The newly formed Oconee County Economic Development Task Force is scheduled to hold the first of three meetings on Tuesday to help develop a plan for economic development in the county.
The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at the Chamber of Commerce, 55 Nancy Drive in Watkinsville.
The Oconee County Board of Commissioners in March approved a Memorandum Of Understanding with the Chamber of Commerce that contracted with the Chamber for economic development services previously provided by county staff.
The Board appointed the 10-person Economic Development Task Force at its Aug. 6 meeting to review the Chamber’s Action Plan and provide feedback both to the Chamber and to the Board of Commissioners.
The meetings of the Task Force are open to the public.
Task Force Members
The Board appointed two of its own members to the Economic Development Task Force: Commissioners Mark Saxon and Mark Thomas.
Tim Burgess, a member of the Board of Education, also will serve on the Task Force.
Watkinsville is represented by City Council Member Brian Brodrick, and Bogart is represented by City Council Member Janet Jones.
The Board appointed Rick Waller, chair of the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority, to the Task Force.
Two Chamber members, Tammy Gilland and Brad Tucker, also will serve on the Task Force.
Gilland is executive director of Philantropy at Piedmont Athens Regional.
Brad Tucker, former owner of Georgia Square Collision, is now a business consultant. He also serves on the Oconee County Planning Commission.
Citizens “At Large”
The Board appointed two citizens “at large” to the Task Force: Lisa Douglas and Sharon Maxey.
Douglas, 4931 Price Mill Road outside Bishop, is one of the organizers of Positively Oconee, a group that has worked to preserve the southern part of the county.
Maxey, 1670 Hebron Church Road, in the northwest of the county, is owner of Barrett Family Enterprises, according to her LinkedIn entry.
Daniell told me in an email exchange ending on Tuesday that the Board of Commissioners did not advertise for the two citizen positions, as it usually does for its citizen committee appointments.
Rather, in its executive session following the July 30 agenda setting meeting, Board members “each had opportunity to suggest names for the two positions,” Daniell wrote. “We then agreed on Lisa and Sharon.”
The Board then approved the final Task Force membership, including Douglas and Maxey, at the Aug. 6 meeting.
Goal Of Task Force
The county is paying the Chamber $100,000 per year for economic development services, including marketing, attracting new businesses, supporting existing businesses, and promotion of tourism.
“This year we entered into a contract with the Chamber of Commerce for economic development,” Daniell told the Board at the Aug. 6 meeting. “And they’ll be developing an economic development action plan.”
“We’re setting up a Task Force to review that and make comments back to them and also to the Board of Commissioners,” Daniell said.
The initial Memorandum of Understanding between the Board of Commissioners and the Chamber of Commerce included the creation of an Economic Development Council to oversee the Chamber’s work for the county.
Daniell had said that the Council would not be covered by the state’s open meeting and open records laws.
The Board ultimately eliminated mention of the Council from the Memorandum of Understanding and created the Economic Development Task Force instead.
Daniell said at the Aug. 6 meeting that all activities of the Economic Development Taskforce would be open to the public and that minutes of the deliberations will be posted to the county web site.
Schedule Of Meetings
The meeting on Tuesday is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. and continue through 11 a.m., according to the county web site.
The next meeting will be from 9 a.m. to noon on Sept. 23.
The final scheduled meeting of the Task Force is from 9 a.m. to noon on Oct. 7.
All three meetings are scheduled to be held at the Chamber of Commerce.
Rails to Trails is a proven economic driver in Georgia, much potential for the abandoned route down 441. Firefly Trail, https://www.fireflytrail.com, booming with Athens-Clarke, Oglethorpe and Greene Counties all working well together along with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission. John Daniell himself publicly spoke on it in October 2017, stating he "expects expects to start work on the Rails-To-Trails project in January (2018)".
"Daniell said the county has set as a long-term goal the building a Rails-To-Trails pathway from Watkinsville to Madison along an unused rail line that parallels U.S. 441. Daniell said he expects to start work on the Rails-To-Trails project in January."
But here's a great place to pick up on what Oconee County started started almost a full decade ago:
The Authority, comprised of officials from Athens-Clarke, Barrow, Oconee and Gwinnett counties, is the first public body formed to drive and coordinate development in the GA 316 corridor to bring high-tech, high-paying jobs along the University Parkway, in a model based on North Carolina’s Research Triangle.
The corridor's main asset in terms of being able to make "high tech" companies successful is its proximity to workers with "high tech" skills.
Very surprised Rick Waller was named to the Oconee County Economic Development Task Force. Waller does business with the county. The Oconee County Industrial Development Authority has a void of accomplishments over the past decade. Other than receiving rent for the post office, they have no accomplishment of note. county’s Gateway Technology Business Park "has owned the four parcels that make up the Park since 2000 and has only one tenant, Alexion Pharma."
One tenant since 2000. One. ?.
Waller was quoted he was "optimistic" about Gateway Industrial Park. His quote was made in 2011.
