Thursday, July 29, 2010

Meeting to Resolve Oconee County Courthouse Issues Postponed

Fine-Tuning a PowerPoint

A meeting scheduled for early tomorrow morning to allow some members of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners to sort out their differences on what to do about the courthouse, the Courthouse Annex and the Government Annex was cancelled late today when one of the key participants could not attend.

Wayne Wilbanks, hired by the county on June 29 to be project manager for renovation of the Government Annex on Greensboro road on the south side of Watkinsville, told County Administrative Office Alan Theriault late this afternoon that he concluded he could not be at the 9 a.m. meeting tomorrow in the Courthouse Annex because of a family matter.

The 9 a.m. meeting was to be attended by Wilbanks, Theriault, Commissioner John Daniell and Commissioner Jim Luke and was to be held in the Courthouse Annex.

The Courthouse Annex, which the county leases and which is often referred to as the Dolvin property, is across the street from the courthouse itself in downtown Watkinsville.

The BOC has tentatively agreed to vacate the Courthouse Annex and move offices currently housed there to the Government Annex.

That proposal was brought to the commission by County Finance Director Jeff Benko in May as a scheme to cut the Fiscal Year 2010-2011 budget, and Daniell was a strong proponent. Luke was a skeptic from the start, and he voiced that skepticism at the BOC meeting again on Tuesday night.

The meeting, scheduled for tomorrow and now tentatively rescheduled for Tuesday afternoon, was suggested by BOC Chairman Melvin Davis as a way of ironing out some of the differences.

Commissioners Margaret Hale and Chuck Horton have sided with Daniell, but Hale was quiet on Tuesday night and Horton’s support was muted.

Luke’s argument is that the move might not save any money and doesn’t reflect any long-term thinking about what the county should do with its courthouse needs.

In fact, a third option also is being discussed.

The Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee has ignored the discussion by the commissioners of the Courthouse Annex and the Government Annex and gone ahead with plans for a public presentation on its recommendation that the county build a new judicial facility.

The BOC asked the land use committee to review the courthouse after Davis forced discussion of it through a meeting he called in December of 2008.

County Strategic and Long-Range Planning Director Wayne Provost organized that meeting for Davis and then brought to the BOC a request that it issue a request for proposals for consulting services to move forward with planning for a new courthouse.

That was in March of 2009, and the BOC instead referred the matter to the land use committee.

After a year of meetings, the land use committee voted on March 9 to recommend that the county split its administrative and judicial operations, set the existing courthouse aside for administration, and build a new judicial facility somewhere near the jail on Experiment Station road on the north side of Watkinsville.

After making that decision, the land use committee started working on a presentation it wants to give to citizens at a public hearing to convince the citizens that the committee’s recommendation–which will be to the BOC–is the right one.

The land use committee in May asked Provost, who meets with the committee, to prepare a PowerPoint presentation, and at its meeting on July 13, it sent Provost back for a second revision to his show.

The stated view was that he hadn’t made the case strongly enough.

The land use committee is scheduled to meet again on Aug. 10, review the revisions Provost has made, and then schedule a public hearing.

The goal isn’t to get public feedback, but to tell the public why the county needs to build a separate judicial facility near the jail.

These three options–vacate the Courthouse Annex and move to the Government Annex, slow down and develop a long-range plan before doing anything more, and begin to move forward with a new judicial facility–clearly are not all of those under consideration.

Chairman Davis, who prefers to work behind the scenes rather than on stage, has not indicated what he thinks should be done, though at the meeting on Tuesday he expressed concerns about the current course of action.

In April, he was the only member of the BOC who did not deny reviewing property for a new governmental complex, probably outside of downtown Watkinsville, that would accommodate both administrative and judicial needs of the county.

Davis was instrumental in getting $4.6 million into the 2003 SPLOST for “acquisition, construction, equipping and installation of expansions of the county courthouse, the county government annex building and county libraries.”

About $4.2 million of that 2003 SPLOST money remains unspent, and a big part of the question is what to do with it now.

Should the money be used to renovate the Government Annex, as Daniell has proposed, or to buy land for future needs, as Luke has suggested? Or move forward with plans for the new judicial building, as the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee has proposed?

