Oconee County citizens will witness a change of culture in county government after Jan.1, said John Daniell, who will take over as chairman of the Board of Commissioners on that date.
The work of the government and the Commission will be “responsive to citizens...efficient in our operations, and...bring everybody in and talk about our goals and where we want to go as a community,” Daniell said.
The government also will be more transparent, he said.
Perhaps the biggest change Daniell promised in a nearly hour-long interview on a variety of topics won’t be noticeable to most citizens, though, if implemented, will be very obvious to county department heads and other employees.
Daniell said he will make it clear that the county administrative officer is in charge of executive functions of the county. Daniell called the administrative officer “the chief of staff.”
Daniell said the chairman is the “policy watchdog” who should make sure the directives of the Commission are being carried out. The chairman also is the representative of Oconee County at the state level.
Daniell said during the interview that the Commission is partly responsible for the problems at the county’s sewage treatment plants that surfaced last year, when raw or partially treated sewage was being discharged into Calls Creek, outside Watkinsville.
That was the first time any of the commissioners has publicly said the Commission played a role in that problem. Daniell said the Commission should have been move aware of the problems at the Utility Department.
Daniell gave little reassurance to those who are fighting to keep a sewer pipeline from being built down Calls Creek.
He said the problem is that the county doesn’t have land for a plant on the Middle Oconee River and doesn’t have finances in place to build it.
Daniell didn’t accept that the county could build a plant smaller than the 4 million gallon per day facility discussed in a plan in 2005, and he said he was concerned that building too much capacity would result in increased residential growth, harming the county’s school system.
Daniell said the Commission has made little progress on the Courthouse, other than agreeing that administrative functions will be moved from the existing facility in downtown Watkinsville, leaving that building solely as a home of judicial operations.
He said he didn’t know what will be done to accommodate administrative offices.
Daniell also said he didn’t have a solution for the Animal Shelter and that he was surprised when he was told that a new facility was needed.
He also said the Commission has not been able to agree on how to spend Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue earmarked for historic and scenic preservation.
He did agree that preservation of Elder Mill was a top priority should that property become available to the county.
Daniell said sitting on money in the SPLOST accounts was something he felt comfortable with.
He said the county does not need a citizen oversight committee for SPLOST, but he also said he felt there needed to be better reporting on what actually has been spent and what money is available.
Daniell said the county needs to improve how it appoints citizens to its advisory committees.
He also said the county’s economic development director should not become an advocate for someone seeking a zoning change, as was the case earlier this year.
Daniell said that those seeking zoning changes should have opportunity to talk to commissioners, even while a rezone is underway, as well as those who are opposed to the rezone.
Daniell said one of the top priorities for the county is construction of a multi-grade intersection at SR 316 and the Oconee Connector.
He said he also is very concerned that the county has fallen behind on maintenance of the roads already built.
Daniell said he will work very hard to have a good working relationship with the Georgia Department of Transportation.
He said the county can work to find solutions to issues resulting from the construction of the widened Mars Hill Road.
Perhaps the arts community could paint murals on some of the concrete retaining walls, such as at Hodges Mill Road, he said.
Conversation With Daniell
I spoke with Daniell on July 13, when it was clear that no one was going to run against him in the Commission race. The deadline for filing as an independent had just passed.
Incumbent BOC Chairman Melvin Davis announced in early February that he is retiring at the end of this year after 16 years as chairman.
Daniell didn’t have any opposition in the May 24 primary. It remains possible, though unlikely, that someone will mount a write-in campaign against him.
I asked Daniell about efforts he and other commissioners had made in the past to clarify the authority of the BOC chairman.
Daniell said the efforts had not been successful because they were “sort of trying to legislate a personality” and “it didn’t work out.”
Conflict In Open
Davis and County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko are often in conflict, and county department heads report privately that they often don’t know who, in fact, is in charge.
Daniell was elected to the Board of Commissioners in 2008 and served as Post II commissioner until he resigned in March to run for the BOC chair position.
Daniell had challenged Davis in 2004 for the chairmanship. Daniell had said at that time he would make the position part-time.
He said at the July 13 interview he would entertain that idea again if he learned it appropriate.
Daniell invited me to his home on Elder Road in the west of the county after I asked him if he would agree to an interview.
Sarah Bell video recorded the session.
We used two cameras so we could vary the visual perspective.
Unfortunately, I did not have two lavalier microphones, so we recorded the sound without them.
I edited the two videos, inserting clips and the accompanying sound track. The result is a video with varying sound volume. I standardized the volume as much as possible in the editing process.
The air conditioner fan also produces background noises.
I apologize for these technical problems. I believe the video is of value despite them.
I did not edit out any part of the video. What is below is the entire interview with Daniell.