Towns County native delivers passionate speech at Hiawassee City Hall

News
Becky Landress

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.

Short Takes – Coming Up, the SOTU

Opinion

Tonight, President Trump will give his first State of the Union speech. It should be a doozy. I
expect it to be a complete success because every speech Trump has made has been a signal
success, except to the Marxists acolytes of the media and the Democrat party.
The Democrat party is in disarray. As things are now going, with the departures of many “deep
state” congressmen and senators of both parties, plus the coming departures of many of the
higher echelons of the FBI and the DoJ, complicit in the pro-Hillary, anti-Trump cabal, reflects
that another of Trumps campaign promises is being fulfilled, draining the “Swamp.”
He will not mention these tawdry issues in his speech because the President is focused on
success. He will remind people of his successes with the growing economy, the reduction of the
regulation state, the collapse of Obamacare, the leveling of free trade policies and the legislative
horror that is illegal immigration being reconstructed on his terms. He will focus also on the
necessity of refunding the military to face off against the Islamic forces that endanger America.
This SOTU speech could actually be rather short because the media have already told us
what’s wrong with the present state of the Union claiming that it’s Trumps fault, but they can’t
argue against the growing success that really is Trumps fault. The media continues to deny that
the Democrats and Obama specifically, had any responsibility for the economic success
America is now experiencing.
Trump’s been in office one year and the economy shot off like a rocket. The incompetent,
feckless Obama stepped up and attempted to claim credit for it and was all but was laughed off
the stage. He’s as silly as Hillary and her “Never Ending Story,” who showed up to cheers at the
sad Grammy awards ceremony to continue her screed that she was cheated out of the
Presidency. She’s the gift that keeps on giving. The Grammys turned out to be a far left wing
televised Hollywood political rally to continue the assault on Donald Trump.
The left, under the leadership of the high ranking theologians of the church of Progressive
policy, Schumer, Durbin, Feinstein and Pelosi, are reeling in confusion wondering what’s
slapped them in the face. It was Trump and the SOTU speech should add fuel to the fire that is
consuming them.
I believe the President will be polite to the Democrats inviting them to help him solve the
immigration problem. Democrats will call, as they always do, for “comprehensive bipartisan
legislation” to help those “Dreamer” children remain here and become citizens. Trump will offer
the hand of agreement and they will refuse it. Schumer has already lost that battle but the
deranged far left will badger him into committing another error in calculation.
Trump is anything but stupid. He understands the power of words, maybe not how to use them
himself, but how others use them. “Comprehensive” is a word Trump knows simply means
capitulation to Democrat demands for amnesty. He will not going there.
Finally, the FISA memo may have been released by today. Trump will ignore it. He’s already
made his case against allegations of collusion and, the Mueller Investigation, apart from being
cluttered up with Hillary acolytes, is becoming a bore to the public. Time is on Trumps side. He’s
making America great again.
Remember, freedom is the goal, the Constitution is the way. Now, go get ‘em.

A Best Veteran’s Day Speech

Opinion

For nearly two decades, Veterans Day in Gilmer County, Ga., has been a big event, celebrated with a parade, music, marching veterans in uniform, flags, the Gilmer Co. High School Band and chorus, free breakfasts and after parade lunches for vets. The schools also participate with prize money offered in essay and poster contests. A few times we have even enjoyed the thrill of fly overs by reserve aviation unites or CAP planes. Even a out of county High School ROTC Unit has asked to participate in the parade for the past several years. It’s always a busy day and always includes, as the main speaker, some dignitary or other, often a military officer, returned from a war zone, a local business personality or some other recognizable name.

This year, 2017, the invited guest speaker was Georgia’s own Speaker of the Georgia Assembly, and our state representative, The Honorable, Mr. David Ralston and also, a friend of mine. The following essay is the excellent speech, (verbatim) of speaker Ralston this year and was, in my opinion, just too good not to share:

Good morning. What a beautiful day to be in Gilmer County!

I stand before you today as one who is proud to be an American. I am proud to be in Gilmer County. I am proud and honored to be a part of this very special occasion to honor our veterans for their service and sacrifice. Nothing I can say will full express the enormous debt of gratitude we owe to those who have served our nation in our military.

I want to thank everyone who helped put this spectacular display of patriotism on this morning. I particularly want to thank all of the students who have participated in today’s festivities. You all have helped us show that the American spirit is alive and well in North Georgia!  Serving as Speaker of your House of Representatives as well as your State Representative is an honor for which I am thankful each and every day.

I know our political dialogue isn’t as kind as it once was. We’ve got some divisions that need healing. But we are so much better off than many other nations in the world. Here we are free to discuss and debate our disagreements. We can come to a table with different views and reason together. We have open, free and fair elections that put each and every one of us on a level playing field.  That’s not the case in North Korea. That’s not the case in Zimbabwe. That’s not the case in Cuba. That’s not the case in Venezuela.

But here in this great nation, you and I are free. I am free to take a knee when I pray and I am free to stand with pride when the National Anthem is played or the Pledge of Allegiance is recited. In so many other parts of the world, people don’t enjoy the freedoms we enjoy. Their decisions are made for them. Their leaders are selected by others. The information they get is filtered for them by others. In 2017 when so many nations around the world are free – it can be hard to remember the millions of our brothers and sister who aren’t. Why do they still suffer under tyrants and dictators and we don’t? — Our men and women in uniform.

Our service members and veterans who have stood up to serve this one nation – under God – indivisible – say it with me – “with liberty and justice for all.” Throughout our history, America has been attacked by those who don’t value freedom. Whether it was the Axis powers in World War II or today’s terrorists from ISIS or Al Qaeda, Americans have always had the protection of our armed forces.

In the noise of today’s 24-hour news cycle, service and sacrifice aren’t qualities that we hear much about. That’s a shame. Yet there are heroes who live in communities each and every day – our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, neighbors and friends – the veterans of our armed forces.

If anything, I hope today reminds us that no matter what happens, there are good and decent patriots who have stood up to defend our freedoms. They have offered to make the ultimate sacrifice and lay down their lives, if necessary, to protect this nation and its citizens. In the Book of John, Jesus tells us that “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

By stepping forward and volunteering to serve, each member of our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Reserves offers to do just that. So today is a day that we pause to honor and celebrate their collective service and sacrifice. Today we rededicate ourselves to supporting our veterans and showing them the gratitude they deserve.

So long as the sun rises and the stars come out at night, this nation will remain a beacon of hope and opportunity for every oppressed person around the globe. They dream of one day enjoying the freedoms we enjoy. They dream of the limitless possibilities that exist in America.

And so long as our armed forces keep watch, this nation will stand proudly as the land of the free and the home of the brave. May God bless our veterans and our United States of America. Thank you!”

Remember, Freedom is the goal, the Constitution is the way. Now, go get ‘em! (13Nov17)

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