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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.