Hiawassee approvals for sewer and Emergency Response come in April

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Hiawassee coronavirus

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – After Mayor Liz Ordiales updated citizens on some statistics with the COVID-19 outbreak, the Hiawassee City Council met shortly for two items of motions/approvals.

Ordiales shared advice from Doctors saying that citizens should wear masks anytime they go outside and and come close to other people in the public.

The council approved all of its Consent Agenda items including Minutes from March 2nd Special Called Meeting-Court Clerk, Minutes from March 19th Special Called Meeting-USDA-RD Grant Application, Minutes from the March 3rd City Council Meeting, Minutes from March 30th Work Session, Minutes from March 30th Special Called Meeting, and the December and January Financials.

Additionally, final approval came for the city’s sewer ordinance. Going through the meeting as a second reading, approval was unanimous for the ordinance.

In the final item, the city approved a contract for Risk Assessments and Emergency Response plan for the city with EMI. The city contract approval came to $8,000 for the city. This, too, was a unanimous vote from the council.

The council ended the meeting reiterating the city should be following the shelter in place orders with one member reciting the common slogan, “Stay Safe, Stay Home, Save Lives.”

Hiawassee disconnects multiple businesses from sewer system

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Hiawassee sewer disconnected from businesses

HIAWASSEE, GA. – Numerous businesses and residences in Towns County are left without a previous means of wastewater disposal following an alleged “unilateral decision” by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales to discontinue the use of a city sewer lift station known as “Roadrunner” on State  Highway 76. Wastewater lift stations are used for pumping wastewater or sewage from a lower to higher elevation, particularly where the elevation of the source is not sufficient for gravity flow.

Ken and Dana Merritt – stakeholders concerned with the affected businesses and residences – contacted FetchYourNews (FYN) following reported attempts to remedy the foreboding situation through Mayor Ordiales, and subsequently, members of Hiawassee City Council whom purportedly suggested a lawsuit against the municipality.

“We have multiple business interests in the Ridges area of Towns County….” Ken Merritt began. “The mayor of Hiawassee has disconnected all of these entities from the sewer system and sewage has been seen overflowing from the lift station which has been in operation since early 2000. The sewer system was designed by the city’s engineer, approved by the city council, and has worked well since it was completed. The mayor decided arbitrarily without engineering council that she would shut down an adjacent lift station because of the electrical cost. Consequently, the lift station in front of Sand Bar was left to move the flow of sewage three-and-one-half miles to the sewer plant. It was never designed for that purpose and the sewage has backed up into the vault and overflowed onto the grounds. It makes no difference to the mayor that countless people and businesses that pay a monthly sewer bill are just a day or two away from having their toilets overflow.”

Merritt stated that he has hired a septic service to remove and dispose of the waste from the sewage vault at a rate of 3-to-4 times per day, following the City of Hiawassee’s cessation of the Roadrunner lift station. Merritt explained that failure to remove the waste would result in above ground seepage, forcing connected businesses to close their doors. Furthermore, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division (EPD), issued a warning that a civil penalty of up to $50,000 per day could be imposed due to the proximity of the Merritt’s waste system to Lake Chatuge.

“The City is constantly striving to run a more efficient and effective operation,” Mayor Ordiales responded. “In review of the current sewer system and with the impending expansion, the decision to by-pass the road runner lift station was made in December of 2018. This by-pass addresses several issues that have been long-standing; the odor from that area has been an issue for over 13 years, the need for weekly maintenance to that lift station, the need to have utilities present, both water and electricity, the maintenance and repairs of two large pumps valued at over $15,000 each, and the maintenance of a large electric panel to operate that lift station. The City consulted with City engineers and electricians prior to making the final decision to decommission the Roadrunner lift station.

“The lift station that is failing is not a City-owned and operated lift station,” Hiawassee’s mayor continued. “It is privately owned by Dana and Ken Merritt.  That lift station was installed over 17 years ago and it was accepted by (the) City for use by the businesses that were operable at that time.  Since then, there have been many new businesses added to that area that utilize that lift station.  The area has simply outgrown that lift station.  The City has been working with the Merritts since March of 2019 to correct the issues on that privately-owned lift station.  The city will not spend taxpayer money on privately-owned property.  The Merritts have been notified many months ago as to the replacement pumps needed to properly operate that lift station but have not been responsible in taking care of their property.  There have been several letters, meetings at City Hall, telephone communications to no avail.  It is very disappointing that they have put the businesses that are served by that lift station in peril of closing and more importantly putting our most valuable resource, Lake Chatuge, in danger.  The failing lift station serves only the area of the Sand Bar, Moondance complex, El Cancun, and Dogwood St area. The City has contacted EPD and they, in turn, have written a letter to the Merritts earlier this year informing them of the consequences of their irresponsibility.”

Mayor Ordiales stated that the solution to the problem includes the installation of proper pumps that would handle the volume of sewage flowing through it.

The Merritts expressed that they believe that a portion of a 2018 grant accepted by the City of Hiawassee should be used to remedy the situation.

