Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Chuck Horton Said He Brings Experience To The Race For Oconee County Board Of Commissioners

In Interview

Chuck Horton said his experience and background will allow him to “hit the ground running” should he win the open seat on the Oconee County Board of Commissioners in the special election on Nov. 8.

Because of his service on the Board of Education, Horton said he understands the need for the Board of Commissioners to think through the implications of decisions it makes on the county’s schools.

Horton said he’s been through the recession of 2008 during his eight years on the Board of Commissioners, so he knows the challenges of budgeting in difficult times.

“I can go to work tomorrow if I were sworn in this afternoon,” he said in an interview that lasted more than an hour.

The interview with Horton is the second 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 Horton is at the bottom of this post.

The interview with Ben Bridges was posted on Oct. 2, and the interview with Marcus Wiedower will be posted later this week or early next.

All three candidates responded to the same basic questions about a wide range of issues facing the county.

Horton’s Background

Horton, 62, served on the Board of Education from 1992 to 2000 and was the Board Chairman for the last four of those years.

Chuck Horton

He served on the Board of Commissioners from 2004 to 2012, when he stepped down to challenge unsuccessfully incumbent Melvin Davis for the chairmanship.

A retired police chief from the University of Georgia, Horton now is working as parking director for Athens-Clarke County.

He lives at 1061 Ramblewood Place in Hickory Hill subdivision.

Interview Logistics

I interviewed Horton in the library of my home on Sept. 25.

I had interviewed Bridges on Sept. 24 and interviewed Wiedower on Sept. 27. The candidates chose the dates for the interviews.

Sarah Bell helped me video record the interviews.

I asked all the 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.

Horton, Bridges and Wiedower 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.


Horton said he would have voted against the recent rezone for land on SR 316 between Jimmy Daniell Road and Virgil Langford Road for an auto dealership complex because the roads in the area are not designed for the traffic the project will produce.

Horton said he would not have voted for the rezone in 2015 for 70 acres on U.S. 441 at Hog Mountain Road for the Presbyterian Homes of Georgia continuing care retirement community unless issues of traffic at that site could have been resolved to his satisfaction.

Horton said he also was concerned about traffic issues surrounding the recent rezone on Hog Mountain Road near Butler’s Crossing for two fast food restaurants.

Sheriff Scott Berry opposed the rezone for safety reasons, and Horton said he would have voted against the rezone unless the issues raised by Berry had been addressed.

Horton voted in 2005 for the rezone for Grove Park subdivision, a master plan development on Hog Mountain Road, but he said in the interview that he and Commissioner Jim Luke had worked hard to change the county’s development code to halt these types of developments.

Master plan developments remain possible, but there are more restrictions on them than in the past.

The county should consider buying back the sewage capacity assigned to the MPDs that are dormant, Horton said. The MPDs were rezoned on the condition of receiving sewage capacity that the county currently does not have.

Road Projects

Horton said he didn’t have enough information to know if the county made a mistake in deciding back in 1999 or earlier to turn Mars Hill Road over to the state. That was long before his time on the Commission, and he said he suspects it was a financial decision to get state money for the widening project.

Horton said he would have to know exactly what had been promised by the county to land owner Doug Dickens regarding a median cut on Mars Hill Road before deciding if the county should pay upwards of $23,000 for the project.

“I’m not happy with it,” he said about the county spending the money.

He said the University of North Georgia needs another entrance to its campus on Bishop Farms Parkway, but he doesn’t think the county has the money to build the Bishop Farms Parkway extension to accomplish that. He thinks the state should come up with the money.

Horton said it is “hard to say” if the county should have agreed to pay for Parkway Boulevard Extension to accommodate expansion of Epps Bridge Centre and other development in the Epps Bridge Parkway area. He said he has not been in on the discussions and didn’t know enough about the promises made by the developer.

Horton said he is opposed to the proposed Daniells Bridge Road flyover of SR Loop 10. "I don't see the reason to do it," he said.

