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Pampered Chef Party
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Raise Funds and shop the Humane Society of Blue Ridge Fundraiser beginning March 29th!!! Kick back, invite friends and shop and socialize all while raising funds for Blue Ridge!! It’s a great organization that appreciates your support!

Shop the new Spring/Summer catalog and learn about quality cookware and kitchen tools, grab some tips and score some prizes! Play games and have fun all while raising funds for the Humane Society of Blue Ridge!! Be ready participate virtually in this online fundraiser! Feel free to invite friends! The more the merrier! Never too many to a Pampered Chef Fundraiser! LET’S RAISE FUNDS FOR THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF BLUE RIDGE!! ENJOY and HAPPY SHOPPING!!!!

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Fitts goes on record with Mayor’s alleged violations

City Council, Featured News, Featured Stories

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Council Member Nathan Fitts is going on record with alleged City Charter violations and State Law infractions committed by the Mayor and certain Council Members.

At the March 9th City Council meeting Fitts made the public aware that Mayor Donna Whitener and Council Members Mike Panter and Robbie Cornelius had been served with an Ante Litem notice on his behalf.

This legal notice comes after Panter presented a censure against Fitts, which ultimately passed. Panter, Cornelius and Whitener voted in favor of the censure while Council Members Rhonda Haight and Herald Herndon voted against.

During the March meeting Fitts briefly explained the Ante Litem notice and stated that the censure was an attempt to silence him from exposing the wrongdoing of the Mayor and Council.

Fitts went on record with some alleged violations during this meeting and FYN has obtained a copy.

***FYN is publishing the alleged violations as presented by Council Member Nathan Fitts. These accusations have not been verified.***

Alleged Violations of Mayor and Council as presented by Council Member Nathan Fitts

Mayor Donna Whitener: 

2011 – 2019 Georgia State Law and City Charter Violations – These are just a few that’s been put together that have happened during the 12 years the Mayor has been in office.  There are more to come as time allows as there is an extensive history of violations of both state and local laws. 

  • After being elected to office in November 2010, she immediately implements insurance compensation for herself and the council members, without council approval. This was a violation of the City Charter; a year later she voted on her own re-zoning request that made her resident legal for her to hold office. Until she cast the tie breaking vote, Donna Whitener didn’t have a legal residence to even hold the office of Mayor. She illegally ran for office and after winning illegally held the position, due to the fact her residence wasn’t zoned to allow her to live above her furniture store. Mayor Whitener’s tie breaking vote she cast was a conflict of interest and was an unethical action, which could have been called null and void according to law. Her unethical action was cited by an investigation propertied by the council in her second term, due to her continued illegal actions.
  • Mayor Donna Whitener spends and gives away Hotel Motel Taxes illegally during her first 4-year term as Mayor. A portion of Hotel Motel tax is restricted by law and can only be given to C-6 Non-Profit Organizations; Mayor Whitener gave thousands of tax dollars away illegally to non-profit organizations, of whom some were friends or acquaintances of hers. Misuse of tax dollars is a violation of state and local laws and warrants not only removal of office but possibly more drastic consequences.
  • Mayor Donna Whitener violates the city charter and her oath of office and neglects her duties as the mayor. As mayor, she is to preside of the meetings meaning: to exercise guidance, direction, or control, to occupy the place of authority: act as president, chairman, or moderator. She is to make sure the meetings are run correctly according to the meeting policy set forth by the council and the governing laws of the state and it is her duty to make sure all state and local laws are adhered to.  She is not authorized or allowed to make up her own laws or ignore the city charter.  Not one time in her 12 years as mayor has the mayor conducted the meeting in accordance with the councils meeting policy.  The mayor is responsible for following all policies and to make sure the meetings are conducted professionally. Mayor Whiteners neglect conduct meetings by policy and her neglect to follow state laws and the city charter since her first days in office has caused years of unproductivity, chaos, arguing, division, taxpayers money wasted and shame and embarrassment to the city and county.

2020 Georgia State Law and City Charter Violations

  • February 5, 2020:  Violation of Charter and Sunshine Law:  On February 5, 2020, a Special Meeting was called to vote on Annexation.  Nathan Fitts and Rhonda Haight attended in person.  They were the only two council members present.   Both questioned the validity of the meeting since the third member joined by phone. Mayor Whitener assured them both that this was a legal meeting, but this was false information.  According to the Sunshine Law and the City Charter there was no quorum present; therefore, the items voted on were in violation of state and local law. Mayor Whitener not only lied to the council about details of the annexation, but she also lied about the legal process, all in an effort to press the annexation through for her own personal political agenda. After Nathan Fitts and Rhonda Haight found out Mayor Whitener had lied to them, they also discovered the mayor had made promises to developers and others to push the annexation through.
  • February 11, 2020:  Violation of Charter:  Mayor Whitener proposed a retaining wall replace the deck on East Main Street; however, she didn’t have quotes for the council to approve, so the city council voted to table proceeding with project until quotes were provided. The mayor abused her authority, blatantly defying the council’s vote, stating that she was going to tear the deck down anyway.  With no idea of what the project would cost or if the city could afford the project, the mayor had workers tear the deck down before quotes for the project had been received and ignored orders of the council not to move forward with the project until quotes came in. Mayor Whitener destroyed City Property without authorization and council approval. (See attached Meeting Minutes) (This is on audiotape). The mayor’s actions constitute abuse of power and violates her duty of office.
  • May 2020:  Violated Civil Rights of Councilman Nathan Fitts: Mayor Whitener tried to force an investigation through fabrication of lies submitted to Home Depot, even after being told by Home Depot there was no issue.  Mayor Whitener abused her power by directly trying to force actions by attempting to have the Blue Ridge City Police engage in actions that was not warranted by law. It took the Chief of Police to stop her attempts by telling her he would not allow her to use his department to pursue her attacks on a council member and that it would be liability to the city if she continued trying to pursue a case without cause.
  • October 20, 2020: Violation of City Charter:  Mayor Whitener violated the City Charter by allowing items to be added to the agenda after the meeting was called.  The Charter and state law states NO ADDITIONAL ITEMS can be added to a Special Called Meeting Agenda.  Mayor Whitener allowed Council Member Mike Panter to speak for 10 minutes on a topic that was not on the Agenda, even after being warned that it was illegal.  In fact, she admitted she forgot to add it and permitted Panter to speak anyway.  (See Meeting Minutes) Both Whitener and Panter violated the Charter and state law.  At the time of the violation, they were both notified and told they were in violation and they both ignored the council member siting them and illegally proceeded the meeting as they had planned.
  • October 20, 2020:  Georgia Open Meetings Act Violation: Mayor Whitener violates state law and her oath of office by allowing Council Member Mike Panter to violate the state meetings law and the city charter in a special called meeting she presided over. The mayor has an obligation to uphold the city charter and state laws and she willingly ignored her duty, by allowing Panter’s misconduct and local and state law violations.
  • December 2020: Violation of City Charter: Mayor Whitener violated the city charter by not disclosing the sale of her parking lot and using inside information for personal financial gain.  Elected official prohibitions are mandated by the charter under Section 2.16. (a)(1), (a)(3), (a)(5), (a)(6), (b), (c). that any elected official that engages in personal business transactions with city employees or anyone in a contract with the city, disclose their intentions to the city council and the public at a public meeting with the item clearly stated on the agenda and the disclosure must be recorded and kept on file with the city clerk. Mayor Whitener failed to disclose the sale of her personal property to a company in contract with the city, to the council in an open meeting as prescribed in Section 2:16 of the city charter.  Mayor Whitener violated the city charter by participating in a matter related to a contract or negotiation that she benefited from financially as specifically prohibited under Section 2.16.a.6.
  • January 9, 2021:  Violation of City and State Zoning Meeting Policy:  Mayor Whitener violated the city charter and local and state zoning meeting laws by allowing Council Member Mike Panter to violate the zoning laws himself. The zoning meeting law mandates the council vote on a rezoning request immediately after the hearing and Council Member Mike Panter made a motion to table the vote till the next meeting.  Mayor Whitener failed to inform Council Member Mike Panter that his motion violated the law; the mayor and the other council members that voted in favor of Panters motion should have known the law regarding zoning hearings. They either did not know the law or they ignored it.  The mayor also allowed the vote to be delayed again in the February meeting, with Council Member Mike Panter leading the charge to put the vote off again and Council Members Cornelius and Herndon voting with him. The mayor should know the laws and her duties and should have corrected the illegal actions and behavior, however, due to possible political alignment and close friendship she allowed Council Member Mike Panter to violate the law.
  • February 2021: Violated Councilman Nathan Fitts Fourth Amendment Right under the United States Constitution by allowing on a vote of censuring without cause or evidence.  Under the laws of the United State Constitution due process is required and even after being put on notice by Councilman Fitts, Councilman Fitts personal attorney and the City Attorney, the mayor allowed such action and furthermore, she cast a tie breaking vote for said “censuring” which his illegal and not allowed under the City of Blue Ridge’s charter.  Additionally, they manipulated the agenda for the February meeting in efforts to try to publicly humiliate and embarrass councilman Fitts.  Their direct premeditated actions prove they have set out to try to harm him, discredit him and using tactics that are defamation of character and illegal under the law.  Lastly, they not only have harassed Councilman Nathan Fitts by making up a stream of lies and events over the last year on him, none of which have turned up to have any validity, proof, or substance.
  • February 2021:  Violated Councilman Nathan Fitts First Amendment Right under the United States Constitution by allowing on a vote of censuring without cause or evidence with the same conditions as outlined above.
  • February 2021:  Violated Councilman Nathan Fitts right to vote as an elected official and councilman stating he couldn’t vote on the “illegal” censure vote and did not allow him to vote.  The mayor was the tie breaking vote, but she had not only a conflict of interest with her obvious vindictive behavior towards him over the last year or so but also, she voted on her own zoning which is clearly a conflict of interest but uses her abuse of power to manipulate the outcome to her needs.