Click to read City of Hiawassee receives $600,000 grant for wastewater improvement

Additionally, the Merritts stated that reverse pressure from the inoperative Roadrunner lift station has caused damage to the private sewer system, forcing repairs. In an Aug. 26 letter addressed to the EPD by the Merritt’s attorney, the couple’s legal counsel responded that the “unilateral decision of the City of Hiawassee to discontinue the use of and the bypass of the Roadrunner lift station” has harmed the Merritt’s system due to excessive reverse pressure on the system. “The City of Hiawassee has continuously charged a monthly sewer service bill to each property owner connected to and using the sanitary sewer extension,” the attorney added.

“If the system ceases to function properly there will be irreparable damage to the environment and businesses,” Dana Merritt said. “It will not only (destroy) several lift station pumps but also close businesses not limited to but including the jail, recreation center, Ridges Resort, Watercrest Condos, several restaurants, Cinema 6, and other private businesses.”

FYN intends to follow developments as they occur.

Feature Image: Sewer station in question, located near Sand Bar and Grille on State Highway 76, west of Hiawassee.

Hiawassee Mayoral Candidates Appeal to the Voters before Tuesday’s Election

News, Politics

HIAWASSEE, GA – Fetch Your News contacted the Mayoral candidates in the City of Hiawassee race and offered a final opportunity to appeal to the voters before Election Day arrives on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017.

Neither candidate was permitted to review their opponent’s response prior to publication.

 

Candidate Liz Ordiales responded as follows:

My platform for this campaign has remained unchanged.  As my card states: Better financial management, create infrastructure to support controlled growth and continue my efforts to make Hiawassee a better place to live.  There are still many efficiencies that can be implemented in every department to create financial savings.

Correcting our existing infrastructure is critical to Hiawassee.  Sewer and water system upgrades are essential to allow residential as well as commercial growth.  We are in the process of upgrading our sewer plant and will look to expand the water plant in the future.

Citizen safety is also a top priority.  Ensuring that fire hydrants are maintained, flushed and tested are critical for public safety.  We have developed Standard Operating Procedures that will be followed. Our police department will continue to attend training sessions and ensure they have the equipment needed to perform their jobs.  I will continue to enhance our sidewalks, streets, lighting, etc. in order to allow for more walk-ability in our city.

Attracting and providing more events in our town is also critical to keep our businesses vibrant and engaged. I would continue to support events on the square as we have done with Moonshine Cruiz-in block party, Light up Hiawassee for Christmas, pickleball events during larger tournaments, etc.

Liz Ordiales

I am NOT an advocate for higher taxes. I have never voted to raise taxes in my two years with the City as a City Council member and interim Mayor.  I believe with financial efficiencies and controlled economic development we will be able to maintain low taxes.

In closing, I will put Hiawassee first as a FULL TIME Mayor without the expense of a City Administrator or City Manager.

Thanks –

Liz Ordiales

 

Candidate Barry Keith Dearing responded as follows:

If elected as Mayor of Hiawassee, my number one priority is to rescind the Franchise Fee Tax. This tax was proposed incorrectly and was presented to the public incorrectly. My opponent has stated on record that this fee will only cost the city residents approximately $20,000 which is incorrect. This will cost the city residents and businesses in the City, including the churches and hospital over $124,000 a year.

At the last city workshop, there was discussion of doing away with the current retirement plan and going with a “cheaper” plan for the city and less retirement for the employees. I disagree with the proposed plan that my opponent requested the GMA to propose. I will stand up for our city employees and fight for what’s right and what is in their best interest. I will not take away their retirement that they deserve.

I will work hand in hand with our current businesses to make sure they have the resources they need to grow and stay within our city. I will also encourage and work with new businesses that want to open in our City.

I will work to get the grants needed to repair failing infrastructure and make sure that all of our infrastructure is prepared for our growth that will come.

As Mayor, I will complete the Mayor’s Park so it is beneficial for our tourism and for our local citizens.

I will work with Chamber of Commerce directly to promote tourism for our city. I will make our square an eventful place for more activities and walk-ability. I will work hard to capitalize on growth utilizing our natural resources and beautiful mountains and Lake Chatuge.

Remember, I have children in this community that work, go to school and plan on raising families here just as we are doing. As Mayor, I would like to see more youth activities that encourage our young adults to be more involved and have a part in our City activities and our City government. After all, they are our future.

I will work closely with our City Police Department and make sure they have what is needed to protect themselves, our citizens and families in the city.

For the record, I have never mentioned doing away with the City of Hiawassee Police Department. Also, I have heard this multiple times and to clarify, I have not ever mentioned hiring a City Manager.

I will be transparent and will make sure the citizens of our community know exactly what the city is doing at all times. I will work closely with our county to make a strong relationship.

As I mentioned in the Candidate forum, I understand that the Mayor of Hiawassee is a full-time position. I stated “it is more than a 40 hour week job and I am committed to the task at hand.”

Barry Dearing

Barry Keith Dearing

Thank you to all the citizens and business owners within the entire community that have shown such great support and positive energy during this campaign. Please encourage your neighbor, family and friends within the city to VOTE on Tuesday, Nov. 7, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Board of Elections.

God Bless you all,

Barry Keith Dearing, Mayoral Candidate

 

 

Fetch Your News has followed the 2017 Hiawassee City Council race since its inception. Additional articles can be found on our site. Count on Fetch Your News to provide the election results on the evening of Nov. 7.

