Tuesday, July 18, 2017

State Filings Show Oconee County Leaders Favoring One Candidate In Georgia House District Race

Gaines Raised $66,000

A number of Oconee County leaders, including Board of Commissioners Chairman John Daniell, already have picked sides in an evolving contest for what could be an open House District 117 seat.

According to Campaign Contribution Disclosure Reports filed on June 30, Daniell contributed to the campaign of Houston Gaines, as did Oconee County Board of Education Chair Tom Odom, Watkinsville City Council member Brian Brodrick and businessman Carl Nichols.

Gaines, who just graduated from the University of Georgia, is one of three candidates running to fill the 117th House District seat now held by Regina Quick. Three of Oconee County’s 13 precincts are in the 117th House District.

Gaines has raised $66,136 for his campaign.

Quick currently is under consideration for an opening on the state Superior Court and, according to campaign finance reports, has not raised any money since the end of January for a re-election campaign.

Doug McKillip, whom Quick defeated in a Republican primary in 2012, also is running and has lent his campaign $102,000, according to his June 30 filing with the state Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.

Deborah Gonzalez is in the race as well and has raised $7,842, according to her June 30 filing.

Three-Way Race Possible

If Quick were to resign her seat before the 2018 legislative session gets underway in January, Gaines, McKillip and Gonzales could find themselves running against each other in a special election before the end of the year.

Gaines and McKillip also might compete in a Republican primary in May.

Gonzalez is a Democrat and could meet either Gaines or McKillip in November of 2018.

And other candidates could surface over the next several months.

The Candidates

Gaines, who lives in Athens, was president of the University of Georgia Student Government for the just-completed academic year.

Campaign Contribution Disclosure Reports 

On his campaign web site, he says he is a consultant at Lighthouse Counsel, a “local company that partners with nonprofits to increase mission awareness, organizational effectiveness and philanthropic support.”

McKillip, who formerly lived in Athens, now lives at 1200 Tanglebrook Drive off Epps Bridge Parkway in Oconee County.

He has moved his law practice from Athens to Oconee County and has his office behind Pour Bistro in the Dolvin Building B on Main Street in Watkinsville.

Gonzalez is an attorney specializing in media and entertainment and on social media and technology. She moved to Athens to work at the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of Public Service and Outreach at the University of Georgia.

Gonzalez already has made two appearances in Oconee County as part of her campaign.

The 117th District

The 117th was created following release of the 2010 Census and includes parts of Clarke, Oconee, Jackson and Barrow Counties.

Three northeastern Oconee County precincts, Athens Academy, Malcom Bridge and Bogart, make up the Oconee County part.

The district includes the former Athens home of McKillip, who had been elected as a Democrat in the old district but had switched to the Republican Party.

Quick challenged and upset McKillip in the Republican primary in 2012 and went on to win the seat without Democratic opposition that November.

Based on June 1, 2017, data I downloaded from the Georgia Secretary of State web site, 9.5 percent of the registered voters in the 117th District are in Barrow County, 11.5 percent are in Jackson County, 23.6 percent are in Oconee County, and 55.4 percent are in Clarke County.

In November of 2016, when Quick ran unopposed on the ballot, 10.2 percent of her votes came from Barrow County, 12.7 percent came from Jackson County, 28.6 percent came from Oconee County, and 48.5 percent came from Clarke County.

The 119th District

Oconee County had fallen entirely in a single House district prior to the 2011 redistricting, but the 10 precincts not in the new 117th district were put into the new 119th district with parts of Clarke County.

A majority of the population of the new district is in Clarke County, but a number of them are University of Georgia students, many of whom do not register to vote in the district.

Registration, based on June 1, 2017, figures from the Georgia Secretary of State web site, was split with 49.0 percent from Clarke County and 51.0 percent from Oconee County.

Chuck Williams, who lives in Oconee County and serves on the county’s Industrial Development Authority, currently holds the 119th District seat.

Were Williams to be re-elected in the 119th in 2018 and McKillip to be elected from the the 117th, Oconee County could have two residents with seats in the Georgia House of Representatives in 2019.

In November of last year, Williams, running without Democratic opposition, got 39.5 percent of his vote from the Clarke County part of his district and 60.5 percent from Oconee County, despite the nearly equal registration figures.

Gaines’ Campaign Contributors

Daniell contributed $150 to Gaines’ campaign, Odom contributed $150, and Brodrick contributed $250.