The courthouse and Government Annex actually came up at three points in the meeting on Tuesday night, which lasted four hours in public session and additional time in executive session.

During the citizen comment session at the beginning of the meeting, Nancy Turnbull, who heads the Athens Technical College day class program, complained that she was being forced out of the Government Annex as part of the planned renovation and asked the county to help her find adequate space so she can continue to offer adult education classes in the county.

Later Shane Carson, who applied for reappointment to his position on the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee, criticized some of his colleagues for voting on the courthouse issue after missing many of the meetings at which it was discussed.

Finally, Wilbanks asked the BOC to approve his recommendation that Precision Planning Incorporated get a contract for initial design work for the Government Annex renovation.

Luke objected, and Davis called the now-cancelled meeting to try to get the differences ironed out before next Tuesday’s meeting.

In the meantime, Provost and the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee are working on a PowerPoint to show at some future meeting with any members of the public that show up.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Dam and Roadway Relocation Construction Now On Hold

Shovels Remain in Hand

All construction work on the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir in Walton County is now on hold with the exception of work on mitigation of the damage the planned dam and reservoir will do to streams and wetlands if the reservoir is built in the future.

Jim Luke, Oconee County commissioner and vice chairman of the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board, told me late last month that no formal vote ever has been taken by the Board to put construction on hold, but both counties have said to the Board that it should not move beyond the land acquisition and design stage on the project.

“The finance directors of both counties said the counties are not able to service more debt,” Luke told me in a telephone conversation on June 26.

Oconee County obligated itself in 2007 to pay the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority for a $19.5 million bond as its part of financing of the first phase of the project. Walton County borrowed roughly twice that amount.

The county has agreed to make semi-annual payments ranging from $309,486 to $1,228,500 over the life of the Hard Labor Creek bond, which mature on Feb. 1, 2038, according to Oconee County Finance Director Jeff Benko.

The principal, as of June 30 of this year, remains at $19.5 million, and interest on retirement is scheduled to be $17.9 million, according to Benko.

The debt for the Hard Labor Creek bond is part of a total debt of more than $44 million assigned to the Oconee County Utility Department. With interest, that debt goes to just less than $71.5 million.

At the May 25 meeting of the Board of Commissioners, Jimmy Parker of Precision Planning Incorporated (right), project manager for the reservoir, provided an update on the project.

He said the schedule calls for treated water from the reservoir to be available to the two counties in 2015. He acknowledged, however, that the date is now tentative.

“The schedule on this project is going to be based on the economic recovery and the demand for water in both systems,” he said. “I think the reservoir board is fully in agreement that they are not going to build a facility that is not warranted.”

The Oconee Enterprise missed the story, reporting in its May 27, 2010, edition simply that “Precision Planning engineer Jimmy Parker updated the BOC on the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir and a mitigation plan.”

The Athens Banner-Herald also did not report on Parker’s comment, though it did quote Luke in a story a month earlier as saying that the two counties have “started to drag our feet a little bit on the project.”

I talked by telephone with Parker on June 25 and with Luke on June 26, and both confirmed that construction work on the reservoir itself as well as on roadway relocation is frozen.

Parker said that all design work will be completed, but no dirt will be moved.

“We want to get this in a shovel-ready position,” he said. Parker told the BOC on May 25 that the goal is to have the reservoir ready for any state or federal stimulus funding, should they become available.

Parker told me that roughly $33 million is left from the $60 million from the sale of the bonds by the two counties, and that that amount will allow the reservoir board to continue purchasing land for the project. He said roughly half of the 2,380 acres needed already have been acquired.

The remaining borrowed funds also will cover the $9.8 million that will be spent on mitigation projects, a figure that Commissioner Luke called “interesting” during Parker’s presentation.

Parker said that the dam and flooding for the reservoir will do significant damage to Hard Labor Creek and wetlands surrounding it, since they will be flooded.

“When you remove the ecological habitat provided by the streams and wetlands in this area, under (U.S. Army) Corps (of Engineers) regulations it is a requirement...we have to replace that habitat.”

While much of the mitigation is in Walton County, four of the sites selected for mitigation will be in Oconee County.

Wetland mitigation is being done on land near little Lake Oconee on the Apalachee River near Moores Ford road. That land is owned by the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority.

