Oconee County Board of Commissioners candidates Penny Mills and Sarah Bell stated unambiguous opposition to the proposed pipeline down Calls Creek, while candidates Mark Thomas and Mark Saxon took more nuanced positions on the issue Thursday night.
The four were speaking in the first of two candidate forums to be held before the May 24 election. More than 100 people turned out for the meeting at the Community Center in Veterans Park.
Mills and Bell also took more critical positions on a number of other issues, including on growth, transparency in local government, and how the Board of Commissioners has dealt with animal control matters.
Mills and Thomas are running for Post 1 on the Board of Commissioners, and Bell and Saxon are running for Post 4. Saxon is the incumbent Post 4 commissioner.
Candidates for Oconee County Sheriff, Board of Education, Coroner and Georgia Senate District 46 also participated in the Candidate Forum.
Outline Of Post
Russ Page and I organized the Candidate Forum, which began with the four candidates for the two BOC positions.
These four BOC candidates were followed by the two candidates for chair of the Board of Education, by the two candidates for Coroner, by the two candidates for Sheriff, and by the two candidates for Georgia Senate District 46.
All candidates are running in the May 24 Republican primary. No Democrats have filed for any Oconee County races.
In each of the Forum segments, each candidate was given two minutes to introduce herself or himself. The session then was opened to questions from the audience. Page moderated, and I video recorded the session.
This post follows the order of the Forum.
Each section of this report includes a video of the introductory comments made by the candidates.
It also provide a summary of the section as a whole and uses additional video clips in some cases to provide details.
The video of the entire Candidate Forum is embedded at the end of the post.
This complete video is followed by video broken out for each of the sections.
All of these videos can shared with others and can be downloaded for future use.
Board of Commissioners
The order of presentation within the two BOC races and for all other races was determined by chance, and Mark Thomas, seeking Post 1 being vacated by the retirement of Commissioner Jim Luke, focused on his ties to and service to the county. He has just stepped down from the Board of Education and serves on the county’s Industrial Development Authority.
Penny Mills, a retired university administrator, said she was concerned about the pace of growth in the county and its impact on infrastructure in the county. She also called for more transparency and early involvement of citizens in decision-making.
Sarah Bell, a retired educator, running for Post 4, said the BOC does not listen well to its citizens. She said there is a need for more citizen involvement in county government and that she would work at listening to citizen concerns.
Mark Saxon, retired from the military, is currently completing his first term as Post 4 Commissioner. He said in his introductory comments that the Board of Commissioners is working to keep Oconee County “the greatest county in the state of Georgia.”
The first question following the introductions by the BOC candidates dealt with development, and Bell used it as a chance to say she was opposed to the proposed sewer line down Calls Creek.
The second question was from Jim McGarvey, one of the founders of Friends of Calls Creek, and he asked Saxon specifically if he was ready to vote to condemn the properties along the creek to get the needed easement for the sewer line and if he would visit the properties before he voted to do that.
Saxon was clear in saying he would visit the properties, and he said he wanted an alternative to the pipeline. But he never answered McGarvey’s question on condemnation.
Thomas similarly said he wanted an alternative to the pipeline and believed one is possible. But he also did not say he was fully opposed to the project.
In response to a second question later in the meeting, Mills said unequivocally she would not vote to build the pipeline if she were on the Commission.
The responses of the Bell to the question on development and of the three remaining candidates to the subsequent questions are in the video below.
The candidates got two additional questions on Calls Creek as the night progressed.
The candidates got two questions regarding the decisions of the Board of Commissioners on appointments to the Animal Control Advisory Board.
The first was from Helen Fosgate, completing her term as member of the Advisory Board, and she asked Saxon to explain why the Board of Commissioners has passed over volunteers and other supporters of the Animal Shelter in making its appointments to the Board.
Saxon said the decisions on appointments to citizen committees are made in executive sessions closed to the public, and if a member of the Board of Commissioners knows an applicant that is part of the decision. But he said he would not discuss in more detail how decisions had been made.
