Sunday, March 29, 2020

Oconee County Commission Chair Explains Decision On Emergency Order, Decision to Live Stream Tuesday Commission Meeting

***In Zoom Interview***

Citizens will not be allowed to attend the agenda-setting meeting of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, but they will be able to watch via a live stream on YouTube.

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman John Daniell announced that decision to hold the agenda-setting meeting as usual, but minus an audience, in an interview of just more than 30 minutes length via Zoom on Sunday morning.

Shortly after that interview, the county sent out a public announcement of the meeting.

Daniell said in the interview that the live streaming is a test for the county and, if successful, could be used for the next Town Hall meeting and to hold required hearings with the citizens on the proposed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax–without an audience if necessary.

Daniell also expressed satisfaction with the decision to declare a county emergency that restricts citizen and business behavior but does not require citizens to shelter in place, saying that one of his concerns was that the latter would work only if it were in place for up to 18 months.

Daniell said he has relied on input from the Department of Public Health, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, among others, in reaching that decision.

Daniell said he also talked with Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry, who has criticized Athens-Clarke County for issuing a shelter-in-place order, but Daniell said Berry’s opposition to the shelter-in-place order was not a key part of the decision.

Daniell also said that he has held meetings with representatives of the area hospitals and learned that, at present, the hospitals are not over-extended.

Hospital Report

Daniell said the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce hosted a conference call last week with representatives of the two area hospitals and of surrounding counties.

“The levels are manageable at this point,” Daniell said the hospitals representatives reported. “They’re not overrun.

“I think the staff is experiencing a great deal of stress just because of their environment that they’re in right now,” Daniell added. “Their main concern the last time we talked was PPE.”

Daniell was referring to Personal Protective Equipment, and he said the state has been receiving those supplies into its warehouses and these should “help relieve some of the concern there.

“And also I think a lot of people are starting to make those masks and other things at home to help in that way,” Daniell continued.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” Daniell said, “and I think they are putting in a lot of long hours.”

Some healthcare workers are also being furloughed, if they are not in essential services, according to Daniell. (Daniell specified on 3/30 that these furloughed healthcare workers were not at hospitals.)

“I know this hitting is not just restaurant workers,” Daniell said. “It is hitting the medical community as well.”

Interview Structure

I emailed Daniell late last Thursday and asked him if he would be willing to do an interview on the county’s response to COVID-19.

I reminded him that I am immunocompromised and over 70 (I’m actually nearly 72) and could not do the interview in person (consistent with the county’s emergency order, but also with my own desires).

Daniell agreed on Friday to do the interview at 10 a.m. today via Zoom from his home at 1922 Elder Road in the west of the county. I was at my home at 1050 Scott Terrace off Daniells Bridge Road.

We used Zoom to record the interview, and the video is embedded below.

The interview lasted a little less than 35 minutes and followed a set of questions I had prepared in advance but had not shared with Daniell.

Beginning Of Interview

Daniell told me as we began the interview that he has four family members in the high risk group and that he and his other family members are caring for them and that his younger children are going “stir crazy” staying in the house while schools are closed.

He said he is going to the office as usual, and that most of the county employees in the Courthouse also are in their offices, appropriately spaced to comply with the distancing requirement.

Daniell said citizens cannot enter the Courthouse at present without a pre-arranged escort.

I asked Daniell what he observed as he drives around the county, and he said “I think there’s been really substantial compliance with most of the citizens in Oconee County.”

He said three restaurants had not complied with the requirement that they only provide drive-through service, but he thinks by the end of the day on Friday all were “in line.”

Shelter In Place Decision

“The shelter in place order, I don’t think, is necessary in our community right now,” Daniell said, “because we’re gaining substantial compliance.”

“And the folks that would not respond to that, what do you actually do with them if they don’t?” he asked.

“I think education and compliance is our goal,” he added.

Daniell also said he didn’t think a shelter in place ordinance was effective unless done statewide or at least regionally.

“Even if you were to achieve that (shelter in place) for three months,” Daniell said, studies have shown that “as soon as you lift the restrictions you’re going to have another spike.”

“Unless you’re willing to have this social distancing and shut down restaurants and all of that for possibly up to 18 months to get a vaccine that’s in production and produced, I’m not really sure that sustainable not just economically, but just people’s ability to live like that.”

Offers Of Help

Daniell said citizens who see violations of the restrictions on restaurants should call the Environmental Health Department on Experiment Station Road.

He said the county expanded its Meals on Wheels delivery when it closed the Senior Center at Oconee Veterans Park.

The Sheriff’s Office also has offered to help needy people, he said.

“The response of this community is unparalleled with other communities around,” Daniell said.