Councilman Mike Panter: 

             Georgia State Law and City Charter Violations

  • October 20, 2020: Mike Panter violated the City Charter by not following the agenda and talking and acting out of turn from the filed agenda.  He ranted for over 10 minutes on a subject matter that still isn’t even understood the purpose.  The Charter states NO ADDITIONAL ITEMS can be added to a Special Called Meeting Agenda.  He was notified and told he was in violation and he ignored such and continued his rants instead of following the process required by law.   
  • October 20, 2020:  Mike Panter violated state law and his oath of office by his misconduct and misbehavior.  As the charter plainly states the oath of office is taken to uphold local and state laws.
  • Violated the Opens meeting Act by not following the agenda set forth.
  • Violated the rezoning meeting policy and state zoning laws making a motion to table the vote after the hearing. He again the second time violated it again when the vote wasn’t taken at the next meeting after being table the prior month. The mayor should know the laws and should have corrected this illegal behavior, however, due to political and special treatment she allowed Mike Panter to violate the policy.   old him he couldn’t do that, but she didn’t so she is actually in violation of the meeting and zoning laws as well.
  • Violated council orders and a council vote by giving approval for paying 4 V Ranch without approval from the council.  Even after he was notified, he was in violation, he still continued forward and paid it without approval.  Being within his budget did not make it alright, regardless of if you are over the department or not, council decision and votes are not at the liberty of one council member to make the decision as set forth by the city charter.
  • February 2021 – Violated Councilman Nathan Fitts Fourth Amendment Right under the United States Constitution by allowing on a vote of censuring without cause or evidence.  Under the laws of the United State Constitution due process is required and even after being put on notice by Councilman Fitts, Councilman Fitts personal attorney and the City Attorney, the mayor allowed such action and furthermore, she cast a tie breaking vote for said “censuring” which his illegal and not allowed under the City of Blue Ridge’s charter.  Additionally, they manipulated the agenda for the February meeting in efforts to try to publicly humiliate and embarrass councilman Fitts.  Their direct premeditated actions prove they have set out to try to harm him, discredit him and using tactics that are defamation of character and illegal under the law.  Lastly, they not only have harassed Councilman Nathan Fitts by making up a stream of lies and events over the last year on him, none of which have turned up to have any validity, proof, or substance.
  • February 2021 – Violated Councilman Nathan Fitts First Amendment Right under the United States Constitution by allowing on a vote of censuring without cause or evidence with the same conditions as outlined above.  February 2021 – Violated Councilman Nathan Fitts right to vote as an elected official and councilman stating he couldn’t vote on the “illegal” censure vote and did not allow him to vote.  The mayor was the tie breaking vote, but she had not only a conflict of interest with her obvious vindictive behavior towards him over the last year or so but also, she voted on her own zoning which is clearly a conflict of interest but uses her abuse of power to manipulate the outcome to her needs.
  • Failed his obligation of the city charter under Section 2.17. Removal of officers – Under (a) it states that the mayor or councilmember, or other appointed officers provided for in the charter, SHALL BE removed from office if one or more of the following causes which those are listed in items 1-6.  This section doesn’t give the councilmembers options as to if they “want” to remove another elected official from office it says they “shall” and mandates for it to be done to uphold the charter.  Has allowed the mayor to intentionally violate state and federal laws without any type of reprimand, recourse or public call to action directly violating his obligation to the people of this city and the oath of office he took.