Nichols, president of Nichols Land Group, 2500 Daniells Bridge Road, contributed $1,000.

Other Oconee County contributors include: Calvin Griffith, 1090 Dogwood Hill, outside Watkinsville ($1,000); Michele London-Corry, 1091 Forrest Hill Road, near Jennings Mill Country Club; Vincent Maffei, 1056 Tangle Court, off Epps Bridge Parkway ($500); Petros Nikolinakos, 1090 Ramser Drive, also near Jennings Mill ($1,000); and David Woodruff, 1320 Tanglebrook Drive, off Epps Bridge Parkway ($500).

Don McKenna, president and CEO of St. Mary’s Health Care, gave $500. He used the address of 2410 Hog Mountain Road.

Athens Mayor Nancy Denson contributed $1,000 to Gaines, who managed her latest campaign.

Jamie Boswell, Athens commercial real estate broker and vice chair of the state Transportation Board, gave $200.

Gonzalez And McKillip

McKillip lent his campaign $12,000 on May 4 and $90,000 on June 22, according to his Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report.

David Lockman, 1241 Brittain Estates Drive, donated $500 to Gonzalez, and Sarajano Love, 1091 W. Greystone Lane, donated $300. Both addresses are east of Watkinville near the Middle Oconee River.

No other Oconee County donor contributed more than $100 to Gonzalez’s campaign, according to her Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report.

Gonzalez reported receiving $101 from former Athens-Clarke County Mayor Heidi Davison.

Election Dates

State law requires the governor to call a special election not later than 30 days after a vacancy in a public office occurs.

The Secretary of State election calendar for 2017 lists possible special election dates of Sept. 19 and Nov. 7.

These dates do not include a primary, so all candidates would appear on the ballot with whatever party designation desired. A runoff would be held if none of the candidates were to get more than 50 percent of the vote.

The 2018 Election Calendar sets the primary date for May 22.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Oconee County Reviewing Proposal To Demolish Old Jail And Expand Courthouse In Watkinsville

Announced At Town Hall Meeting

Oconee County commissioners are considering a plan to tear down the old, unused jail tucked at the rear of the existing Courthouse in Watkinsville and to build an addition to the Courthouse where the old jail now sits.

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman John Daniell announced the proposal at the end of a Town Hall Meeting held by the Commissioners Thursday night at the Community Center in Veterans Park.

Eighteen people other than the commissioners attended the meeting, which covered a range of topics, including the Animal Shelter, Mars Hill Road, the proposed widening of U.S. 441, and the possibility of a property tax rollback.

Daniell told the group that the commissioners have not reached agreement on what to do to address county space needs long term but that a proposal to build an addition where the old jails sits was offered by a group studying Courthouse security and is now under consideration.

Secrecy About Security

Courthouse security is under the control of the Sheriff, and discussions of the topic are shrouded in secrecy.

Daniell did not provide any details about the composition of the group that recommended demolition of the old jail or about the proposed use of the additional space.

He merely said that in studying Courthouse security needs the group had proposed that the jail be demolished and the Courthouse expanded.

Daniell said the proposed addition was a stopgap measure, that ultimately the Courthouse itself will house only judicial operations, and that the Board of Commissioners has not agreed on where to locate the administrative offices.

Increase Efficiency

The old jail, which Daniell said was built in 1905, most recently was used as a probation office and now sits vacant.

Old Jail

The building is connected to the Courthouse via an elevated walkway, but Daniell said using the jail again would require a big investment.

“We can significantly increase the efficiency of the Courthouse” by tearing down the jail and building an addition it its place, Daniell said.

The county believes it can do this work for the amount of money available, Daniell said.

No Historical Value

Daniell said he has tried to learn of any historical value of the jail and has come up short.

A lynching took place outside the jail, he said, and that isn’t a part of the county’s history that should be celebrated.

Daniell said there is “no architectural or craftsmanship” element to the jail.

One thing that is being considered is incorporating the existing jail doors into a new design, Daniell said.

Feedback Sought

Daniell solicited feedback from those present, and four of those who spoke were in favor of the plan.

That included Sarah Bell, president of the Oconee County Historical Society, who said the Society supports the demolition of the jail.

Chuck Williams, who represents parts of Oconee County in the Georgia House of Representatives, said he thought people might have a different reaction to the demolition if the jail were not partially surrounded by the existing Courthouse.

