Friday, November 04, 2016

Attack Advertisement Mailed To Oconee County Homes In Board Of Commissioners Race

Horton The Target

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.

Wiedower has not responded to repeated attempts to talk to him about the advertisement.

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.

Negative Flier

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.

2004 Campaign

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.

Campaign Signs

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.

Campaign Funding

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.

Early Voting

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.


Xardox said...

"...Wiedower, 41, who is running for office for the first time, claims he will bring a new perspective to the Commission."
Here it is. The outside rough world of politics has come to Oconee County.
In a world where going negative has been strongly frowned upon,
the More Building candidate has spoken.

Anonymous said...

Well, I guess a campaign can do this when it receives a $2,000 campaign contribution from a northern Nevada congressman and $1,000 from Melvin Davis' campaign chairman.

Marcus Wiedower: Going negative in a county commissioner race is unnecessary and unseemly. It's not Trump vs. Clinton. This negative ad indicates one's character, and it's not a good look. What in the world are we to expect from you if you win? Mailers attacking the Friends of Call Creek or neighborhood groups against the Daniells Bridge Road boondoggle?

Anonymous said...

"The largest expenditure Wiedower reported on the form was $5,165 with War Room Strategies in Athens."

Hmmm...the attack ad doesn't seem very Christian for a political campaign company that features its staff's religious backgrounds:

Jordan Chinouth
• An Executive Producer of the Christian faith-based movie Small Group
The family attends Athens Church.
Kaitlyn Branson
Vice President of Operations/
Executive Creative Director
She...attends Athens Church.

Mallory Whitfield
Fundraising Consultant
Mallory enjoys volunteering at the animal shelter and is a member of Athens Church.

Aaron Evans
General Consultant/
Data Specialist
They are also actively involved in a ministry through a local church that Aaron led the efforts to start in 2014.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how they selected who was to receive the mailing. I was left out. Does that mean that my vote means nothing??? I would hate to see politics in Oconee County become so ... well, uh, political... that "war room strategies" would be needed.

Anonymous said...

Marcus Wiedower: What are you doing?? An attack ad...really...what in the world?

This is your second Access Hollywood moment in a few weeks. First the Nevada congressman's donation, now an attack ad?

I'm wondering how much fast food development guru Ken Beall (Marcus's former boss) plays into this. He's one of the forces behind the additional of just what we need, more fast food places, and was very, very rude to Sheriff Scott Berry.

Kudo's to Ben Bridges and Chuck Horton for not going negative.

Anonymous said...

Yet again the rotten underbelly of the good old boy network in Oconee is exposed. Apparently, only Lee and his readers see this. Wonder why the Oconee Enterprise never has a discouraging word (or clue) for the self-serving dealing? The "establishment" is so afraid it is going to get pulled from the gravy train that they resort to this kind of low attack. Not much to attack, so they hit rock bottom and continue to dig. I do so hope the voters see through the smoke.

Margaret Holt said...

This is a bad omen for transparency. If Mr. Wiedower is responsible for the attack ad, he should own it.
I join the others who are saddened to see this campaign strategy. I also did not receive such a mailing, so it troubles me to think why only certain people would be targeted. Most unfortunate.

Anonymous said...

The Weidower Way of Slick Politics -
Toss out the 10 Commandments and trash your neighbor for a buck.
The cost is $5,165 for pandering falsehood and showcasing how a classless candidate runs for office.
Removing another's campaign signs constitutes theft. Whether it is the candidate or a surrogate- the candidate is responsible. He should have let the WRS group and supporters know from the beginning, what is not acceptable. Shows a lack of leadership and goes to character.

Stated he did not ask a Congressman for money- "my friend did it, not me".
Again, it illustrates a lack of character and leadership by applying twisted responses. Those are the "politics" people are tired of.
Weidower had many opportunities to honestly answer questions and to fully lay out, with specific points, how to address the isssues facing our county- he chose to fling dirt.

Will not return Mr. Becker's calls or emails?
When asked about dubious campaign contributions, missing signs of your opponents and slanted political mailers-the guy is silent?
He advertised he would would talk to everyone,

Ben is a good guy, unfortunately over his head in the ability to "tackle" the problems facing Oconee County.
Chuck has faced many challenges as he served Oconee County and is ready to address the complicated issues facing our county with honest and fair judgement. I do not always agreed with Mr. Horton, but always got a straight answer.
Wiedower appears to represent special interests and his actions shows disrespect for the citizens of Oconee County.
How can he possibly respect you as a commissioner?

Also, I have not put out a sign for Bridges, Horton or Weidower. Thus, not had a sign gone "missing".

We are all flawed beings; it is when we must chose right or wrong along the way that it gets tough- but counts the most.

The Day After the 2016 Election Can Not Get Here Fast Enough

Charlie said...

This attack add is just what you would expect to see from a person who takes $2000 from a Nevada Congressman and then defends himself by claiming he does not know the congressman. Wonder if he knows what the congressman or his local friends expect in return.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the investigative journalism involved in this. That being said, why are we not digging into other people's campaigns? I think it's important to note that you personally gave money to Chuck Horton's campaign. I have suffered at the hands of someone close to Chuck and find it hard to believe he isn't part of the "Good Old Boys" network like the rest of them. That isn't to say he might not be the best candidate but to act like he isn't playing the game is a little ridiculous.

Lee Becker said...


I have not contributed to the campaign of any of the three candidates. In the story I wrote based on the Campaign Contribution Disclosure Reports on Oct. 24, I indicated that my wife contributed to Horton's campaign. I also indicated that my wife and I maintain separate financial accounts. We have done that for the nearly 29 years we have been married. She also uses her own family name, not mine.

I asked the same basic questions of each of the three candidates when I interviewed them. None of them knew what I was going to ask in advance. I asked Horton about votes he made on the Board of Commissioners and about his role on the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board. I also asked him about his Financial Disclosure Statement. I did the same with Bridges.

Wiedower is the only one of the three candidates who works in Oconee County. In his capacity as a custom home builder, he has interactions with the Planning Department, Code Enforcement, the Utility Department, the Public Works Department, and others. If he is elected Commissioner, he will have oversight of those departments as well as depend on them for his business. I asked about and investigated his businesses.

Wiedower has been straightforward in raising the question about his role as a builder of custom homes and his desire to distinguish his occupation from that of a developer. In the interview I did with him, I gave him the opportunity to explain that distinction in detail.

If Horton or Bridges sends out an attack advertisement and I learn of it, I will write about that. When the candidates file their next Campaign Contribution Disclosure Reports, I will write about them. If any of the candidates have contributions that stand out, I will note it. I will report on all large contributions.

If you want to send me information I should explore about any issue, please do so.



Chris Razz said...

Thanks Lee for another illuminating article!
The rapid development currently reshaping the northern end of the county from a rural/residential to landscape one dominated by commercial developments, big box and chain stores with oversized hideous signage that our infrastructure currently cannot handle is my biggest concern.
I have already concluded that Wiedower will act as a catalyst for unbridled development while Horton will provide a more measured approach.
This episode and only confirms my resolve to vote Horton.
Thanks again!
Chris Razz

Anonymous said...

SOMETHING TO PONDER---The nice thing about living in a small town is that when I don't know what I'm doing, someone else does.
My wife reminded me of this last night.
But then I remembered that not everybody can be the KING, some of you have to stand in the crowd and wave as I go by.
To all those in the crowd--- goodbye to the tension and hello to the pension!