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. – For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

 

Councilman Jay Chastain Jr. Endorses Barry Keith Dearing in Hiawassee Election

News, Politics
Jay Chastain Jr

HIAWASSEE, GA – Hiawassee Councilman Jay Chastain, Jr. has publicly stepped forth to announce his endorsement of Hiawassee Mayoral candidate Barry Keith Dearing less than two weeks prior to election day.

The 12-year incumbent tells Fetch Your News that Mr. Dearing has his full support.

“I’ve known Barry for ages. He’s a fine man. There’s no doubt he entered the race because he wants what’s best for the City’s future,” the Councilman says.

Councilman Chastain, a lifelong resident and Paramedic of 31-years, met with candidate Dearing on the morning of Thursday, October 26, at McConnell Baptist Church during a newly initiated prayer breakfast to offer his blessing.

Barry Keith Dearing, a fourth generation local and the longtime CEO of VanKeith Insurance, says he appreciates Jay Chastain Jr.’s approval.

“He’s a good man and he’s committed to not only the Council, but to the community as a First Responder. I’m honored,” Dearing confided.

When pressed, both conservative candidates affirmed it’s neither the mayoral opposition’s lifestyle nor the fact she isn’t a “local” – the admitted concern Liz Ordiales raised at the Council forum – but the core issues that matter.

Of concern is the controversial imposition of the newly adopted BRMEMC Franchise Tax, confirmed to adversely affect the future budgets of Hiawassee citizens.

The recently passed planning-expansion ordinance, opposed by Councilman Chastain during a Special Called Meeting shortly after Pro-Tem Liz Ordiales announced her candidacy, is also an issue of debate.

Questionable decisions the former council member made while serving as President of the Towns County Fire Corps, including allegations of the alteration of Meeting minutes and the mismanagement of funds, and an initial attempt to reject the now-popular Mayors’ Park, have also put Ordiales in the hot seat.

Chastain’s decision to outwardly support mayoral candidate Dearing emerged unexpectedly during a community prayer meeting hosted at McConnell Church. The breakfast, sponsored in partnership with the Towns County Sheriff’s Office, is an initiative of Sheriff Chris Clinton to unite residents with local law enforcement and first responders.

Councilman Jay Chastain, Jr., the son of a slain Towns County Sheriff whose life ended while serving the community in 1974, expressed his heartfelt approval of Barry Dearing as Hiawassee’s next Mayor.

“I want to see Hiawassee thrive economically and I believe it will. I want the residents to know where I stand, local or move-in. It’s beside them,” Chastain parted before rushing off to arrive on-time for his role as a veteran Medic.

Fetch Your News has followed the 2017 Hiawassee City Council race since its inception.

Follow Fetch Your News for additional coverage of the November 7 election.

*UPDATE* Feature Image has been replaced.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. – For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

Hiawassee City Council Work Session, 7/24

News, Politics

Hiawassee City Council convened on Monday, July 24, to discuss numerous issues of interest. The work session began with old business, followed by new.

Old Business:

Meter Readings – There is currently a 99.4% accuracy rate.
Website  – The City of Hiawassee site has been updated. Council meeting minutes as well as other topics of interest are available for review.
Bank Account Update – The Council is investigating approximately 200 untouched accounts; 6 have been closed thus far.
Sidewalk Repair Update – The Council and the meeting’s attendees agreed the repairs are progressing well.
Mayors’ Park Update – A dedication ceremony will take place at 11:00 am on August 14.
Moonshine Cruiz-in – 126 vintage cars participated and it was deemed a success.
Budget Discussions – Approval is expected to take place at next week’s Council meeting.
Final Alcohol Discussion – A Second Reading will be held at the Council meeting.
Final Grease Trap Discussion – A Second Reading will be held at the Council meeting.
Final Employee Personnel Policy Discussion – A Second Reading will be the held at the Council meeting.

New Business:

Eclipse Preparation – 30,000+ visitors are expected in Towns County. The Council advised residents to prepare ahead of time for possible food and gas shortages. School has been canceled on the day of the August 21 eclipse. The school’s lot will be available for parking and 12 buses will be brought in to shuttle passengers to the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds. Roads will be closed and Hiawassee Police Chief, Paul Smith, stated, additionally, all Officers will be on duty.
Old Rock Jail Restoration – Towns County Historical Society is providing funding to restore the jail to its original condition..
Gas Leak Detection – GEFA approved a 45 mile radius detection check, free of charge. Work will begin on August 14.
Financials – Approval is expected to take place at next week’s Council meeting.
DOT LMIG Grant – DOT approved a grant for $17,469.00. The City will contribute an additional $5,000.00 for sidewalk repair.
Education Superintendent – A meeting took place between Mayor Pro Tem, Liz Ordiales, and BOE members to discuss Workforce Development. It was agreed upon that skills relevant to the County’s employment needs should be offered to students. The Travel/Tourism and Hospitality industries were mentioned as well as the Medical field.
Track Hoe Purchase – Approval is expected at next week’s Council meeting to purchase a new track hoe for $59.000. The current track hoe is in dire condition, but will continued to be used at the Sewer Plant. The City qualified for a 12% government discount off the purchase price.

