Fitts goes on record with Mayor’s alleged violations

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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.

Fitts pursues legal action against censure

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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

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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

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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.”

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”.

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.

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