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners voted on June 1 to proceed with streambank mitigation construction on streams on the Rocky Branch sewage treatment site near North Oconee High School and at Veterans Park sites in July 2010.

Streams on these sites drain to Barber Creek, which is a tributary of the Oconee River, meaning the mitigation will take place out of the immediate watershed of the reservoir.

The Board of Commissioners also voted to go forward with streambank mitigation at Heritage Park in the spring of 2011. Streams in that park drain to the Apalachee, as does Hard Labor Creek itself.

The delay at the Heritage Park site is the result of discussions about how restrictions on use of streams that are restored as part of the mitigation project will affect the use of the park for horse and bike trails. The county will be required to place covenants that preserve the streams once they are restored as part of the mitigation process.

A similar issue was raised at the June 29 meeting of the Board of Commissioners when Interim Parks and Recreation Department Director Lisa Davol discussed possible development of a disc golf course in Veterans Park.

Commissioner Luke questioned whether it would be possible to build such a facility around streams that will be set aside as part of the mitigation process. That issue remains unresolved.

Financing of the Oconee County contribution to the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir project has been an issue from the time the Board Voted 3-2 in 2007 to join with Walter County on the project.

Commissioner Luke and Chairman Melvin Davis joined then Commissioner Don Norris in favoring the project, while Commissioners Chuck Horton and Margaret Hale opposed it.

Proponents of the project initially justified it based on projections that the county would double in population by 2015, bringing the total number of people in the county to 67,065. The current population estimate for the county is 33,230.

When those figure were challenged, Finance Director Benko came forward with projections that the costs of the project could be covered by growth in water sales.

First the drought with the restrictions on water sales and then the collapse of the local housing market made the water sales projections unrealistic.

As a result, the county has increased water rates on existing customers three times since April 1, 2008, with the most recent increase taking place on July 1. At the time Utility Department Director Chris Thomas requested the increase, he told the BOC it was necessary in part because of the debt for Hard Labor Creek.

The budget for the Utility Department for fiscal year 2010-2011 lists $6.4 million in income and expenditures, with $3 million of the latter for debt payment, including $924,000 in interest for the Hard Labor Creek bond.

In an email message to me of June 14, Oconee Finance Director Benko listed four bonds that have been issued for the Utility Department since 1997 and which have not yet been retired. (See Chart.)

They are for the Bear Creek Reservoir in Jackson County (1997), for payment of debt and future construction (1998), for the acquisition of land for the Rocky Branch sewage treatment site (2003), and for Hard Labor Creek (2008).

The total initial debt for these four bonds was just less than $54 million. The current principal on the bonds is a little more than $44 million, but the county also is obligated to more than $27 million in interest payments on that debt.

If the Utility Department cannot retire these bonds through revenue from water sales, sewage fees or other fees, the county has to cover them through other tax sources, such as property and sales taxes.

In the budget request Thomas submitted to the Board back in April, he projected $5,905,000 in water and sewage fee income for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

The County has not yet released detailed departmental budgets for the fiscal year that began on July 1. [I asked for release of those budgets at the BOC meeting last night, but no member of the board or county staff responded to or even acknowledged my request.]


Jimmy Parker’s PowerPoint presentation is on the county web site.

I have recorded and edited a video recording of his presentation of the PowerPoint and have put it on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo Channel .

Thursday, July 15, 2010

17 Want to be Post 5 Member of the Oconee County Board of Education

Initial Review Monday

Seventeen individuals came forward before the 5 p.m. deadline today to ask the Oconee County Board of Education to consider them for appointment to the vacant Post 5 slot.

Included are attorneys, retired and current educators, a developer, financial advisers and business owners.

The four members of the Board are scheduled to meet in a work session on Monday to begin reviewing the applications.

Full screening will begin in August, with a Post 5 member being selected in late September or early October, according to the posted schedule.

Tom Breedlove resigned from the board on May 10. At a specially called meeting on May 19, Chairman David Weeks, Post 2 incumbent Mack Guest, Post 3 member Kim Argo and Post 4 member Mike Hunter agreed to invite the four candidates who had filed to run in the July 20 primary for the two open positions on the board to apply for the Post 5 position instead.

