Oconee County Commissioner Jim Luke lost his bid Tuesday night to keep fellow commissioners William “Bubber” Wilkes and Mark Saxon from removing former commissioner Chuck Horton from the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board.
In a 2-1 vote, Wilkes and Saxon, over Luke’s objection, reappointed John Caudill as one of two citizen alternates on the Management Board but replaced Horton with Chris Butts, executive director of the Georgia Green Industry Association.
Luke is vice chairman of the Management Board and has contributed financially to Horton’s campaign for election to the Board of Commissioners in a special election that is underway.
At the Nov. 1 Commission meeting, Saxon and Wilkes had agreed with Luke to postpone a decision on the Management Board appointment until after the Nov 8 election, but Saxon and Wilkes decided on Tuesday to go forward with the appointments even though the Commission race went into a runoff.
Early voting for the runoff, now in its fourth day, has been light, with final voting tomorrow and on election day itself on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
The next meeting of the Board of Commissioners is on Dec. 20, and the Management Board is not scheduled to meet again until Feb. 20, so there was little need for quick action on the appointments.
In addition, as citizen representatives, Caudill and Horton are nonvoting alternates on the Board, so they sit at the table and vote only if the regular members cannot attend.
Wilkes, in making the motion, and Saxon, in seconding, gave no explanation on Tuesday night for their decision to move forward with the appointments.
The video clip below is of the vote on Tuesday night.
The Board decides on its appointments of citizens to committees in executive session closed to the public and never explains the rationale for its choices.
All three commissioners agreed in an executive session on Oct. 25 to replace Horton with Butts, but Luke had a change of heart on Nov. 1 and refused to go along with the decision.
Appointments are for two-year terms.
Horton Questioned Board
At the January meeting of the Management Board, Horton had questioned some of the projections that are being used at present to plan for construction of a treatment plant and transmission facilities for the Hard Labor Creek reservoir.
Horton asked for “an unbiased look” at the need to move forward with those facilities before Oconee and Walton counties spend any more money on the project.
Luke missed that meeting, but Saxon, who also is a member of the Management Board, was present, and no one on the Board objected to Horton’s suggestion, though the Board has not taken any action on it.
Butts has been executive director of the Georgia Green Industry Association, a statewide trade association for the horticulture and landscape industry, since August of 2015, according to his LinkedIn page.
To this point, Butts has had no involvement with the Hard Labor Creek reservoir, now filling in the south of Walton County. He lives at 1450 Oconee Crossings Circle, in the west of the county.
Question In Interview
I asked Horton and Marcus Wiedower, the other candidate seeking the Post II position on the Board of Commissioners in the Dec. 6 runoff, about their positions on the future of Hard Labor Creek reservoir in separate interviews I did with each in late September.
Both Wiedower and Horton said the Management Board needs to have more information before deciding whether to go forward with construction of a treatment plant and distribution system to get the water to customers in the two counties.
Luke is retiring at the end of the month and will have to be replaced by an Oconee County Commissioner in January, making the positions of the two candidates important.
Their responses are in the video clip below.
At a town hall meeting on Oct. 26, Oconee County Utility Department Wayne Haynie said that the county does not need the water collecting in Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir in the near or mid term because of the availability of water in the Bear Creek reservoir in Jackson County.
History Of Appointments
Horton was appointed as an alternate to the Hard Labor Creek Management Board in 2009, after Commissioner Margaret Hale, one of the original appointees, asked to be relieved of the assignment. Horton was to fill out the remaining two years of her term.
In 2011, Horton replaced citizen Hank Huckaby, another of the three original Oconee County appointees to the Board, when Huckaby became chancellor of the University System of Georgia. Huckaby had been a voting member of the Management Board, so Horton moved into a voting position in replacing Huckaby.
Horton unsuccessfully challenged Melvin Davis for the BOC Chairmanship in 2012, and early in 2013 Davis proposed that Horton be removed from the Hard Labor Creek Board as well as from the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority, of which Horton was chair.
The Board went along with Davis, though it later that year reappointed Horton to his current position as an alternate.
Horton lives at 1061 Ramblewood Place, outside Watkinsville.
Split On Board
Normally, the Board of Commissioners simply reappoints citizens who ask to continue to serve on committees, as Horton did at the Commission meeting on Oct. 25. Neither Caudill nor Butts appeared at that meeting.
Though Davis does not vote in regular sessions except in the case of a tie, he does participate in discussions of appointments in the executive sessions.
Davis and Wilkes both have had signs supporting Wiedower on their property during the campaign. The same is true for incoming BOC member Mark Thomas, though he says it was put there by his wife.
Saxon did not have a sign in his yard when I checked before the election last month, and he said he has remained neutral in the campaign.
Luke contributed $583 to Horton’s campaign.
(My wife has a sign for Horton in our front yard and has contributed $250 to his campaign.)
Only 1,119 of Oconee County’s 24,058 registered voters have turned out in the first four days of early voting.
Voting has been uneven over the week, but the average of just less than 280 voters per day indicates turnout is likely to be very low for the runoff, which will fill the unexpired term for Post II commissioner.
If that average holds, and it could go up with the final day of early voting tomorrow, only about 1,400 persons will participate in early voting.
In recent elections, about half of those voting cast their votes before actual election day, in this case on Dec. 6.
That suggests that only about 3,000 persons will participate in this election.
The estimates are very rough, because no two elections are the same. This one has only one contest on the ballot, and early voting is only for one week, with no Saturday early voting.
Other BOC Elections
Participation in recent BOC elections has been quite varied, as in reflected in the chart below.
At the Nov. 8 election, Horton got 8,028 votes, and Wiedower got 5,360.
Those numbers are more than any BOC candidate has gotten in winning a contested election in May of this year or in May and July of 2014.
Ben Bridges, in losing on Nov. 8, got nearly twice the votes that Wilkes got in winning the runoff in the Republican primary runoff in July of 2014.
It seems possible the winner of the election on Dec. 6 will do so with vote totals even lower than those from that July 2014 runoff.
Wilkes had lost to incumbent Margaret Hale in the May 2014 primary but defeated Hale in the runoff.
Click in either of the two charts to enlarge them.