Water And Sewer

Horton said the county has made a series of bad decisions regarding sewers, including approving master plan developments.

“We were not honest with ourselves years ago,” he said. Often the four voting commissioners didn’t have enough information to make good choices, he said.

Horton said the county needs to make an honest assessment of sewer needs and figure out how to respond to them.

On the proposed sewer line down Calls Creek, Horton already has made a decision.

“I’m not going to vote for that,” he said.

Horton is an alternate member of the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board and served as a regular member when he was on the Board of Commissioners.

He said he is “reluctant to keep spending money” on the project, since neither county needs the water in the reservoir that is now filling in southern Walton County.

Horton pointed out that he has asked the Management Board to identify the “trigger” that would require the counties to move forward with the project.

County Governance

Horton said the Commission needs to address space needs for county administrative offices quickly.

“I think we all knew that space was needed,” he said. “Unfortunately it has just been kicked down the line.”

“We just have not come together” to solve the problem, he said. “We’ve wasted four years.”

He said he supports an upgrade to the Animal Shelter and wishes that the county was further along in solving that problem.

In Horton’s view, the role of the county administrative officer is clear. The administrative officer, not the BOC Chair, is the one who should run the day-to-day operations of the county, he said.

Horton said the county is not transparent enough, that he doesn’t like executive sessions, and that the county needs to communicate better with its citizens.

Business Links

Horton said his work as parking director in Athens would not result in any conflicts with his role as commissioner.

He said he is has worked closely with Commissioner Luke in the past and believes he has Luke’s support in the election. Horton said he has not asked other commissioners to support him.

Horton said he has raised about $3,500 to support his campaign.

When I interviewed Horton, I thought he and the other candidates would file a campaign finance report on Sept. 30. I learned subsequently that the three candidates in the special election do not have to file a report on campaign donations and spending until Oct. 24.

My wife and I maintain separate financial accounts, and my wife has contributed to Horton’s campaign.

In the remaining week of the campaign, Horton said he will focus on his record in his conversations with the voters.

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 Horton.

I apologize for the gap between the audio and the video that starts about midway through the interview.

This is a technical problem related to the editing. I will continue to try to solve the problem but didn’t want to delay making the interview available to the public.

I did editing to incorporate images from the three cameras used, but I did not eliminate anything from the interview.

OCO: Chuck Horton Interview 9 25 2016 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.


rightway1974 said...

I had hopes he would be different this time. He will vote the same as before.

outsiderlookingin said...

I don't have that fuzzy feeling for him either. I had heard about him when he was with the University police and know just a little about him when he was commissioner, I would go with new blood.

Anonymous said...

Have to say, this is a great, great idea:
"The county should consider buying back the sewage capacity assigned to the MPDs that are dormant, Horton said. The MPDs were rezoned on the condition of receiving sewage capacity that the county currently does not have."

Disappointed bigtime with this one though; Atlanta Developer Frank Bishop can build his own $4.5 mil road:
"Horton said it is “hard to say” if the county should have agreed to pay for Parkway Boulevard Extension to accommodate expansion of Epps Bridge Centre and other development in the Epps Bridge Parkway area. He said he has not been in on the discussions and didn’t know enough about the promises made by the developer."

If Horton is serious about the county admin officer running day to day operations, unlike having Melvin running day to day as commission chair, then the commission chair could be rotated annually or voted on by the sitting commissioners, and we wouldn't have to pay the commission chair $100,000 (!), the same amount Jeff Benko is getting paid now as the county admin officer in name only. All five commissioners would receive the current $24k. It would save taxpayers $75k annually:
"In Horton’s view, the role of the county administrative officer is clear. The administrative officer, not the BOC Chair, is the one who should run the day-to-day operations of the county, he said."

It's important for the commissioners to be cordial to each other. However, they need to be able to call B.S. once in a while.

