Syfan out as city attorney; Searce named “interim police chief”
By Elaine Owen, Editor ~~
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – More than 150 people attended the Open House at Blue Ridge City Hall Tuesday, Jan. 9 before the regular monthly meeting of City Council.
Mayor Donna Whitener welcomed the crowd, with a special thanks to Dairy Queen, the Sweet Shoppe, her staff and others who helped prepare food for the evening.
She then introduced Matthew Colbert who blew the shofar, an ancient musical horn made of a ram’s horn used to call people together.
Pastor Asa Dockery gave the Invocation, asking a special blessing for those who were elected with the responsibility to make decisions for the city and residents. Pastor Dockery asked God to give the new council members ”the spirit of wisdom and understanding in leading the city and all its people that it represents…so that all the people can be heard…”
City Clerk Kelsey Ledford called the meeting to order and addressed the Mayor and Council.
To new members, Robbie Cornelius, Ken Gaddis, and Nathan Fitts, Ledford said, “I’m excited to see you begin your journey as council members…”
And to the Mayor, incumbents Rhonda Haight and Harold Herndon, she said, “I am excited to watch you begin your third term…”
Ledford then administered oaths, first to the Mayor, then council members, asking them to perform their duties to the city, to support and defend the charter, the Constitution and the laws of the state of Georgia, and the United States of America.
The next order of business was approval of Minutes from the Dec. 12, 2017 meeting, which was unanimous.
Action agenda items required by the city charter to be done at the beginning of a new year included the following:
1. Appointment of mayor pro tempore: Council member Fitts made a motion to appoint Rhonda Haight. Motion was seconded by Gaddis and unanimously approved.
2. Council appointed James Balli city attorney.
3. Kelsey Ledford was appointed city clerk.
4. Alicia Stewart was appointed city treasurer
5. Robert Snead appointed Municipal Court judge
6. Before appointing a chief of police, the Mayor asked the city attorney to explain the options.
Balli said the council could appoint a “permanent” or “acting (interim) police chief. Gaddis made the motion to appoint current Police Chief Johnny Searce “Interim” Police Chief while the council continued to search.
7. Joseph Hudson was appointed prosecuting attorney for the court.
8. Walsh & Walker was appointed city auditor.
9. David Goodspeed was appointed Zoning & Land Development (Permits & Inspections).
Hazard and On-call policy revisions were approved.
An agenda item tabled from the Dec. 12 meeting, a review of bids for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) water system improvement project was discussed.
Mayor Whitener recapped the tabled item, saying the city’s engineering firm, Carter & Sloope, recommended the low bidder for the project, The Renee Group. After a short discussion, the council voted to proceed with the project.
Water issues in the Staurolite subdivision and routine and emergency maintenance at the city’s waste water treatment facility were also discussed and approved to proceed.
Councilwoman Haight presented a proposal to use the Old Temple Baptist Church Parking Lot that would provide “about 200 parking spaces” for city parking. The city would split the proceeds from parking money 50/50 with the owners of the lot. Questions were raised about the liability to the city and specifics of a contract.
Purchasing approvals included:
1. Up to $15,000 to ETC for Police Department Equipment –money would be reimbursed by a grant.
2. Dwight Oliver Electrical Contractor Invoice No. 4232 for $4,550.37.
3. Bioconversion purchase of Polymer Drums P.O. 38394 for $15,000.
4. Heavy Constructors, Inc. Invoice No CBR #14143 $43,976.69
5. Backhoe purchase at $65,526 (USDA grant of $25,000 possible)
6. Carter & Sloope Invoice No. 22548 for $15,361.25.
7. Carter & Sloope Invoice No.22557 for $32,084.75.
8. Mountain Regional Library System $5,450.
Mayor Whitener brought up for “discussion only” the plight of Chastain Street that has been closed and is “almost a dead street.” Whitener said several people wanted to bring the street back to life and recommended the council look at the possibilities and re-visit the issue after that had been done.
In Public Comments, Blue Ridge Business Association President Cesar Martinez congratulated the new council and mayor and said he looked forward to working with them.
According to Martinez, Light Up Blue Ridge (LUBR) was a resounding success with money left over. Just last week, LUBR presented a check for $1250 to Chris Hall at Habitat for Humanity (see story on page B1).
Councilman Gaddis said he would like to see the schools more involved with LUBR; to which Martinez replied that they were involved but that was school vacation time and some families were out of town.
Martinez then asked if there was an update on (renovation of) the bathrooms, and it they might be completed by Memorial Day.
Whitener said plans and sketches would be prepared for the council to review and discuss but she could not provide a timeline.
An executive session was called for “Personnel” that lasted 30 minutes but no action was taken.
EDITOR’s NOTE: This first meeting of the new year with a new council was a breath of fresh air. First, the cumbersome “Rules of Procedure” that did not even resemble Roberts Rules did not interfere with the orderly process of doing business for the city. Secondly, every elected person contributed to this meeting, and the interaction was great to witness. For the first time in four years, this meeting was a pleasure to cover. Thank you.