Saturday, May 18, 2019

Oconee County School Board Blocks County Plans To Build Roundabouts At Malcom Bridge Middle School Entrances

***Board Of Commissioners To Consider Options***

The Oconee County Board of Education on Monday refused to grant the county the rights of way and easements for construction of roundabouts at the two entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School.

The inaction is an attempt by the Board of Education to thwart the efforts by the county Board of Commissioners to build the roundabouts.

The county Board of Commissioners has responsibility for the county’s roads leading up to the school entrances, and the Board of Education has responsibility for those parts of the entrances on school system property.

The Board of Commissioners had proposed the roundabouts in response to traffic congestion, especially at the school entrances, and in anticipation of new traffic resulting from a shopping center in design stages opposite the Middle School between Malcom Bridge Road and Lenru Road.

Board of Education member Wayne Bagley said at the meeting on Monday that the roundabouts aren’t needed and may make the traffic problems at the school entrances worse rather than better.

The Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night is scheduled to discuss the Malcom Bridge Road roundabouts in light of the refusal of the Board of Education to grant the land and construction easements for two of the three planned roundabouts on Malcom Bridge Road.

What Was Requested

School Superintendent Jason Branch presented the Board of Education two documents on Monday, one for a roundabout at the bus entrance and the other for a roundabout at the parent entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School.

Odom And Branch 5/13/2019

The documents granted to the county the right of way and construction easements needed for the two roundabouts. As such, they required Board approval.

For the bus entrance, the Board of Commissioners had asked for 0.107 acres of right of way and a construction easement of .331 acres.

For the parent entrance, the Board of Commissioners had asked for 0.3 acres of right of way and 0.459 acres in construction easement.

The county was to pay Oconee County Schools $1 for each of the two properties.

Brock Toole, chief operating officer for Oconee County Schools, told the School Board members at their April 8 meeting that he had gotten an estimation of the value of property being requested by the county at that time and it was $52,000.

The county reduced the request for rights of way slightly since that time.

Board Inaction

Branch asked Jake Grant, director of facilities for the school system, late in the meeting on Monday to update the School Board on the roundabouts, which have been a topic of discussion at several recent Board meeting, including the one a week earlier on May 6.

Grant’s presentation consumed less than three minutes, but the discussion that followed lasted a little more than 25 minutes.

Board member Bagley was joined by Board Chair Tom Odom and members Kim Argo and Tim Burgess in questioning Grant about the roundabouts. Board member Amy Parrish was not present.

Branch usually makes recommendations for Board action, but he did not do so on Monday.

“Board, I would just remind you,” Branch said at the end of the discussion, “that, if it is the desire of the Board to grant right of way access, you have before you and action would be needed on one or both of these items.”

“Which means you’ve got to have a motion and a second,” Board Chair Odom said in response.

Odom waited 37 seconds and, hearing no motion, said, “We’ll move on.”

Tuesday’s Commission Meeting

Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell told me in an email message on Friday that “We cannot accomplish the current design without the additional ROW. We will discuss options on Tuesday night.”

The agenda for the Tuesday night meeting includes a site plan dated May 10 that shows a roundabout at the bus entrance that would not seem to require right of way or easements from the Board of Education.

Malcom Bridge Road is shifted onto property the county already owns opposite the bus entrance.

No plans are shown with Tuesday’s agenda for the parent entrance to the school.

The county does not need any property from the Board of Education to go forward with plans for a third roundabout, at Malcom Bridge Road and Mars Hill Road.

The county earlier dropped plans for a roundabout at Lenru Road and Malcom Bridge Road because of encroachment on driveways to homes at that intersection.

The meeting on Tuesday begins at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse in Watkinsville. The meeting is early in the month because of the holiday.

Grant’s Report

At its meeting on April 15, the Board of Education granted the rights of way and easements to the county for roundabouts at the two entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School, but with conditions.

Bagley, Burgess And Grant 5/13/2019

The Board of Education said the county has to provide “assurance” that the work on the entrances will be completed by the beginning of the school year in August.

The School Board also said the school system will not turn over the rights of way and grant the easements until the county is “at the point where they need it.”

At the meeting on Monday, Grant said he was back before the School Board because the county had changed the request and so that the Board could vote on the two entrances separately.

