HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council held their monthly work session Feb. 25, 2019, and Hiawassee City Hall was filled to rare capacity with citizens invested in the county seat’s future. Following the business portion of the meeting, public comments were accepted.
What follows is a speech, in its entirety, delivered by Towns County resident Becky Landress. FYN tracked Landress after the meeting to request a copy. The public address followed an article published by FYN earlier this month.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Council and Ms. Mayor;
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Becky Landress. I am a resident of this county and have been my entire life. Despite what a lot of progressive, move in residents feel, I am not uneducated, nor have I been sheltered by small town life. I have a background in journalism and the reason I have stayed in Towns County has much to do with a lot of what has been mentioned as a potential for change. My family is one of the main components, which is not on the table of change, thankfully; although the rest may be.
“My roots run deep. I am proud to know many of the families that make up my community. Families I went to school with, or that taught me, or that have children that have grown up along side my own children. Although finding a job in this area that would fulfill my family’s needs was near impossible, my husband and I made it work for the other benefits. He drove back and forth from Gainesville for over seventeen years to provide for us. He would leave before daylight and often get home well after. We still chose to stay put for the benefit of our children; a good school system, recreation for our children, small town feel, and a value system that mimicked those of our neighbors. Today, I don’t believe we would make that same decision.
“Families are moving away, and others are not moving in. Jobs are still scarce and now recreation programs are almost non existent for children. Our surrounding communities still have recreation programs for children running full force and most importantly, no one is questioning their “Bible Belt stigma”.
“Our traditional values are being questioned by business owners that moved to our area, with those very values in play. Those “progressive” business owners somehow have a voice with this council although they were not elected by anyone in the area. They want to change our “Bible belt stigma” and even want to dictate what music should be welcomed by our area. I’m sorry, but as a native of this area, I find these voices have no business being heard by those of us that were here long before them and didn’t ask their opinion, although this is the make up of your “ethics” board. Really? Calling a political party names and associating them with one of the most horrific groups in history is not someone I would nominate to divise up any board with the word ethical in the description.
“Ms. Mayor and members of this council, I don’t reside within the city limits of Hiawassee but I should, along with every tax paying citizen in this county, have a voice. When people were invited to help divise the five year strategic plan, and boards were made up, they were a make up of a small amount of people that actually represent the vision of most residents. I realize you are a City Council and those that do not live within city limits don’t have a vote, but we should have a voice. No one can live in this county and not have a vested interest in the happenings within Hiawassee. This is where we do our grocery shopping, school clothes shopping with our children and main street is the road we travel to take our children to school everyday, or better yet, church on Sunday. It is the road I travel down to arrive at our small business on the outskirts of town.
“Let’s be honest here, if a five year strategic plan is in place, an aesthetic vision should be one of the components, but not the main component. When hiring an economic developer, as we have, we should feel in line with the words of our county commissioner, “we will try it for one year”. He also has a vision focused on families, instead of primarily community beautification.
“Ms. Webb’s article brought my attention to a lot of things I was unaware of beforehand. I believe many residents weren’t aware of most of the things addressed in her article. Since the article, I have been to the City’s website and studied each slide in the newly adopted strategic plan. I have read about all the previous meetings leading up to that point and I have gained much respect for three members of this council for representing the districts that appointed you.
“The mayor reached out to me through a message and asked me to meet with her to discuss my concerns after me and many others read the article covering last month’s council meeting, and we expressed our ill feelings of many things, most of which was said by a member of the ethics board. We didn’t appoint her to anything and she wasn’t elected by the voters of this City. If she feels the Bible Belt stigma is not her thing, Highway 76 will take her to a city on either side of Hiawassee. Let’s see if that proposition would hold water in either of those communities.
“Honestly, I had never heard of the term “gentrification” before Ms. Webb’s coverage, but I have studied the strategic plan, read about proposed water bill increases, additional proposed taxes and much more. I also have come to the conclusion that gentrification is at play.