Councilwoman Robbie Cornelius:

            Georgia State Law and City Charter Violations

  • February 2021 – Violated Councilman Nathan Fitts Fourth Amendment Right under the United States Constitution by allowing on a vote of censuring without cause or evidence.  Under the laws of the United State Constitution due process is required and even after being put on notice by Councilman Fitts, Councilman Fitts personal attorney and the City Attorney, the mayor allowed such action and furthermore, she cast a tie breaking vote for said “censuring” which his illegal and not allowed under the City of Blue Ridge’s charter.  Additionally, they manipulated the agenda for the February meeting in efforts to try to publicly humiliate and embarrass councilman Fitts.  Their direct premeditated actions prove they have set out to try to harm him, discredit him and using tactics that are defamation of character and illegal under the law.  Lastly, they not only have harassed Councilman Nathan Fitts by making up a stream of lies and events over the last year on him, none of which have turned up to have any validity, proof, or substance.
  • February 2021 – Violated Councilman Nathan Fitts First Amendment Right under the United States Constitution by allowing on a vote of censuring without cause or evidence with the same conditions as outlined above.
  • February 2021 – Violated Councilman Nathan Fitts right to vote as an elected official and councilman stating he couldn’t vote on the “illegal” censure vote and did not allow him to vote.  The mayor was the tie breaking vote, but she had not only a conflict of interest with her obvious vindictive behavior towards him over the last year or so but also, she voted on her own zoning which is clearly a conflict of interest but uses her abuse of power to manipulate the outcome to her needs.
  • Failed her obligation of the city charter under Section 2.17. Removal of officers – Under (a) it states that the mayor or councilmember, or other appointed officers provided for in the charter, SHALL BE removed from office if one or more of the following causes which those are listed in items 1-6.  This section doesn’t give the councilmembers options as to if they “want” to remove another elected official from office it says they “shall” and mandates for it to be done to uphold the charter.  Has allowed her personal friendship and obligations to the mayor to take precedence over her judicial duties for the city by allowing the mayor to intentionally violate state and federal laws without any type of reprimand, recourse or public call to action directly violating his obligation to the people of this city and the oath of office he took.

Scearce sworn in as Post One Comissioner

Community, News
Fannin County, Georgia, Johnny Scearce, Post One Commissioner, Chief of Police, Blue Ridge, Swearing In, Oath of Office, Probate Judge, Scott Kiker

Blue Ridge, Ga. – A crowd gathered on the steps of the Fannin County Courthouse to witness the swearing in of new Post One Commissioner Johnny Scearce.

Fannin County, Georgia, Johnny Scearce, Post One Commissioner, Chief of Police, Blue Ridge, Swearing In, Oath of Office, Probate Judge, Scott Kiker

Probate Judge Scott Kiker swears in Johnny Scearce

Scearce, who is currently the City of Blue Ridge Chief of Police, won the seat of Post One Commissioner in the November 2020 General Election. Due to a long battle with Covid-19, however, Scearce had remained unable to fill the position.

Probate Judge Scott Kiker was present for the swearing in and spoke of his personal connection with Scearce.

“He’s helped renew my faith more than once in my life,” Kiker said of their friendship and added of Scearce’s recent illness, “His faith was demonstrated. His courage has been demonstrated through a trial that he didn’t anticipate.”

“Your fortitude. Your courage is an inspiration,” Kiker spoke directly to Scearce.

With his wife Brenda by his side, Scearce took the oath of office.

Scearce showed his good spirits by letting everyone know that by signing his name he was in fact using a pen and writing for the first time since his fight against Covid-19. He joked after signing that nothing had changed, he was still bad at it.

Scearce addressed the crowd stating, “I want to thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ.”

Next Scearce thanked his wife Brenda, “She was with me from day one and that pulled me through.”

Lastly, Scearce gave a heartfelt thank you to the community for their love and support, expressing the blessing he felt being surrounded by everyone’s love: “I’m so proud of my community. I’m going to do my best to help everybody I can and to help Fannin County.”

 

Feature Image : Fannin County Chairman Jamie Hensley, Post One Commissioner Johnny Scearce, Probate Judge Scott Kiker, Post Two Commissioner Glen Patterson

Mayor asked to return key to City Hall

City Council, Featured News, Featured Stories

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Mayor Donna Whitener was asked to turn in her key to City Hall as council members expressed their concerns over the upcoming election.

“With all that has been going on over the past couple of months, which the public is just now starting to find out about, to be very honest, I don’t know that I feel comfortable with the election that is coming up and not having an unbiased party being over the election,” Council Member Nathan Fitts expressed his feelings on the upcoming election.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Election, 2021, Qualifying, November, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener

Haight requests that Whitener return her key to City Hall during the election period.

Council Member Rhonda Thomas and Fitts both agreed that having outside municipal counsel handle any election related events would be in the best interest of not only the candidates but the City as well.

This proposition comes with the consideration that current City Attorney James Balli is hired to represent City Council members, many of whom will be running in the upcoming election, and therefore might have a biased conflict of interest in any election related matters.

Haight suggested approaching the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) attorneys and getting their legal opinion on the matter.

Fitts agreed with Haight’s recommendation stating, “I know too much. I know the history of the last election. I know things that went on and I do not feel comfortable with it.”

With the request for an outside legal counsel, Haight also requested that the Mayor return her key to City Hall during the election period.

“None of us have keys except for the Mayor and I don’t feel like she should have a key to this building during that election time,” Haight said adding that she doesn’t want any possibility of wrongdoing to occur and jeopardize the election process.

“I have no problem with that,” Mayor Whitener responded to Haight’s request but did point out that there have been emergency occasions when she (Whitener) has had to access the building.

One thing that all council members and mayor did agree upon was to look into third party handling of future elections.

Fitts pointed out that the staff of City Hall, who currently handle city elections, is “put in the middle of way more than they should be”.

While some council members felt it was too late to seek outside handling of the 2021 City Election, they did agree to pursue this route in the future.

The General Election is set to take place on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 with voting at City Hall. Polls open at 7 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m.

Fitts pursues legal action against censure

Featured News, Featured Stories
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Hostile Work Environment, Lawsuit, Anti Litem, Whistleblower

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The recent censure of Council Member Nathan Fitts could lead to legal proceedings that would cost the taxpayers of Blue Ridge.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Hostile Work Environment, Lawsuit, Anti Litem, Whistleblower

Feb. Zoom City Council meeting in which Panter brought forth the censure of Fitts.

Fitts’ personal lawyer and previous City Attorney for the City of Blue Ridge, R. David Syfan, sent an Anti Litem Notice (intent to sue) to those members of council, including the Mayor, who pursued and voted in favor of the censure.

“Honestly I sit here as a council member embarrassed to even have to discuss these items,” Fitts said informing the public that an Anti Litem Notice had been sent.

Among those to receive the notice were Mayor Donna Whitener, Council Member Mike Panter and Council Member Robbie Cornelius.

Fitts claims that there has been a series of harassment leading up to the censure in an attempt to silence him for bringing alleged wrongdoings by the Mayor and Council to light.

Through this harassment, Fitts says that he has had to defend his name and reputation over “falsified information”. Fitts stated that the council needs to focus on the City Charter and the law and quit pursuing personal vendettas.

“Not one piece of evidence. Not one fact. Not one incident that can be proven has still to this day come out,” Fitts said of the censure and added according to the City Charter, “You don’t need to censure me. Remove me from office but you better prove I did something wrong.”

Fitts spoke before the vote of censure that took place during the Feb. Blue Ridge City Council meeting. It was during this time that he read a letter from his attorney, Syfan, stating that the censure would not only be violating the City Charter but also Fitts’ civil rights.

The Anti Litem Notice reiterates this stance stating:

“The due process requirements of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution would require appropriate advanced written notice of the alleged violations, and evidentiary hearing in which the alleged evidence of the alleged violation could be presented, and which would allow the accused Councilmember to have the ability to be represented by an attorney at the public evidentiary hearing and have cross examination of witnesses, and review any documentary evidence.”