“We’re following the guidelines as they’re put out,” he said. “We’ve got people that are offering to help others that are in need.”

“There’s been a big outpouring from the community to help people,” he said.

Economic Consequences

Daniell said he is not overly concerned at present about the economic impact of the closures in the county because of COVID-19.

“It depends on how long this lasts,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world. There’s definitely going to be some rough roads the next couple of months.”

“As far as county income,” he said, “we’re going to be fine through the fiscal year, but we’ll have to be very careful with forecasting for the next fiscal year.”

Earlier in the interview, Daniell had said he was focusing on data comparing COVID-19 with the normal flu season.

“We’re hoping this outbreak would be no worse than a normal flu season,” he said. That “would be the goal.”

“Keep everybody in your prayers,” Daniell said at the end of the interview. “Keep doing what we’re doing.

“When you see somebody or some restaurant that’s not acting right or some group,” he added. “Let us know and we’ll do what we can to help.”

Tuesday Meeting

Daniell had told me in a phone conversation last week setting up the interview that the county was planning to live stream the session on Tuesday, and I asked him for details near the end of the interview.

Daniell said some of those details were incomplete but that no citizens would be allowed to attend, that he and the other three commissioners and staff would be present, and that Michael Prochaska, editor of The Oconee Enterprise, and I are welcome to attend.

I told him that I would not attend but that Sarah Bell has said she will attend and video record the session for me.

The county video records its Commission meetings via a camera mounted in the ceiling of the Commission Chamber, but it has not live streamed the sessions in the past.

Daniell said the session on Tuesday will be an experiment and, if successful, will be used for upcoming meetings while gatherings are prohibited and perhaps as a routine in the future.

Daniell said the Commission needed to meet to deal with planned bond sales to refinance debt for purchase and construction of Oconee Veterans Park.

At its March 3 meeting, the Board authorized Daniell to sign a refinance rate term sheet setting a minimum of $450,000 minimum bond savings for the refinancing of the remaining $7.6 million in bond debt for the park.

The agenda also includes Board ratification of the Emergency Management Order Daniell signed on Thursday but does not include consideration of a request that the Board declare Oconee County A Second Amendment Sanctuary.

Details Released

Diane Baggett, Diane Baggett, communications manager for the county, sent out two email messages just before and after noon today with details on the live streamed meeting on Tuesday.

The meeting will be the Oconee County Government YouTube Channel, she wrote.

“The meeting will be open to local journalists, but will have no other public access to the physical meeting space,” she wrote.

“The number of people in the room will be limited to 10 and appropriate social distancing will be maintained at all times.”

“The public is invited to watch the meeting via livestream or to watch the recording at a later time, she wrote.

The link for the live stream is HERE.

Daniell told me in the interview that he felt it was necessary for the Board itself to be present to allow for proper discussion. He said conference calls are too limited for the purposes.


The video below, produced by the Zoom software, is of the entire interview.

My presentation above follows the flow of the interview with a few exceptions.

I asked Daniell about the decision not to issue a shelter in place order at 4:48 in the video.

The question that led to Daniell’s observations about the area hospitals is at 18:01.

I asked Daniell about the Tuesday Commission meeting at 24:08 in the video.

I highly recommend watching the video from front to back.


Anonymous said...

Folks, you got to view a clueless individual that thinks there will not be an economic impact on our county. Daniell could only refer to restaurants- where is this guy coming from! Daniell will have his $100,000 salary when folks and businesses are going under a few months from now.

Daniell “thinks” the healthcare system in our county is okay. They don’t have adequate supplies. This dude is ether lying to the public or unaware of what is going on.

Becker, it is embarrassing that you prop up this failed politicians. What a softball “interview”. You better go back to your statistics.

-Annie Nomis

Anonymous said...

Daniell has found a way to dodge the responsibility of this serious life threatening situation. He will just video a few vague statements. He says at one point the hospitals are okay and the next they need equipment. We don’t have places set up for testing. I called to get tested and was not allowed. No we have not met the heath testing in our county.

No leadership.

Anonymous said...

We can not re-elect a chair of the BOC that states he is not concerned that their will be an economic downturn because the the Covid-19 pandemic. Layoffs, furloughs and stalling of business will be devastating to Oconee County. But, heck the BOC doesn’t seem to care, they still get paid.

Lee Becker said...

Annie Nomis,

Thanks for signing your name. I encourage others to do so as well.

My approach to interviewing is this: I ask questions. I report the answers.

If you watch the video, you will see that I asked directly about the rationale for the decision made. I followed up with a specific question about the Sheriff's influence. I asked about Dr. del Rio's recommendations and Daniell's responses.

You as a reader can judge the answers.