“Ms. Mayor, please take note of the wishes of the community you moved in to. The community that welcomed you and even elected you to office. Look back over our history and listen to families. We are not worried about which bag we need to carry out of Ingles. We know our post office is outdated and we also see way too many vacant buildings. Know that many of us remember when those buildings were full. We remember in the late 80’s and early 90’s when there were several stores for ladies to shop for a new purse at. There was one for several decades right here in the center of town and another about a mile down the road, also in city limits, as well as one where those unsightly vacant buildings are across from the grocery store. We remember when restaurants were jumping in the summer and still able to keep their doors open in the winter. A face lift on the post office would be nice but that isn’t as pressing as many of our concerns.
“Focus on a future. Please, focus on getting families here. Possibly incorporate a small playground on your strategic plan. That would look great on the square, near the gazebo. It would work wonderfully with a bunch of new retail stores and restaurants all along the square. We are the only City in our area that doesn’t have shopping and dining around our square. Instead we have insurance and financial. Look into getting stores and restaurants around the square. There are plenty of open spaces and where they are not, try to open up the right businessess in the right spot. If you can accomplish that, families would have a reason to park and walk around Hiawassee, like the visual slides of the strategic plan. If not, there is no reason for additional parking or crosswalks. If you can do that, families would not only fall in love with Hiawassee for the beauty of our lake and mountains and our nice new post office and lovely trees, but they would know we aren’t a retirement ghost town, unwelcoming to families and their needs. They would have no reason to feel Blairsville or Rabun County would be better suited for them because their are more recreation programs for their children and places to dine and shop. With families, comes jobs.
“We can all agree tourism dollars are vital for our area but it’s time we all also agree that our future should not be geared toward retirees moving in. We need to be diverse. We need to bring back the necessities that those that are still working, paying bills, shopping and raising children need. The thoughts and feelings of a select few you have heard over the past few months is not the voice of this community as a whole. I feel you know that. You must know that. Since we can’t vote in city elections without being a resident within city limits, you may be finding an influx of residents moving into city limits and I promise you, it won’t be for the lovely new murals.
Thank you for your time.”
Emotions ran high following Landress’ passionate speech, and Hiawassee Councilwoman Patsy Owens reacted to the speaker’s remark pertaining to respect for unnamed council members. Owens expressed heated dissatisfaction with FYN’s reporting, with Councilwoman Nancy Noblet soon thereafter publicly stating that she did not appreciate Owens referring to the council woman in an alleged, offensive term. Noblet later said that she respects Owens and her fellow council, and while they may not always agree, she will continue to support the mayor and council members when she believes that they are doing the right thing for the citizens. Noblet stressed that she ran for a seat on the city council to serve the people. “I don’t go to any other council member and say ‘This is how I’m going to vote. You need to vote this way.’ I don’t do that. I’ve got a conscience of my own.” Noblet referenced her strong Christian faith, and said that she publicized the meeting on social media beforehand to encourage the high turnout.
Additional citizens voiced their views on varied subjects, ranging from hope for additional youth recreational activities, a desire for a local dog park, and the group seemingly agreed that more economic opportunities are important for the area.
Hiawassee Councilwoman Amy Barrett thanked everyone who attended, saying, “We’re a community. We’re a diverse community. We need everybody involved.” Council members Ann Mitchell and Kris Berrong were present, although they did not offer input during the public portion of the forum.
Following Landress’ speech, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales invited the Towns County native to meet privately in order to discuss concerns, and the mayor encouraged the public to attend future meetings so that their voices can be heard. Mayor Ordiales stated that she has an open door policy, and that has proven to be the case throughout her term, according to citizens’ reports and FYN access. Additionally, Ordiales relayed earlier in the meeting that she is making a steady effort to visit local business owners to become better acquainted.