The Anti Litem Notice goes on to cite the Georgia “Whistleblower Law”, stating that Fitts brought to light the actions of Council Members and Mayor and that the censure is an attempt at retaliation.

“At the very least they acted negligently in attempting to impose injury upon Mr. Fitts,” states the notice, “and in the context of the whole situation, they also acted maliciously and oppressively.”

The letter asks for the council to “rescind the censure motion and publicly apologize” and states several times that Fitts does not wish to proceed with the lawsuit unless necessary.

Council and Mayor have been given one month to rescind the censure and the issue is expected to be addressed at the next Blue Ridge City Council meeting to be held on Tuesday, April 13, 2021.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Hostile Work Environment, Lawsuit, Anti Litem, Whistleblower

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Hostile Work Environment, Lawsuit, Anti Litem, Whistleblower

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Hostile Work Environment, Lawsuit, Anti Litem, Whistleblower

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Hostile Work Environment, Lawsuit, Anti Litem, Whistleblower

Criminal threats precede discussion of proposed Code of Civility

City Council, Featured News, Featured Stories, News
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Criminal Threat, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Code of Civility, David Ralston, Speaker, House of Representatives

Blue Ridge, Ga. – As the Blue Ridge City Council discussed revising the Rules and Procedures of its meetings, conflict erupted over the newly proposed Code of Civility presented by Council Member Mike Panter.

During a very heated discussion, it was also revealed by Council Member Nathan Fitts that Panter had allegedly made criminal threats against him.

Panter read from a letter sent to council regarding the review of the City’s Charter and the recommendations that were being made based on a committee that had been formed for the review.

Along with the committee Panter said input had been taken from several sources including Donna Thompson, who runs a local governmental accountability group, current and previous council members, a local attorney, business owners and residents.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Criminal Threat, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Code of Civility, David Ralston, Speaker, House of Representatives

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Criminal Threat, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Code of Civility, David Ralston, Speaker, House of Representatives

City of Blue Ridge proposed Code of Civility Policy

Panter did point out that prior to reading his letter to the council, the letter itself had already been leaked to the public.

Later Council Member Rhonda Haight would question this remark asking Panter, “Do you have a problem with the public knowing what we are doing?”

Panter pointed out that as far as the Rules and Procedures of council meetings, previous City Attorney David Syfan had drafted an ordinance that would still be in compliance with the City Charter. 

In an effort to save tax dollars Panter suggested that the city vote on the adoption of this particular ordinance instead of paying more attorney fees to have new ordinances written: “I think we should readopt this ordinance which was done away with by previous council.” 

“It (vote to adopt ordinance) was moved a few months later because evidently the council didn’t like what he came up with and they just threw it away,” Panter explained of the ordinance drafted by Syfan and why it was not already put in place.

“I’m totally great with that ordinance that David wrote,” Haight said, adding, “I thought it was wonderful. He did a great job.”

Haight did have concerns over the Code of Civility section Panter was presenting and expressed these concerns.

According to the Code of Civility section, a council member would be asked to resign or a vote could take place for the elected official’s removal after receiving two censures.

This section of the Code of Civility came directly on the heels of a censure of Council Member Nathan Fitts. Earlier in the same meeting, Panter had brought forth a censure against Fitts for “continuous inappropriate conduct”.

Haight felt this particular item in the Code of Civility would be in violation of the City’s Charter since evidentiary hearings would need to take place for a censure vote and no evidentiary hearing was given to Fitts previously that night.

Panter replied to Haight,  “Our charter says that we have the right to remove an elected official.”

“For wrongdoing,” Fitts retorted to Panter’s comment.  “The only person that has violated state and local law is you and Ms. Whitener.”

Incivility ensued as Mayor Donna Whitener questioned Fitts over his accusations against her. After a brief period of numerous calls to and points of order, discussion continued over the proposed code.

Haight pointed out that the Code of Civility was also attempting to limit the council’s transparency. 

The Code states of council that:

“There should be no public statements, letters to the editor or on social media or with an organization, advertisements, emails, texts or announcements regarding official city business without Council approval.”

“As a public official I have every right to tell the public what we are doing. I have every right to post on social media what we are doing,” Haight spoke to Panter, “I will never vote on this as it is.” 

Council Member Fitts agreed with Haight that the Code of Civility needs attempts to limit the transparency of local government and needs further review.

Fitts also pointed out the hypocrisy of Panter in not only introducing the Code of Civility but also for the censure that Panter brought forth earlier in the evening. 

“You made a criminal threat to me and Ms. Haight this week and said that you were going to drag me out of the council meeting by the hair and beat me up,” Fitts made public the alleged threat by fellow Council Member Panter. “You need to practice what you preach.”

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Criminal Threat, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Code of Civility, David Ralston, Speaker, House of Representatives

Former Blue Ridge City Attorney R David Syfan

Fitts and Haight have both personally sought legal advice from former Blue Ridge City Attorney David Syfan regarding any proposed new ordinances. Both Fitts and Haight are personally paying Syfan for his help.

“This will not be charged to the city,” Haight made clear her and Fitts personal financial responsibility to Syfan.

Current City Attorney James Balli, according to Haight is not trained in municipal law, where Syfan is.

Panter, who is the newest elected official to the council, questioned why Syfan was let go in the first place.

Leading both Haight and Fitts to agree that Balli was hired solely on the recommendation of Mayor Whitener.

Fitts went into further detail with Haight backing up his recollection of events. 

Fitts stated of the reason for Balli’s hire, “She (Whitener) said that because Speaker Ralston was from Blue Ridge and that Mr. Balli was his pick. She said that Blue Ridge would get stuff that we would not get otherwise and that’s why she asked us to choose Mr. Balli.”

Whitener replied that Fitts and Haight’s claims were “more misinformation” and that council had a chance to vote no.

The Rules and Procedures Ordinance along with the Code of Civility will be discussed and reworked before vote will be taken on its adoption.

Fitts censured for creating hostile work environment

City Council, Featured News, Featured Stories, News
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Hostile Work Environment

Blue Ridge, Ga. – In a split vote ultimately decided by the Mayor, Blue Ridge City Council went on record with a censure of Council Member Nathan Fitts for continuous inappropriate conduct leading to council’s inability to perform their duties.

While not on the agenda, Fitts asked at the beginning of the meeting to be heard before Council Member Mike Panter presented his case for the censure. Panter agreed to Fitts speaking.

Fitts read a letter from his personal attorney, also former Blue Ridge City Attorney, David Syfan. This letter laid out that beyond the censure not being handled in a proper legal manner, it is also a violation of Fitts constitutional rights since it attempts to void Fitts of his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

The letter stated in part : “Just because Fitts is an elected official does not mean that he has lost his First Amendment right of freedom of speech. Mr. Fitts would have full and complete right to express his opinion as to whether the Mayor has followed the City Charter and also express his opinion as to whether the Mayor has violated the conflict of interest provisions of the City Charter.”

