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.

1 comment:

Xardox said...

After some confused and dazed half-hearted discussion about some surprise $400K added to a highway, which of course was passed, now Board (Luke, actually) thinks slowing down after several months of study by a real professional is moving too fast. What is his fascination with the Dolvin Property? I mean, it's nice to walk across the street and all; they're safe with their top-dollar, 100% paid health plan which beats anyone else's around.