Mayor Pro Tem, Liz Ordiales, announced she will run for Mayor of Hiawassee in the upcoming election. Attorney Thomas M. Mitchell attended the Council meeting and explained Ordiales is required by election regulations to vacate her Council position prior to qualifying. Ordiales is expected to step down sometime in August and a new Mayor Pro Tem will take her place. Liz Ordiales is permitted by law to volunteer her assistance after resigning and the Pro Tem replacement can delegate responsibilities if needed.

Hiawassee City Council will assemble on Monday, July 31, at 6;00 pm at City Hall for their regular meeting. All meetings are open to the public.

Hiawassee Mayor Candidate, Liz Ordiales, Explains Why She Wants to be the Next Mayor

Community, Politics

BKP sits down with Liz Ordiales, candidate for Hiawassee Mayor. She addresses several issues that have been discrepancies during her candidacy. Ms. Ordiales also tells viewers her reasoning for wanting to be the next Mayor of Hiawassee and gives us an insight to a few things she would like to accomplish if elected.

Check out the articles below that Candidate Ordiales addresses some issues with during this interview:

 

Tax or Fee? Conflict between Mayoral Candidates Heats Up

News, Politics
Hiawassee election

Hiawassee, GA – The race for Hiawassee’s next mayor took a turn toward “politics-as-usual” on Saturday, October 7, the result of a clash in mindset between the two candidates seeking the City’s highest post, Liz Ordiales and Barry Keith Dearing.

Liz Ordiales at the Candidate Forum on October 2.

Liz Ordiales responded to Barry Dearing’s published allegation of covert higher taxation on her social media page, expressing disappointment in her opponent.

Candidate Ordiales wrote, “The article [Dearing] ran in this week’s paper is all lies. If you can’t win on your own merit, don’t play the game.”

The conflict stems from a decision made during Special Called Council Meetings held on August 8 and August 11, concerning the adoption of the Franchise Tax.

Fetch Your News contacted the Mayoral candidates on Sunday, October 8, seeking comments regarding their division.

Candidate Ordiales refers to the passed ordinance as a fee, while Candidate Dearing insists it is a tax.

Ms. Ordiales responded, “As I explained at my first Meet and Greet on September 18, the Candidate Forum on October 2, and at the Mover & Shakers meeting this past Friday, this is not a tax on the citizens of Hiawassee. This is a fee that 524 out of 535 cities in Georgia collect from their utility company. The fee is for EMC to use City property to provide their services to our citizens.”

“The rate assigned was 4% which is the lowest possible, so on an electric bill of $100, that would be $4.00 that the EMC should be paying the City. Windstream has been paying this franchise fee for years and we must get ready for new companies entering our area to provide services,” Ordiales said.

Ms. Ordiales stressed the tax does not apply to Hiawassee citizens, adding, “If Mr. Dearing would have attended meetings prior to his announcement to run for Mayor, he would have been educated on this topic. This was discussed at two council meetings, had two readings – as it is an ordinance – and was approved by the entire council.”

Barry Keith Dearing at the Candidate Forum on October 2.

Ordiales went onto say Dearing’s accusation of support for higher taxation is untrue,  “I have had two opportunities to vote for higher tax increases and have not done so.”

Barry Keith Dearing views the Franchise Tax in a different light, claiming former Mayor Pro-Tem “passed the largest tax increase in the City’s history without public hearing or comment. The Franchise tax is directed against all City businesses and residents, and will appear on [their] power bill in the near future.”

If elected, Barry Keith Dearing intends to repeal what he considers a tax, vowing there will be no future increases.

Fetch Your News was unaware of the Special Called Meetings, a violation of State law, in which the motion in question was discussed and adopted.

Fetch Your News is awaiting a response from Blue Ridge Mountain EMC as to whether the ordinance will be passed along to customers in the form of higher bills.

Updated information is available.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. – For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

 

 

Kris Berrong named Hiawassee Mayor Pro Tem

News, Politics

Kris Berrong, Mayor Pro Tem

Hiawassee City Council met on Tuesday, August 1, for their regular monthly meeting.

Council members unanimously approved the purchase of a Kubota Excavator Track Hoe from Nelson Tractor Company in Blairsville for $58,455.00, the lowest bid.

Mayor Pro Tem Liz Ordiales announced she will be stepping down from the Council on August 4 per regulation in order to run for Mayor in the November election.

With this step down, Councilman Kris Berrong will serve as Mayor Pro Tem once Ordiales vacates the position.

Hiawassee holds Town Hall to strategically shape city’s future

News
Hiawassee City Hall

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.

HIawassee strategic planning

The community was divided into six groups

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

 

 

 

Liz Ordiales Defends City Ordinance, Jay Chastain Jr. Questions Decision

News, Politics
Hiawassee Mayor

HIAWASSEE, GA – In an appearance on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017, at the Movers and Shakers, EMC Director Roy Perren confirmed BRMEMC is required by state law to accept the Franchise Ordinance approved by Hiawassee City Council during Special Called Meetings on Aug. 8 to 11, 2017.

Director Perren explained the controversial “tax versus fee” will be passed along to Hiawassee citizens in the form of an additional line item on future bills. Based on an average of 897 kilowatt-hours per residence, BRMEMC members can expect to see an increase of $55.00 per year in charges. Businesses within the city limits will also see their rates rise.