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Hostile Work Environment

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Hostile Work Environment

Full letter from attorney David Syfan

“By bringing violations out in public meetings it compromises his (Panter) and the Mayor’s re-election plans,” Fitts said of the proposed censure and added, “I am very disappointed in every council member that sits back and covers up these violations.”

Fitts accused Panter of caring more about alliances and personal gain than doing his elected duty to the citizens of Blue Ridge and specifically pointed to the recent sale of private property by Mayor Donna Whitener calling the censure a “blatant attempt to cover up for the mayor”.

“I will be first to admit that I have been a part of the meetings becoming unprofessional but every other council member sitting in them has been equally guilty,” Fitts said of his own actions, adding,  “I will continue to do my job as an elected official and I will continue to call out any violation. I was elected by the citizens in Blue Ridge and I will continue to do my duty until they decide to replace me.”

When Fitts concluded, Council Member Mike Panter read a letter from current City Attorney James Balli. Balli stated that if the censure “does not impose any punishment or attempt to take any official action to reduce one’s elected authority” then it could be voted upon without an evidentiary hearing.

“I would prefer executive session if that were possible, however, with multiple conversations with legal counsel the only way to approach this matter is that censure of Nathan Fitts be included on the agenda and presented publicly,” Panter spoke of his decision to bring the item forward.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Hostile Work Environment

Council Member Mike Panter reads motion to censure Council Member Nathan Fitts.

Panter stated that throughout his life and career he has sat on numerous boards and has worked with various organizations and had never experienced behavior like that demonstrated by fellow Council Member Fitts.

Panter added that he had witnessed and had been told of multiple situations regarding Fitts’s conduct toward City employees and the general public. According to Panter there have been “outbursts, personal attacks and unprofessional behavior” all of which is unacceptable and makes doing daily jobs impossible.

Council Member Rhonda Haight pointed out that Panter is also pushing a policy that states any Council Member who receives two censures may be removed, effectively meaning that the current censure could in fact hold punishment against Fitts.

Haight stated that according to the City Charter and the proposed policy by Panter, this censure should have an evidentiary hearing.

Panter interrupted Haight several times as she questioned his process. Finally Haight pointed out to Panter, “You are being rude right now and that is what you are trying to say that Nathan is doing but you’re being rude to me.”

Haight also said that she spoke to several City employees regarding the accusations made against Fitts and there was an overwhelming consensus among them that they wanted no part in the process.

Panter made the motion to censure Fitts on the grounds of “continuous inappropriate conduct, unfounded accusations and the creation of a hostile work environment for the employees, council members and the mayor of the City of Blue Ridge”, with Council Member Robbie Cornelius giving a second to move forward with a vote.

Council Members Harold Herndon and Haight voted against the censure, while Panter and Cornelius voted in favor.

With Fitts being unable to vote, this left the tie breaking decision up to Mayor Whitener, to which she voted in favor of the censure.

After Whitener’s vote, Fitts immediately stated of her vote: “which is a conflict of interest”.

Whitener questioned what conflict of interest Fitts felt she had. He simply replied, “because you put him (Panter) up to it.”

Ask the Doc! Cologuards and the Lance Armstrong Shot

Community
ask the doc

Dr. William Whaley has returned for the new year and is ready to answer your questions about colonoscopies vs the Cologuard test and the other about Myelodysplasia and the Lance Armstrong shot.

 

 

Zoning request for Hastings Development tabled

Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, Featured News, Featured Stories, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – A development that has drawn the attention of many in Fannin County has once again come to a temporary halt as the developer seeks to have land rezoned in the City of Blue Ridge to accommodate the plans.

What has become known locally as the Hastings Development is a residential development set in the City of Blue Ridge with access points to Highway 515 and College Street. The 14 acre property sits adjacent to Overlook Subdivision.

The proposed development itself has seen a number of changes based on community feedback and most recently the city zoning board gave approval for an 83 town-home high density site. The Blue Ridge City Council has final say on whether zoning of the land will be changed for the development to take place.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Zoning, Hastings, Development, College Street, Highway 515, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, James Balli, Utility Director, Rebecca Harkins, Integrity Development Group LLC

Developer Johnnie Hastings addresses concerns of the citizens and presents a revitalized plan for the development.

The Hastings Development has been met with concerns ranging from the possibility of high volume traffic on narrow College Street to whether the city’s infrastructure can handle the additional stress of the new units.

A vote was expected to take place at the Jan. 12 Blue Ridge City Council meeting but with last minute changes to the proposed plans, a motion was made to table the decision until next month’s meeting.

“We listened,” Johnnie Hastings, the developer of the property, spoke to the council and citizens, “What is the need in the community? What is it that you guys need in terms of housing?”

Hastings explained that the original concept for the development dating back to Jan. 2020 was for affordable housing in the $250,000 range, but after gathering further community input the design was changed to upscale town-homes in the $450-500,000 range.

“I want to do something…that’s good for the community, that we can all get around,” Hastings said as he revealed the revised plan based on community push back to the suggested 83 town-homes, “Believe it or not but that’s my heart.”

Hastings’ new plan consists of 56 freestanding family homes at 4 homes per acre. The price will still be in the range $500,000 per home.

“We’re here to compromise and bring a little unity to this project,” Hastings said, adding, “At the end of the day you’ll be very pleased with what I did up there.”

Citizens who had come to the meeting to speak in opposition or at least express concerns over the development were taken off guard with the proposed changes to the site.

The main concerns echoed by the citizens present was the need for the new changes to be approved by the planning commission or flow through proper channels, whether the city’s infrastructure could handle the added usage and traffic coming onto College Street.

“It concerns me that you would vote on this when the planning commission has not,” one citizen spoke.

“The sewer system won’t handle it. The water system won’t handle it,” another citizen voiced.

Utility Director Rebecca Harkins addressed the concerns of city infrastructure stating that the city has more than enough capacity remaining in their system to handle the proposed development.

“I don’t have a position on this development,” Harkins stated adding that she simply wanted to present the public with the facts.

Harkins confirmed that the city did have capacity to handle the additional units to the system and that there are issues that need to be fixed and updated throughout the city’s infrastructure, but that those issues would have to be addressed regardless of the development adding on.

“I agree that it needs to be worked on and it needs to be worked on diligently,” Harkins said of the city’s current infrastructure and reassured residents that the development would cost nothing to the city: “The city does not fund any portion of the water and sewer system for a new development.” 

Harkins also pointed out that the developer would be financially responsible for any impacts on the system from the development to the plant caused directly by their connection.

Mayor Donna Whitener confirmed that City Attorney James Balli had sent in writing that council could vote on the rezoning if Hastings had lowered density but that it would need to go through proper channels before coming to council if the density had increased.

Council member Mike Panter made a motion to table the vote until the next regular meeting in Feb. giving the council more time to look over the proposed changes. 

All council members voted in favor of tabling the vote with the exception of Council member Rhonda Haight who stated her reason as “I think we’ve kept people waiting long enough”.