One person who spoke in response to Daniell’s question was simply trying to understand the exact location of the building proposed for demolition.

Millage Rate

Daniell was joined by Commissioner Chuck Horton and Commissioner Mark Thomas at the Thursday night meeting. Missing were Commissioner Mark Saxon and Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes.

The commissioners fielded 20 different questions or sets of questions and spent significant time responding to John Webb, 1320 Bent Creek Road, off Hodges Mill Road, who asked the Board to consider a property tax rollback.

Webb had made the same request on Tuesday, when the Board held a public hearing on its proposal to set the millage rate for the coming year at its current 6.686 mills.

Because of an increase in property tax valuation, that will result in a tax increase of 4.19 percent in the unincorporated parts of the county.

All three commissioners were emphatic in saying that the county needs the additional revenue the property tax will produce and a rollback of taxes is not possible.

“I think we’re probably at least two or three years away from being able to do that,” Daniell said, citing the need for money for transportation, employee compensation, and other projects.

“I think we’re doing really well not to increase the millage rate,” Thomas said.

Animal Shelter

The first question was from Tom Zahrn, 1171 Cobblestone Lane, in the west of the county off Pete Dickens Road, who wanted to know the status of discussions on the Animal Shelter.

Zahrn said he volunteers at the Animal Shelter.

Daniell said the Board is waiting on an update to the report from the consultant, who recommended that the county build a new facility to replace the facility at the far south of the county.

Daniell said the county does not have sufficient funds to build a new facility but might be able to renovate the existing facility with money being collected at present from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

Mars Hill Road

Rep. Williams asked for an update on the Mars Hill Road widening.

Daniell said work on Phase I of the project running from SR 316 to Butler’s Crossing is on schedule and should be finished by May of next year.

Right of way purchasing for Phase II from Butler’s Crossing to the U.S. 441 bypass of Watkinsville is complete, he said.

The county is tearing down signs and doing similar work to certify the right of way before funds can be released for actual construction, he said.

The hope is that when Phase I construction is completed work will begin immediately on Phase II, Daniell said.

Widening Of U.S. 441

Larry Preston, 1150 Northwoods Road off Mars Hill Road, asked about the status of the proposed widening of U.S. 441.

The Georgia Department of Transportation said in March that a U.S. 441 bypass of Bishop was no longer being considered. Instead, the plan was to build roundabouts at either side of Bishop to slow traffic moving through the center of the small town.

Daniell said it is his understanding that GDOT is now considering alternates to the announced plan, including the possibility of a bypass.

“We’re just waiting to see what they’re going to say,” Horton said.

“I’m intrigued by the roundabouts,” Daniell added.


The video below is of the entire Town Hall Meeting, which ran just more than 80 minutes.

Daniells’ announcement on the proposed demolition of the jail begins at 1:06:10 in the video.

Webb’s questions about the tax rate starts at 13:14.

Zahrn posed his question at 0:35.

Williams asked his question about Mars Hill Road at 10:08.

Preston had asked about U.S. 441 just before that, at 6:08.

OCO: BOC Town Hall 7 13 2017 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Oconee County Commissioners Approve Hiring of New County Administrator And New Parks And Recreation Director

Held Tax Hearing Also

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners appointed Justin Kirouac as county administrator and Lisa Davol as director of the Parks and Recreation Department at its regular meeting last (Tuesday) night.

Kirouac, currently assistant manager in Johns Creek in Fulton County, was given a five-year contract starting at $110,000. Kirouac replaces Jeff Benko, who is retiring at the end of the month.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Public Forum Scheduled On Work Of Oconee County Comprehensive Plan Joint Stakeholders Committee

July 27 At Veterans Park

The public will have the opportunity on July 27 to see the work of the Joint Stakeholders Committee that is deliberating on the update to the Oconee County Comprehensive Plan.

The county has rescheduled the public forum for 6 p.m. at the Community Center at Oconee Veterans Park, 3500 Hog Mountain Road.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Oconee County Commissioners Are Working As A Team, Chairman Tells County Republican Gathering

Other Commissioners Agree

The five members of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners have come together to address the issues before the county, commissioners told a gathering of the Oconee County Republican Party late last month.

“We are working together as a team, and that’s what we are,” Commission Chair John Daniell told the group in what was billed as a State Of Oconee County report. Daniell assumed the Chair position only in January.