Oconee County Board of Commissioners candidates Tammy Gilland and Margaret Hale used the GOP Candidate Forum last week to showcase differences on approaches to regional development and similarities on views about the county courthouse and last summer’s redrawing of the county’s organizational chart.
Gilland once again said she favored cooperation between Oconee County and Athens-Clarke County on development.
Hale said the two counties already are working closely enough together and that the proposed regional plan is not good for Oconee County.
Gilland said she has come to the conclusion that the reorganization ordinance passed by the commissioners last August has worked.
Hale, who was a proponent of those changes, said the same.
Hale said she doesn’t feel that there is any need at this time to move the courthouse.
Neither Hale nor Gilland said a move to a county manager form of government is needed.
“I do support regional economic development because Oconee County is not an island,” Gilland said. “We want to make sure Oconee County is at the table...I think it is very important that we remain competitive and that we work regionally with the communities in our area.”
“The regional economic development plan that was presented to the board for consideration,” Hale said, “talked about taking our economic office out of the county, merging it with Clarke County.” She said such a move ignored differences between the economic development offices of the two counties.
“I spent the last couple of weeks talking to a lot of people,” Gilland said. “They say the county government is running efficiently. It is transparent.”
“I see no need to change the government,” she added. “I know there is talk out there ‘that if you elect her, she is going to turn everything over. She is going to change the government.’ No, I’m not.”
“As far as moving the courthouse,” she said. “No.”
“I am glad the board moved toward transparency,” Hale said. “I can say as a commissioner that the information I receive is daily. It is on time. I know what’s going on. I don’t have to read an issue that’s in the paper.”
“I don’t see the need right now to move the courthouse,” she said. “If a decision comes that that has to be done, it will be done publicly.”
Local blogger Johnathan McGinty, who also writes a column for the Athens Banner-Herald, stirred the pot last week regarding the regional economic development proposal for Athens-Clarke and Oconee County.
McGinty, a proponent of the proposed regional development plan, in a June 18 posting on his blog Beyond the Trestle quoted Gilland as saying in an email to him that the argument that Oconee County would lose its economic development office is “a fear tactic” that isn't rooted in the reality of the existing proposals.
McGinty quoted Gilland as saying that she had spoken with several members from both the Athens-Clarke County Chamber of Commerce and the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce and that the location of the joint regional development office is negotiable.
The Oconee Athens-Clarke Regional Economic Development Task Force wrote on pages 8 and 9 of its May 21, 2008, report that it was proposing “merging the financial resources of the current economic development efforts of both counties...
“The merger of these bodies is an essential step to drive efficiencies, unify marketing efforts, re-engage at the state level, maximize individual skills, and provide a ‘one stop shop’ for state leaders and others interested in the region,” the report said.
“In order to develop a one-stop shop for business recruitment and development, the task force recommends that the new organization initially be physically co-located with the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce. As the organization matures, the board would decide if a different location or additional locations are needed.”
In response to questions, Gilland presented herself as more cosmopolitan.
Hale presented herself as more folksy.
They shared a few personal stories, and they dealt with one issue explicitly that involved family. Each woman has a son and a daughter, though Hale’s children are grown while Gilland’s are still in school.
Moderator Blake Giles, editor of The Oconee Enterprise, asked, “Can you be fair and objective to all county government departments if you have a close relative employed in a specific county department.”
Hale’s daughter works for the Sheriff, and Hale answered by saying that the sheriff is an elected official who is answerable to the public, not to the Board of Commissioners. “He is in charge of the sheriff’s department,” she said.
“If I had a child that was working with a county department,” Gilland said, “it would be very hard for me to separate my motherly feelings from my professional feelings. I think my head would be telling me to go in one direction but my heart might be leading me to go into another.”
“If I found myself in a position where a family member that wanted to seek a position with the county,” Gilland said. “I think I would simply ask them to look elsewhere.”
The full video of the GOP candidate forum is on the Oconee County Observations Channel of Vimeo.