Scearce released from CHI Memorial Hospital

Community, Featured News, Featured Stories, News, Police & Government
Blue Ridge, Police, City, Johnny Scearce, Chief of Police, Covid19, Fannin County, Georgia, Post One, Commissioner, CHI Memorial Hospital, Chattanooga, Fannin Regional Hospital

Blue Ridge, Ga. – After a long battle with Covid-19, Blue Ridge Chief of Police and recently elected Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Johnny Scearce has been released from the hospital.

CHI Memorial Hospital released a video of Scearce being cheered on as he made his Honor Walk out of the hospital.

“Thank you all, God bless and what a great hospital and staff,” Scearce said as he made his way through a hall of staff cheering on his recovery.

Scearce had been in the hospital for 94 days according to CHI Memorial, but his battle with Covid-19 began in Sept. of 2020.

Blue Ridge, Police, City, Johnny Scearce, Chief of Police, Covid19, Fannin County, Georgia, Post One, Commissioner, CHI Memorial Hospital, Chattanooga, Fannin Regional Hospital

Scearce being released after 94 days at CHI Memorial. Image courtesy of CHI Memorial.

News of Scearce contracting the virus quickly spread via social media on Sept. 17 as his wife Brenda posted a personal post on Facebook asking for prayers for her husband.

At the time of the original post Scearce was in a regular room at Fannin Regional Hospital but struggling with maintaining healthy oxygen levels. 

A prayer vigil was held outside the hospital for Scearce on Sept. 19 and Brenda posted a heartfelt thank you from both her and her husband.

During his stay at Fannin Regional Hospital, Scearce was sedated and put on a ventilator for several days, but was able to overcome this hurdle and made significant improvements. Scearce was released from Fannin Regional Hospital and returned home at the end of Sept.

While Scearce continued to make steady improvements at home, he was still experiencing low oxygen levels. News broke on Oct. 12 that he was being transferred via ambulance to CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga. 

The City of Blue Ridge along with Scearce’s brothers in blue gathered for a prayer vigil at the City Park on Oct. 13 and it was there that information was given as to the critical level of Scearce’s condition.

The community continued to rally behind their Chief of Police over the next several months with fundraisers and prayers. 

The news of Scearce’s release from CHI Memorial is a major milestone that was celebrated by many via social media. Scearce still faces a long road of rehabilitation but the community remains confident that he will overcome any hurdles that he may face.

Arguing erupts over City Park playground

Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, Featured, Featured Stories, News
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Playground, Park, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Zoning and Project Manager, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, Jeff Stewart, James Balli, Legal, Safety, Reopen

Blue Ridge, Ga. – It was clear from the onset of the Blue Ridge City Council meeting that tensions were high between fellow council members Rhonda Haight and Mike Panter.

During approval of the minutes from a Special Called Oct. 20, 2020 council meeting Haight made the motion to accept the minutes but with it being noted that Panter had brought forth non agenda items at this meeting and that this was illegal according to the Open Meetings Act.

During this meeting Panter asked to speak and used this time to point out the history of dysfunction within the city council.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Playground, Park, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Zoning and Project Manager, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, Jeff Stewart, James Balli, Legal, Safety, Reopen

View of playground in City Park showing height of slide.

Mayor Donna Whitener pointed out that it was a council member who had made the request for this for the time to speak.

“It doesn’t matter if it was a council person,” Haight responded to the Mayor’s comments, “I’ve never been allowed to do that.” 

The motion to accept the minutes with the added note passed 3-2 with council members Robbie Cornelius and Panter opposing.

Contention didn’t stop there, as Haight then moved to have the agenda amended, moving Panter’s line item (Presentation of playground and Purchase) from Action Agenda Items to Purchasing Approvals.

Haight stated that according to the city charter and for clarification in minutes that the item should be moved: “Are we going to be purchasing?”

Council member Nathan Fitts backed Haight stating, “If we’re going to go by procedures, let’s do it correctly.” Fitts added that everyone needs to get on the same page.

“An action item can be an action item where you are taking action on something and a purchasing approval,” City Attorney James Balli clarified whether the item had to be moved. “Legally you can do it under either one.” 

The motion to move the item passed with only Panter in opposition and council member Harold Herndon expressing his opinion that it didn’t really matter.

Panter had previously presented to the public his research and opinion on the route that should be taken when considering reopening the City Park’s playground area.

During his presentation at the current meeting Panter reiterated that his concern is with safety and the lack of upkeep the city has done in maintaining the playground area. 

Panter advocated for using rubber padding in lieu of mulch and stated that while the initial cost would be over $60,000, the benefits of not having the upkeep of mulch would save the city money in the years to come.

“We had two grants of over $150,000 offered to the city,” Panter stated of the park’s history, “We got zero because we couldn’t make a decision.” 

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Playground, Park, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Zoning and Project Manager, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, Jeff Stewart, James Balli, Legal, Safety, Reopen

Panter presenting his research and findings into reopening the City Park playground.

Arguing among council and mayor erupted over who had been previously responsible for the decisions made about the park and playground.

“Ms. Whitener went down to the park yanked all the equipment out and left it totally blank,” Haight said of the park’s two year saga of renovation between 2015 – 2017.

Haight acknowledged that there was a grant for $120,000 to be used in the park but that the grant was for a botanical garden and not for the playground. 

Mayor Whitener retorted to Haight, defending the landscaping that began but was later removed, “You were moving the park to the other side.” 

“And yes I did want it to go at the other end but it was too late at that point,” Haight responded to Whitener’s remark.

One thing that the two did agree on was that $12,000 was spent during this time on sod that was later removed and a sprinkler system.

Conversation became more heated when Whitener pointed out that council member Haight’s husband had been involved with the park at that time. Haight acknowledged that her husband had volunteered some of his time but was not involved in the ultimate decisions that were made.

“I think you’ve told so many lies over the years, you don’t even know what the truth is,” Haight spoke directly to Whitener.

Fitts tried to steer the conversation back to addressing the playground as it is today instead of discussing the history: “We need to do what is best for the citizens right now. What would it take to get the park open to code?”

Cornelius finally made a motion to purchase the turf option presented by Panter, stating that the problem should just be fixed rather than “putting a band-aid on it”. The motion, however, failed to pass with only Panter and Cornelius voting in favor.

“I’m not interested in taking the liability and doing that,” Panter said when suggested that the city use mulch for now.

Haight responded to Panter,  “Just because we voted you down, you don’t want to participate even though you’re over the park?”

“I’ve done my job,” Panter responded “You do your job. I’ve done mine.”

Haight motioned for $10,000 to be spent in bringing the playground up to code with the use of mulch and to address drainage issues in the area. This motion passed 3-2 with Cornelius and Panter in opposition.

Planning, Zoning and Project Manager Jeff Stewart agreed to take on the project of the City Park playground and will oversee the steps necessary to reopen the playground to the public.

Arguing erupts over City Park playground

Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, News
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Playground, Park, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Zoning and Project Manager, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, Jeff Stewart, James Balli, Legal, Safety, Reopen

Blue Ridge, Ga. – It was clear from the onset of the Blue Ridge City Council meeting that tensions were high between fellow council members Rhonda Haight and Mike Panter.