One regular attendee shared that the City of Hiawassee as a whole has positively advanced in recent years, with another citizen saying that she “sleeps better at night” knowing that Mayor Ordiales is in office.
Mayor Ordiales remarked throughout the forum, reiterating that she believes that everyone is moving in the same direction. “I think it’s clear that everybody wants to do the right thing for the city,” the mayor said at one point, asking for the public’s patience. As the meeting adjouned, Mayor Ordiales invited the public to return to “hear the truth.”
A summary of the business portion of the Hiawassee City Council work session will soon follow this release, with a hyperlink added once it becomes available.
HIAWASSEE, Ga.- Slightly more citizens than usual turned out at the council’s regular session at Hiawassee City Hall Tuesday, Feb. 5, to hear the five elected officials’ verdict on several issues, including the wastewater expansion bid, a pending sign ordinance, the city’s five-year strategic plan, and a proposal to expedite the adoption of future mandates.
Mayor Liz Ordiales opened the session by reminding the public that comments are not permitted during regular sessions, rather work meetings are the proper time to offer citizen input as they are “informal” gatherings. “That is the place for all kinds of public input,” the mayor said.
Concerning the sign ordinance, council dialogue revolved primarily around banner advertising. After lengthy discussion, the council resolved to amend the tenative ordinance, eliminating a $15.00 fee for businesses to hang banners, and removing the verbage pertaining to the amount of banners a business is permitted to display annually. A single banner, not to exceed 60 square feet in diminsion, is expected to remain in the decree. The council agreed that banners should be kept in presentable condition. An extended sign permit moratorium remains in place while the council reconstructs the ordinance.
Later in the session, Hiawassee City Council unanimously adopted the city’s 2019-2024 revitalization plan. Upon motion from Councilwoman Anne Mitchell and a second from Patsy Owens, Councilman Kris Berrong initiated discussion, explaining that he, along with community members, harbor hestitation. “Concerns of a few that have the strategic plan, and me, personally, I think that we need to talk about it a little bit more. I’m for a lot of it, but we kind of went over it one time with (Georgia Municiple Association) and that was about it,” Berrong relayed.
“But you have a copy,” Councilwoman Anne Mitchell interjected. “I do,” Berrong replied, adding that he was not confident in exactly what might occur when Mitchell pressed. Council members Amy Barrett and Nancy Noblet offered that they had spoken with business owners who had voiced similar concerns.
“This would serve as a document for us to use as a guideline for what we want to do in the city,” Mayor Ordiales said, “This was not our input; this was not the University of Georgia’s input. These are the people in the city who came to our focus groups, who came to the one-on-one interviews, who came to the town hall meetings.”
When a local business owner’s concerns were specifically outlined by Council member Amy Barrett during the session, Mayor Ordiales stated that the owner in question was invited to participate in the focus groups and declined the offer. FYN contacted the business owner the following day and was surprised to learn that the owner had, in fact, attended a focus group, but did not recall receiving any type of follow-up initiated by the city of Hiawassee.
Prior to the council vote, Noblet asked Economic Developer Denise McKay what the initial stage of the comprehensive plan will involve. McKay responded that “basic landscaping and hopefully painting” the post office, beautifying the entrance to Ingles with foliage, and improving the town square are the city’s starting points, explaining that the projects are “fairly easy and inexpensive to do.”
During the council’s work session the week prior, McKay listed public art in the form of murals as the third project, rather than the town square, when FYN publicly inquired into the initial three-fold plan.
A resolution to award the wastewater expansion project to SOL Construction, the lowest bidder, was approved by the full council during the meeting. Mayor Ordiales projected completion by fall of this year.
The session concluded with 3-2 rejection of the mayor’s proposal to enact single-session ordinances. Additional information on the issue is available by clicking this link.
Hiawassee City Council assembles for their monthly work session Monday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Light Up Hiawassee, an annual luminary celebration on town square which sets the Christmas season into motion, is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 1, and Event Coordinator Nancy Noblet hopes to see vendors and volunteers join in the merry-making event.
