Mark Thomas and Mark Saxon are happy with the way things are going in Oconee County and are running for election to the Oconee County Board of Commissioners as proponents of continuity.
Penny Mills and Sarah Bell are concerned about rapid growth in the county and about transparency and openness in government. They want to do things differently in the future.
That contrast came across clearly in the opening and closing comments the four candidates running made at the Candidate Forum on Monday night that was sponsored by the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce.
The four also took different stands on the sewer pipeline proposed to run down Calls Creek, with Mills and Bell saying again that they are opposed to the plan, and Thomas and Saxon saying they want to study alternatives before making a decision.
The Forum included the candidates for Sheriff, Coroner, Chair of the Board of Education, and state Senator from the 46th District, which includes Oconee County.
The candidates for these offices generally sharpened their comments and statements of differences from the earlier candidate forum on April 14.
Mills, in her closing comments Monday night, said commercial development is moving too rapidly and is threatening “the charm of the county,” while Mark Thomas said “I would like to continue with what we have and continue the management of Oconee County.”
Both are seeking Post 1 on the Board of Commissioners. The post currently is held by Jim Luke, who is retiring.
Bell, in her closing comments, said the county needs to plan better for the next 20 years. She also said “I want this government to be more open...We need to have more transparency.”
Saxon said citizens are “getting heard when you talk to the commissioners...We are a great county...We are moving 100 percent in the right direction. We are visionaries...Transparency is not an issue.”
Saxon was elected Post 4 Commissioner four years ago and is seeking reelection to that spot.
Bell is seeking to unseat him.
Tim Bryant from Cox Media moderated the Forum, held at North Oconee High School on Hog Mountain Road, and he said most of the questions he was asking came from the Chamber of Commerce itself.
Not on the list was the proposed Calls Creek sewer line, though Bell brought it up in her responses to other questions. So Bryant asked all four of the candidates to respond.
Consistent with their responses at the Candidate Forum on April 14, Bell and Mills took firm stands against the pipeline, which would discharge waste from an expanded Calls Creek plant directly into the Middle Oconee River after the proposed pipeline is built down the Calls Creek corridor.
Saxon said he would get all of the information before he decided how he would vote, and Thomas said as an engineer he knows that the gravity fed line was the preferred way to get waste from the plant to the river. Thomas also said he wanted to see if alternatives can be found.
Their full responses are in the video clip below.
I was not able to attend the Candidate Forum. I asked Russ Page to make the video recording I’ve used in this report.
The video of the entire BOC section of the Candidate Forum, as well as the videos of each of the other sections of the Forum and the video of the entire forum, are at the end of this post.
Sheriff Candidate Kevin “Chappy” Hynes sharpened his criticism of incumbent Sheriff Scott Berry during the section of the forum featuring the two.
Hynes said Berry had done a good job as sheriff for 20 years but during the last three has “not been around.”
Hynes said he wanted to build relationships, focus on fiscal responsibility, and lead “with a servant’s heart.”
Berry said “desire does not trump experience.”
He said he has given the people of the county a “professionally well run sheriff’s office” since he was elected in 1992 and he wants four more years in office to continue his work.
Berry said the county had changed during the time he has been in office and he had adjusted, making the county a safe place for its citizens.
Dale Rogers missed the first Candidate Forum because he got married that day, so the Monday night event was his first opportunity to present his case in such a setting beside incumbent Ed Carson.
Rogers said he has been deputy coroner for Oconee County since 2011 and that his 24 years of experience as a funeral director prepared him for the job.
Carson said he was deputy coroner 10 years and coroner for eight.
Rogers accused Carson of not being fiscally conservative enough.
Carson said he has been pushing for a transport vehicle for his office because he feels it is needed to serve the needs of the county.
Board Of Education
The contrast between incumbent Board of Education Chairman Tom Odom and Britt Beaver, both seeking the chairmanship in the May 24 Republican primary, was stronger at the second forum on Monday than at the first 11 days earlier.
Beaver stressed his feeling that the Board of Education and its chair need to be involved in the schools, available to teachers and to students and their families.
Beaver said he would be “be accountable to you as a voter” and would take a “hands-on” approach.
Odom said the Board of Education members “have only one employee we work with, and that is the superintendent.”
Odom said he had been elected four years ago as BOE chair and was proud of the accomplishments of the Board during his tenure as chairman and wanted to be able to continue that work.
Senate District 46
Patricia Daughtery, running for the Senate from District 46, restated her negative assessment of the performance of the state government during her comments at the meeting on Monday, criticizing the General Assembly and the governor for signing House Bill 170, which increased the fuel tax and added a $5 per night fee on hotel stays.
Daughtery said Atlanta was becoming much like Washington and was out of touch with the citizens, though she never referenced incumbent Bill Cowsert by name or his role as supporter of HB 170.
Cowsert, who is Senate majority leader, said that in Atlanta there is no sign of the gridlock in Washington. He did not respond to the comment on the fuel and motel tax increase.
Cowsert also said he represents the interests of his constituency when he goes to Atlanta.
The two took very similar stands on the so-called Religious Liberty bill and campus carry legislation, with both offering strong support.
Maria Caudill, locally active with the Republic Party, attended the Monday Candidate Forum and estimated that about 140 people were in the audience.
All of the candidates are running in the May 24 Republican primary. The Democratic Party did not put forward any candidates for the races in the county.
A final gathering of the candidates is being organized by the Oconee County Republican Party at 6 p.m. on May 9 at Chops & Hops restaurant in Watkinsville. The format is being labeled as Meet And Greet.
BOC Section Video
Sheriff Section Video
Coroner Section Video
BOE Chair Section Video
Senate District 46 Section Video
Video Of Entire Candidate Forum