That meant that Guest and Argo, along with Weeks and Hunter, were inviting Guest and Argo, along with Carter Strickland and Guest challenger Republican Mark Thomas, to apply for the Post 5 opening.

Only Strickland, who filed as a Democrat to run against the winner of the Guest-Thomas contest, said he was interested in dropping out of the race and assuming the Post 5 opening.

At its June 14 meeting, the board decided to abandon this process, pass over Strickland and accept applications by today’s deadline.

Argo is running unopposed for reelection to her Post 3 position in the July 20 primary and is unopposed in November.

The 17 applicants for the Post 5 opening were asked to complete a two-page form that asked for address, contact information, occupation, length of residency in the county and reason for wanting to be appointed to the board.

Deborah Epps, administrative assistant to Superintendent John Jackson, told me yesterday that the completed forms will be scanned and available for the Monday board meeting, which starts at 5 p.m. in the Superintendent's Building at 34 School street in Watkinsville.

The final applicant, Wayne Bagley, turned in his paperwork about 20 minutes before the deadline, and Jackson gave me a list that contained name, address, contact information, and occupation of each of the applicants at the 5 p.m. closing of his office.

The list given me by Jackson is on my site.

Among the applicants are Franklin Shumake, former deputy school superintendent for the Georgia Department of Education and former Oconee County school superintendent, Rich Clark, who ran unsuccessfully against Breedlove for the BOE slot in 2008, and Gregory Zengo, a Watkinsville physician.

The first three applicants were Stuart McGarity, Glenn Townsend and Zengo. Board Chairman Weeks gave me their names during an interview I did with him on July 1.

On Tuesday the Athens Banner-Herald ran a story by reporter Erin France that indicated that six applications had been submitted. France did not identify the applicants and told me yesterday she did not ask for their names because she planned to wait until tomorrow to obtain the full list.

Dan Matthews said on his blog Tuesday that he did try to obtain the list that day, was denied access and filed an open records request for the information.

Epps sent me and others a list of eight candidates as of 2 p.m. Tuesday, and Jessica Rumely of The Oconee Enterprise put the names on the paper’s web site an hour later.

Epps told me yesterday afternoon that the list had grown to 10 applicants.

Weeks told me in the interview I did with him on July 1 that he was hoping for as many as 30 applicants for the job. He also listed in that interview the characteristics the board will be seeking.

Jackson told me today that he expects the 17 applicants will be asked to make their first personal presentations to the board at its Aug. 2 session.

On Tuesday, voters will select the winner of the Guest-Thomas contest, who will meet Strickland in November to fill the Post 2 position on the board.

By 4:15 p.m. today, 1,184 voters had cast their ballots as part of early voting for the Tuesday primary.

On July 1, according to Oconee County Elections Director Pat Hayes, the county had 20,244 active voters.

On July 1, 2006, the county had 17,030 active voters, and 4,147, or 24.4 percent, cast a ballot in the July primary.

If that same ratio holds in this election, about 5,000 voters will participate in the primary this year.

Early voting, being held at the Board of Elections office near the courthouse in Watkinsville and at the Civic Center on Hog Mountain road, ends at 5 p.m. tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Republican Candidates for Oconee County House Seat Give Views on Water, Transportation Issues

Tolls, Trains and Arteries

Tommy Malcom thinks interbasin transfers of water should be allowed in Georgia only in extreme circumstances such as severe drought.

Hank Huckaby thinks that such transfers of water from one basin to another would not take place in ideal circumstances, but he thinks the state Environmental Protection Division is doing a good job of protecting the interests of the state’s sending and receiving water basins.

Kirk Shook thinks all options need to be kept open and that House District 113, which he wants to represent, could sell water in the future as a way of producing revenue.

Shook thinks there is too much governmental bureaucracy making it difficult to build facilities such as the planned Hard Labor Creek Reservoir in Walton County, but he notes that taxpayers are “on the hook” for the decision by the two counties to go forward with the project.

Malcom thinks the state needs more reservoirs, but he is concerned about the costs of the Hard Labor Creek project. He said he would not interfere with the project’s progress if he wins the Republican primary and then the November general election.

Huckaby said, if he is elected to represent Oconee County as well as the parts of Clarke, Morgan and Olgethorpe counties that make up the 113th District, he will work to secure funding from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority to help pay for the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir.