“Anybody and everybody, please come out and help,” Noblet asked.
The holiday light decorating date has been set for Saturday, Nov. 17, at 9 am, on Hiawassee Town Square, and volunteers are needed to assist in the efforts. The event will be delayed in the event of inclement weather. Additional information is available through Nancy Noblet at 706-897-1779.
Spaces are available for vendors during the Light Up Hiawassee celebration, with applications available at Hiawassee City Hall. A check for $50.00 should be made payable to the “City of Hiawassee.” According to Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, vendor application proceeds will be directed toward flower purchases to beautify Hiawassee Town Square in the spring. Spaces are limited, and vendors must provide their own equipment, tent, tables, chairs, electrical extension cords, etc. Electrical outlets will be available on a first come, first serve basis. The event will begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1, with vendors permitted to set up as early as 9 a.m.
There will be no vendor charge for non-profit organizations wishing to participate.
The deadline for application submission is Friday, Nov. 16, 2018.
The schedule of events for Light Up Hiawassee is as follows:
4:00 p.m. – Children’s Activities
5:30 p.m. – Golf Cart Parade
6:00 p.m. – CASA Luminaries
6:15 p.m. – Light Up Hiawassee
6:30 p.m. – Welcome Santa
7:00 p.m. – Christmas Carols
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Council is due to vote on the City’s 2018-2019 budget Tuesday, Oct. 2, following a public hearing held Monday, Sept. 24.
Preceding a line-by-line discussion of the proposed budget, Hiawassee City Council adopted the rollback rate of 2.170 mills in a 3-1 vote. Council members Amy Barrett, Kris Berrong, and Nancy Noblet favored the rollback, with Councilwoman Anne Mitchell solely opposing the reduced tax.
Councilwoman Patsy Owens was absent from the meeting, reported by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales to be traveling.
Owens, however, along with Mitchell, rejected the property tax rollback earlier this month, favoring what would have amounted to a tax increase for city property owners.
Concerning the budget, generated revenue applied toward the General Fund is expected to amount to $798,830, an increase of slightly over $33,300 from the previous fiscal year. The rise is due in part to the collection of an anticipated $70,000 in franchise fees imposed on Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation, which in turn has been passed along to customers.
General Expenses are expected to total $544,780, leaving the General Fund with a surplus in excess of $254,000.
Income derived from the Hotel-Motel Tax is listed at $85,000, with outgoing expenses to Towns County Chamber of Commerce, the Tax Commissioner, and local tourism payments, setting that particular budget flush.
SPLOST income is null as it it is non-existent.
The Sewer and Water Treatment Funds are expected to break even at $721,650 for Sewer, and $860,345 for Water Treatment.
Income toward the Water Fund is listed at $1,679,000, with expenses totaling $1,154,470. “This fund has a little bit more money so it’s not so bad,” Mayor Ordiales stated.
Funding for Hiawassee Police Department, however, is scant, with slightly over $177,000 anticipated in income, compared to $431,000 in necessary expenses. A citizen in attendance questioned Mayor Ordiales’ figures in relation to the surplus of finances applied to the General Fund. “You don’t want to use up that surplus,” Ordiales retorted, “What if something goes wrong?”
A total of $12,000 is listed for General Education and Training of City staff, a stark increase of $10,000 above the 2017-2018 initial proposal. Additional training for City Council remains fixed at $5,000.
Councilwoman Amy Barrett countered that line items within the budget were “freed up” the previous year, such as cuts to employee benefits, along with the addition of revenue derived from the franchise fee.
Furthermore, Barrett inquired into the $17,000 applied to City Hall communications, a $7,000 increase from the 2017-2018 initial budget proposal, separate from the mere $3,000 allotted for Hiawassee Police Department’s communication needs.
“We’re not here to argue,” Ordiales interjected, “It is what it is.”