“Our attorney has consulted with us on it, and they are before you tonight,” Grant said of the documents.

Grant didn’t identify the attorney, but in January, the Board retained firms Hall, Booth, Smith of Athens and Harben, Hartley and Hawkins of Gainesville as legal counsel.

Board Objections

The Board, in its earlier discussion of the proposed roundabouts, had focused its objections on the possibility that the road work for the roundabouts might not be completed by the time school starts on Aug. 7.

The county had said work would be completed by Aug. 1.

At the meeting on Monday, almost all of the discussion was of the roundabouts themselves.

Board members made it clear they did not want roundabouts built at the two entrances to the Middle School.

“We’re talking about a new traffic control device for this county,” Board member Tim Burgess said. “As far as I know, we don’t have one in Oconee at all. And now we’re looking at conversation about putting one of those in front of our schools when we don’t have any others around the whole county.”

“And it is not a traffic device that anybody miles and miles and miles around has chosen to go to,” Burgess said. “Some of those counties are a lot more crowded with a lot bigger schools than we’ve got.”

“This is a complete unknown for a school system,” Bagley said, “and at a bare minimum, I’d like to see some kind of a study of a proven roundabout at the only entrance to a school.”

Grant reminded the Board that the only two entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School are via Malcom Bridge Road where the roundabouts are proposed.

Shopping Center Entrance

Bagley focused most of his discussion on the shopping center that Lenru Development LLC has underway.

Bagley also is a member of the county’s Industrial Development Authority. He was appointed to the Authority by the Board of Commissioners.

Lenru Development is a partnership involving Rodney Jones, 1520 Crystal Hills Drive, and Philip Hammond, 1516 Bracken Ct., off Fern Hill Road, near the proposed shopping center.

The Board of Commissioners approved a modification of the existing business zoning for the shopping center in October of last year.

That modification included as a condition requiring the developer to “install a traffic circle/roundabout/or equivalent to service both parcels owned by Lenru Development LLC and the middle school entrance.”

Final plans for the shopping center are under review by the county’s Planning and Code Enforcement Department.

The concept plan approved by the Board of Commissioners showed a main entrance on Malcom Bridge Road aligned with Fern Hill Road, a secondary entrance on Malcom Bridge Road opposite the parent entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School, and two minor entrances on Lenru Road.

Bagley’s Assessment Of Entrance

That second entrance would serve the 7.5 acre shopping center being planned and its expansion on 3.3 acreas owned by Lenru Development and currently zoned for commercial development as part of a Master Plan Development for Tripple Creek Subdivision in 2003.

The concept plan approved by the Board of Commissioners in October of last year for the modification of the shopping center plans included an access road linking the shopping center to the 3.3 acres.

Bagley said on Monday that the roundabout at the parent entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School would be incomplete because that 3.3 acres was not being developed.

The Board of Commissioners, however, explicitly said in the condition quoted above that Lenru had to use land from both the 7.5 acres and 3.3 acres to build the complete roundabout.

“The parent roundabout is not the main entrance for this development,” Bagley said. “So the roundabout really would be not a primary entrance for this overall development. It wouldn’t even be in the center.”

“So the necessity of that roundabout at that point seems to be, to me, not warranted at this point for the reason that we’ve been given about the access to the shopping center,” Bagley said. “It seems to me that it may create more of a problem than a solution at this point in time.”

“Based on what I see here, they could not go out that entrance,” Bagley said incorrectly, “because only half of the entrance is part of that rezone.”

Safety Concerns

School Board members on Monday minimized the existing problems with access to Malcom Bridge Middle School.

Argo 5/13/2019 (With Executive Assistant Zoe Gattie)

“Traffic is impacted in the morning about 20 minutes and in the afternoon about 20 minutes?” Board member Argo asked Grant. “And this store can probably be opened at 9 or 10 in the morning and stay open late?”

Grant agreed.

“So most of our school hours, we’re not really impacting their business, I don’t think,” Argo said.

At present, a patrol officer from the Sheriff’s Office is at the entrances and exists during the morning and afternoon peak periods.

“Our primary responsibility as a Board is the safety of our students, our parents, our staff, our faculty,” Bagley said. “I think we have a pretty safe system in place now.”

Why Voting Again

“We have no control over county roads,” Argo said, seeking affirmation from Grant that roads are the responsibility of the Board of Commissioners, not of the Board of Education.