Rick Waller, who is a member of the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority, says the county has been working for years to promote business development along the Highway 316 corridor. Specific large tracks of land available for development include 108 combined acres of industrial-permitted property at Gateway Park East and West near Bogart and 600 acres of privately owned land at Highways 78 and 316. “I’m as optimistic as I’ve been in several years,” says Waller.
Waller and the Industrial Authority has a very troubling past regarding advertising its meetings and with transparency:
"The IDA met for only 10 minutes in open session today.
After the Authority came out of executive session and after it voted on the purchase agreement, Authority Chair Rick Waller asked for citizen comment.
During that time, I explained that Waller had told me not to set up my camera and to leave the room and that County Finance Director Wes Geddings had closed the door separating me from the meeting. That was before the Authority voted to go into executive session.
I said I accepted Haygood’s response to Williams since Haygood had not been present when Waller told me not to set up my camera and to leave the room and was not present when Geddings closed the door.
Waller responded to my comments by saying he was trying to do me a “favor” since he didn’t want me “to set and then immediately take down” my tripod and camera.
“I didn’t tell you that you couldn’t be here,” he said.
Oconee County’s Industrial Development Authority is the most prominent and active of the county’s development authorities, and it does post the minutes of meetings, but not the agendas, contact information or core documents on the county’s web site.
Authority Chair Rick Waller circulated the CVIOG proposal to the members of the Authority at its meeting in the courthouse Monday afternoon, and that became the basis for discussion prior to the vote to engage the services of CVIOG.
Waller refused to release the CVIOG proposal to the public on Monday
Waller said he was only following policy, though County Attorney Daniel Haygood told me in an email message the next day that this was not county policy.
Also at the meeting on Monday, held in the courthouse, Waller returned to farmland protection advocate Russ Page a copy of a CD that Page had lent to Waller more than six months ago.
Waller told Page Monday he “did locate” the CD and had watched it but didn’t feel it was relevant to the IDA’s discussion.
Th IDA asked the Boa of Commissioners for advice In 2010. Waller was on the IDA way back then.
Williams said at the end of the meeting he felt some progress had been made and that the “ball is now in the court of the IDA.”
Daniell said industrial parks are only one tool to use to encourage industrial development in the county and said he wants the Development Authority to continue its study.
Neither Commissioner Margaret Hale nor Commissioner Mark Saxon responded to the report, which was delivered by IDA Chair Rick Waller.
The Development Authority should invite each of the commissioners to meet with it and ask the commissioners to voice their concerns, Luke said.
He also said that the Authority should indicate if it needs help identifying resources or money to carry out its task.
The Authority has had only limited success developing the Gateway business park, which it has owned since 2000.
Alexion Pharma of New Haven, Conn., purchased 11 acres in the eastern parcel of the business park in late 2016 for a pharmaceutical production and research operation.
So far, that is the only successful sale of land in the business park.
Earlier this year Alexion terminated a contract for purchase of additional acreage.
Told To Leave
The meeting yesterday was held in the basement of the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, 55 Nancy Drive in Watkinsville.
As I came down the stairs to the meeting, IDA Chair Rick Waller approached me immediately and told me not to set up my tripod and camera.
He told me the IDA was going into executive session and I should go back upstairs and wait until I was told I could come down.
I could see a number of people in the room who were not IDA members, including incoming Oconee County Commissioner Chuck Horton and Wayne Bagley, who will join the IDA in January. Both stayed for the meeting.
The Industrial Development Authority owns four separated pieces of property that are part of its Gateway Technology Business Park.
Two are on Aiken Road and two are on McNutt Creek Road, separated by SR 316.
The two Aiken Road properties are separated by another parcel the IDA has not been successful in purchasing, and the two McNutt Creek Road properties are separated by land the IDA does not own.
The IDA has struggled to find buyers for the land since developing the park in 2000.
The authority controls money allocated to it by the Board of Commissioners, including money from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Oconee County voters cut a nearly blank check for $850,000 to the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority when they approved the 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax last November.
The $850,000 Number
At the meeting on Oct. 12, IDA Chairman Rick Waller speculated that the reason the $850,000 figure was used in the 2015 SPLOST referendum was because of the estimated cost of getting sewer service to Gateway.
In fact, the IDA initially asked for $4,650,000, not $850,000, saying it needed the money for economic development, infrastructure, and land acquisition for a new industrial park.
The IDA never told the BOC precisely how it planned to spend any money it got, and the BOC never asked.
“We’ll be happy with whatever we get, whatever our share is,” Waller said
I am concerned with Waller's repeated history of transparency issues and a complete lack of accomplishments as the Industrial Development Authority Chair and longtime member. Lotsa business owners and community leaders in Oconee. Many infinitely more qualified than Rick Waller to serve on the incredibly vital and important Oconee County Economic Development Task Force. The task force needs to focus on the economic future of the county, complex and ever changing, with those qualified to do so and with a track record of accomplishment.
“What a tangled web we weave”.
Agreements, Professional Service Contract, Task Force, Nepotism, Questionable Appointments, Disbanding of Committees, etc.
Goodbye open government.
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