“[The estimate] is skewed low because of part-time residents,” Roy Perren said. The EMC Director referenced the City’s ordinance as a fee, not a tax enacted by the Council. BRMEMC will hold their first Open Meeting on Nov. 16 at 6:00 p.m. at their facility in Young Harris. A two-day notice of public attendance was stipulated by Mr. Perren.

Liz Ordiales Hiawassee

Liz Ordiales at October 2 Candidate Forum

“This ordinance was to impose a Franchise FEE to the BRMEMC for the use of our City Right of Ways. It is state law that municipalities can imposed this FEE.  Of the 535 cities in Georgia, 98 percent collect these fees,” Mayoral candidate Liz Ordiales maintains.

“This ordinance was passed by the entire City Council and was completed while I was not a part of the leadership of the city. Councilman Chastain DID vote for this ordinance to move forward,” Ordiales emphasized in an email sent to Fetch Your News on October 31.

The controversial ordinance was adopted less than a week after Ordiales stepped down as Hiawassee Mayor Pro-Tem, a decision made in order to seek election as the “City’s CEO.” Although no longer officially in office, Ordiales continued to volunteer her time steering the Council’s course.

Councilman Jay Chastain Jr. expressed regret toward approving the decree in numerous interviews conducted by Fetch Your News.

“The ordinance moved too fast during Special Called Meetings. I was under the impression it wouldn’t affect the citizens or business owners,” Chastain explained. “All I heard was how great this would be for Hiawassee, how the City would rake in fees from [BRMEMC] and it seemed like a good thing. Once I understood it would affect the people, I wished I had been given the time to look into the details beforehand. I voted yes, but knowing what I know now makes a world of difference.”

Jay Chastain Jr

Jay Chastain Jr. at October 2 Candidate Forum

Councilman Chastain says the ordinance played a role in his decision to endorse Ordiales’s opponent, Barry Keith Dearing.

“Barry wants to do the right thing. He wants to repeal it. Tax or fee, whatever you want to call it, at the end of the day it will cost the taxpayers,” Chastain says.

Fetch Your News was not notified, per law, of the Special Called Meetings in which the Franchise or Planning-Expansion Ordinances were adopted. Chastain voted no to the latter, but was outvoted by the Council.

Invitations to discuss the approaching Hiawassee City Council election were extended to all candidates by Fetch Your News.

Follow FYN for continued coverage of the 2017 election. Count on us to broadcast results on November 7.

 

 

Councilman Motions to Repeal Franchise Ordinance on Election Night

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council held their Regular Session shortly before the 2017 election polls closed on the evening of Nov. 7. A first reading to rescind the Franchise Ordinance, confirmed by Blue Ridge Mountain EMC to result in an additional line item on the future bills of Hiawassee citizens and businesses, was added to the agenda by Councilman Jay Chastain Jr.

The motion to repeal the controversial mandate was seconded by Councilwoman Rayette Ross.

Councilman Kris Berrong opposed the motion and declined a request for comment.

The motion passed 2-to-1.

Mayor Pro-Tem Ann Mitchell said in hindsight that she wishes the Council would have had more time to consider it.

The ordinance was adopted during Special Called Meetings held Aug. 8 to 11, 2017, less than a week after former Pro-Tem Liz Ordiales stepped down to run for Mayor.

“I’m really sorry this has become a community football,” Mayor Pro-Tem Mitchell told the community-packed room, “but it is a source of revenue that almost everyone in the state takes advantage of.” Mitchell suggested a public meeting to discuss the issue further, stating a second reading date is undetermined.

The crowd migrated to the Board of Elections building, located adjacent to City Hall, after the Council meeting adjourned to await the highly anticipated election results..

Liz Ordiales won the Mayoral post with a 70 percent lead over her opponent, Barry Keith Dearing. Ordiales’s crowd of supporters were overjoyed with the results, offering hugs of congratulations to Hiawassee’s newly elected Mayor.

Incumbent Councilman Jay Chastain Jr. lost his seat to Patsy Owens who garnered 62 percent of the votes.

“It is obvious the voters of the city of Hiawassee wanted a change,” Chastain said. “I wish the newly elected Council members the best. I want to thank the citizens for their 12 years of support.”

Nancy Noblet was elected to Post 5, securing her seat with a 55 percent lead over Anne Wedgewood.

Amy Barrett, the sole unopposed candidate in the race, will replace Post 1 Councilwoman Rayette Ross who chose to not seek re-election.

Liz Ordiales responded to FYN’s request for comment on her victory:

“Thank you for your support throughout this campaign,” Ordiales wrote. “It is a privilege and an honor to be a representative of our great city. I will not let you down and will always put Hiawassee first! Let’s get to work!”

Hiawassee City Council will be sworn into office on January 1, 2018.

Hiawassee Mayoral Candidate, Liz Ordiales, Rebukes Allegations

News, Politics
Liz Ordiales

HIAWASSEE, GA – In a fiery email sent to Fetch Your News (FYN), Hiawassee Mayoral candidate Liz Ordiales repudiated allegations published October 27, 2017, by the said news outlet which cited several different concerns from fellow candidates, alongside the endorsement of her Mayoral opponent, Barry Keith Dearing, by Incumbent Councilman Jay Chastain Jr.