“The control you have is the right of way that you grant,” Grant said in response.

“Even though we voted in April to approve the deed for, we’ve got to vote on it again?” Odom asked.

“Well, they’ve changed what they’re asking for,” Grant replied.

“Neither roundabout would go directly into his development,” Odom stated.

The concept plan approved by the county shows the second entrance to the shopping center opposite the parent entrance to the middle school.

No one from the county was at the meeting on Monday. Board of Commissioners Daniell attended the meeting on May 6 but was not given a chance to speak.

“We have to look out for students’ interests,” Odom said. “I mean the community as well. That’s what we’re here to do. So I don’t want to paint a dark picture of any developer. I’ll just say this may not be the best ideal thing I’ve ever seen.”

Other Action

In other action on Monday, the Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a $1.4 million bid from Virtucom of Norcross in Gwinnett County for student mobile devices.

The bid includes 3,938 HP G6 EE Chromebooks and 564 HP x360 Chromebooks.

The Board also unanimously approved spending $671,437 with W. W. Williams Company in Dekalb County on a bus air conditioning retrofit project.

The Board also unanimously approved the tentative Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Budget.

The $82 million Fiscal Year 2019-2020 budget is based on a reduction of the millage rate to 16.5, the lowest rate for county schools since 2003.

The millage rate at present is 17.0.


The Board, in the recognition section of the meeting, awarded the May Pursuit of Excellence Award Winner/Support Personnel to Paula Truluck at Dove Creek Elementary School.

Student recognitions were for the middle school online proficiency exam, for scenario writing, for business math and financial literacy, for business communication, for marketing concepts, for multimedia and web development, for parliamentary procedure concepts and for business concepts.

Other awards were for book trailer videos, for fan fiction, and for poetry.

The Board recognized the 2019 Georgia FFA Poultry Evaluation Team awardees and the poultry Evaluation-Individual award recipient.


I was not able to attend the meeting on May 13, but Penny Mills did attend and recorded the video of the session.

The first video below is of the entire meeting of the Board of Education.

Grant began his presentation at 43:12 in the video.

The second video below is of the awards section of the meeting.


Anonymous said...

BOC Chair Daniell is years behind the learning curve of understanding roads, retail and its future in our community. Because of his limited capabilities and unwillingness to have real professional minds guide the county we will be stuck with paying for his ill conceived transportation program among others things.

The BOE puts students first and it shows in their decision. (Granted they were slow in realizing the need improved communication with parents in regard to meeting times, etc. Glad that was corrected.)

If you watch the video you will hear that Burgess stated that of the 18 surrounding county school systems only ONE roundabout is used and it is located in the back of the school and not on the main road. That is a lot of transportation plans developed by a multitude of professionals. I think I will take the professional advice of the many to the needs of a single politician (Daniell ) to build roads for his buddies.

BOE employee Grant states that he has received little necessary reports, plans and basic information to make a decision. The video shows both parties have been working on this for months. Long enough to produce information and certainly long enough for Daniell to talk to them. This was a back room deal being pushed down the throats of the BOE, parents, students and ultimately the taxpayers of Oconee County.

This is yet another example of Daniell making bad decisions, a board not bothering to keep him in check and the rules by which our county is to be governed is ignored.

Lee Becker said...

In general, I do not comment on comments. I have three observations that I believe are relevant here.
1. It sure would be nice if people would sign their names with their comments.
2. John Daniell attended the BOE session on May 6 but was not given a chance to answer questions. I was there. I saw him enter and leave at the end of the session. He was there for all of the discussion of the roundabouts.
3. Grant did say he had not received final details on the roundabout at the parent entrance, including the schedule for completion, but he said he had received the final details on the needed easements and right of way. That was what was before the Board of Education.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Becker-
Always appreciate your observations. You are an excellent journalist.

Daniell had a chance to speak and work with the BOE for months. Grant received details that included little in the way of information. He was asked exactly what the BOE had to go by. They did not receive enough information to go forward or “trust” the limited information they received.

I am sorry, but my viewing of the meetings leave me questioning a very deceptive Chair of the BOC.

Lee Becker said...

