When the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority meets in January, it will have a newly appointed member.
That person is Mark Thomas, who has been serving since Oct. 13 even though he was not appointed officially until Nov. 11.
The IDA agenda for its cancelled meeting tomorrow afternoon had included such a report. Angela Helwig sent out an agenda for that meeting on Tuesday, but the county web site tonight lists the meeting as cancelled.
Thomas has been serving on the Product Development Committee since Oct. 13.
Appointment Term Uspecified
On Oct. 7, the BOC appointed Thomas to a two-year term on the IDA, starting on Jan. 1 of 2015. Thomas also is a member of the Oconee County Board of Education.
BOC Chairman Melvin Davis sent Thomas a letter the next day, appointing him to the unexpired term of John Morrison in addition to the term beginning in January, and Thomas attended his first meeting on Oct. 13.
He also attended the called meeting on Oct. 16, voting on a contract extension for Andrew Clyde of Clyde Armory.
At their meeting on Nov. 11, the commissioners corrected the problem with Thomas’ appointment, voting a second time to appoint Thomas, this time adding that he would not only serve the two-year term starting on Jan. 1 but also assume the unexpired term of Morrison.
They made the action retroactive to the time of the first appointment.
Meeting On Prezoning
At the end of the summer, the IDA recommended to the BOC that the county begin prezoning properties even before the property owner requests the rezone if the property is in a district the county feels is appropriate for commercial or industrial development.
That recommendation came from the Product Development Committee, which Morrison had chaired.
Morrison resigned from the IDA in September, though he had moved out of the county in February or March.
The Product Development Committee met briefly on Monday with representatives from the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute. The IDA has contracted with CVIOG to conduct interviews with designated persons as part of its study of prezoning.
That meeting lasted less than 15 minutes, with much of the time spent coordinating schedules of the members for upcoming meetings.
Committee member Chuck Williams did not attend, and Rick Waller, IDA chair and an ex-officio member of the Product Development Committee, showed up more than halfway through the meeting.
Thomas Appointment Unusual
The appointment of Thomas to the IDA was unusual from the start.
When Morrison resigned in September, the county did not advertise to replace him. Instead it called for applications for the IDA appointments to begin in January.
IDA Chair Rick Waller recommended at that meeting in September that incumbents Matt Elder, Ed Perkins and Larry Bennett reapply.
All three did so, as did: John Caudill, 1300 S. Rossiter Terrace, east of Watkinsville, an engineer; M. Robin Chasman, 1011 Brookview Court in the Tanglebrook subdivision off Epps Bridge Parkway, a realtor; and Thomas, 1531 Aycock Road, in the west of the county, a local businessman.
Thomas was a last-minute applicant, turning in his paperwork only the day before the Sept. 29 meeting of the BOC, when the applicants were to appear before the BOC to ask for appointment.
Chapman seemed like a shoe-in, after Perkins, during his interview with the Board on Sept. 29, called for Chapman’s appointment. Chapman also is a neighbor of Benson.
Caudill also applied for reappointment as an alternate on the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board and was given that assignment.
The BOC went into executive session following the meeting on Sept. 29 to discuss appointments to the IDA and other citizen committees. This is standard procedure for the Board.
There is no record of the discussion and decision of that meeting, but all indications are that the four voting commissioners decided to appoint both Chapman and Thomas to the IDA and drop Benson. Davis votes only in the case of a tie.
After the executive session, I was told, Davis made phone calls to the commissioners on behalf of Benson.
Benson is a long-time colleague of Davis. In 2004, Benson was Davis’ campaign chairman.
Benson also contributed to the campaigns of Bubber Wilkes and Maria Caudill, who ran against Commissioner Margaret Hale earlier this year, and to John Larkin, who ran against Commissioner Daniell.
Wilkes defeated Hale in the July primary and will join the BOC in January.
Motion By Hale
At the BOC meeting on Oct. 7, Hale made a motion to appoint Chasman, Elder, Perkins and Thomas to the IDA. Daniel seconded the motion.
Daniell and Hale voted for the motion. Commissioners Jim Luke and Mark Saxon voted against.
Davis broke the tie by voting against the motion.
Next, Luke made a motion, seconded by Saxon, to appoint Benson, Elder, Perkins and Thomas to the IDA.
Hale and Daniell voted against the motion. Luke and Saxon voted for it. Davis broke the tie by voting for the motion.
Though no reference had been made in either motion to the unexpired term, the minutes of the meeting produced by County Clerk Jane Greathouse said that "Appointee Mark Thomas will fill the unexpired terms which expires Dec. 31, 2014."
At the Nov. 11 meeting, Commissioner Luke said “he left part of a motion that I should have made and intended to make out.”
In three different sections of the meeting, the BOC changed its agenda to take up again the appointment of the IDA members, amended the minutes of the meeting of Oct. 7 to remove the reference to an appointment of Thomas to the unexpired term, and then reappointed Thomas and the other IDA members.
That video, with the three clips together, is below.
This time, the motion passed unanimously.
Prior to that meeting, I had talked with Commissioner Daniell and questioned the legality of the appointment and the accuracy of the minutes.
Open Records Requests
I filed two open records requests to try to confirm what had happened in and following the executive session.
I asked for all email and other written correspondence from Davis regarding appointments to the Industrial Development Authority in the period surrounding the key meetings.
That produced nothing. I had been told in advance of filing the open records request that Davis’ efforts on Benson’s behalf were by telephone.
I also filed an open records request with Angela Helwig, open records officer for the IDA, asking when the current IDA members first were appointed and for attendance records for the members of the IDA.
Helwig provided appointment dates for all of the current IDA members, indicating that Benson has been on the Authority since 1995. The next longest-serving member–Chuck Williams--was appointed in 2003.
Helwig also gave me detailed attendance records for all current members and for Morrison. I had been told before I filed the request that Davis had shared data on Benson’s attendance record compared to that of other members.
Williams, who represents Oconee County in the General Assembly, has the worst attendance record going back to 2011. He missed 15 of 39 meetings. Benson has the best record after Waller, the chair. Benson missed nine meetings, while Waller missed only one.
Product Development Committee
At its meeting on Monday, the IDA Product Development Committee heard a report from Scott Pippin from the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government on CVIOG’s work on behalf of the IDA.
Pippin told the Committee CVIOG is planning three focus groups to help it learn about zoning issues in the county.
Included will be real estate agents, local developers and “the rural preservation community.”
Sarah Bell recorded that meeting, which is below.
At the table are, left to right, Perkins, Elder and Thomas. Waller joins at the right as the meeting progresses.