Barrett noted the $9,000 listed to fund election costs, reminding that other than the Brunch Resolution set to appear on November’s ballot, an actual election is not scheduled to take place in 2018. Ordiales replied that it is wise to have a cushion in the event that a special election is necessary, should a council member decide to “quit.”
Hiawassee Council is scheduled to convene at City Hall at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 2, to accept or reject the mayor’s proposed budget.
Meetings are open to the public.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Council rejected what would have amounted to a property tax increase for city residents and businesses owners on the evening of Tuesday. Sept. 11, 2018, immediately following the third of three state-mandated public hearings.
A proposal to maintain the current millage rate of 2.258, which would result in greater taxation due to heightened property assestments, was set forth by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales on Aug. 16.
Council members Anne Mitchell and Patsy Owens supported Ordiales’ tax increase, with Mitchell motioning and Owens quickly seconding.
Council members Amy Barrett, Kris Berrong, and Nancy Noblet opposed the motion, rejecting the mayor’s incentives.
“I feel it’s crunch time for us instead of (the taxpayers),” Barrett expressed during the hearing.
Numerous citizens in attendance at the hearings, along with Barrett, Berrong, and Noblet, voiced concern for economically challenged residents within the community, stating that the increase could further affect their ability to adequately subsist. Barrett noted instances of known elderly residents on fixed incomes relocating elsewhere due to the BRMEMC franchise tax, an ordinance adopted by the city of Hiawasseee earlier this year, revealing that additional citizens have stated clear intent to vacate as well. Furthermore, Barrett and Noblet claimed that area businesses have vowed to relocate outside of city limits. Berrong previously relayed that he, too, has received ample objection to the advertised rejection of the reduced rollback rate.
Councilwoman Mitchell remained uncharacteristically muted throughout the hearing, with Owens exclusively shaking her head “no” in obstinance to the concerns raised by the taxpayers in attendance.
Prior to the vote, Mayor Ordiales attempted to reason with citizens and council members, beginning with issues such as the estimated $4.5 million debt accrued, the need to repave roads, and ambition to supply annual three-percent employee raises as the logic behind the rollback rejection. Ordiales stressed the importance of continuing to fund Hiawassee Police Department as a final plea for acceptance. “Where am I going to cut?,” Ordiales asked, immediately prior to a brief recess between the public hearing and the council vote, “I can’t cut my salary anymore.”
Ordiales asserted that the increased 2018 tax digest was the result of $4.5 million in newly-assessed properties, and compared the millage rate of Hiawassee to surrounding municipalities. Out of 15 cities listed, with the exception of Blairsville, Hiawassee remains the lowest. Accepting the rollback rate of 2.170 mills will increase the city’s revenue by $2123, while the current rate of 2.258 mills would have provided slightly over $7000.
Ordiales encouraged the council to direct citizens to her office, should they harbor consternation.
Councilwoman Nancy Noblet publicly responded that many residents do not feel comfortable approaching Ordiales with issues of importance, as they have allegedly reported feeling “bullied” by the mayor’s reproach, a concern raised during a live interview with Ordiales, aired by FYNTV.com prior to the mayoral election in 2017.
A final reading regarding the rejection of the tax increase is scheduled to occur during the upcoming Hiawassee Council work session on Sept. 24, at City Hall.
Feature Photo (L-R) Council members Patsy Owens, Nancy Noblet, Amy Barrett, Kris Berrong, Anne Mitchell, and Mayor Liz Ordiales
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HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council convened for their regular monthly session on Tuesday, July 10, unanimously approving motions to venture forth on a water line mapping project, acceptance of a quote for property risk insurance, and in favor of an alcohol brunch resolution.