Daniell said at a BOC meeting that the county began meeting with the staff of the Board of Education before the rezone that required the roundabout or something similar was completed. I do not have independent verification of that. Grant reported at the BOE meeting earlier this month that he had met several times with county staff. I am trying to build a time line of these meetings based on documents. I will report what I learn, since coordination or lack of coordination between the two county Boards and staff is an essential part of this story.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Becker-
Why was the information for building several roundabouts not imparted to the Planning Commission and the citizens from the Lenru Road area during the rezone? Is that not withholding information from the public? Who knew about the roundabouts- Daniel and the developer? Is it legal? What a tangled web Daniell weaves.

I appreciate your timeline approach to the story. Let’s blame the staff on decisions made by the BOC is the usual approach. It has served as the stand CYA for politicians for years. A quote from the former Road Department Director would be a nice touch. He seems to be the fall guy for the Dove Creek debacle.

But, ultimately trust has been broken by the actions of a limited BOC Chair.

Bill Mayberry said...

Two school entrances are NOT the place to experiment
with another "Seems like a good idea" scheme.
The same reservation is for the two roundabouts
being forced upon the citizens of Bishop on a major Federal artery.
Do it right. Do it properly. Do not do it on the cheap.
Dr. Becker is correct about the "Anonymous" comments.

Zippity said...

I recently attended a conference on traffic safety and roundabouts are the safest, most efficient means to move traffic. They are much safer than traffic lights because they slow traffic while allowing it to move forward and much, much safer than using police officers who can be killed doing this (as has already happened in this county). Don't be afraid of what you don't know. Oconee county citizens are smart enough to use roundabouts.

Lee Becker said...

Anonymous 6:57

The roundabouts were an integral part of the rezone in October of last year. The roundabouts were listed as conditions for the rezone and presented to the Board of Commissioners for vote. Much of the discussion was of those conditions. I quoted the conditions regarding roundabouts in the post above. The conditions were presented to the public via an overhead during the hearing.

The rezone did go before the Planning Commission, but the roundabouts were not listed as conditions at that meetings. They were added after the hearing before the Planning Commission in response to concerns about traffic.

I have made requests for documents about the meetings. I am hoping to be able to show who attended the meetings. I prefer to rely on documents or statements made in public meetings rather than comments from the participants after the fact.


Lee Becker said...

Note: I just deleted a comment because of a vulgarity in it. I cannot edit comments and do not know who sent them unless the person uses a name. I encourage the person who submitted the post to eliminate that single vulgarity and resubmit.

Anonymous said...

Lee- Appreciate the listing of events. However, the “concerns” for traffic and poof- roundabouts are suddenly in the rezone before the BOC?
It would take months to get the design alone. In past rezones, traffic has been raised as a concern for a reason to not rezone. The BOC has ignored the citizens most hurt by some rezones and approved-too heck with traffic. Politicians will say anything. Daniell and the BOC are playing the BOE and the people of Oconee for fools. They already knew the roundabouts were a done deal long before the rezone came before the public. Complete duplicity.

Anonymous said...

I thought BOE was upset the plans were not done?
The timeline will tell a big part of the story. Can't wait to see it.
Funny someone talking about done deals without mentioning BOE in every action they take.

Lee Becker said...

Please see the story posted on Wednesday from the Board of Commissioners meeting regarding the time line.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Becker devoted many, many paragraphs to timelines as a defense of this whole deal. Timelines filled with telephone calls, emails, etc. still does not eliminate the fact you have a Chairman that did not let the public or the boards representing the public aware of the plans to radically change traffic flow by a new transportation model. I suspect he had plenty of conversations with the developer.

The proposed road design in question included three roundabouts. Introducing an untried traffic “solution” at a school entrance may not be very smart. It is not like you are widening roads or adding turning lanes or deceleration lanes. The BOE should question the proposed road change and their part in it.

If safety was the driving force for this Chairman, where was he all these years he sat on the board and the time he has served as Chair. Like all politicians, the road change became important when the commercial aspect occurred. The Chair did not have a care for the many parents and their children as they traveled to school or the neighborhoods in the area. The police officers only became important when some tax dollars emerged in the name of development and a shopping center. (To all our law enforcement members-thank you.)

It all may work out. However, Oconee is still saddled with a Chair that shows no concern for the people by not making full disclosure from the very beginning of a commercial development and its impact on neighborhoods and schools.