Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Oconee County Commissioner Luke Went Against Colleagues And Objected To Committee Appointments, Spending On Road Projects

With Some Success

Oconee County Commissioner Jim Luke broke ranks with his fellow commissioners three times last (Tuesday) night in what is likely to be his fourth last meeting on the Commission.

He refused to go along with an attempt to remove former Commissioner Chuck Horton from the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board, where Horton serves as a citizen member.

Luke also said he did not want to vote to spend $60,000 on a study of the SR 316 and Epps Bridge Corridor, suggesting that such a decision should be made after the new Board takes seat in January. Luke retires at the end of next month.

Luke also challenged authorizing the spending of $19,750 for design work by Moreland Altobelli Associates of Duluth, trying, unsuccessfully, to get Commission Chairman Melvin Davis to acknowledge that he authorized the spending without Commission approval.

The Commission delayed making the appointments to the reservoir board and postponed consideration of the $60,000 for the transportation study, but it agreed to pay Moreland Altobelli on the grounds the work already had been done.

Mystery of Appointment

When the Board turned to appointment of the two citizen alternates to the Hard Labor Creek management board last night, Luke said “I’m going to break a little bit with our tradition...”

Luke 11 1 2016

(See 1:08 on the video at the end of this post.)

The tradition is that the Board approves unanimously appointments to citizen boards that the members have agreed upon in executive session.

Before Luke could finish he sentence, Commissioner Mark Saxon interrupted him and asked: “Would it be appropriate if we go back into executive session to discuss this?”

Luke agreed, and the Board held a 15-minute executive session at the end of the regular meeting to deal with the appointment.

Delay Until After Election

When the Board came back into open session, Saxon made a motion to postpone the decision on the appointment until the next Board meeting on Nov. 29.

Luke seconded the motion, which passed unanimously with the support of Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes. (See 2:27 in the video at the end of the post.)

I asked both Luke and Saxon today for an explanation of the motion.

Both refused to say a word about what had transpired in the executive session last night or the one after the Oct. 25 meeting, when the Board agreed on the appointments to the Hard Labor Creek board and to the Oconee County Library Board.

Both Luke and Saxon said the Nov. 29 date was set because of the special election on Nov. 8 for the vacant Post II on the Commission.

Horton, Ben Bridges and Marcus Wiedower are competing for that spot.

Luke and Saxon said if Horton were to win enough votes to make a runoff on Dec. 6 unnecessary, he would not be eligible for appointment to the management board, making it easy for them to resolve the issue.

Three Applicants

On Oct. 25, Horton come before the Commission and asked for reappointment to his position as an alternate on the reservoir board. Reappointments to citizen committees are routine when requested by the citizen.

John Caudill, also an alternate, asked for reappointment, but he was not able to attend.

The third applicant, Chris Butts, who is executive director of the Georgia Green Industry Association, also did not attend. The Green Industry depends heavily on an inexpensive and plentiful water supply.

Chairman Davis, whom Horton challenged unsuccessfully in 2012, wields considerable influence in executive sessions, even though he does not vote in regular sessions except in the case of a tie.

Shortly after the 2012 election, Davis proposed that Horton be removed from the Hard Labor Creek board and from the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority, of which Horton was chair.

The Board went along with Davis, though it later reappointed Horton to his current position as an alternate.

All indications are it was prepared to go along with Davis in appointing Butts over Horton–and had agreed to that in the executive session on Oct. 25--until Luke objected last night.

Transportation Study

County Public Works Director Emil Beshara told the Board last night that “some time ago we were tasked” with issuing a request for qualifications for a corridor study of SR 316 and Epps Bridge Parkway.

Beshara said DesignWorkshop of Asheville, N.C., stood out among the bidders because “they made reference in their project approach to not only transportation, but bicycle, pedestrian, landscape and land use aspects of the corridor.”

DesignWorkshop bid was $60,000.

Luke told Beshara that he supported doing the study, but he was concerned about the cost and that the Board was being asked to make a decision before new Commission Chairman John Daniell, new Commissioner Mark Thomas, and whoever wins the special election joins the Board.

Citizen Concerns

Eleven citizens raised concerns about the spending, about the timing, and about the decision to go forward with the proposal without consulting with the Citizen Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee.