‘”I have never, I repeat NEVER been accused of any wrong-doing during my presidency at the Towns County Fire Corps. This article I believe has been altered since it originally appeared. It originally stated I was the Vice-President, which is a position I have never held. These accusations are unacceptable lies and are a direct attack on my character,” Ordiales wrote. The Mayoral candidate went on to claim libel and defamation of character.

Fetch Your News caught the error referencing Ordiales as Vice-President, rather than the former President of the Towns County Fire Corps, soon after publishing and accepts responsibility for the slight inaccuracy. The mistake was promptly corrected once discovered.

Cindi Daves, a proponent of Ms. Ordiales, began in an email to FYN, “What happened to the day and age when news reporters were required to vet their stories BEFORE they print them?”

Two additional supporters responded in a similar fashion, adamantly defending Ordiales.

In an email entitled “Retract the Jr. Chastain Allegation,” Liz Ruf wrote, “Mr. Chastain is totally out of line, has no evidence and is attempting to negatively sway this election at the last minute and found easy prey through your news service. You should make this right immediately.”

LaJean Turner wrote in part, “Homework was obviously not done on this article before publication.”

Homework was, in fact, conducted. Fetch Your News does not allude to accusations without extensive research and substantial discovery.

In a 2013 letter written by former Vice President of the Towns County Fire Corps, Ken Bryant, the following allegations were cited as reasons Mr. Bryant chose to vacate his position under President Ordiales’s leadership:

  • No or Improper Board voting – for example, failing to hold a formal vote on the resignation of Dewaine Olson (Secretary/Treasurer);
  • Failure to appoint a financial controller or Treasurer with sufficient accounting background in a reasonable amount of time;
  • Board meeting minutes were inaccurate, incomplete, altered and manipulated to change the record not reflective of the truth;
  • Board member expenditures were approved arbitrarily and with no impartiality, in accordance with no clear and consistent policy.   In one case, retroactive policies were applied to a selected case and expenditures over prior authorization were not enforced in another;
  • Negative comments were made about the dual control board member signature required on fund raising account checks, which is as a matter of best practice with entrusted funds;
  • I was asked by President Ordiales to pre-sign several blank fund raising account checks;
  • No vendor selection process for several significant external relationships and/or expenditures;
  • Lack of planning – for example, a membership drive was planned on a date with a significant community conflict with another public service organization;
  • Requests for significant budget expenditures (more than 25% of total budget) for non-existent needs and for non-existent members;
  • Unilateral decision making – a decision to drop the annual calendar as a fundraising tool without board discussion or a vote (eventually over ruled by Chief Floyd);
  • Mismanagement of the historical web domain address that caused the loss of ownership and resulted in several months without a web presence;
  • Mismanagement of the previous website that resulted in the impounding and loss of use of the archived history of the Fire Department including events, activities, photos, member accomplishments, etc.;

Former Vice President Bryant also referred to “a comment, reflective of attitude, by President Ordiales on the record in a meeting stating, ‘I know we are here to help the Fire Department, but we have to take care of ourselves first.’”

The general media, as well as local officials, are listed as recipients on the resignation. A decision was made to publish the allegations in full based on the elected position the candidate hopes to fill.

Fetch Your News sent a copy of the 2013 letter to candidate Ordiales for review and provided an opportunity to respond in full.

“I would like to address the accusations made in the article published 10-27-17.  Those allegations were made by a disgruntled Towns County Fire Corps officer in 2013, who clearly demonstrated that he had joined this group for financial gain. That became evident upon his refusal to release the www.townscountyfirecorps.org website, which he is still in control of after 5 years. This prompted the Towns County Fire Corps to create a new website www.tcfirecorps.org When his invoice for website management was declined, he resigned from this position and wrote the letter of accusations,” Liz Ordiales stated.

“I suggest that interviews be conducted with Fire Department personnel to further identify the facts on this situation.  During my time with the Fire Corps, we have generated well over $250,000 of which 100% of those funds were spent at the discretion of the Town County Fire Chief.”

Fetch Your News contacted Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland on the evening of October 30, 2017, requesting a response. “Liz has done a great job raising funds for us. We truly appreciated it,” the Fire Chief said in a phone conversation, “but I’m unwilling to endorse anyone. I’m here to serve the municipalities, to protect from a life-and-property standpoint. I’m happy to serve everyone. I wish both candidates the best of luck.”

*UPDATED* Former Vice President of the Towns County Fire Corps, Ken Bryant, responded to FYN’s request for comment. Mr. Bryant stands by his decision to resign due the reasons listed in his letter addressed to board members, local officials, and the media. Mr. Bryant, a former federal agent and current fraud investigator, has submitted numerous additional documents related to his claims.

Mr. Bryant has since written a Letter to the Editor.

Follow Fetch Your News for additional coverage of the 2017 Hiawassee City Council election.

Election Day is November 7.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. – For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

Follow Fetch Your News for additional coverage of the 2017 Hiawassee City Council election. Election Day is November 7.

 

Hiawassee City Council Candidates Disqualified

News, Politics
Hiawassee Mayor

Hiawassee, GA – The City of Hiawassee election abruptly ended for two candidates who hoped to fill Council seats on November 7.