Despite the recent rejections, he told the applicants to continue to seek appointment to the Advisory Board.
The question by Fosgate and Saxon’s response is below.
Mills also responded to Fosgate and said she thought the Commission needed to provide more support for the work of the Animal Control Department.
Board Of Education
Tom Odom, incumbent Board of Education Chair, praised the work of the BOE and of the Oconee County school system in his introductory comments. He is completing he first full term on the Board.
Britt Beaver, a school counselor in Greene County, focused on his energy level in his opening comments. He said he was excited to be running for what he considers to be the most important Board in the county.
Odom and Beaver did not differ markedly in responding to questions from the audience.
One resident criticized the schools for not providing for the special needs of her student.
Odom said he would meet with the questioner but special education programs were the responsibility of the superintendent of education.
Beaver said as a counselor he works routinely with special needs students and said he had heard the parent’s complaint before and felt it was something the Board should be looking into.
The introductory comments of Odom and Beaver are below.
The coroner section of the Candidate Forum was shortened by the absence of one of the candidates, Dale Rogers.
Rogers got married on the day of the event and sent his friend, attorney Alec Hodson, to read an introductory statement. Hodson said he was not in a position to take questions.
Incumbent Ed Carson focused on the extra investment has made in training and self improvement during his eight years as Coroner.
Hodson said that Rogers wants to bring his experience as a funeral director to the Coroner position.
Incumbent Sheriff Scott Berry and Kevin “Chappy” Hynes gave personal introductions during the time allotted to them.
Berry has been Sheriff since 1992 and he noted the dramatic change in the county during that time. He said he loved the county and the people in it and asked for the opportunity to serve four more years.
Hynes focused on his service in the Marines and his 15 years as chaplain of the University of Georgia football team. He noted at several points in the evening that he is the brother-in-law of former University of Georgia Football Coach Mark Richt, who lived in Oconee County.
Hynes was careful to be deferential to Barry, under whom he served as reserve deputy and chaplain.
Several of the questioners didn’t ask questions, but rather gave testimonials to Barry, despite requests that they not do that.
The introductory comments of the two are below.
Robert Wyatt, 1090 Apalachee Trace, outside Bishop, asked the two if citizens should be concerned about the large amounts of money they have raised for the campaign.
The responses of the two showed some evidence of tension between them.
Hynes said he had raised more than $60,000, and this was because people “believe in me, believe in my integrity, believe in my leadership, believe in my courage and motivation.”
Berry said he had not “asked a single person for a single dime, but he had $11,096 in his campaign account. Most of it came from people locally, he said.
He said he would be doing what he was doing even if he had not received any money.
The video of the question and response is below.
Senate District 46
Bill Cowsert used his allotted time to talk about his accomplishments in the Senate, focusing on a variety of issues including what is called Religious Liberty legislation and abortion. He spoke for more than six minutes.
Daugherty used her time to talk about her educational career, her involvement in conservative political issues, and the importance of having more women in the General Assembly.
The two differed little on the issues, though Daugherty criticized Cowsert for supporting the tax increase for transportation last year and for having “gotten into that Atlanta way of thinking.”
Cowsert actually said he agreed with Daugherty on her criticism of elected officials.
The introductory comments are below.
The full video of the Candidate Forum is below.
The video of the Board of Commissioners segment of the Candidate Forum is below.
The video of the Board of Education segment follows.
The video of the segment of the Candidate Forum on the Coroner office is below.
The video of the segment of the Candidate Forum involving the candidates for Sheriff follows.
The video of the final segment of the Candidate Forum for the two candidates for the Senate 46 District is below.
A second forum will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on April 25 at the North Oconee High School Auditorium. The Chamber of Commerce is organizing that event.
The Oconee County Republican Party will hold a meet and greet for candidates starting at 6 p.m. on May 9 at Chops & Hops restaurant in Watkinsville.
Early voting starts on May 2. Only Republican Party races are contested in Oconee County, but, because registration in Georgia is not by party, any registered voter can ask for a Republican ballot.
Voter registration ends on April 26.