Business as usual was conducted at the August 17, 2017, special called meeting of the Blue Ridge City Council. Despite the turmoil and protesters present, many items on the agenda were discussed and voted upon.
A key piece discussed was the leasing of the Pack property for possible extra parking to accommodate the downtown area. Owner’s of the Pack property are now asking the city to pay a rental fee of $2000 a month, as previously discussed, and for the city to pay property taxes on the land as well as adding the current owners of the property to the city’s liability insurance.
Before proceeding with discussion of the Pack property leasing, Council member Rhonda Thomas excused herself from further voting on the issue stating that she felt the development would “increase the value of my property.”
Mayor Donna Whitener voiced serious concerns of proceeding with any work on the property without looking into proper permitting first. Council member Angie Arp brought up the fact that a land disturbance permit is not required if the work being done is on one acre or less.
Thomas suggested the possibility of just leasing an acre of the property, but Council member Bruce Pack stated that he had already spoken with the owners about this and it would have to be “all or nothing.”
This discussion brought about the proposal of a parking garage that had previously been considered. The parking garage would be located near City Hall and potentially add 350 additional parking spaces, with 110 of those spaces being on the ground level.
Whitener felt that both options should be looked into further and urged council members to do their due diligence, check into permitting, and look for possible grants to help fund the projects.
Storm drains were also a topic of debate, specifically beginning with an area located near free parking along East Main Street. Funding for the storm drainage improvements could come from a number of areas including the recent sell of the marina which would give the city $400,000 by the end of this year.
Whitener also suggested looking into an Appalachian Regional Commission Economic Development Grant. These grants provide assistance with critical infrastructure and could possibly fund an additional $750,000.
Council members also unanimously approved the appointees for the positions of Poll Managers to handle the upcoming city elections. The Poll Manager will be Barbie Gerald and Assistant Poll Managers will be Rebecca Harkins and Gina Quinton.
Many of the items, such as the Pack property leasing, will be further discussed at the Council’s regularly scheduled September meeting to be held Tuesday, September 12th, at 6:00 P.M.
A 10:30 A.M. meeting on a work day couldn’t stop the crowds of citizens that wanted their voices to be heard at City Hall. The Blue Ridge City Council called this special meeting after several of the council members were absent from this month’s regularly scheduled meeting.
Tension was high as council members faced a crowd of protesters in the audience. On the agenda was an opportunity for the council to clear up misconceptions about the August 8th meeting. Council Member Angie Arp took this time to recite the Georgia state laws and Blue Ridge City laws regarding the legal proceedings of a City Council meeting.
Arp went on to say that “freedom of speech is everyone’s right, but no one has the right to hinder a council meeting,” adding that “grandstanding has no place in City Council meetings.”
She also read an email that was sent to all council members. She felt that the sender of this email had misinformation and was trying to use bullying and intimidation to manipulate legal proceedings.
Cindy Glueckert, the sender of the email, stood and addressed Arp stating that she would like for Arp to “read her last response.” This was met with cheers from attendees.
Arp’s email was filled with statements of who is actually represented by the Blue Ridge City Council, stating “we don’t represent you unless you live in the city.” She went further to say, “My time is very valuable, why should I waste it on anyone that I don’t even represent.”
Arp’s reading was met with disapproval and citizens were shocked to hear the conclusion of the email as she read, “It is people like yourself that cause us average small town people to wish you would go back where you came from.”
This is email could be indicative of a long standing tension felt by downtown business owners as to whether they, too, should be represented as downtown residents by Blue Ridge City Council members.
On July 26, 2017, City Council member Rhonda Thomas went live on Facebook to show one of the city’s roads that is badly in need of repair. The video quickly garnered a lot of attention and has had over 5,000 views.
In this video Thomas directly asks fellow Council members Angie Arp, Rodney Kendall, and Bruce Pack why Davis Street was taken off the city’s list of roads to repair. Thomas goes further to speculate as to some of the possible reasons, questioning if it involves a past lawsuit between the City and Ada Street, LLC.
Arp and Pack called a special meeting this week, and while not on the agenda, Arp felt this video needed to be viewed and addressed. Kendall was prepared for this motion and presented the video to the room via his phone. Conversation became heated as this unannounced item was brought to the table.
Thomas stood firmly by her actions to go live on the video and wanted Arp to answer the question, “Why did you take this road off the list to be paved?”
Arp read a prepared statement in response to the video. In this statement, she addressed the issue of Davis Street with the explanation that “we decided to get the bid cost for all the relatively minor street repairs first, and wait till after we found out what their cost was before we started on the streets that would require more extensive work.”
Discussions intensified with both Arp and Thomas accusing the other of lying. Mayor Donna Whitener had to regain composure of the room by calling a Point of Order, effectively ending the dialogue about the video.
This all was a lead in to an item that was actually on the agenda, approval of bids on paving of city streets. Thirteen items were quoted on the list of streets for repair. Johnson Paving won the bid with a quote of $232,000 for all repairs.
BLUE RIDGE, GA – Involving several issues that the city has addressed in the past, some with no resolve, the Blue Ridge City Council called a special meeting on August 1, 2017.
City Council members discussed and voted on the first reading of a Parking Ordinance Amendment. This amendment will remove Chapter 72 from the Code of the City of Blue Ridge and replace it, giving authority to change parking within city limits.
Wording in the Amendment specifically states that the city can now “provide for certain restrictive parking”, essentially putting the option of three hour parking back on the table for the city. Four council members voted in favor of this amendment with one opposing vote from Council member Rhonda Thomas.
When asked about her vote Thomas explained that she felt that the ordinance change had been rushed through. She stated, “I agree that something needs to be done, but not without a plan in place first.” She also added that Pacific Rail has been working diligently to come up with a plan and work with the city.
Council also addressed the long running issue of the city’s storm water damage. A main cause of the city’s flooding and lack of drainage is the varying size in the waste water piping. Some areas experience back up due to larger pipes being funneled down into smaller pipes that are unable to handle the volume. An engineer from Carter & Sloope was present at the meeting to provide council members with a detailed map of problem areas.
City Council member Angie Arp suggested to approach the dilemma in a piecemeal fashion rather than tackling the problem as a whole. The total cost for fixing the entire drainage system is an estimated $700,000.
Council and the representative from Carter & Sloope agreed that one of the least expensive sections to fix is located at the end of free parking. This area is represented as number 12 on the map( Phase I – Storm Drainage Revised 11-17-15-Aerial). City Council is set to discuss moving forward with this project at their regularly scheduled August meeting.
The City Council will hold their August meeting on Tuesday, August 8, at 6:00 P.M..where these issues will be further discussed.