Rodney Terry, candidate for Post 1, and Myron Ketter, candidate for Post 5, have both been disqualified from the race.

A credible source tells Fetch Your News the disqualifications occurred because one candidate was not a registered voter in the city’s district, a requirement for candidacy in Georgia municipal elections.  The second disqualified candidate lives outside the city’s perimeter, close enough to lead him to presume he was a resident of Hiawassee.

The source believes it was an honest mistake on both candidates’ part.

Hiawassee City Hall declined to comment on the specific reasons leading to the disqualifications, stating only that the candidates failed to meet the requirements set forth by the City’s charter.

Amy Barrett is now unopposed for Post 1, the seat held by Councilwoman Rayette Ross. Ross is not seeking re-election.

Nancy Noblet and Ann Wedgewood are current candidates for Post 5, the seat vacated by Mayoral candidate Liz Ordiales.

 

 

Former Towns County Fire Corps VP Responds to Liz Ordiales

Opinion
Fetch Your News Editor
Fetch Your News:

 

I am writing this letter in response to statements made by Liz Ordiales, mayoral candidate for the City of Hiawassee, during a recent interview with Fetch Your News, and in response to ongoing statements made by Ms. Ordiales.  At first, I had wished to remain silent publicly on this matter as I have since 2013, but I draw the line at defending myself when Ms. Ordiales’ denials include ad hominem attacks on me personally.

 

First of all, I stand behind my statements in my letter dated and first published on March 1, 2013 which can be found at http://www.townscountyfirecorps.org/

 

The irregularities I observed by the Towns County Fire Corps are outlined in this letter.  While the letter was not directed at any individual board member, and was not specifically directed at Ms. Ordiales, it notes that the conduct at issue was approved by various board members at various times.  Nevertheless, as noted in the letter, Ms. Ordiales was the President of the Fire Corps and the irregularities were committed under her direction.

 

Contrary to the assertions by Ms. Ordiales, I did not join the group for financial gain.  Such an allegation is absurd.  No one would join this board for financial gain because there is no lawful way to derive any significant financial benefit from participation with the board.  People who serve on this board and other boards like it, including myself, generally do so to help the community.  Based on the hours involved with being on the board, there clearly is no financial incentive for anyone to be on the board.  Further, my 25 years of public service in public safety, a majority of which has been in voluntary unpaid positions hardly points to financial gain.

 

After there was no other resource available, I offered to assist with the Fire Corps website for free as long as it was a simple matter.  Ms. Ordiales, however, repeatedly complicated and delayed the project and in fact caused the domain to expire.  In order to preserve the information on the website, I invested more than thirty hours over a weekend on a deadline downloading the data before it was scheduled to be deleted.  For my efforts, I submitted a bill to the Board for $50 including $10 for the annual domain registration fee.  This fee was negligible based on the time I invested in preserving the website.  The bill for my time was more of the principal of the matter since Ms. Ordiales kept claiming that the website transfer was “simple and easy.”  Apparently, not so, at least for Ms. Ordiales.

 

Rather than paying my modest invoice, Ms. Ordiales and other board members refused to honor the invoice.  I gave her and the Board the opportunity to pay the invoice several times in writing, but Ms. Ordiales insisted on not paying for the extensive work caused by her inattentiveness and mismanagement of the matter.  As a result, I retained the domain, which I had every legal right to do.  Ms. Ordiales ultimately consulted with an attorney.  Apparently, the Board realized that they were required to honor my invoice and that I had the legal rights to the domain, and they finally offered to pay for me for my services and for the domain including a penalty fee for my grief and aggravation.  By that time, months later, however, I was exhausted with the matter and the Towns County Fire Corps lost their opportunity to resolve the matter.  At no time, as Ms. Ordiales asserts, did I ever hold the website URL hostage. It is interesting to note that Fetch Your News would never have discovered my resignation letter published on the internet at the Towns County Fire Corps original website without my continued ownership of the web domain which was only made possible by the mismanagement of the domain by Ms. Ordiales.  The posting of my letter of resignation on the original Towns County Fire Corps website URL was my right to do so as legal owner of the domain.

 

On the website issue, the bottom line is what Ms. Ordiales cannot escape from is the fact she mismanaged the entire process and she lost the domain registration. The Towns County Fire Corps no longer has any rights to it. I am under no obligation to turn it over to the Fire Corps, legally or ethically. This issue was created by Ms. Ordiales’ incompetent management of the website process and Ms. Ordiales’ and the board’s refusal to pay a valid minor debt and her continued behavior only exacerbates the situation and jeopardizes the Towns County Fire Corps ever regaining control of it.

 

The reasons that I resigned from the Town County Fire Corps board are clearly stated in my letter from March 1, 2013.  Those reasons had nothing to do with the unpaid invoice for $50, which was allegedly for financial gain as Ms. Ordiales alleges.  I am currently working on my third retirement, after first retiring at 40 years of age, so believe me when I say $50 is not going to change the quality of my life.  Months earlier, I had in fact communicated in writing with other Board members of my plan to resign, and I had clarified my reasons for doing so (which are the same reasons as stated in the letter from March 1, 2013).  All of these original related emails and supporting documentation have been preserved by me for legal purposes.