Davis 11 1 2016

I was among those who raised those concerns.

At the end of the citizen comments, Davis asked the Board to respond to Beshara’s request to move forward with the bid.

Davis first raised the possibility of a corridor study back in 2015 after the Board of Commissioners turned down his request that it go forward with the proposed flyover of SR Loop 10 to connect to Daniells Bridge Road.

Commissioner Saxon said “I think it is pretty clear we need to postpone it,” and the three commissioners approved unanimously a motion to do just that.

The discussion of the corridor study starts at 1:32 in the video at the bottom of this post.

Moreland Altobelli

At the end of the meeting (2:08:45 in the video), when the Commission was set to approve items agreed upon earlier and put on the consent agenda, Luke asked that the payment to Moreland Altobelli be discussed more fully.

Luke pushed Davis to indicate if the work covered by the change order had been started.

Davis said he didn’t know, but Beshara said the work had been completed.

Luke then asked who authorized the work, since a vote on a change order is supposed to precede the actual work itself.

Davis refused to provide an answer, though he made it clear he had been involved in the discussions.

Citizen Sarah Bell also asked Davis to answer the question, and again he refused.

In the end, Luke said the county should pay the money since “they’ve done the work and we owe it.”

The Board voted to approve the change order, which was for work on the redesign of the intersection of Government Station Road and Experiment Station Road.

Calls Creek Speakers

At the beginning of the meeting, during the citizen comment section, three people again stated their opposition to the proposed construction of a sewer line down Calls Creek.

Davis said “ there has not been a proposal made to the Board of Commissioners. There’s been studies done.”

Jim McGarvey, president of Friends of Calls Creek, which has been leading the opposition to the proposed pipeline, said that uncertainty is causing a problem to homeowners and adversely affecting home sales in the area.

“It ought to be yes or no, so we know,” he said.

Rezone Request

The most time-consuming item on the agenda last night was a request by Saphire Properties to rezone 2.2 acres on the west side of Jimmy Daniell Road north of SR 316 from agricultural to Office-Institutional-Professional to allow for development of two office buildings totaling 7,000 square feet in space.

Two citizens raised concerns about the rezone, one focusing on traffic and the other on the entrance to the two-building complex.

That entrance gave the commissioners concerns, and most of the discussion was about whether it was better to have a divided entrance with a planter or simply an entrance with lines painted on the roadway.

In the end, the issue never was completely resolved.

That section of the meeting starts at 23:30 in the video that follows. The Saphire rezone consumed 42 minutes of the meeting, which ran for two hours and 30 minutes.


The complete video of the meeting is below.

A gap of 15 minutes, not shown in the video, elapsed between the end of the regular meeting and when the Commission reconvened following its executive session.

OCO: BOC 11 1 16 Complete from Lee Becker on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. I thought that by law, executive sessions of county commissioners could only be held to discuss personnel matters and pending legal matters, and that minutes of those sessions had to be kept. I wouldn't think committee appointments would fall under either heading. But what do I know, when the King is on the throne and running everything. ("The tradition is that the Board approves unanimously appointments to citizen boards that the members have agreed upon in executive session.")

Anonymous said...

Mr. Becker, I commented earlier on what can be done in executive sessions. Evidently the Oconee County BOC doesn't have a clue. I would strongly urge that you talk with Sam Olens, attorney general of the State of Georgia, to get further information on this. The only matters, as I understand it, that can be discussed in executive session are personnel matters, land acquisition, and pending litigation -- and committee appointments don't come under any of those headings, as far as I can tell. There are very specific regulations, also, on keeping written records of executive sessions that I'll bet the Oconee County BOC doesn't have a clue about either.

Lee Becker said...

Oconee County argues that citizen appointments to citizen committees are personnel matters and can be discussed in executive session. These positions are not paid, but County Attorney Daniel Haygood, who goes into the sessions with the Board, has supported this interpretation. So far, no one has challenged the legality of this interpretation, though one could. The Attorney General's office has a service for mediation of open records issues. I have not found it to be very effective, though I have not raised this particular issue with that Office. The mediation service could become more effective with the appointment of Chris Carr to replace Olens, but I doubt it will.

The County Clerk goes into the executive sessions for the purpose of taking minutes. The county can be forced to release those minutes only through a court order.


