City Council’s war of words continues

By Elaine Owen, Editor

The March 14 Blue Ridge City Council meeting was another one for the record. Not because of the problems solved by the Mayor and council members, although that happened; but because of the escalating intolerance of two council members for each other.
It could have started the week before when council member Rhonda Thomas spoke at the Kiwanis Club of Blue Ridge and the report was published in the News Observer (March 8 issue). According to that article, Thomas responded to a question about “why the city of Blue Ridge is paying several times more for legal advice than other local governments.”
Thomas stated that (Blue Ridge) attorney David Syfan “cost city taxpayers at least $150,000 in 2016 for various legal work and only made it to a couple of meetings.” She also mentioned that “last year several members of the city council were sued by a local businessman. When the businessman tried to settle the case, Syfan refused to settle…creating additional expense.”
Or it could have been the early morning email sent by council member Angie Arp (Sunday, March 12 at 3:24 a.m.) that was addressed to “My Dear Friends Donna and Rhonda.”
The first paragraph said (QUOTE) “How has your deceitful attacks and lies against me worked out for you so far? You LOST! Has it not hit either of you yet, that you have LOST every time you’ve gone against me and the council for that matter. Does it not get old always being on the losing side? Have either of you considered, you may just need to come to the realization that you are not going to ever win against me, no matter how dirty and deceitful you play.” (UNQUOTE) There was more–and additional emails along this same line.
Regardless of what precipitated the exchange, it was foisted onto a public that was at the meeting to see their council handle the city’s business.
Arp addressed the council about for the city, saying she felt she had to show her support for Syfan, that he was the only attorney with “municipal law” experience and only charges $95 an hour, where other attorneys might charge $200 and more an hour.
She said, “I feel like he’s represented the city well, giving advice that’s been upheld…”
Thomas said Syfan should be gone, citing huge legal bills incurred by the city; noting legal fees since 2008 have equaled $637,000, of which $137,000 was incurred in 2016.
“He’s been to three meetings in eight years, one meeting where he sat in the front row giving council members advice to say the mayor was absent. He told them to say she was absent when she was sitting right there,” Thomas said, gesturing to where Mayor Donna Whitener was seated.
In the verbal exchange that followed, Arp gestured outside and said to Thomas, “Do you want to take this outside, Rhonda?”
Whitener interjected, telling Thomas and Arp they could finish discussing things after the meeting but they needed to work through the rest of the agenda.
Thomas reiterated that she is looking out for residents. “I’m here to look out for the taxpayers and not for this attorney who is raping the city,” she said.
At this point, Whitener wielded her gavel and council member Rodney Kendall yelled “point of order” several times, while banging his hand.
Business was conducted at this meeting–proving this Mayor and council CAN work for taxpayers who put their trust in them. Read about that in next week’s Fannin Sentinel.