During approval of the minutes from a Special Called Oct. 20, 2020 council meeting Haight made the motion to accept the minutes but with it being noted that Panter had brought forth non agenda items at this meeting and that this was illegal according to the Open Meetings Act.

During this meeting Panter asked to speak and used this time to point out the history of dysfunction within the city council.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Playground, Park, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Zoning and Project Manager, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, Jeff Stewart, James Balli, Legal, Safety, Reopen

View of playground in City Park showing height of slide.

Mayor Donna Whitener pointed out that it was a council member who had made the request for this for the time to speak.

“It doesn’t matter if it was a council person,” Haight responded to the Mayor’s comments, “I’ve never been allowed to do that.” 

The motion to accept the minutes with the added note passed 3-2 with council members Robbie Cornelius and Panter opposing.

Contention didn’t stop there, as Haight then moved to have the agenda amended, moving Panter’s line item (Presentation of playground and Purchase) from Action Agenda Items to Purchasing Approvals.

Haight stated that according to the city charter and for clarification in minutes that the item should be moved: “Are we going to be purchasing?”

Council member Nathan Fitts backed Haight stating, “If we’re going to go by procedures, let’s do it correctly.” Fitts added that everyone needs to get on the same page.

“An action item can be an action item where you are taking action on something and a purchasing approval,” City Attorney James Balli clarified whether the item had to be moved. “Legally you can do it under either one.” 

The motion to move the item passed with only Panter in opposition and council member Harold Herndon expressing his opinion that it didn’t really matter.

Panter had previously presented to the public his research and opinion on the route that should be taken when considering reopening the City Park’s playground area.

During his presentation at the current meeting Panter reiterated that his concern is with safety and the lack of upkeep the city has done in maintaining the playground area. 

Panter advocated for using rubber padding in lieu of mulch and stated that while the initial cost would be over $60,000, the benefits of not having the upkeep of mulch would save the city money in the years to come.

“We had two grants of over $150,000 offered to the city,” Panter stated of the park’s history, “We got zero because we couldn’t make a decision.” 

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Playground, Park, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Zoning and Project Manager, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, Jeff Stewart, James Balli, Legal, Safety, Reopen

Panter presenting his research and findings into reopening the City Park playground.

Arguing among council and mayor erupted over who had been previously responsible for the decisions made about the park and playground.

“Ms. Whitener went down to the park yanked all the equipment out and left it totally blank,” Haight said of the park’s two year saga of renovation between 2015 – 2017.

Haight acknowledged that there was a grant for $120,000 to be used in the park but that the grant was for a botanical garden and not for the playground. 

Mayor Whitener retorted to Haight, defending the landscaping that began but was later removed, “You were moving the park to the other side.” 

“And yes I did want it to go at the other end but it was too late at that point,” Haight responded to Whitener’s remark.

One thing that the two did agree on was that $12,000 was spent during this time on sod that was later removed and a sprinkler system.

Conversation became more heated when Whitener pointed out that council member Haight’s husband had been involved with the park at that time. Haight acknowledged that her husband had volunteered some of his time but was not involved in the ultimate decisions that were made.

“I think you’ve told so many lies over the years, you don’t even know what the truth is,” Haight spoke directly to Whitener.

Fitts tried to steer the conversation back to addressing the playground as it is today instead of discussing the history: “We need to do what is best for the citizens right now. What would it take to get the park open to code?”

Cornelius finally made a motion to purchase the turf option presented by Panter, stating that the problem should just be fixed rather than “putting a band-aid on it”. The motion, however, failed to pass with only Panter and Cornelius voting in favor.

“I’m not interested in taking the liability and doing that,” Panter said when suggested that the city use mulch for now.

Haight responded to Panter,  “Just because we voted you down, you don’t want to participate even though you’re over the park?”

“I’ve done my job,” Panter responded “You do your job. I’ve done mine.”

Haight motioned for $10,000 to be spent in bringing the playground up to code with the use of mulch and to address drainage issues in the area. This motion passed 3-2 with Cornelius and Panter in opposition.

Planning, Zoning and Project Manager Jeff Stewart agreed to take on the project of the City Park playground and will oversee the steps necessary to reopen the playground to the public.

Panter doesn’t back down from decision to close park

Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, Featured, Featured Stories, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Blue Ridge City Council held a special called meeting last week, but due to a lack of a quorum no votes could be taken and business for the city remains at a halt. While lack of a quorum seemed to be a contentious issue, it did not stop the remaining members of the council along with the mayor from presenting information to the public.

Council member Mike Panter has recently come under fire for his decision to close the playground area of the city park. With citizens and even other council members questioning his decision and authority, Panter did not back down from his stance and took the time to explain his reasoning.

“I did not want the liability. I did not want the city to have the liability, and I felt like it was my responsibility to close the park,” Panter said of recent events, adding, “I know I did the right thing.” 

For Panter, the issue of public safety came to his attention during the state mandated shut down of the city park during the onset of Covid-19.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Playground, Park, Safety, Mayor, City Council, Donna Whitener, Mike Panter, Children

Plans for Blue Ridge City Park Playground area showing where the height of the slide stands at 12 feet.

Panter had examined the 12 inch bumper placed around the park and realized the mulch had not been properly maintained.

Municipal playgrounds are required to maintain a certain depth of “padding” around equipment for safety purposes, and for the City of Blue Ridge that depth should be maintained at 12 inches considering the height of the slide, standing at 12 feet tall.

“How much mulch do you think we have underneath that slide,” Panter questioned and then answered, “three inches.”

According to Panter, the mulch in the city park should be maintained every six months and that the park itself should be inspected once a year.

“We haven’t had any additional mulch added in three and a half years. We have not had an inspection in three and half years since it was put in,” Panter remarked of the current state of the playground area.

Panter discussed a number of options for remedying the situation that included mulching, rubber mulch, and his preferred option of padding and synthetic grass. 

While the synthetic grass option would be more costly upfront, it would allow for proper drainage to be installed and would also come with a 15 year warranty.

Panter stated that “the cost is half (compared to the mulching option) over that 15 year period”.

Mayor Donna Whitener also commented that using the synthetic grass would make the park more accessible for those with mobility issues and for very small children.

“Everything that you look at has positives and negatives,” Panter said of the possibilities to get the park back up and running.

There is expected to be a more in depth discussion on the matter along with costs of the project at the Special Called Blue Ridge City Council meeting to be held on Thursday, Nov. 12.

Collins comes to Blue Ridge to set the record straight

Election 2020, Featured, Featured Stories, News, Politics

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Congressman Doug Collins stopped in Blue Ridge on his campaign tour in the race for U.S. Senate. With him were special guests Georgia State Speaker of the House David Ralston and former member of the foreign policy advisory panel to Donald Trump, George Papadopoulos. 

Collins spoke briefly on his record as U.S. Congressman, highlighting his conservative values and his reputation for representing the people of the 9th District. 

Collins has stood up to multiple government agencies and individuals during his career, most notably holding the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and James Comey accountable.

Collins was also a visible ally to President Donald Trump during the U.S. House of Representatives Impeachment Hearings. 