These are among the answers that the three candidates in next week’s Republican primary gave in response to five questions I sent to them on Sunday night. I received the written responses this afternoon.

I asked each of the candidates to state his position on interbasin tranfers and to indicate what role he would play as a legislator regarding the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir project.

I also asked each to state his position regarding any future request by the Oconee County Board of Education for an increase in compensation and to state his policy regarding any future requests for changes in the enabling legislation that controls the form of government in the county.

Finally, I asked each of the candidates to identify the most pressing transportation needs of Oconee County and to indicate how he would go about assisting the county in meeting those needs.

Huckaby said the current compensation for the members of the Oconee County BOE at $1,800 is too low, that the way the BOE went about seeking an increase in that amount last year was a problem, but that he would support a request for an increase in the future “if the process is transparent and there is adequate opportunity for public input.”

Malcom said “Public service is not supposed to be a money maker” and that he would support a request for increased funding for BOE members only after teachers and other workers “are adequately supplied.” He said he did not think adequate funding for other workers is likely to happen “any time soon.”

Shook said he would introduce legislation for a salary increase for the BOE members only if there were “a citizen initiative to affirm the request.” He said the BOE members were underpaid but that work on the board is “a public service.”

Bob Smith, who is retiring as District 113 representative, last year refused to introduce legislation for a salary increase for the BOE, though he did draft legislation that would have made the change.

The BOE members have decided to forego all compensation for the upcoming year because of budget shortfalls.

Shook said that he believes that “citizens should be allowed to propose ballot initiatives and legislation of their own” but that he would work with local elected officials to ensure that the Board of Commissioners “is responsive to the needs of the citizens.”

Malcom said he would want requests by the Board of Commissioners for changes to the local enabling legislation to be unanimously approved before he would take them to the legislature and that he would want the local officials to “conduct a public informational and input process” before making a request of him for a change.

Huckaby also said the current process “has generally worked well” and that “the government closest to the people best reflects the desires, needs and values of the community.”

Huckaby said the most pressing transportation need of Oconee County “is the upgrading of Georgia 316 to a limited access corridor.” He said that the highway at present is unsafe and that improvements “will be important to the quality economic development desired” in the county.

He said he also is concerned about traffic on Mars Hill road and Daniells Bridge. Huckaby said that light rail needs to be considered as part of the transportation mix and that he supports a sales tax increase to fund transportation needs.

Shook said “We should look at privatization efforts, toll lanes, etc., when discussing possible solutions” to transportation problems. He advocated following “a market-based approach” in which “private funding sources” will seek to participate in transportation projects “in an effort to make a profit.”

Malcom listed the Oconee Connector and Mars Hill road upgrade, improvements to SR 316, and the U.S. 441 bypass around Bishop as top transportation needs for the county.

“When I look at a map of Oconee County, I see our road network as critical corridors just like the heart’s arteries,” Malcom said.

If none of the three candidates receives a majority in the July 20 primary, the top two candidates will go into a runoff on Aug. 10.

In November, the Republican winner then will face Suzy Compere, running unopposed in the Democratic primary next week.

Only 987 persons had participated in early voting as of the end of the day today. In the July 2006 primary, 4,145 persons voted in Oconee County.

The exact wording of the questions I asked and the responses from the three candidates are on my site.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Huckaby Raises Nearly 5 Times Combined Total of Other Candidates in Oconee County House Race

Big Loans Part of Story

Hank Huckaby, one of three Republicans running to replace retiring Bob Smith in the Georgia House of Representatives, has raised $95,507 for his campaign so far, which is nearly five times what the other two candidates have raised together.

More than half of the amount of money Huckaby raised came from a loan of $50,000 that he made to the campaign, but he raised $39,050 in contributions of more than $100 and $6,457 in contributions of $100 or less.

Kirk Shook from Crawford in Oglethorpe County raised $14,304, with $5,000 of that coming from two loans he made to his campaign. He raised $5,450 from contributions of more than $100 and $3,854 from contributions of $100 or less.

Tommy Malcom raised $5,824 for his campaign, but $4,624 came from a loan he made to his campaign. He raised $500 in contributions of more than $100 and $700 in contributions of $100 or less.

