Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Four of Five Oconee BOC Members Say Courthouse Property Not Discussed

One Man Out

At least four of the five members of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners said tonight that a report in the Athens Banner-Herald on Monday that the Commission is pricing various lots around the courthouse and near the jail in preparation for building a new judicial facility is wrong.

The only member who did not deny the newspaper story was Chairman Melvin Davis, who was quoted in the paper by reporter Erin France as making the claim that the commissioners were looking at properties and checking into the potential costs of the properties.

I asked the members of the Commission to respond to the newspaper story. Since no discussion had taken place in public, I said I was assuming the discussion had taken place in secret or executive session.

Davis said he thought the way to respond to my question “was to put some information on our web site” so everyone has a chance to see it.

But the other four commissioners had different answers.

“I don’t think there has been anything done in secret on this,” Commissioner John Daniell said.

“I don’t think there has been any discussion of land prices in executive session or even pieces of land,” Commissioner Jim Luke said.

“I’m not aware of discussions in executive session,” Commissioner Margaret Hale said.

“It never happened,” Commissioner Chuck Horton said.

I asked the commissioners during the public comment section of the agenda-setting meeting to respond to the story in the Banner-Herald and indicate at least the “parameters of the discussions” that had taken place.

I also asked them to indicate how the public would be involved in the decision in the future.

All made promises that the process would be open as it progresses.

At the agenda-setting meeting of the BOC on March 30, Commissioner Jim Luke used the commissioner comment section at the beginning of the meeting to emphasize that no decisions on the courthouse had been made or were even imminent.

The Oconee Enterprise wrote just the opposite in its report on the meeting, saying that the Board had made a decision.

The story in the Banner-Herald on Monday was the first time the paper wrote about the assertions of Davis, Luke and others that any decision about a courthouse would come in the future after additional public discussion.

The second-to-the-last paragraph of the 23-paragraph story, however, said the following:

The commission is pricing various lots around the courthouse near the jail, Davis said, checking into the potential costs of various scenarios the planning committee considered.

The reference to the planning committee is to the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee, which deliberated on the issue for a year but never considered specific properties and simply recommended that the county separate the court and administrative offices and move the former to somewhere near the jail.


Chairman Davis posted his response to my question on the county web site on April 22, 2010.