Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oconee County Commissioners Made Appointments Inconsistent With Governing Agreements

Davis Led, Board Followed

When the Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 12 followed Chairman Melvin Davis' lead and made appointments to four regional boards, it both replaced people and reappointed people whose terms had not yet expired.

And while Davis said the appointments were required based on intergovernmental and related agreements, he and the commissioners actually went counter to those agreements in making some of the appointments, an examination of those agreements and other documents shows.

Davis and the Board also missed the opportunity to put citizens in important positions on two of those boards as allowed explicitly by the agreements Davis referred to.

By lumping the appointments together, Davis and the commissioners provided a cover for the only real change of significance.

Former Commissioner Chuck Horton, who unsuccessfully challenged Davis in the July 2012 Republican primary, was removed from two boards on which he could have continued to serve as a citizen. In neither case is it clear his term had expired.

Memo of Jan. 28

Davis sent an email message to the other four commissioners on Jan. 28 indicating his intent to replace Horton.

He proposed a slate of appointments for the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board, the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority, the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority, and the Northeast Georgia Solid Waste Management Authority.

Horton was serving as a sitting member of the Hard Labor Creek Management Board and was chair of the Bioscience Authority.

The BOC approved Davis’ slate unanimously at its meeting on Feb. 12.

Terms Not On Web Site

The Oconee County web site page listing Citizen Advisory Boards and Committees as late as last Wednesday morning did not list terms of appointment for any of these boards, though other committees on that page showed members and terms.

The web site did not list the Solid Waste Management Board at all.

Oconee County Clerk Jane Greathouse on Wednesday provided me her listing of terms of appointment prior to the BOC action of Feb. 12 for the Hard Labor Creek Management Board, the Bioscience Authority and the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority.

It showed that the terms for all three of the Oconee County representatives to the Hard Labor Creek Management Board had expired on in November of 2011, as had the terms of the three alternates.

Greathouse’s list showed that the term for J.R.Whitfield, former president of the Chamber of Commerce, and for Horton on the Bioscience Authority had expired in May of 2012, and that the term of Oconee County Development Director Rusty Haygood did not expire until May of 2014.

According to the list Greathouse gave me, the terms of the county's two representatives on the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority do not expire.

Greathouse had no listing for the Solid Waste Management Board.

Davis And Board Appointments

Davis had proposed that newly elected BOC member Mark Saxon replace Horton on the Hard Labor Creek Management Board, though his recommendation was that Saxon first serve as an alternate for six months before becoming a voting member.

Chris Thomas, Utility Department director and a current alternate, is to serve as the voting delegate.

Davis proposed that Public Works Director Emil Beshara and Strategic and Long-Range Planning Director Wayne Provost fill alternate spots.

One of those alternate spots became vacant when citizen Hank Huckaby stepped off the Board in July of 2011. Huckaby had just been named chancellor of the University System of Georgia.

Horton, who had been serving as an alternate to Huckaby, was appointed by the BOC on Oct. 11, 2011, to replace Huckaby, but the commissioners did not name an alternate to Horton.

The other alternate position came vacant in December of last year when Alan Theriault retired as county administrative officer.

Davis proposed in his Jan. 28 email that Commissioner Jim Luke and current County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko remain on the Hard Labor Creek Board as voting members. Davis proposed that the terms of all three members and their alternates expire on Dec. 31, 2014.

Davis said that Commissioner Margaret Hale should replace Horton on the Bioscience Authority and that Economic Development Director Rusty Haygood and Oconee County Chamber of Commerce President Tom Odom should be the county’s other two members.

Davis proposed that Saxon also serve as his alternate on the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority, replacing Luke, and that Beshara continue as the alternate to Thomas on that board.

Davis proposed that Commissioner John Daniell continue to serve as a member of the Northeast Georgia Solid Waste Management Authority, and that Amy Morrison from the Public Works Department also serve on that Authority.

Hard Labor Creek Board

The Hard Labor Creek Management Board is the product of the intergovernmental agreement between Oconee and Walton counties governing the reservoir under construction in southeastern Walton County on a tributary to the Apalachee River.

It specifies that the Oconee County has three voting representatives on the Management Board and Walton County has four.

Each of the Oconee County members is to be appointed by the Board of Commissioners for a two-year term.

The first members were appointed in October of 2007. Greathouse’s list shows terms expiring on October of 2011. Members should have been reappointed until November of 2013, though there is no record that was done.