Anonymous said...

Take away from last Tuesday's BOC meeting.
Commissioner Luke demonstrated how you finish a career serving on the BOC.
He questioned and voted in a fair manner.
With disappointment, we see how a chairman shows how it is not.
Mark Saxson shows he has the potential to be a positive voice on the Commission- will he?

Many issues are on the table to be handled with the Commission in 2017.
Govern for (all) the people.

Thank you, Lee, for the article.

Anonymous said...

I listened to the video of the BOC 11-1-16 meeting. It was very! difficult to hear what was said most of the time. I wish that the Commissioners would lean forward into the microphone when they are talking so that we who can't attend the meetings can better understand what is being said.
One question that was asked by Mr. Luke and also Ms. Bell in the audience about the money for the change order for Moreland Altobelli and who ordered the authorization for them to do the work was never answered. Obviously the BOC did not vote to authorize the work. It seemed that Chairman Davis tried to dodge the answer but maybe he did say who gave the order. It was very hard to hear him.
Can anyone answer who authorized the go ahead to have the change of the design work done and at what meeting?
Thanks Lee for your dedication in filming all the meetings of concern to we citizens. There is no way for us to attend all of them. I wish all the citizens who vote would watch them.

Lee Becker said...

It was clear that this conversation was not one that Davis wanted to hold. He did not answer the question about who authorized the expenditure. He used the passive voice to say it was authorized. He was the one who tried to resolve the issue with the university property. The county's public works director, Beshara, was not a party to the discussions, based on what Beshara has said and on the correspondence I have been able to obtain to this point. So the only person in a position to instruct Moreland Altobelli to do the work was Davis.
I apologize for the problem with the volume.

Zippity said...

Thank you, Jim Luke.

Xardox said...

Without the immense work of Dr. Becker to bring us this information,
no one would ever know any of this. Many thanks to him.
Yes, I could go myself. I used to, and should return.
But I am only one opinionated voice, and only one vote.
Only by being informed and interested do the intelligent votes mount up.
Further, only by exposure does a tangled web come to light.
2017 will be a year of turmoil for the new and untested Board.

Anonymous said...

A tear in my eye and a lump in my throat as Jim asked us to remember his son in prayer. A tragic death of such a promising young man. I did not realize that so much time has passed.
Thank you Jim for your hard work and dedication for all you have tried to do for our County. We pray for you also.
Your presence will be missed on the board next year.

Anonymous said...

Hey Abe, which hat are you wearing on this project: Chairman of the county Land Use
& Planning Comm., or as owner of ABE Consulting??
I pray there numerous conflicts of interest (Abe, Rick Waller, Jamie Boswell, etc.) in Oconee lessen under the new commission!!

From the Oconee Enterprise
Small office development OK’d on Jimmy Daniell Road
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Posted: Wednesday, November 2, 2016 6:00 pm
by Blake Giles | 0 comments
A rezone and variance granted by the Board of Commissioners Tuesday will clear the way for a small office development on Jimmy Daniell Road across from Meriweather Drive.
Two Jennings Mill residents expressed reservations about the rezone and the variance. Sapphire Properties asked for a rezone from A-1 to OIP and for a wider driveway than normal.

The variance request was to widen the entrance from the normal 40 feet to 53 feet. That was to align with Meriweather Drive across the road, which has a landscaped island in the center of a divided entrance and exit.
Because the offices will be a driveway and not a road, an island will not be permitted in the right of way. In fact, Public Works Director Emil Beshara said that current regulations would not allow the island that is on Meriweather Drive.
But Abe Abouhamdan of ABE Consulting explained that the island would add beauty and symmetry. However, current code will force the island back into the driveway, so it is not clear if it will be landscaped or not.
Linda Purcell said that she was concerned about traffic on Meriweather Drive, which she described as “a tragedy getting ready to happen.”
Tom Schmaltz was more concerned about potential tenants in the offices. Sapphire Properties agreed to attach a long list of allowed OIP uses that would not be allowed in its complex. Schmatz succeeded in getting two more uses excluded. There will be no ambulance services, and there will be no helicopter pad.
Sapphire plans to build two 3,500-square-foot buildings. One will have a storage basement.