Huckaby, Malcom and Shook will meet in the July 20 Republican primary. If no one gets a majority, the two top candidates will meet in the August 10 runoff.

The winner of that contest will then face off against Democrat Suzy Compere of Bostwick in Morgan County, who is running unopposed in the July 20 Democratic primary.

As of the June 30 filing deadline, Compere had not raised or spent any money in her campaign, according to her finance report.

Huckaby has spent $34,457, leaving him his $50,000 loan and another $11,050 to spend.

Shook has spent $6,454, leaving him his loan of $5,000 and another $2,850 to spend.

Malcom has spent $4,624, which is the amount of his loan. He had $1,200 left to spend on June 30.

Huckaby received $2,400–the maximum amount allowed for a primary for the state General Assembly–from Claire Frazier of Mineral Bluff, Adolphus Frazier of Mineral Bluff and WMG enterprises of Athens. He received $2,000 from Donald Leeburn of McDonough.

Huckaby received contributions of $1,000 from 10 donors, one of whom was former Gov. Zell Miller.

Shook received his largest contribution of $2,000 from American Federation for Children in Arlington, Va.

Malcom’s only contribution of more than $100 was $500 from Marvin Green of Bishop.

The campaign statements were due on July 8 and covered the period through June 30. They were filed electronically and are available for viewing on the web site of the State Ethics Commission.

Huckaby’s figure is just slightly higher than the amount of money Smith reported having raised at the end of his last campaign in 2008, when he was unopposed in both the primary and the general election.

As of Friday, 641 persons had voted in Oconee County using the early procedures. That was up from 414 a week earlier.

Carole Amos, administrative assistant at the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration, told me at the end of the day today that another 55 people voted at the Watkinsville office of the Board of Elections today.

Starting this week–the sixth of early voting--a second voting location is operating at the Civic Center. Amos did not have a figure for voting today at that site.

In July of 2008, when 6,989 persons voted in Oconee County, 90 percent voted in the Republican primary. Four earlier, when 6,130 persons voted, 88 percent voted in the Republican primary.

In 2006, however, when 4,245 persons voted in Oconee County, only 65 percent voted in the Republican primary.

This is the first year when local Board of Commissioner and Board of Education races will be held at the same time as the major state races, rather than with the national presidential contest.

The 113th District is spread across four counties, with Oconee County making up 58 percent of the district by population, Clarke making up 24 percent, Olgethorpe 12 percent, and Morgan 6 percent.

All of Oconee County is part of the 113th, while none of the other three counties falls only in the 113th District.

Huckaby and Malcom are from Oconee County.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

No Independents File for Oconee County Offices, Giving Two Republicans Automatic Reelection

Finances Reported Too

Oconee County Post 2 Commissioner John Daniell and Oconee County Board of Education Post 3 member Kim Argo will be unchallenged not only in the July 20 Republican primary but also in the general election in November, they learned yesterday.

No one filed as an independent to run against them–or anyone else in the county. Independent filing closed at noon on Friday.

Former Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Russell Lee, who had inquired about procedures for filing as an independent, did not do so in the end.

So the only choice that voters who ask for the Republican ballot on July 20 will have to make is between Tammy Gilland and incumbent Margaret Hale in the Post 3 BOC race and between incumbent Mack Guest and Mark Thomas in the Post 2 BOE race.

Democrats will have only the name of Carter Strickland before them at the local level. Strickland has filed to run for the Post 2 BOE slot, but he will have no competition in the Democratic primary.

Local Republicans also will get to select from among three candidates for the 113th District Seat in the Georgia House, being vacated by the retirement of Bob Smith. Hank Huckaby, Tommy Malcom and Kirk Shook are running for that slot. Oconee County makes up the majority of that district.

Suzy Compere will be on the Democratic July 20 primary ballot for that House seat, but she will be unopposed.

As of 4:45 p.m. Friday, 414 voters had cast their ballots in early voting, which was in its fourth week. The figure had been 301 by the end of the previous week and 198 at the end of the second week. In the first week, 129 persons voted.

In the July 2008 primaries, 6,989 persons voted. In July of 2006, only 4,145 voted. In July of 2004, 6,130 voted.

