The campaign for the open Post 2 seat on the Oconee County Board of Commissioners turned negative this week as a campaign flier attacking candidate Chuck Horton as a “career politician” who has threatened the county’s school system arrived in select mailboxes in the county.
The dark colored, six-inch by 11-inch flier does not indicate who paid for the mailing, but it lists as the mailing address the postal box used by Marcus for Oconee BOC, the organization of candidate Marcus Wiedower.
Ben Bridges, the third candidate for the Board of Commissioners position, said Thursday night he had not seen the flier and had nothing to do with it.
Horton also said that 25 to 30 of his campaign signs posted on private property have been stolen or damaged. Several of the damaged signs were run over by a vehicle, he said.
Horton has focused in his campaign on the experience he gained through two, four-year terms on the Board of Education and two, four-year terms on the Board of Commissioners.
None of those positions has been full time, and the service on the Board of Education provides almost no compensation.
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The attack ad attempts to turn that experience into a negative.
“Chuck Horton touts his leadership and says experience matters,” the advertisement said.
“Chuck Horton does have experience–running for public office and being a career politician,” the ad continues.
“Is this the EXPERIENCE we want?” the advertisement asks.
“In 2016 Vote No to Chuck Horton and Vote Yes to Change.”
No Candidate Mentioned
The advertisement does not advocate for a candidate, but Wiedower, 41, who is running for office for the first time, claims he will bring a new perspective to the Commission.
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Wiedower is a custom home building who has gone out of his way to argue during the campaign that building homes is not the same as development.
In a separate advertisement sent out this week, however, Wiedower focuses on his background as a land planner, saying he is a proponent of “smart growth that is rooted in sound planning.”
Land planners work with developers to provide assistance with zoning requests and related services.
The advertisement also said the county must develop “a strategy to bring new jobs and economic development so we can keep taxes low.”
That advertisement lists the same P.O. Box 1012 in Watkinsville as the attack flier.
Threat To Education
The attack ad criticizes Horton for “the approval of over 1900 homes which could hurt our education and transportation systems.”
The ad does not cite the source of that figure, and Sandy Weinel, development project engineer in the Oconee County Planning Department, told me today the county does not have figures of the number of residential lots approved each year.
By working with records I have and those in the Planning Department Office, I came up with an estimate that is just higher than that of Wiedower.
From Jan. 1 of 2005, when Horton joined the Commission, until the end of 2012, when he stepped down, the county rezoned just less than 2,300 residential lots, by my count.
The vast majority of those–1,844–were in 2005 and 2006.
Horton and Jim Luke ran as anti-fast growth advocates in the 2004 election for the Board of Commissioners and worked in the first years of their first terms to slow growth in the county.
One of the primary advocates of the fast growth–and of the master plan developments that were a key part of it–was Ken Beall of Beall, Gonnsen and Co., a land planning firm.
In October of 2003, the Board of Commissioners approved the rezone of 443 acres on U.S. 78 near the Apalachee River for Westland, which contained 430 residential lots in a master plan development.
In December of 2004, just before Horton joined the Commission, that body approved the rezone of 500 acres between Hog Mountain Road and Mars Hill Road for another MPD. That development, called Parkside, included 810 residential lots.
Beall, Gonnsen and Company represented both developers in the rezone requests before the Commission.
Wiedower worked for Beall, Gonnsen and Company from March of 1999 to July of 2005.
Legacy Of MPDs
Both Westland and Parkside are dormant, with the former up for sale.
These are the largest residential projects zoned by the county and truly are a threat to the school district should they develop quickly.
Because they are intensive developments with shared green space and limited lot sizes, they both require sewage treatment capacity that the county at present does not have.
The possibility that these and other dormant MPDs largely approved before 2005 could come on line is driving the effort by the county to increase quickly the treatment capability of its Calls Creek wastewater treatment plant.
The proposed and controversial sewer line down Calls Creek is an outgrowth of those plans.
Attempts At Contact
I did not receive either of the campaign fliers mailed from Wiedower’s Watkinsville P.O. Box, but I heard about them from others.
I received a scanned copy of the attack advertisement last night and contacted Bridges for his response.
Today I called Wiedower four times, starting at 9:40 a.m. and ending at 8:20 p.m., leaving a voice mail message each time asking him to call me.
I sent text message after the first three of those calls and received the notification that they had been received.
I also sent an email after I sent the calls.
Wiedower did not respond to any of the messages.
Bridges, 50, told me that he had put up about 100 signs around the county and that only one or two had been stolen.
Horton said he had put up about 370 signs and that 25 to 30 had been stolen or damaged.
“Nothing like this has happened in the past,” Horton said. “Nothing to the extent of this time.”
Wiedower has signs all over the county as well.
One of the questions I had hoped to be able to ask him was the number of signs he has had stolen or damaged.
Wiedower reported in his Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report on Oct. 24 that he had raised just less than $24,000, nearly twice as much as the other two candidates combined.
The largest single contribution was $2,000 from Congressman Mark Amodei of Nevada.
The largest expenditure Wiedower reported on the form was $5,165 with War Room Strategies in Athens.
The mailer that went out this week telling people to vote for Wiedower indicates it was paid for by Marcus for Oconee BOC.
The attack flier does not indicate who paid for the advertisement.
Oconee County campaigns are generally pretty sedate, polite affairs with relatively little money spent on advertising.
The only negative advertising in a recent campaign was back in 2010 in the race for Oconee County’s delegate to the Georgia House of Representatives.
Turnout today for the final day of early voting was 1,142, the largest single day of voting since early voting started on Oct. 17.
That brings to 11,768 the number of persons who have already cast their ballots, representing 42.3 percent of the county’s 27,845 registered voters.
In 2012, 42.0 percent of the registered voters cast an in-person ballot before the polls opened on election day.
In 2008, that figure had been 52.7 percent.
In 2012, final turnout was 80.0 percent, while in 2008 that figure was 84.4 percent. It seems likely, based on these figures, that roughly half of those who will vote this election already have done so.
If none of the three candidates gets more than 50 percent in the election on Nov. 8, the two top candidates will have to meet in a runoff on Dec. 6, when turnout likely will be quite low.