Friday, June 11, 2010

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Candidates Discuss Views of Teamwork at Candidate Forum

Infighting and Involvement

Melvin Davis’ name will not be on the ballot for the Republican primary in Oconee County on July 20, but comments at the candidate forum on Wednesday night indicate he is very much a part of the election.

And Board of Commissioners Chairman Davis’ presence in the election is likely to increase if former Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Russell Lee runs as an independent against incumbent John Daniell in the Post 2 Board of Commissioners race in November.

I spoke with Lee by telephone today and asked him if he intended to file as an independent in the June 28 to July 2 window set by state law.

“I prefer not to say” was his response.

The Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 in August to redraw the organizational chart for the county to give all five members equal supervisory responsibility over the county’s administrative officer and budget director.

Davis, who previously alone had supervisory power over these two top administrators, strongly objected to the change. Because the chairman of the Board of Commissioners votes only in the case of a tie, Davis did not cast an official vote on the ordinance redrawing the organizational chart.

Margaret Hale, who, with Daniell, pushed hard for the change, is being challenged by Tammy Gilland for the Post 3 slot, who, with Lee, has a strong Chamber of Commerce base.

Gilland accused the current board of “infighting” and said her experience in communication and mediation would help create a “more team-oriented environment” so the board could be more productive.

Hale responded that four of the five commissioners were happy with the changes the board made and that the result was more “transparent” government.

Daniell said the changes mean that “information flows more freely” and that the board is much more involved in decisions than in the past. “It has been a totally different atmosphere,” he said.

If Gilland were to defeat Hale in the primary and Lee were to defeat Daniell in the general election in November, the balance of power in the commission could shift back toward Davis.

Keith Bradberry qualified to run against Daniell in the July 20 primary but withdrew for health reasons a few days after filing.

Approximately 80 people turned out at the candidate forum, which Russ Page and I organized on behalf of Oconee Citizens for Responsible Growth and the Friends of Barber Creek, respectively.

The forum was broken into three, 30-minute sections. The first was for Board of Commissioners candidates.

In addition to BOC candidates Daniell, Gilland and Hall, the forum was attended by Carter Strickland and Mark Thomas, seeking Post 2 on the Oconee County Board of Education, and Kim Argo, seeking re-election to BOE Post 3. Thomas and Argo are running as Republicans, while Strickland is running as a Democrat.

Incumbent Post 2 BOE member Mack Guest told me in advance he would not be able to attend the forum because of a business commitment and indicated he would send a representative to answer questions. I learned at the beginning of the meeting that he chose instead to ask BOE member Mike Hunter to read a statement he had written.

At the end of the half hour period devoted to the Board of Education, which I was moderating, I asked audience members if they wanted to hear from Guest or ask an additional question. I did not hear anyone ask to hear from Guest, so I recognized another questioner.

Suzy Compere, Hank Huckaby, Tommy Malcom and Kirk Shook, all seeking to be elected as state representative from the 113th District, also attended and answered questions from the audience. Compere is running as a Democrat, and the other three candidates will compete in the July 20 Republican primary.

Voting for the July 20 primary actually began on Monday, and Pat Hayes, Oconee County Director of Elections, told me at 4:30 today that 129 persons voted this week. The office closed at 5 p.m.

As of June 1, the county had 22,203 voters registered, according to Hayes. Since this is the first time the county has had an election in which only two of the five commissioners and two of the five members of the BOE stood for election, it is hard to know what to expect in terms of turnout.

The county moved to staggered terms with the November 2008 election, when Daniell, Hale, Guest and Argo were elected for two-year terms.

If Lee or anyone else wishes to qualify to run as an independent, they must turn in a nomination petition signed by 5 percent of those who were registered in November of 2008, Hayes said. That means the candidate must have 1,020 petitions signed by certified registered voters.

Once the petition were submitted, Hayes, her staff and the Board of Elections and Registration would undertake the certifications process.

Voters have until June 21 to register to vote in the July 20 primary.

The video of the candidate forum is available for viewing at my Vimeo site.

I will summarize some of the comments from the other two sections of the forum in another posting.

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