In 2008, the BOC and BOE designated the Post 2 and Post 3 slots as having terms of only two years to move toward staggered terms of board members. So the 2006 figure are probably closer to what can be expected in terms of turnout this year.

On Wednesday, the candidates filed their campaign financial statements, and Gilland reported taking in $13,080 since January and spending $10,504. In addition, she reported $980 of in-kind contributions. She had reported having taken in $4,685 in the first three months of the year.

Gilland’s contributions included a loan of $2,087 she made to herself and $4,408 in contributions of less than $100, which are not reported by name.

She received $350 from Greg Daniels, $250 from Tim and Carla Burgess, and $250 from Martee and Foy Horne, all from UGA, and $250 from Scott and Beth Norris of Motel Enterprises. Gilland’s early money also came from UGA personnel.

Hale reported raising only $7,736 for the year, and $5,836 of that had been raised before the second quarter filing period. Hale reported spending $7,406. She listed only one contribution of more than $100. That was from Jay Staines of Staines Properties, who gave $150

Guest reported raising $5,121, all in the last three months, and spending $3,048. Guest reported receiving $500 from Jack Davis and $250 from Benson’s, Inc. The remainder was in contributions of $100 or less.

Thomas reported raising $5,648 with another $727 in in-kind contributions. Thomas reported receiving $500 from James Harrison of Harrison & Harrison, $500 from Charles Upchurch of Upchurch Realty, $500 from Marvin Green, no occupation listed, $300 from Mike Power of Power Building Products, $250 from Max Brown of Land Headquarters, Inc., $200 from Charles Baugh, retired, and $200 from himself.

On Wednesday at 11:18 p.m., shortly after I filed my blog of that date, I received an email message from Jay Hanley, chairman of the Oconee County Republican Party, and pictured above.

“I wanted to address what may be a misunderstanding on the questioning at the GOP Forum,” Hanley wrote. “Questions were submitted by audience members and not screened in advance by me or my board. Blake did have some questions of his own prepared to fill time when he ran out of audience questions.”

The reference is to Blake Giles, editor of The Oconee Enterprise and moderator of the forum, which was held on June 17.

“The first question on the conservatism that you've written extensively about was submitted by an unknown audience member not by Blake or me,” Hanley said.

The first question Giles asked of the candidates for the BOC, BOE and House contests was “Are you a Conservative Republican.” Giles prefaced that each time by saying “We’re asking this of all the candidates.”

Giles did not say who “we” was or who determined that it be the first question asked of all of the candidates. He also did not offer any indication that the question had come from the audience.

Hanley continued by saying that “The party is bound to qualify any candidate who signs the oath required by state party rules, which simply states, ‘I do swear or affirm my allegiance to the Georgia Republican Party.’ In other words, if the chair of the Democratic party wanted to run as a Republican and he signed the oath, he would be qualified.”

Pat Hayes, Oconee County elections director, confirmed for me on Thursday that the Republic Party in Oconee County handled qualifications for candidates this year and that it was allowed to and did use an oath of allegance.

She handled the single qualification for Strickland and would have required a similar loyalty statement from Strickland for the Democratic Party had the party given her one to issue.

I encouraged Hanley to put this comment to me on by blog, saying I thought it helped explain how little control the parties have over the candidates in Georgia, but Hanley did not do so.

I told him in addition I would make use of the information he gave me to further explain party control and am including it here for that reason.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Oconee County Board of Education Chairman Weeks Said New Board Member Can be a Critic

Idea Didn’t Float

The Oconee County Board of Education is willing to consider someone who is critical of the Board and critical of School Superintendent John Jackson when it evaluates candidates who apply for appointment as the Post 5 member, according to Board Chairman David Weeks.

The Board did not change its procedures for filling the vacant seat and reject Carter Strickland, the sole person who asked for the job under the original rules set up by the Board, because Strickland publicly criticized the Board and Jackson, Weeks said.

Weeks now says that the procedures he proposed to the Board for filling the Post 5 vacancy on May 19 should be seen as a kind of trial balloon.

Weeks said the public spoke out asking that the application process be opened to the public, and that is why the Board decided to abandon the procedures approved by the Board on May 19 and pass over Strickland at its June 14 meeting.

The fact that Strickland is a Democrat and all the Board members, including Weeks, were elected as Republicans had nothing to do with that decision, Weeks said.

