Silencing the Citizens for Public Safety

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Opinion – Is it possible to get accurate citizen input at a town hall meeting and ban the citizens from attending? Unlikely. Regardless, the City of Blue Ridge is forging ahead with their “town hall” meeting to get resident input on the annexation of portions of Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 515.

I guess we are lucky that the city is even pretending to care what the residents think. Had it not been for council members Nathan Fitts and Rhonda Haight, this deal would be signed, sealed and delivered.

Haight and Fitts put a halt to the annexation after feeling that Mayor Donna Whitener had been misleading in the information that she had given, and misleading she was. One glaring point that stood out among the misinformation train was her swearing that citizens had already voiced their opinions.

Well, they had….in 2017. Hardly what I would call a reasonable time-frame of considered public input.

County officials were also taken off guard with the vote in favor of annexation.

Whitener, along with others present at the recent city council meeting, all agreed that County Commission Chairman Stan Helton had been present in a past “annexation” meeting, with Whitener stating that he was in favor of this annexation.

What Whitener fails to mention, once again, is that this meeting took place well over a year ago and that the meeting was only to discuss the possibility of receiving a grant to run sewer to Mercier Orchards and by default INOLA Blue Ridge.

Annexation and the discussion of, was not the purpose of this meeting.

After details have been brought to light, the city sends out a notice of a town hall meeting, but once again transparency does not seem to be their top priority.

The notice clearly states:

“The public is encouraged to attend however, social distancing will be practiced, and everyone is encouraged to wear a mask. Seating will be limited in order to follow the guidelines set forth by the Governor of Georgia.”

Is it really fair to the residents of the city to not have their voices heard under the guise of Public Safety?

You tell me, how easy would it be to stack the speakers in favor of your agenda with only a limited number of people able to attend? I would think pretty easy, especially when big money is involved.

The City has in no way attempted to accommodate their usual or even possibly larger than normal crowd, and Fannin County does have the resources for them to seek help in this arena. The Performing Arts Center (PAC), the Blue Ridge Community Theater, or even outdoors at the City Park to name a few, but the City has no intention of moving this meeting.

They did give citizens another option:

“With social distancing in process we understand that some may not wish to attend. Therefore, questions regarding this meeting or annexation may be answered prior to the meeting by calling Jeff Stewart at 706-632-2091 ext. 2. If you would like to submit a letter of support or opposition but do not wish to attend the meeting, please email them to [email protected].”

With the absence of transparency and honesty shown so far, I have little faith that any of these emails would be read aloud at the meeting or even acknowledged, and we the people would be none the wiser.

While this town hall meeting or lack thereof is not technically illegal due to the declared State of Emergency, it is unethical.

The people should demand that their governments either open up all the way or hold off on major decisions until a time when they can accommodate their populous.

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