Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis on Tuesday proposed a slate of appointments to four regional committees that would remove former commissioner Chuck Horton from the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board and from the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority.
Horton is serving as chairman of the four-county bioscience authority, having assumed that position last fall. The authority promotes development of the SR 316 corridor.
Horton told me that he learned he was not being proposed for reappointment only on Tuesday night. He was in the audience when Davis announced the slate.
|Horton at BOC 1/24/2012|
Davis, in an email message he sent to commissioners early on Monday morning, said he was making the “recommendations” to the BOC “after discussion.”
Horton unsuccessfully challenged Davis for the chairmanship position in the July primary. His term as commissioner expired at the end of the year.
Davis Announced Slate
Davis announced his slate of appointments to the Management Board and the Bioscience Authority, as well as to the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority and the Northeast Georgia Solid Waste Management Authority, at the BOC agenda-setting meeting Tuesday night.
Normally the Commission puts such appointments on its consent agenda for the following meeting. Consent items are approved without further discussion.
Commissioner Jim Luke objected to that action on Tuesday, saying he needed more time to consider the slate of candidates Davis proposed.
The item was put on the regular agenda for discussion at the next BOC meeting, scheduled for Feb. 12. That meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the courthouse.
Full Slate Proposed
Davis proposed that newly elected BOC member Mark Saxon replace Horton on the Hard Labor Creek Management Board, though his recommendation is that Saxon first serve as an alternate for six months until he learns more about the project.
In the meantime, Chris Thomas, Utility Department director and a current alternate, would serve as the voting delegate.
Davis proposed that Public Works Director Emil Beshara and Strategic and Long-Range Planning Director Wayne Provost fill two vacant alternate spots.
Davis proposed that Commissioner Margaret Hale replace Horton on the Bioscience Authority and that Economic Development Director Rusty Haygood and Oconee County Chamber of Commerce President Tom Odom be the county’s other two members.
Davis proposed that Saxon also serve as his alternate on the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority and that Beshara be designated as the alternate to Thomas on that board.
Finally, Davis proposed that commissioner John Daniell join him as a member of the Northeast Georgia Solid Waste Management Authority.
Davis sent an email message to the commissioners at 8:22 a.m. on Monday regarding appointments to the four boards.
“After discussion below are the recommendations for Board Members and staff to serve on the various Commissioner appointed committees,” the email message said.
The slate of appointments did not appear on the online agenda for the meeting, though it has become the custom for such appointments to be listed there since the BOC initiated the policy last summer of making information about agenda items available to the public before the meetings.
Administrative Officer Benko had referenced the need for making the appointments to the Hard Labor Creek Management Board in an email message to BOC members on Jan. 11, but he did not mention the other appointments in that memo.
I filed an open records on Wednesday morning asking to be able to review correspondence between Jan. 9 and 29 sent by Davis, Benko and County Clerk Jane Greathouse to the BOC members regarding appointments to the four boards.
The Monday email from Davis and the Jan. 11 email from Benko were all I received.
HLC Board Membership Discussed
Membership on the Hard Labor Creek Management Board has been discussed several times by the BOC since Oct. 11, 2011, when the BOC replaced citizen representative Hank Huckaby with Horton.
Commissioner Luke at that time said he wanted to change the qualifications for the alternates so that a citizen could hold that post.
A revision to Management Board member qualifications also has come up at the meetings of the HLC Management Board, on which Luke and Benko serve.
The intergovernmental agreement between Oconee County and Walton County stipulates that a citizen can serve as one of the three regular Oconee County members, but the alternates must be county employees.
Walton County has even more restrictive language regarding its four appointments and alternates.
So when Horton replaced Huckaby, citizens lost their citizen representative on the Board. Luke referenced that change on Tuesday night when he asked for further discussion of the appointments.
Bioscience Regional Authority
Citizens also have been members of the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority, and the resolution creating that body in 2004 clearly allows for that possibility.
The Bioscience Authority is a four-county entity with Athens-Clarke County, Barrow County, Gwinnett County and Oconee County as members. Its goal is to promote research-park type development along SR 316.
Each county has three representatives on the Authority, according to the resolution creating the body on the Gwinnett County web site.
The members appointed by a county must reside in that county. One member should be the chairman of the BOC of the county or her or his designee. The other two cannot be members of the BOC.
Citizen Appointments Topic At Session
The Bioscience Authority, created under the authorization of Georgia Development Authority Law, and the HLC Management Board, created by the intergovernmental agreement between Oconee and Walton counties, are among the most powerful bodies unelected citizens in the county can serve on.
The Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority represents Athens-Clarke, Barrow, Jackson and Oconee counties and has responsibility for the water reservoir in Jackson County built by the four governments.
The Authority is governed by a 10-member board. According to documents on the Authority’s web site, a citizen could represent a county on that board, and Amrey Harden, president and CEO of Oconee State Bank, is a member, appointed by the four counties in the authority as an at-large member.
Citizen participation in committees was a topic at the Jan. 24 day-long “visioning” session held by the Oconee County BOC at Veterans Park.
The county generally advertises when it has openings on committees, including on the Independent Development Authority, the most powerful body in the county on which citizens can serve. The BOC interviews applicants in a public session and then goes into executive session to make a final choice.
Commissioners Daniel and Luke were most vocal at the session in asking for a broad call to get new voices onto the committees.
Horton Appointments to Boards
Horton was appointed as an alternate to the Hard Labor Creek Management Board on April 7, 2009, after Commissioner Margaret Hale, one of the original appointees, asked to be relieved of the assignment. Horton was to fill out the remaining two years of her term.
On Oct. 11, 2011, Horton replaced citizen Hank Huckaby, another of the three original Oconee County appointees to the Board, when Huckaby became chancellor of the University System of Georgia.
Horton told me yesterday when we spoke he thought his term of office on the Bioscience Authority expired this April. He sent me an email message this morning indicating he checked his documents and found a note indicating his term actually expired last year.
I have been unable to find any reference to his initial appointment or to a reappointment in BOC minutes.
The regulations for the authority, again based on the Gwinnett County web site, state that a member continues to serve even without an extension, “until his successor is apponted.”
Horton told me he has been serving as vice-chair of the authority and became chair last fall.
Horton said he told Commissioner Luke and Administrative Officer Benko of his interest in continuing to serve on the HLC Management Board and Benko of his desire to stay on the Bioscience Authority..
“I did make my intentions known,” Horton said. “That is all I can say.”
Horton Remained Active
Horton has remained active in county affairs since he stepped off the Commission at the first of the year. He has attended Planning Commission and BOC meetings and was present for part of the Jan. 24 visioning session.
Horton served two four-year terms on the BOC before deciding to challenge Davis for the chairmanship in the July primary last year.
Davis narrowly had defeated challenger Sarah Bell in the 2008 Republican primary, with 50.8 percent of the 6,150 votes cast. The gap was only 100 votes.
Davis defeated Horton in the 2012 primary, with 54.1 percent of the vote. In that race, 8,968 votes were cast, and Horton got 4,112 votes, or 1,087 more than the 3,025 votes Bell had received.
Turnout was high with the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax initiative also on the ballot. Voters turned that tax down in the county and in the 12-county region of which the county is a part.