I try to be respectful when I interview people, regardless of how I feel about what they are saying.

Generally, I prefer recording what people say in public meetings or in written documents to how they respond to questions.

I asked for this interview because I did not feel that Daniell had explained his decision regarding the shelter at home request or the emergency order he had issued.

You may not like what he said. I think many will not. But at least you know what justification he gave.

Thank you for your comments. And thanks again for putting your name on them.


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee Becker said...

Annie Nomis,

I am aware that there is no one with that name on the county's voter registration list or on the county's tax records. Also no Annie Simon.


Anonymous said...

The idea of hosting required meetings online, such as, “to hold required hearings with the citizens on the proposed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax–without an audience if necessary,” completely excludes low-income citizens with no internet access at home from this process.

As a county citizen and a librarian, I am witness to the necessity of internet access for low-income families. Public libraries are there to bridge that digital divide. In this current situation, there are many families who simply don’t have access to this technology. Especially now, since many are struggling with lack of work, too.

This process also excludes the elderly and senior citizens who are unfamiliar with or uncomfortable utilizing this technology. Those citizens normally visit the library to get help with digital technologies and use computers.

I hope the commissioners consider the large number of citizens who do not have internet access at home and do not exclude these citizens from this legal process.

Anonymous said...

All these individuals do is complain. I am not so sure there is anything else anyone can do at this point except hope that what we are doing will work. If everyone does as they have been asked to do it should improve. I do wonder if all these complainers are staying in their homes so as not to increase the numbers.

Unknown said...

If people in Oconee Co. get sick, where are they going to go....Athens!!!! How dare he say that the hospitals aren't over extended. They are and we're not done. Put a shelter in place ordinance, now.

amanda said...

The handmade masks are to be a last resort thing, they aren't supposed to be relied upon.

The response of Oconee County is in no way unparalleled - people in every county around us are doing the exact same things.

"Gaining substantial compliance" = we don't have full compliance, so obviously what we are doing isn't working.

And yes, a statewide shelter-in-place order would be fantastic, but we are apparently as lacking in leadership at the state level as we are on a county level.

Barrow County implemented a revised emergency order today - what will you do, Oconee BOC??

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11:00

I am staying at home under quarantine. So based on your criteria, I can complain. The county is not prepared. Daniell and the BOC have shown no leadership. Daniell and his interview was ridiculously filled with non information preference by such silly wording, “I think” - really! He has no concrete policy and a total inability to deliver a sentence.

The Chamber of Commerce has nothing to do with health care policy, yet the BOC runs to them. Other counties throughout the state are holding meetings at the government facility with trained skilled health officials.

And the guy (Daniell) is concerned about SPLOST. BOC has to have a meeting on where they can rack up some money. The economy is shot for the next year. Daniell and BOC are not interested in the health of the county, but how to spend money. They don’t deserve to hold office.

-F. Allen

John Hadden said...

Lee, out of curiosity because of Anonymous comment above about the low income and elderly, how many citizens typically attend agenda setting meetings?

Lee Becker said...


Zoning issues draw the largest crowds at BOC meetings. Zoning issues are not on the agenda at agenda-setting meetings. The number of non-staff who are present usually is quite small. I don't count, but I'd estimate that six would be a high number and anything above that quite unusual.


Anonymous said...

Lee- you need to learn how to count.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5:47

If you are under quarantine, that means you have or have been in contact with someone with the virus, and unless you are a health care or emergency worker( and if so thank you for your service) you have been outside your home for some reason but now you want everyone else to do what you did not do. I presume all of you want the chairman to run around screaming the sky is falling. Athens-Clarke county has shelter in place and it is as bad or worse than Oconee. I still say if you do as you are requested we can get this under control and if you do not follow directions it does not matter what is done unless you are going to arrest everyone who does not follow directions ( don’t think the county jail can hold them).

Lee Becker said...

Anonymous 7:28

I'm not sure what to make of your comment. I try to count audience members when there is a big crowd. I don't do counts for routine meetings.

In my estimate, I eliminated the staff from the number. If you have a different estimate, please offer it. As I said, it was an estimate.



Anonymous said...

Anonymous, your insensitive remarks are not necessary at this time. Shame on you. You don’t have to go out shopping to get this disease. People with fragile health can easily get it. That is why this pandemic has occurred because it so easily infects people via airborne.

Daniell hasn’t made any decisive decision in regard to the pandemic. He has sat in video meetings and rambled on during a so call interview.

We got yet another email from Worden letting us know where to PAY bills. The BOC care nothing about the citizens of this county.

No leadership by BOC.

Lee Becker said...

I am going to try something different. I just changed the comment setting so only people with a google account can comment.