I had asked Weeks to sit down and explain to me what the Board is looking for now that it has opened up the competition to anyone interested. At the June 14 meeting Weeks had listed five “qualities” that the Board will be looking for when it evaluates candidates.

We talked for about 45-minute on Thursday afternoon at Barberitos in Five Points in Athens. That is one of six local restaurants Weeks owns, including another Barberitos and a Mirko restaurant in Watkinsville and a Barberitos on Epps Bridge parkway.

I started by asking Weeks to explain each of the five qualities he listed at the June 14 meeting and which are on the Board of Education web site.

Weeks said many people misunderstand that the five Posts on the Oconee County Board of Education are not districts. The Board is looking for someone who is concerned about the entire system, not a particular school or part of the county, Weeks said.

The Board also wants someone who has a “team philosophy,” though Weeks said that did not mean that the person has to have the same opinions on issues as other Board members.

The ideal candidate will understand that she or he will have to make decisions that will not always be supported by everyone and has to be willing to “take heat” for those decisions, according to Weeks.

People also misunderstand that the Board of Education does not make decisions about appointments of principals or teachers or operation of the system, Weeks said. The Board works through the superintendent, Weeks said, and it is important that any new board member understand that.

Applicants must also be able to stay in communication with other board members, since the Board needs to be able to assemble and make decisions quickly, according to Weeks.

Post 5 BOE member Tom Breedlove resigned on May 10, and at the specially called meeting on May 19, Weeks, Post 2 incumbent Mack Guest, Post 3 member Kim Argo, and Post 4 member Mike Hunter agreed to invite the four candidates who had filed to run in the July 20 primary for the two open positions on the Board to apply for the Post 5 position instead.

That meant that Guest and Argo, along with Weeks and Hunter, were inviting Guest and Argo, along with Carter Strickland and Guest challenger Republican Mark Thomas, to apply for the Post 5 opening.

Ultimately, only Strickland, who filed as a Democrat to run against the winner of the Guest-Thomas contest, said he was interested in dropping out of the race and assuming the Post 5 opening.

At candidate forums held June 3 and June 9, Strickland criticized the Board and Superintendent Jackson.

At the June 3 forum, in response to a question posed to the candidates about Superintendent Jackson, Strickland said “if we can get rid of him without having to pay him, let’s get rid of him.”

At the June 9 meeting, again in responding to a question, Strickland accused the Board of “ineffective leadership,” though he said that criticism did not apply to all the Board members. He didn’t elaborate.

I asked Weeks how open the Board is to appointing someone who is critical of it, who is critical of Jackson, and who is a Democrat. I also asked him if Strickland’s comments or party had led the Board to reject him.

Weeks said the Board is willing to accept a critic and that Strickland was passed over because the public told the Board to open up the process, not because of what he said or his party affiliation.

At the time of our meeting, Weeks said, only three persons had applied for the Post 5 position. Weeks said he is hoping for about 10 times that number by the time the application window closes on July 15.

Screening will begin in August, with a Post 5 member being selected in late September or early October, according to the posted schedule.

Weeks told me Stuart McGarity, Gregory Zengo and Glenn Townsend had applied for the position. The Board of Education office was closed on Friday, so I could not confirm the list there.

I did talk with Glenn Townsend, 1030 Twin Oaks trail, and with Gregory Zengo, 1021 Oaklake trail, by telephone today, and each confirmed that he had applied. I was not able to reach McGarity.

During the interview, Weeks said he didn’t think the Post 5 position could have been filled through an election by the citizens even if Breedlove had resigned prior to the April 30 qualifying deadline for the July 20 primary.

Terrell Bentson, attorney for the Board, confirmed that in an email message sent to Weeks after our interview. Weeks forwarded the message to me.

According to Bentson, the Georgia Constitution, which defines the composition of the Oconee County Board of Education, stipulates that “Any vacancy occurring in the membership of the Board of Education of Oconee County, for any cause whatsoever, shall be filled by the majority vote of the remaining members of the Board of Education.”


The video of my interview with Weeks is on the Oconee County Observations channel of Vimeo. I edited out the front and back of the conversation, which had more to do with my difficulty in getting the camera set up correctly than with the Board of Education.