Oconee County voters will get a chance to vote on liquor by the drink if two of the challengers to incumbents John Daniell and Margaret Hale are successful in the May 20 Republican primary.
John Larkin, running against Daniell for Post 2 Commissioner, told about 40 people at a candidate forum last Thursday night at the Watkinsville Community Center that he would support putting a referendum on liquor by the drink on the ballot.
Maria Caudill, one of two challengers to Hale for Post 3 Commissioner, said the same thing.
Challenger Bubber Wilkes gave a more tentative answer, saying he would put the issue on the ballot if “enough people” ask him to do so.
Daniell said he needs to hear more from the “average citizen” before he can decide what he’ll do.
Hale also said she also has not made up her mind yet.
The five met in the first in a series of three candidate forums. Another will be held at 6 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday) night at the Civic Center. The third will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night at the Oconee County Library.
Series Of Questions
The candidates were asked a variety of questions, read to them by Blake Giles, editor of The Oconee Enterprise.
Included was one on the possibility of nonpartisan elections for the BOC. Only Larkin was open to that idea.
Another was on the decision of the BOC to delay the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum until November.
Hale and Daniell defended their vote for the delay. Larkin didn’t have an answer to the question. Caudill seemed to prefer a May vote, and Wilkes said that explicitly.
Role Of Chairman
In 2009, the Board of Commissioners changed the organization chart of the county so that the county administrative officer and the finance director now report to all five members of the Commission, not just the chairman, as had been the case at that time.
The five candidates were asked their views of that change. Chairman Melvin Davis, who opposed the changes, was in the front of the audience when they answered.
“I see no reason to change the way things are now,” Larkin said.
“I believe we’ve got it working pretty good,” Daniell added.
Caudill, skirted the question, but she criticized the board “for being acrimonious to one another.”
Wilkes said he wanted to go back to the way it was before the changes.
Hale said she had been a proponent of the change. “I did that because I felt our government was not as transparent as it should be,” she said.
The form of government in the county is specified in what is called enabling legislation that has been passed by the Georgia General Assembly.
When the BOC changed the organization chart in 2009, it did not change the enabling legislation, since that legislation had not specified who reported to whom in the county.
Wilkes was critical of the BOC for that.
“If we are going to change our form of government in this county,” he said, “we should allow the citizens to do it and not the four commissioners.”
Wilkes was on the BOC for 20 years before being defeated by Chuck Horton in 2004.
In 1998, with Wilkes on the BOC, the legislature changed the county’s enabling legislation at the request of the BOC to increase the power of the chairman of the Commission. It had been restricted by an earlier change in 1988.
County Attorney Daniel Haygood said in an email message to me today that “as far as I know, no portion of the Oconee County charter has ever been voted on by the voters.” What Haygood called charter is the enabling legislation.
Daniell and Larkin: Liquor By The Drink
The second question that Giles posed to Daniell and Larkin was about their willingness to put a liquor-by-the-drink referendum on the ballot. Giles said several people had requested that the question be asked.
Daniell was given the chance to answer first, and he said it was not a moral issue for him.
“So far, the people approaching me are the special interest groups that are going to benefit heavily financially from this activity.” He said he needed to hear “more from the average citizen.”
Larkin said “liquor by the drink is an economic development issue” and he would support putting it on the ballot.
Hale, Wilkes and Caudill: Liquor By The Drink
The third question Giles put to the three candidates for Post 3 was about liquor by the drink.
It was Hale’s turn to respond first, and she said she was “going to listen to all sides” before making a decision and, if it passes, she said she “will work very hard to make an ordinance that will benefit the people of Oconee County.”
Wilkes said “if enough citizens come to me” wanting in on the ballot he would vote to put in on the ballot.
Caudill said people “are telling me they want the opportunity to vote” and she feels being able to go to the polls and “make a decision is wonderful.”
The candidates addressed questions on farmland protection, no tax pledges, the role of religion on politics, political ideology, and the future of the courthouse.
They also were asked about their involvement in the Republican Party and to name their political heroes.
And they were asked to identify the most important issue facing the county.
The full 75-minute-video of the forum is below: