Sunday, October 02, 2016

BOC Candidate Ben Bridges Said He Wants To Be The Voice Of Oconee County Citizens

In Hour-Long Interview

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.

People Ignored

“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.”

Ben Bridges

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.

Zoning

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.

Road Projects

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.

County Governance

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.

Business Links

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.

OCO: Ben Bridges Interview 9/24/2016 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Lee for providing this service to our county! I am looking forward to your remaining interviews.

Anonymous said...

Lee,
Did you ask him about that hideous abomination LED billboard by QT?
It's garish and shameful, and perfectly symbolizes the Melvin Davis administration to a T.

Lee Becker said...

Questions about the county's sign ordinances were not part of the interviews. I easily could have asked many more questions. I had told the candidates the interview would run about an hour, and, in each case, it went even beyond that. I do agree that the county's ordinances regarding signs are an important topic for discussion.

Xardox said...

The approval of the large LED sign is the sort of "small detail" with large ramifications. Now all up and down the wide corridor will be garish eyesores.
I did not find why Mr. Bridges thought the Master Use Plan was a "mistake."
Neither did I see any specifics just how he thought he could "slow down" the growth rate.
I do understand time constraints. Seems like a bit was spent on what he did not know and needed to study. (Not a criticism of the interviewer. What he did not know stood out.)

Lee Becker said...

Xardox,
The story here only touches on the highlights of what Bridges said in the video. I think you understand that.
The LED sign was approved based on an application completed before the overlay district for Mars Hill Road went into effect. Another such sign has been approved for Butler's Crossing. It, too, was approved before the overlay.
If the present ordinance holds and is enforced, there should not be any other signs of this type along the corridor.
Lee

Steven Echols said...

Those signs are hideous, and a disgrace to our community. Who owns them???? I wish I could stick one in the people who approved the signs front yards. I would like to see those people fired!

Lee Becker said...

Steven,
The details about the sign are in this post:
http://www.oconeecountyobservations.org/2016/08/oconee-county-getting-brand-new-8-foot.html?spref=bl&m=1
Lee

Lee Becker said...

This is a slightly modified version of a comment.

Lee

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "BOC Candidate Ben Bridges Said He Wants To Be The ...":

Lucky for Paul Keller, Susanne Chastain and Athens dentist James McDonald that somehow the Oconee County Commission conveniently waited a month too late for the sign ordinance so their project snuck through.

Because of Paul Keller, Susanne Chastain and Athens dentist James McDonald, county residents are stuck with a offensively jarring digital sign. One has to wonder what connections Keller, Chastain and Athens dentist McDonald have to Melvin and Athens real estate agent/State Transportation Board Member Jamie Boswell.

The Boswell connection to the GDOT Mars Hill Rd. project has been a fruitful one for his real estate company.

Had the Commissioners acted a month earlier, the sign under construction on Mars Hill Road now would not have been allowed.

Anonymous said...

Did he mention to you that his wife's uncle is Doug Dickens?

Lee Becker said...

Anonymous,

Bridges did not tell me that his wife is a niece of Doug Dickens, but he has confirmed that in a telephone conversation of a few minutes ago.

Lee

Anonymous said...

I am disappointed that Ben is supporting the Dickens access cut. More of the same for OC.

outsiderlookingin said...

I'm sure he means well but I'm getting this vibe that it could be the same ole same ole, the Doug Dickens thing is laughable at the very least.

Anonymous said...

Red Flags Galore!

Bridges may or may not be the nicest guy in the county, but there are way too many concerns here to take him seriously as a county commissioner during a very important point in county history.

-Failing to disclose his relationship to Doug Dickens was a major error in judgement. We're recovering from years of Melvin Davis back room deals, good ole boy networking, lack of transparency, etc. All he had to do was state his connection to Doug Dickens, and that he would recuse himself from any discussion or votes regarding any Doug Dickens & Dickens family dealings with the county.

-"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."

Ben, these are HUGE issues. The Presbyterian development is a $80 mil development off a very busy 441. We're looking at up to five dealerships off of an even busier 316, with a county economic development director turning in a report from the dealership manager, not his own work. Bridges needs to do his homework before the campaign. These are mega projects with long lasting implications, especially traffic-wise.

-"Bridges did not take a stand on the proposed Daniells Bridge Road flyover of SR Loop 10."

Another project with long lasting implications. You need to know specifics and about it and be up front with voters on where you stand on this.

-"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."

Ben, wow...just wow.

The No Sewer Calls Creek group has been active for a long time and very vocal. This may be the most pressing immediate concern in Oconee right now. As a commission candidate, you need to take a stand right now and let voters know which way you're going to vote on this. A serious commission candidate needs to know all of the in's & out's of this specific and serious issue. It's the No. 1 concern Oconee is dealing with.


Bridges comes across as a caring and concerned citizen, but with the county on the edge of potentially explosive growth, he needs to show a better grasp of issues and specifics, immediate and long-term.

Very much looking forward to hearing from the other two candidates and comparing all three. Great interview Lee Becker!!

rightway1974 said...

I was shocked to hear Ben support the waste of tax payer funds in support of Dickens. Thank you to the anonymous poster for exposing his connection to Dickens.