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.
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.”
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.
ATLANTA – Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) attended President Trump’s infrastructure announcement at The White House this morning. Speaker Ralston was one of several local and state elected officials invited to participate in a series of discussions with the President as well as members of his cabinet and senior staff about the plan and the infrastructure needs facing our nation.
“I appreciate President Trump’s emphasis on public-private partnerships, as well as rural areas of America, as we look to address the nation’s infrastructure needs,” said Speaker Ralston. “Much like his Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, this measure will make a real difference in projects of profound economic importance like the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project or long-overdue efforts like expanding broadband infrastructure into rural areas. This is another example of President Trump focusing on creating jobs and expanding economic opportunity across our country. I am honored to represent the State of Georgia at this important announcement.”
President Trump’s infrastructure plan looks to leverage the power of public-private partnerships to improve the nation’s infrastructure including transportation, water/sewer and other critical needs like broadband internet access. More details on the President’s plan are available on The White House website at http://www.whitehouse.gov.
Gov. Nathan Deal, along with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston, today outlined updates to HB 918, which addresses state tax code. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Efstration, now combines the 2017 Internal Revenue Code (IRC) bill, HB 821, with 2018 IRC updates. It also addresses the state revenue projections resulting from the Federal Tax Act.
HB 918 would double the standard deduction for Georgia taxpayers for all filing statuses, effective Jan. 1, 2018. It would also reduce the income tax rate for individuals and businesses from 6 percent to 5.75 percent effective Jan. 1, 2019. Finally, the legislation includes a provision further reducing the tax rate to 5.5 percent, effective Jan. 1, 2020. This reduction would require approval of the General Assembly and signature of the governor in order to take effect.
The bill will also help our state be more competitive by eliminating the sales tax on jet fuel, which will encourage airlines to fly additional direct flights from Georgia to destinations around the globe.
“Taxpayers have already started to experience the positive effects of federal tax reform here in Georgia and throughout the country,” said Deal. “Our state is also projected to benefit significantly in the coming years. The legislation presented today is a result of ongoing dialogue between House and Senate leadership and addresses Georgia’s projected windfall while balancing the state’s fiscal health and protecting our AAA bond rating.
“This bill keeps more of taxpayers’ hard-earned money in their pockets by doubling the standard deduction and reducing income tax rates. It will save taxpayers more than $5 billion over the next five years. Doubling the standard deduction will also allow Georgia filers to take fuller advantage of the newly enhanced federal standard deduction. Further, these combined changes mark one of the biggest income tax cuts in state history, and does so in a fiscally responsible manner. The standard deduction was last increased in 1981. The individual rate was set at 6 percent in 1937 and has not changed since, while the corporate rate has also remained at 6 percent since 1969. I’m confident HB 918 will be passed by the General Assembly quickly and immediately transmitted to my desk. The sooner I sign this landmark reform legislation, the sooner taxpayers may file.”
“This historic tax cut lowers Georgia’s income tax rate for the first time ever, returning significant savings to millions of families across our state,” said Cagle. “Most importantly, this framework sets the stage for continued reductions – building on the Trump administration’s tax reform to allow Georgians to keep more of what they earn.”
“I am committed to keeping the tax burden on Georgians as low as possible,” said Ralston. “This measure is yet another example of the General Assembly working with Governor Deal to empower families to save more of their money. I appreciate the Governor’s leadership and the cooperation between the House and the Senate in developing this income tax cut legislation. I look forward to it moving quickly through the legislative process.”
BKP Speaks with House Speaker David Ralston for a Legislative Session Wrap-up.