Regardless, there is no basis for Davis’ proposal that the terms of all three members and their alternates expire on Dec. 31, 2014.

Horton, as a citizen, could have continued to serve out his term, which would seem to have expired in November of this year. Horton told me he had expressed to Luke and Benko his interest in doing that.

Bioscience Authority Background

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution on Feb. 24, 2004, joining with Gwinett, Barrow and Clarke counties to form the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority. Authority Attorney John Stell provided me a copy of that document on Thursday.

The Authority was created to develop the SR 316 corridor.

At its April 6, 2004, meeting, according to county minutes, the BOC appointed then Commissioner Don Norris for a four-year term, Amry Harden, then chairman of the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority, for a three-year term, and Russell Lee, past president of the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, for a two-year term.

The records of appointments over the years are not clear, but Tommy Jennings, president of the Barrow County Chamber of Commerce and former secretary of the Authority, told me via an email message on Friday that, according to his records, Haygood’s appointment was to run through 2014, Horton’s through 2015, and Whitfield’s through 2016.

According to Greathouse’s records, all appointments to the Bioscience Authority expire in May, consistent with the original appointments in April of 2004.

Horton’s Term Ended In 2015 Or 2016

So Davis’ and the BOC’s appointment of Haygood to a term ending on Dec. 31, 2015, is at odds with that schedule, and Haygood’s term had not expired, according to both Jennings and Greathouse.

Horton’s term would have to end either in 2015 or 2016. And Whitfield’s term would have ended in one or the other of those years as well.

One of the three members from each of the four counties is to be the chairman of the BOC or the chairman’s designee, according to the resolution attorney Stell provided me. The other two members may be any “taxpayer residing within the county who is not a member of the Board of Commissioners.”

Norris was Davis’ designee in 2004, according to the BOC minutes. His term expired in 2008. If Horton was holding that position, his term would not have expired until 2016.

The July 6, 2010, minutes of the BOC indicate that Haygood was appointed for a four-year term on that date, meaning he was the replacement for Russell Lee from the Chamber of Commerce.

Horton, it seems, was not a replacement for Norris but rather for Oconee State Bank President Amry Harden, and Horton’s term indeed would have expired in 2015, as Jennings indicated.

Horton Elected Chair

Jennings confirmed that his notes indicate that Horton moved from vice-chair to chair of Bioscience Authority’s Board of Directors in June of 2012.

According to Jennings, the meetings for the Authority are designated to be held at 3 p.m. on the second Wednesday of March, June, September, and December at the Winder Community Center.

Davis designated Commissioner Hale as his member of the Authority Board of Directors.

Hale works full-time as an administrative specialist in the University or Georgia Libraries and often has difficulty attending day-time meetings because of that work.

Horton told me he informed Administrative Officer Benko that he wished to remain on the Authority Board so he could serve out his term as chair.

Upper Oconee Authority

Clerk Greathouse’s list, consistent with the county web page, indicates that Oconee County members of the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority serve for no specified terms.

The chairman serves on that Authority by virtue of his office, but the second member, according to the authority web site, is appointed “from the county.” Utility Director Thomas is that member for Oconee County.

The only change that Davis proposed–and the BOC accepted–was to replace Commissioner Luke with newly elected Commissioner Saxon as Davis’ alternate.

Solid Waste Authority

Commissioner Daniell told me he has served on the Solid Waste Management Authority since he defeated Commissioner Don Norris in 2008.

Morrison from the Public Works Department was appointed to that Authority on April 6, 2010, according to the minutes of that meeting. Her term was to expire on Dec. 31, 2013.

Davis had left Morrison off his Jan. 28 email to the other commissioners, but he included her in his recitation of appointments on Feb. 12.

According to the county web site, her term has been extended to Dec. 31, 2016. That is the date of the term for Daniell as well.

Davis Seeking More Power

At last week’s meeting of the Hard Labor Creek Management Board, attorney Chris Atkinson indicated that he had received a proposal from Chairman Davis that would give Davis control of one of the three Oconee County appointments to the Management Board.

Davis asked specifically that the one of the three members on the Management Board from Oconee County “shall be the Chairman of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners or his/her Commissioner designee.”

The Management Board did not approve the proposal offered by Davis, but the proposal could come up at a BOC meeting. The agendas for the meeting on Tuesday and the following Tuesday indicate that the qualifications of HLC Management Board members will be discussed.

The BOC has ultimate say on the matter, as the county will have to change the intergovernmental agreement with Walton County to meet Davis’ request.

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