New Superintendent Ridley approved with Work Session Vote

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Hal Brian Ridley

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s Board of Education made Dr. Ridley official last night with a unanimous vote during their monthly work session for their new superintendent.

Dr. Hal Brian Ridley was named the finalist of the school system’s Superintendent search during a special called meeting on June 26, 2021. According to the Board of Education, “The Board voted unanimously to name Dr. Ridley as the single finalist for the position and announced its intention to name him as Superintendent after the 14-day period of public notice.”


Board Chairman Ronald Watkins, right, signs the Superintendent contract with Dr. Hal Brian Ridley, left.

Nearing the end of July now, the Board is trying to get Dr. Ridley in and ready before the start of the school within the next two weeks. Most teachers are returning and final preparations are coming into play this week in the school system such as teachers rooms being moved into Clear Creek Elementary today.

Normally, most votes don’t happen until the boards Thursday meetings as it is the regular session of the government entity.

During the meeting, the board voted to enter executive session along with Ridley. Returning a few minutes later, the official motion came to approve Dr. Ridley as the new Superintendent along with comments during the meeting about the school system and a special thanks to Kim Cagle, who served as Interim Superintendent over the summer.

Now approved, Ridley is likely to be taking his first meeting this Thursday as his first official meeting as Gilmer’s Superintendent. The board is also holding a reception on Thursday at 5 p.m for Dr. Ridley and to allow the public time to meet and speak with him before their Regular Meeting.

Dr. Ridley and the Board signed the contract after the meeting, right before the board retreated into their usual executive session for personnel.

Dr. Ridley stated, “I would like to thank the Board for this opportunity. And thank you to Kim Cagle, she has been very welcoming as I try to get myself oriented to this new job. I’m looking very forward to working with all of you and we’re going to do some great things in Gilmer County.”

Management of City Parking will not go out to bid

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Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parking, Fannin County, 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, Executive Parking Systems, Shelli WoJohn, Bid, Process, Contract

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Tempers flared again as Blue Ridge City Council voted on whether it would be in the City’s best interest to put the management of municipal parking out to bid.

In a second Special Called Meeting held on Friday, May 21, 2021, Council Member Nathan Fitts proposed that the City release Executive Parking Systems (EPS) from their current contract managing the City’s parking and put the duties of parking management out to bid.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parking, Fannin County, 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, Executive Parking Systems, Shelli WoJohn, Bid, Process, Contract

Payment kiosk installed by EPS for 24/7 collections.

Fitts stated his reasoning for his proposal was that by not placing the service out to bid there was a look of impropriety in allowing the contract to continue without any competition and that EPS was in violation of the terms that had been agreed upon.

“The fact that this agreement only applied to special events is further confirmed by the audio of the City Council meeting in October 2019 when the council voted on this issue,” Fitts said, explaining the breach of contract.

According to Fitts the agreement with EPS was for the company to handle Special Events parking only, not day to day collections that the company is currently providing.

Council Member Rhonda Haight played audio clips from a previous meeting between City Council and the Downtown Development Authority where Fitts does clarify that EPS would be used for Special Events only.

Fitts said that EPS continuing to collect money for parking that was not from Special Events was in fact illegal.

Fitts stated, “The council has a duty to the citizens to immediately stop these unauthorized funds that are being collected by Executive Parking.”

During discussion, fellow Council Member Mike Panter referred to an email sent by City Attorney James Balli that stated “In this instance, the parking contract is not required to be submitted to the sealed bid process”.

The current contract between the City of Blue Ridge and EPS states of parking that EPS will furnish duties “as needed or requested by the City” and that EPS would collect “20% of the Net Operating income from each event, which is the total income made per event minus EPS employee expenses”.

EPS had presented the City with an updated contract changing the wording of these two statements to duties furnished would be “24 hours a day/7 days a week/ 365 days a year” and collecting “25% of the Net Operating Income each month from all City Properties, which is the total income made per month per location”.

The updated contract, however, was never approved by council.

“I know what the contract says,” Mayor Donna Whitener expressed when questioned if she understood the contract,  “It says as needed and you all needed it.”

Fitts responded to Whitener saying that her opinion is invalid, “You have a conflict of interest because you sold them a piece of property. You’re in violation of the Charter.”

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parking, Fannin County, 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, Executive Parking Systems, Shelli WoJohn, Bid, Process, Contract

EPS signage located in municipal parking off of Mountain Street.

Shelli Wojohn, General Counsel at Valet Vault & Executive Parking Systems, also spoke up saying, “An event is every time we operate as per stated in the contract.”

“So every day is an event in Blue Ridge?” Haight questioned WoJohn.