Property risk insurance quotes were presented by Timothy Barrett, owner of local Barrett and Associates Insurance, during the June 26 work session. Barrett, a partner with Gainesville’s Norton Agency, recommended a $36,133 quote with a two-year guarantee from Georgia InterLocal Risk Management Agency (GIRMA). In comparison, Selective Insurance, the agency providing present coverage for the City of Hiawassee, offered a renewal rate in the amount of $42,796.
Hiawassee Councilwoman Amy Barrett, the wife of Timothy Barrett, avoided conflict of interest by exiting the session during the presentation and yesterday’s vote. Councilwoman Patsy Owens motioned, with Nancy Noblet seconding. Councilmembers Anne Mitchell and Kris Berrong voted in unified agreement.
Of note, Barrett and Associates were cited as selected several years prior to the election of Councilwoman Amy Barrett.
The water line mapping project was approved in the amount of $5,200. “It should be no more than $5,200,” Ordiales explained, “It was 44 (hundred dollars), but I forgot about the software that needs to be loaded into the computer so it will be no more than $5,200.”
Councilman Kris Berrong favored the motion, with Councilwoman Patsy Owens seconding. The three remaining council members unanimously supported the project.
A motion to approve the brunch resoluton which will permit residents to vote on November’s ballot as to whether to allow local establishments to serve alcohol on Sundays beginning at 11:30 a.m., rather than the current time of 12:30 p.m., was favored by the full Council. Councilwoman Anne Mitchell raised the motion, with Kris Berrong offering secondary approval.
Mayor Ordiales announced at the commencement of the session that she was proudly awarded “Citizen of the Year” by the Towns County-Lake Chatuge Rotary Club.
Old Business consisted of plans for the Moonshine Cruiz-In Festival “drive-in” movie presentation of the 1978 movie “Grease,” scheduled for Wednesday, July 11, on Hiawassee Towns Square. The event will begin at 7:00 p.m. with a disc jockey providing music as the classic cars roll into town. The movie itself is scheduled for dusk.
The second annual Moonshine Cruiz-In Block Party luncheon will be held on Thursday, June 12, on the town square. Five food vendors are expected to participate, with local Cub Scouts selling beverages.
The Georgia Mountain Fair Parade float was briefly discussed, with Councilwoman Nancy Noblet offering to ride in the Saturday, July 21 procession as “Woodsy the Owl.”
Mayor Ordiales reminded that floor covering replacement is currently underway throughout the lower-level of Hiawassee City Hall, and proceeding on schedule.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The City of Hiawassee has adopted yet another mandate, this time a tree ordinance which has the potential to impact the owners of private property. A “City Tree Board” has been appointed, and while the bulk of the responsibilities entrusted to the committee involves the cultivation and maintenance of trees located upon city property, the ordinance includes a clause pertaining to trees growing on privately-owned land.
The decree was brought to the attention of FetchYourNews (FYN) by a citizen at a recent town hall meeting. FYN filed an open record request with City Hall to review the ordinance, and spoke briefly with Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales on the morning of Thursday, June 21. Ordiales noted a massive, trimmed evergreen located on the county courthouse grounds as an example of the ordinance. “That’s what we don’t want,” Ordiales said, referring to resulting appearance from the tree-topping technique. While courthouse staff agreed the pine is unsightly, trimming was warranted years prior due to interference with overhanging electrical lines. A maple tree was recently removed from the southeast corner of Hiawassee Town Square after the tree was deemed dead, and according to Mayor Ordiales and Hiawassee Attorney Thomas Mitchell, allowing the tree to remain posed a liability risk to the city.
While the location of the removed maple was unquestionably on city grounds, listed among the regulations in the ordinance is a section entitled “Removal of Dead or Diseased Trees” which states:
“The city shall have the right to cause the removal of any dead or diseased trees on private property within the city, when such trees constitute a hazard to the persons and property, or harbor insects or disease which constitutes a potential threat to other trees within the city. The City Tree Board will notify in writing the owners of such trees. Removal shall be done by said owners at their own expense within sixty (60) days after the date of service of notice. In the event of failure of owners to comply with the provisions, the city shall have the authority to remove such trees and charge the cost of removal to the owners.”
