ve got to be careful,” Ralston stated.
In a talking point heard from Governor Brian Kemp (R) as well, Ralston again outlined how campaigning isn’t allowed within 150 feet of a polling location. The food and water provision was included to prevent campaigns from handing out “vote for candidate X” labeled water or candy bars. They’re welcome to do so outside of 150 feet, and once a voter crosses the threshold, poll workers can provide them with food and water.
A piece of SB 202 not receiving as much attention is the removal of the Secretary of State as chairman of the state election board. Starting next session, a non-partisan individual will be selected, and the Secretary of State will move to a more administrative role on the board.
Additionally, the state election board can take over up to three local election boards in a given year, but a gross dereliction of duty and serious mishandling must have occurred. Ralston remarked the provisions will never apply to the election boards in Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Dawson, and so on. These boards don’t have a history of negligence like some other counties in the state.
Citizen’s Arrest Law Overhaul
Georgia became the first state to remove the citizen’s arrest statute, largely in part to the Ahmaud Arbery case last year. No longer can the citizen’s arrest claim be made by everyday citizens, but individuals like off-duty cops can still arrest someone. Ralston called the Arbery case murder, and it was “time to take that away from vigilantes.”
General Assembly also found an additional $37 million for mental health programs in the state. In Blue Ridge, Georgia, the legislature helped to save Mineral Springs, a center for mentally challenged adults to live. Mineral Springs was on the verge of closing its doors, but the funding should keep the organization open now and hopefully in the future.
State employees now have paid parental leave too. Another looking to the future project is the freight and logistics initiative the General Assembly began working on. It’s just the first step, but ultimately it should be a seamless network across Georgia.
Anti-defunding the police bill, sponsored by Representative Houston Gaines (R – 117), made it unlawful for counties or cities to change their law enforcement budget by more than five percent. Ralston added he believes it’s important to support law enforcement right now.