As the meeting began to unravel, Whitener tried to adjourn but Haight said adjournment would not take place since a motion had already been made and the Council was in the middle of a vote.

Cesar Martinez, Chairman of the Downtown Development Authority, was asked his opinion since he had been present throughout much of the discussions related to the City’s parking.

“In my opinion, and I am not a lawyer,” Martinez responded, “When we let them put the parking meter up in the city municipal lot that was under the request of the City. They were doing it as needed and requested by the City.”

Panter and Council Member Harold Herndon voted against putting the service out to bid.

“They’ve done a good job. There was a need. Income has been good,” Herndon explained his position, “I don’t think the City at this time of the year can afford a delay or holding up services for any length of time.” 

During fiscal year 2020 the City made $65,116.87 in revenues collected by EPS.

With two opposing votes (Panter and Herndon) and two in favor (Haight and Fitts), a tie breaking vote was cast by Mayor Whitener against bidding out parking management. Council Member Robbie Cornelius was not present for the meeting.

Haight went on record that she felt the Whitener’s vote was a direct conflict of interest due to a real estate transaction between the Mayor and EPS. 

Haight also stated of EPS continuing to collect revenues everyday and not just for Special Events, “Right now in my opinion they (EPS) are taking money that doesn’t belong to them and that’s theft.”

Pickens BOE sets Interim Superintendent while negotiating with Townsend

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JASPER, Ga. – The Pickens Board of Education held another emergency called meeting today for the Superintendent position, planned since their three-hour executive session on Friday.

Today, however, saw a large increase in the number of people attending the meeting. The Board allowed 20 people inside along with press members while the excess citizens remained in the foyer.

The crowd did not stay silent before and after the meeting, voicing displeasure in expected action, and then actual action, from the Board during the meeting.

With yet another 3-2 vote, the BOE voted to renegotiate terms and contracts with Superintendent Townsend, desiring to move him elsewhere in the education system. A move that one citizen said they would do while they were in executive session, calling it an attempt to avoid paying a “$500,000 buyout.” And indeed, Board Chair Sue Finley said the board hopes to make this a budget neutral transition.

In his stead, the Board voted 3-2 to instate Assistant Superintendent Tony Young as the Interim Superintendent of Schools.

Board Member Tucker Green said about the vote to modify Townsend’s contract, “I will vote to oppose this action as I do not believe this is necessary or appropriate. I support Dr. Rick Townsend. I feel he has done a good job for our district during a very difficult time. In the middle of a pandemic and situations that we are, we need stability and a steady hand at the helm. I do not agree with this. I don’t think it’s necessary, so, I will oppose.”


Assistant Superintendent Tony Young, now voted in as Interim Superintendent

With both votes set, the Board of Education is moving forward with the process and negotiations. FYN clarified this with Board Attorney Phil Landrum, III, who confirmed that, technically speaking, the Board has two Superintendents at this time. He said the Interim is in place as negotiations move forward with Dr. Rick Townsend and his attorney.

When asked if it is possible to have two Superintendents, Landrum stated, “You can, you don’t really usually see it.”

Landrum declined to comment on specific positions or if any were discussed, instead saying the Board will be looking to put Townsend into a position “where he will be most likely to succeed.”

Finley read a statement from the Board on the topic. “We have appointed Tony Young as our Interim Superintendent. He is currently serving as our Assistant Superintendent. We have no plans to conduct any interviews for the office of Superintendent until some degree of stability and leadership can be brought to the current situation. Based on our experience with Mr. Young, we believe he can and will provide stability and leadership on an interim basis.

We have directed our attorney to work with Dr. Townsend’s attorney to modify the terms and duties of his current contract. We hope that we can reach a mutual understanding that is beneficial to all concerned. We intend for this decision to be budget neutral.”

Finley also addressed concerns over various accreditations from state and other agencies saying they are without merit. She said, “Fear mongering for alternative agendas has no place within that discussion.”

However, again clarifying with Landrum, he stated that should negotiations fall through, the board will have to return and decide what to do about his employment and his contract. Landrum declined to comment further on this topic saying it was a Board decision if that should happen.

SuperintendentFinley also stated, “Mr. Young has reluctantly agreed to perform this job of Interim Superintendent. We thank him for his continued service to our district and we have confidence our teachers, staff, and the rest of our community will support Mr. Young in this role.”

FYN caught up with Interim Superintendent Young after the meeting to ask him about his reluctance. To which he replied, “I don’t think anyone should excitedly accept a Superintendancy right now with COVID and everything else we’ve got going on. We’ve got an awesome staff. I’ve got confidence in them and I think good things will happen, but it won’t be easy.”

Young will officially be reaching out and taking the reins of the Pickens County School System tomorrow, January 19, 2021.

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