The ordinance advances to declare that interference with the City Tree Board – on public or privately owned property – is unlawful, and violation of any provision within the mandate shall be subject to a fine “not to exceed one thousand dollars.”
Upkeep of trees on private property, which could endanger the public or impede access through city right-of-ways or streets, are listed in a separate segment of the decree.
The first reading of the ordinance was approved May 1, 2018, by Council members Anne Mitchell, Kris Berrong, Amy Barrett, and Nancy Noblet. Councilwoman Patsy Owens was absent from the meeting. “It basically says that we’ll have trees in Hiawassee, and that we’ll take care of them,” Mayor Ordiales alluded at the previous work session.
A finalized signature sheet is expected at the city’s monthly work session Tuesday, June 26, at 6:00 p.m. While said meetings typically fall on the last Monday of each month, the June session was rescheduled due to a training trip for city staff.
Meetings are open to the public.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Dozens of community members and government officials gathered at the Towns County Civic Center on the evening of Tuesday, June 12, to discuss their visions for Hiawassee’s future. The City of Hiawassee has been working closely with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, a unit of the Office of Public Service and Outreach at the University of Georgia, which assists state and local governments in achieving goals. Hiawassee received a $30,000 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant in 2017 to fund the study. Steering committees were chosen for the strategic planning endeavor, and previous meetings took place to gain insight.
Correction: While the City of Hiawassee quoted a flat “$30,000” when asked the ARC amount, FYN learned post-publication that $21,000 was awarded, with an additional $9,000 matched locally, for a total of $30,000.
“When we first got the grant, the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute was not available, and I really wanted to use the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute because these guys are masters,” Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales said, “They know how to do this, they’ve done this in a million different cities. They know what’s going on, and the intent of this is for us, and you more than anything, to define what we want our city to look like. We don’t want it to be Helen. We don’t want it to be any city in Florida. We don’t want it to be Asheville. We don’t want it to be anything but Hiawassee, but we don’t know what that is. So that’s what this strategic plan is all about.”
Many in attendence praised Mayor Ordiales, with some referring to the elected offical as “progressive-minded.”
Table-top discussion groups were formed prior to the start of the meeting, and ideas were projected onto a screen from laptop computers.
Listed among what is “working” in Hiawassee’s favor was appreciation for local shops, commendation of Hiawassee Police Department, the seasonal events on town square, access to reliable contractors, and the overall “quality of life” in the mountains.
Suggested improvements included an updated courthouse and post office, extended beautification efforts, the need for year-round activities, the creation of a city that will beckon visitors, a liquor store to raise revenue, the necessity for affordable housing, activities geared toward youth, improved public parking, and easily accessible recycling areas.
City annexation was noted, as well as hope for increased cultural diversity, public art displays, replacement of “tacky signs” to give the city a uniformed appearance, and a desire to deviate from a “Bible-Belt” stigma.
When asked to describe Hiawassee, some chose adjectives such as “quiet,” “charming,” and “quaint” while others described the city as “outdated” and “stuck.”
Hiawassee Councilwoman Nancy Noblet said she hopes the city will grow to become more than a retirement community. Councilwoman Amy Barrett expressed appreciation for tradition. Councilwoman Anne Mitchell used the word “bustling” to invoke her vision for the city’s future.
Carl Vinson Project Manager Jessica Varsa led the meeting, with the assistance of colleauges from the institute. Varsa relayed that another forum may take place next month, with efforts expected to wrap up in November.
“I want to see the city grow, but I also want it to remain a small-town because it’s home,” said Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, a planning committee member.
Hiawassee Council members Patsy Owens and Kris Berrong attended the forum.
Feature Photo: (L-R) Hiawassee Councilwoman Patsy Owens and Mayor Liz Ordiales