Fran Thompson and Andrea Wellnitz told Oconee County Democrats that they are running as a team for spots on the Oconee County Board of Education.
Both said they are seeking to improve transparency in the schools, to guarantee that the school environment is a safe one, and to make sure the schools serve the social and emotional needs of all students.
Thompson is seeking Post 3 on the Board, and Wellnitz is seeking Post 2. Republicans Kim Argo and Amy Parrish, respectively, hold those spots at present.
The School Board contest is the only strictly county race on the ballot this November, but Watkinsville will have candidates for three council seats on the ballot and Bogart will have candidates for one seat.
Dan Matthews, one of the City Council candidates in Watkinsville, joined Thompson and Wellnitz as speakers at the Oconee County Democratic meeting last month.
The North Oconee High School Young Americans for Freedom Chapter last week asked help from both parties and of the community at large to replicate last years’s commemoration of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by placing flags on the front lawn of the school on Sept. 9.
Wellnitz, 48, a social worker and artist, was the first of the two School Board candidates to speak to the Democrats at their Aug. 21 meeting.
Wellnitz said she is “a mom to two amazing daughters,” a ninth grader at North Oconee High School and a seventh grader at Malcom Bridge Middle School.
“I’ve always been really engaged in my daughters’ education,” she said, “and I firmly believe in public education and the value of that for all of us.”
“I’ve been hearing a lot of communication from families about lack of transparency, or concerns about communication, and that’s something that I really want to make sure that we have--open and transparent communication with all of our families.”
Wellnitz said she also wants to make sure “that all of the social and emotional needs for our students are met for all students” and “that all students can feel really safe and secure in their school district.”
“Overall we have a great school,” Wellnitz said. “We have an amazing school. But can we do better? Yes we can. I really believe that we can do better and I think that all of us together can make that happen.”
Incumbent Parrish, 48, was appointed to the Board of Education to fill an unexpired term and is in her first election. She is a wealth advisor.
Thompson, 41, a school social worker, said she has three children, one in the second grade at Oconee Primary School and another in the sixth grade at Oconee Middle School. The third will start kindergarten next year.
“We have such a high socio-economic level in our community that we can do so much more than we’re doing,” Thompson said. “Yes, we have high test scores. But high test scores tells us more about who lives in the community and less actually about what is going on in the school.”
Thompson said she is focusing on six issues: Transparency, safety, accountability, social and emotional learning, a positive school climate, and the feeling that every child matters.
“I want to feel like the School Board is approachable to families,” Thompson said. “I want families to feel like what they say is important.”
Thompson said the School System has made what she called “unsafe hires” in the past that have resulted in safety issues in the schools.
She also said the Board is “not approachable. That’s something definitely that I want to change.”
“I hear a lot of parents talking about bullying,” Thompson said. “A lot about racism. A lot about stereotypes about religion.” The schools need a “positive school climate,” she said.
Parents also need to know that their “child matters,” Thompson said.
“A lot of time school people say, ‘if you don’t like it here, you don’t have to stay here.’ My answer to that is that is definitely a personal philosophy that people have, but it is not my personal philosophy.”
Argo, incumbent Post 3 Board member, is a retired educator. She is 66 years old.
City Council Races
Seven candidates have qualified for three races in Watkinsville: incumbent Marci Campbell and Scott Brannon for Post 3, incumbent Christine Tucker and Mike Link for Post 4, and incumbent Matthews, Lee Morgan and Bill Mayberry for Post 5.
In Bogart, two candidates qualified last week for the unexpired term of Council Member David Nunn, who resigned on July 13.
They are Brenda Acton, 177 Elder Street, and Garth Hixson 148 Oak Street.
Bogart has a mayor and four Council members, and Council members do not run by post.
The winner of the contest between Acton and Hixson will serve for one year.
Bishop also has an opening on its governing body, made up of a mayor and four Council members, as a result of the resignation of John Dekker.
Only one person, Matthew Wainwright, 5040 Macon Highway, qualified, so the city will not need to hold an election.
North High Schools will not have any city election this November.
Watkinsville incumbent Post 5 Council Member Matthews reminded those at the Democratic Party meeting that the city race is nonpartisan.
“I am not running against anyone,” Matthews said. “But I am running for the city of Watkinsville and all of the residents, all the businesses, all the visitors, all the voters, everyone.”
Matthews said he was not going to criticize the other two candidates.
“I’m here to say what I have done, what I want to continue to help do for the city of Watkinsville and the people in Oconee County.” He mentioned recycling, bike lanes, and sidewalks as issues he will address.
Matthews is an active member of the Oconee County Democrats, and the Party paid his $72 qualifying fee for the Watkinsville City Council race at the meeting on Aug. 21.
Tammy Gilland, chair of the Oconee County Republican Executive Committee, told me in an email message on Aug. 22 that the Republican Party has not paid any qualifying fees for candidates for city races in the county.
Young Americans for Freedom
Last year, Oconee County Democrats and Republicans joined in setting out the 2,977 flags on the lawn of North Oconee High School, 1081 Rocky Branch Road, to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attacks.
“This is a non-partisan event,” Chapter President McCord Camp is quoted as saying in a press release dated Aug. 27.
“Everyone—Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, all want to honor the victims of 9/11,” Champ stated. “In the tempestuous time we live in, our communities need events where everyone can come together.”
Last year, approximately 100 persons participated, according to the news release.
The Young Americans for Freedom chapter is asking those interested to meet at 6 p.m. on Sept. 9 at the school to place the small flags on the school lawn.
Community members also can donate to the project. While most of the flags from last year will be re-used, several will need to be replaced, and the students need about $75 to be able to buy enough flags to replace the unusable flags, according to the news release.
I did attend the Aug. 21 meeting of the Oconee County Democrats, but Penny Mill also attended and recorded the video below.
Matthews speaks at 7:00 in the video.
Wellnitz is at 12:18 in the video.
Thompson speaks at 15:30 in the video.
The remainder of the video is devoted to the business meeting of the Democrats.
The Oconee Enterprise will host a candidate forum for local candidates in the Nov. 6 general election from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 4 at the University of North Georgia campus on Experiment Station Road.
Prochaska said that all four Board of Education candidates and all six state legislative candidates representing Oconee County have agreed to attend or send a representative.
The format will include introductory comments from the candidates followed by questions from the audience.