Ben Bridges says the county is growing too fast and it is time to slow down for a little while to take stock of where things are.
He also says that water and sewer are the biggest challenges facing the county.
Bridges is running for the open Post II on the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, and the announcer voice of the Oconee County Warriors says he wants to become the voice of all Oconee County citizens.
In an hour-long interview, Bridges said the county’s decision to approve Master Plan Developments in the early 2000s was a mistake, that the county should not have turned Mars Hill Road over to the state for construction, and that he doesn’t think the county should have agreed to pay for Parkway Boulevard Extension.
The interview with Bridges is the first of three with candidates for the Post II position on the Board of Commissioners to be featured on Oconee County Observations. The complete video of the interview with Bridges is at the bottom of this post.
Interviews with Chuck Horton and Marcus Wiedower, in which both responded to the same basic questions as were asked of Bridges, will follow.
“I really thought that there was a certain group of people that really were just being pushed to the side,” Bridges said in explaining his decision to run for the Commission.
“Enough people had continued to come up and say, ‘We need a voice’,” Bridges said. “I’m the voice of the Warriors. So I guess I can be the voice of the people.”
Bridges, 50, is a production manager at Pilgrim’s, a chicken producer in Athens. He also has a sports radio program and is announcer for Oconee County High School football. He lives at 1450 Robinhood Road in Northwest Woods subdivision.
I interviewed Bridges in the library of my home. Sarah Bell helped me record the video on three different cameras.
I asked Bridges and the other two candidates questions about recent zoning decisions, about road projects, about water and sewer issues, about county governance, about business links and political alliances, and about campaign financing and strategy.
All three candidates are running as Republicans in the November election for the unexpired Post II position, left vacant when John Daniell stepped down in March to run for Commission Chairman. Daniell will be unopposed on the November Ballot.
Bridges said he could not indicate how he would have voted on the recent rezone of land for an auto dealership on SR 316 or on the 2015 vote for a rezone for Presbyterian Homes of Georgia. He said he needed more time to study those.
I mistyped the year for the Presbyterian Homes rezone in my notes and read the date wrong in asking the question, but I did explain the location. Bridges said he would have studied the request carefully before making a decision.
He said he would have supported Sheriff Scott Berry in his opposition to the rezone on Hog Mountain Road near Butler’s Crossing for two fast food restaurants.
Bridges was clear in his opposition to the county’s rezoning of land for a series of Master Plan Developments back in 2005 and earlier.
Bridges was very critical of the Mars Hill Road widening project, saying the county should have widened it on its own.
Bridges said the county should accommodate Doug Dickens’ request for the median cut on Mars Hill Road.
He also said the county should build the Bishop Farms Parkway extension to provide a second entrance for the University of North Georgia.
And he said the county should not have paid for the Parkway Boulevard Extension.
Bridges did not take a stand on the proposed Daniells Bridge Road flyover of SR Loop 10.
Water And Sewer
Bridges said the county must be aggressive in seeking additional water resources and in providing sewage services.
He is in favor of the county building a water treatment plant and distribution infrastructure to get water from the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir.
He said the county needs to sit down and figure out what to do to provide more sewage services.
He didn’t take a stand on the proposed sewer line down Calls Creek, saying he would need to study the facts before deciding what should be done.
Bridges said that the county should look for available space for county administrative offices rather than build something new.
He said he would go to the Animal Shelter to try to find out what should be done there.
He said the county needed to decide the role of the county administrative officer relative to that of the commission chairman to determine if both are needed.
He said the county is not transparent enough, that the Commission holds too many executive sessions, and that county government is not open enough to its citizens.
Bridges said his work at Pilgrims would not result in any conflicts with his role as commissioner.
He said he is not running with the support of any of the incumbent commissioners, though he hoped to get their votes.
He said he is largely financing his own campaign and has mostly spent the money he has on signs.
In the remaining week of the campaign, Bridges proposes to talk to more people.
“I have a passion in my heart for the county,” Bridges said.
Background And Video
If none of the three candidates gets a majority on Nov. 8, a runoff between the two top candidates will be held on Dec. 6.
The Post II term will expire at the end of 2018.
The video below is of the complete interview with Bridges.
I did editing to incorporate images from the three cameras used, but I did not eliminate any of the questions or answers.