Saxon, Daniell, Bubber and Luke enabled Melvin for years, allowing him to get away with pretty much every single thing on his agenda, with all of the requisite closed door meetings, off the record calls & meetings (GDOT!), good ole boy networking, interesting promises not publically disclosed (Doug Dickens!), appeasing Atlanta Frank Bishop and Athens realtor/State Transportation Board member Jamie Boswell at every turn, electronic billboards, out of county auto dealership managers writing forecast reports, etc., etc.

Hoping and praying that the newly elected commissioner, no matter which one of the three running, will be cordial but not afraid to call B.S. when Daniell, Benko, J.R. Charles, Rick Waller, Lance Haynie, etc. need to hear a firm opposing view.

Anonymous said...

Chuck tried to rein in Melvin with the occasional help of Margaret Hale and Jim Luke, but it is hard to do when you are not made aware of the promises Melvin made until after the fact. When Chuck was a Commissioner he was a true voice of reason and was responsible with Margaret and Jim for taking the power away from Melvin on the day to day running if the county. He was instrumental in trying to stop the MPD subdivisions and finally changing the regulations. Unfortunately too late as many were already platted. Similar to what happened with the sign ordinance along Mars Hill Rd.
I think the Legislature has to approve changing from full to part time the office of Comm. Chair. I like the idea of rotating the Chair position among the Commissioners, or at least let them vote each year who it will be.
I hope he will be our next Commissioner as he may be the only voice of reason of the 4. I plan to vote for him.

Anonymous said...

I really like the idea of letting the administrative officer run things, under the policies set up by the commissioners, and having the chairman of the BOC just one of the commissioners, elected to chair the meetings, etc. For way too long, the "good old boy network" has been slopping along -- whatever Melvin wants, Melvin gets. I hope Horton will come back because I think he did a good job in his previous term.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the idea of refunding sewer capacity fees for the dormant shbdivisions... There is no way the owners of those properties would give up their sewer capacity.

Put yourself in the mind of the land owners. In many cases, those subdivisions were bought out of bankruptcy, so they got the land for pennies on the dollar, and the land came with the sewer capacity. If they sold their capacity back to the county, their property is virtually worthless. They'd have to get in the back of the line and wait for the county to expand the sewer plant and then hope they can buy that capacity back... And probably at a higher price than what they would have sold it to the county in the first place.

The best thing for the new Commission to do is use those capacity fees to build a large sewer plant that can handle the county's needs for the next 30 years. Make the right choice and stop kicking the can down the road!

outsiderlookingin said...

Anon 8:01pm, you are dead on with your statement.

Anonymous said...

Great interview with Chuck Horton. I suspect there are a lot of people out there with "buyer's remorse" after not voting for Horton when he ran against Melvin last go-around. This is a 2 year term with the County facing a number of issues. Horton is the only candidate who knows the issues, can hit the ground running, and won't have to weed through a learning curve to figure out what's going on. I was a bit unsure who I was going to vote for until I got a Marcus Wiedower flyer in the mail yesterday. Obviously, somebody needs to tell the boy he's running for the Board of Commissioners and NOT the Board of Education. "Quality Education and Low Taxes", touting that he raised over $200,000 for the schools, and wanting to insure that education is fully funded are good lines.....but obviously he hasn't a clue about the role of the Board of Commissioners and can't distinguish between the two Boards.

Anonymous said...

ANOM 6.00AN I totally agree. I too got the flyer and scratched my head wondering what he was about.

Zippity said...

Mr. Horton is not in anyone's pocket and does not owe anyone anything. He was a good commissioner before, spent a lot of time learning about the issues and asking questions. He did try to rein in Mr. Davis. "New" blood aligned with the developers is not "new" but the same old way. Mr. Horton is the only one of the three that will bring in independent thinking with a strong background in county issues.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Mr Horton is that he isn't for anything except the status quo. His last stint was more of a personal vendetta against a chairman he despised and he voted accordingly. Assuming how another candidate will act or vote is pure speculation but when you have a proven track record of not moving the county forward and opposing everything I wouldn't expect it to be different this time. There are a lot of people moving into this county and if things aren't planned properly we are going to be up Calls Creek without a paddle.