 

For example, in an email dated October 23, 2012, 6 months prior, I wrote to Ms. Ordiales and the board members stating that “I have numerous concerns over how the corporate formalities are being handled, all of which this board was installed to change from the previous board.  It is not an excuse to say ‘this is a small town’ or ‘this is in the mountains.’  This is a Non-Profit Organization and there are rules governing appropriate behavior under various state and federal regulations.”  The original purpose of this email was to ask why my corrections to the meeting minutes were not corrected from a previous Board session prior to a vote on the subsequent approval of those minutes.

 

I think the issues outlined in my correspondence on the record are a larger pattern of ongoing conduct that speaks to Ms. Ordiales lack of good judgment and good corporate governance.  This should be a concern of all residents of the City of Hiawassee.  I am a former federal agent, fraud investigator and regulatory consultant that was out on the international public speaking circuit for more than 15 years, I recognize bad governance when I see it.  As recently as a couple of weeks ago, there were ethical violations related to Ms. Ordiales’ usage of the City of Hiawassee logo on campaign correspondence and placing her campaign sign on a county firetruck during the Halloween festivities on the square and then being asked to remove it not once but twice after the sign was relocated on the same fire truck a second time after the first warning.

 

The board members, including Ms Ordiales, have known about the assertions in the March 1, 2013, letter for more than four years.  Nevertheless, the members of the board, including Ms. Ordiales, completely failed to respond to those assertions until October 2017, which was only in response to inquiries from the media.  Moreover, the only response was from Ms. Ordiales who has still not addressed the substance of those assertions, but rather asserts a motive for my letter which is patently false, as indicated by the contents of the letter.  The public record contains no response whatsoever to the assertions in my 2013 letter, including irregularities with voting, failing to appoint a financial controller (and Ms. Ordiales now notes that she has raised $250,000, which raises heightened concerns for proper accounting), altered board meeting minutes, arbitrary or excessive expenditures, fund raising violations, pre-signing of blank checks, lack of vendor approval process, poor planning, unilateral decision making, etc.  It should also be noted that I was not the only officer to resign from the same board over similar issues.  In addition, there was independent corroboration of these issues by an insurance company which refused to underwrite Officer and Director insurance for the board.  Instead, Ms. Ordiales has chosen instead to embark on an ad hominem attack on me to divert attention from the serious problems within the Towns County Fire Corps under the leadership of Ms. Ordiales, an organization that I felt compelled to resign from solely for ethical reasons.

Ken Bryant

Candidates Clash as BRMEMC Rejects City of Hiawassee Tax

News, Politics
Hiawassee election

Hiawassee, GA – In a letter addressed to Hiawassee City Council, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC reached a decision to reject the 4% Franchise Tax adopted by the City of Hiawassee during Special Called Council Meetings held between August 8-11, 2017.

BRMEMC General Manager Jeremy Nelms confirmed the assessment would be included as an additional line item on the future bills of customers had the ordinance been accepted, “paid solely by BRMEMC members residing within the City of Hiawassee.”

Mayor Candidate Barry Keith Dearing brought the recently passed ordinance to the public’s attention at the Hiawassee Council Forum on October 2, 2017, simply saying the ordinance was “an unclear thing that needs to be told.”

Former Hiawasee Mayor Pro-Tem candidate, Liz Ordiales, refuted Dearing’s claim, stating the ordinance was not a tax, defining it as a “fee” imposed on BRMEMC.

Ordiales accused Dearing of running a dishonest campaign in a social media rant on the morning of October 7, writing his allegation of taxation were “all lies,” adding if Dearing couldn’t win on his own merit, he shouldn’t “play the game.”

Mayor Candidate Ordiales responded to FYN’s request for additional comment the following day, “This is NOT a tax on the citizens of Hiawassee.  This is a fee that 524 out of 535 cities in Georgia collect from their utility company.  The fee is for the EMC to use City property to provide their services to our citizens,” Ordiales emphasized in an email.

The BRMEMC rejection, addressed to Councilman Kris Berrong on October 4, went on to explain the denial is due in part to the City’s desire to collect back “tax fees” from the start of the 2017 calendar year, 8-months prior the adoption of the Franchise Tax ordinance. BRMEMC also stated the fee amounts to double taxation as the facilities used to provide fiber and cable services to consumers are the same which supply electricity.

Mayor Candidate Dearing stated this evening, “Keep in mind, this was not BRMEMC’s idea. [The people] deserve to see the truth,” attached to a copy image of the letter issued by BRMEMC.

Despite a direct media request by Fetch Your News (FYN) to receive notification of Special Called and Emergency Meetings, FYN was unaware of the August 8-11 Franchise Tax motion and its subsequent approval. Government agencies are required by Georgia’s Open Meeting Act to provide advance notice to the public, as well as all requesting news outlets, specifically if their frequency of publication is above that of the legal organ.

Early voting for Hiawassee City Council begins next Monday, October 16.

The election will take place on Tuesday, November 7.

Updated information on the controversial ordinance is available.

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. – For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

 

Hiawassee tree ordinance may cost private land owners

News
Hiawassee Tree Ordinance

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.

Hiawassee town square

A maple tree, days before removal, which once stood on Hiawassee Square

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.

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