Two nonpartisan forums in which citizens will have the chance to pose their questions directly to candidates contesting races in Oconee County will be held July 9 and 10 at the Community Center in Veterans Park.
The sessions each night will begin at 7 p.m. and end at 9 p.m. at the Hog Mountain Road facility. Candidates for the chairmanship of the Board of Commissioners and for Posts 1 and 4 will take questions during the first hour on July 9. Candidates for the chairmanship of the Board of Education and candidates for sheriff will field questions during the second hour.
The session on July 10 will begin with candidates for the position of tax commissioner and then turn to candidates for the 117th District in the Georgia House of Representatives.
During the second half of the July 10 session, members of the Oconee County delegation to the General Assembly past and present have been invited to provide background on the legislative decision to put a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on the July 31 ballot.
Russ Page and I have organized the forums. We will serve as moderators, recognizing members of the audience who wish to ask questions and making sure candidates get equal time to respond.
Page, long involved in Oconee County civic affairs, and I have organized similar forums for elections in the past.
All Action on Republican Ballot
All of the contested elections are on the Republican ballot on July 31. Voters in Georgia do not register by party, and all registered voters will have the chance to request either the Republican or Democratic ballot.
All Oconee County races will be decided in the July 31 primary, as no Democrats or independents have filed for any of the local offices. The winners of the July vote will be listed unopposed on the November ballot.
Persons who do not wish to vote with either ballot on July 31 can use the nonpartisan ballot to vote on the T-SPLOST issue, which is to add a 1 percent sales to the current 7 percent sales tax in the county. The funds are for transportation projects in Oconee County and 11 surrounding counties.
Commitments For Most Races
Page and I have received commitments to attend the forum from incumbent BOC Chairman Melvin Davis and challenger Chuck Horton, currently holding Post 4 on the Commission.
Also committed to attend are Sarah Bell and Jim Luke, seeking Post 1 on the Commission. Luke currently holds that position.
Tammy Gilland and Mark Saxon, seeking the open Post 4 position, also have committed to attend.
Michael Hunter and Tom Odum, candidates for the chairmanship of the Board of Education, also have said they will attend. Hunter currently serves on the BOE.
Trey Downs, challenging incumbent Scott Berry for sheriff, has said he plans to attend the July 9 forum. Berry has indicated he has a conflict in his schedule that he hopes to revolve.
Pamela Lohr Hendrix and Jennifer Riddle, seeking the post of tax commissioner, have told us they plan to attend the July 10 forum.
Regina Quick, running for the 117th District House seat, has committed to attend. Doug McKillip is the incumbent in that race. McKillip has not yet committed to attend.
Only Oconee County voters in Malcom Bridge, Athens Academy and Bogart precincts will be able to vote in the race between McKillip and Quick. The newly created district also includes parts of Barrow, Jackson and Clarke counties.
Chuck Williams, running unopposed in the 119th District House race, has agreed to take questions in the T-SPLOST session. The remaining precincts in Oconee County fall into his district.
Williams did not vote to put T-SPLOST on the ballot, having been elected to the General Assembly only in 2011.
Bob Smith, who represented all of Oconee County in the 2010 legislative session that approved the T-SPLOST initiative, has promised to attend as well. Smith retired from the Assembly at the end of the 2010 session.
Page and I also have extended invitations to Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents Oconee County in the 46th Senate District, and McKillip, but neither has yet committed to attend.
House Bill History
House Bill 277, which authorized the T-SPLOST vote, was introduced into the House in February of 2009, but the House and the Senate could not agree on different versions of the bill.
In 2010, the two houses took up conference committee reports, adopting the final bill on April 21. Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill on June 2, 2010.
The legislature chose to ask voters to approve the new sales tax rather than increase the existing tax on gasoline.
The new tax, if approve by the majority of voters in the 12-county tax district that includes Oconee County, will run for 10 years.
The tax would be imposed on purchases in the district, including the purchase of food and beverages. It would not be included on the purchase of fuel or on the sale of energy for manufacturing.
Six Votes on Tax Bill
The legislative record lists six votes by the legislature in 2009 and 2010 on HB 277.
The bill enjoyed strong support in each of those six votes.
In both of the Senate votes–on March 23, 2009, and April 21, 2010–Cowsert voted in favor of the bill.
The House voted on the bill four times: twice on March 3, 2009; on March 25, 2009; and on April 21, 2010.
Smith voted for the bill on all four occasions. McKillip voted against the bill on March 25, 2009, but in favor the other three times.