Now, Collins wants to take this same momentum and move it to the U.S. Senate.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Congressman, Doug Collins, Speaker of the House, David Ralston, foreign policy advisory panel, Donald Trump, George Papadopoulos, Senator, Kelly Loeffler, New York Stock Exchange, Intercontinental Exchange, Jeffrey Sprecher, election, 2020

Georgia State Speaker of the House David Ralston and Congressman Doug Collins in Blue Ridge.

With the U.S. Senate seat open to a Jungle Primary on the Nov. 3 ballot, Collins wants to set the record straight on what is and isn’t true about himself and his biggest Republican rival, Senator Kelly Loeffler.

According to Collins, Loeffler’s attacks on him are unfounded and in many cases an attempt at deflection about her true nature and intent.

Collins specifically sited Loeffler’s pro-life stance that seems to not have been her view a mere two years ago when she worked with Planned Parenthood to have a booth set up at a basketball game where monies raised would be split with the organization.

“I am the one who is actually concerned about life,” Collins said pointing to decisions his family has made in their personal life that reflect these values.

Loeffler also made claims that Collins was not Pro-Second Amendment and that as a lawyer Collins represented criminals.

Collins assured the crowd, having grown up the son of a trooper neither of these claims could be further from the truth. 

“She doesn’t want you to know that she worked with Michael Bloomberg,” Collins said of Loeffler’s Second Amendment claims and her own personal work on a gun control agenda.

In his career as a lawyer, Collins took indigent clients, none of which were pictured in Loeffler’s ad. Collins stated, “Doug Collins defender of criminals? No, Doug Collins did his constitutional duty taking indigent clients.”

Loeffeler has also released ads containing a picture of Collins with former Georgia House Representative Stacey Abrams.

Abrams made waves as the Democratic nominee for Georgia Governor in 2018, known for her liberal stances.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Congressman, Doug Collins, Speaker of the House, David Ralston, foreign policy advisory panel, Donald Trump, George Papadopoulos, Senator, Kelly Loeffler, New York Stock Exchange, Intercontinental Exchange, Jeffrey Sprecher, election, 2020

George Papadopoulos gives his endorsement of Collins for Senate.

Collins explained the photo, “This was after we saved the HOPE scholarship. Stacey joined us on a conservative idea and voted for it because she understood that people needed that money.”

According to Collins, Loeffler actually employed Abrams as an attorney for a basketball team and in 2018 Loeffler honored Abrams as a woman of distinction while “Abrams for Governor” signs were in the background of the photo-op.

Lastly, Collins pointed out that Loeffler makes her decisions based on her own self-interest and money. 

“She claims to be tough on China,” Collins said and added, “Take the ten state owned companies that are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, owned by the Chinese Communist Party, and delist them.” 

Jeffrey Sprecher, Leoffler’s husband, is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange, and the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.

Collins said of his suggestion to delist the Chinese companies, that it will never happen because Loeffler will choose her pocketbook and their pocketbook over policy everyday.

“I may not have $35 million, but I’ve got all I need because I’ve got you and I’ve got the voters of Georgia and they understand who the real conservative is in this race,” Collins said referencing the amount the Loeffler has spent on her Senate campaign, “Georgia can’t be bought.”

All Special Events Canceled for City of Blue Ridge

City Council, Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, Featured, Featured Stories, Festivals, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – In an unanimous vote the Blue Ridge City Council decided that any special events within the city limits will be canceled until further notice. This includes the cancelation of Blue Ridge’s Halloween SafeZone and Light Up Blue Ridge.

Discussion of canceling future events for the remainder of the year had previously taken place among council but no official vote had been made on the matter.

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Blue Ridge Halloween SafeZone 2019

“We need to make it official,” Council member Rhonda Haight spoke, referencing that since their previous discussion special events had been permitted to take place: “I felt like we should have voted last time.”

Mayor Donna Whitener expressed that she didn’t fully agree with the idea of canceling all events with no exceptions and pointed out that the recent prayer vigil held for Blue Ridge Chief of Police Johnny Scearce would technically fall under the special event category.

Haight made the motion of  “no more events allowed until further notice”, which carried without opposition.

Although the Halloween SafeZone has been canceled an alternative has been set up according to Cesar Martinez, President of the Blue Ridge Business Association (BRBA).

“We get 5,000 or 6,000 people downtown and we just can’t do it this year,” Martinez said and noted that state guidelines would just not make it feasible for the city to accommodate.

The BRBA will be partnering with Blue Ridge United Methodist Church to offer a drive thru option for families to enjoy. Booths will be set up along this route, where participants can hand out candy.

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Lighting of the Tree – Photo courtesy of Light Up Blue Ridge Facebook Page

Other locations that are offering Halloween festivities include Dairy Queen, Home Depot, and Kevin Panter Insurance Agency.

Light Up Blue Ridge will also not take place in an official manner. Festivities of the weekend that draw a large crowd in close proximity have been called off. This includes the annual parade and the lighting of the tree.

Even with these changes, Blue Ridge plans to make the city Christmas ready for those visiting the weekend following Thanksgiving. 

The tree will be lit in the park but without the lighting ceremony and Santa can still be found at the park’s gazebo but with safety precautions made due to the ongoing Covid-19 risk.

“We are suggesting that the city close East Main Street for the two days after Thanksgiving,” Martinez recommended to the council stating that this would give more room for the large crowds to social distance that weekend.

No official plans were made on how to handle the influx of visitors for the weekend following Thanksgiving, but discussions are expected to continue in future meetings.

Man charged with attempted murder

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Blue Ridge, Ga. – Timothy Charles Stiles is being charged with attempted murder after Fannin County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) responded to a call of a stabbing in Mineral Bluff.

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Timothy Stiles has been charged with 3 felonies after stabbing incident in Mineral Bluff, Ga.

The incident occurred on the evening of Sept. 28. FCSO was dispatched to a call in Mineral Bluff around 7:00 p.m. The caller indicated that a person had been stabbed and was in need of medical attention.

Upon arriving at the scene, it became apparent that the victim, Kenneth Arnold, was in need of immediate emergency medical attention. Arnold was life-flighted to Gainesville for treatment. 

Warrants for Stiles arrest describe the wounds as “seriously disfiguring” to Arnold’s upper torso and abdomen. 

Stiles had already fled the scene upon officer arrival but was apprehended a few hours later. When found Stiles was inflicting stabbing wounds on himself and was transported for medical attention.

Friends of Stiles say that he suffered from mental illness but did not specify which illness(es). They also did not speculate on whether Stiles’s mental health issues played a part in the incident.

Stiles is being charged with 1 count felony aggravated assault, 1 count felony aggravated battery and 1 count felony criminal attempt “to commit the offense of murder”.

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Sheriff’s Office, Stabbing, Attempted Murder, Mineral Bluff, Timothy Stiles, Kenneth Arnold

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Sheriff’s Office, Stabbing, Attempted Murder, Mineral Bluff, Timothy Stiles, Kenneth Arnold

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Sheriff’s Office, Stabbing, Attempted Murder, Mineral Bluff, Timothy Stiles, Kenneth Arnold

Click here to see Fannin County Sheriff’s Office Arrest Report for the Week of 9/20/20 – 9/27/20

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