Monday, August 30, 2021

GDOT Initiates Study Of Truck Route Between SR 15 And U.S. 441 In South Of Oconee County

***Federal And State Funds To Be Used***

The Georgia Department of Transportation is launching a “scoping study” of a truck route from SR 15 south of Watkinsville to somewhere along U.S. 441.

The scoping study is the first step in beginning the project, which has been discussed but is not currently part of active road plans for the county.

The Transportation Department’s interest in the truck route surfaced on Wednesday at the Technical Coordinating Committee of MACORTS, the federally mandated metropolitan planning organization serving Oconee, Clarke, and Madison counties.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Developer Will Lease Property From Oconee Development Authority At No Cost and Sublease It To Costco To Recover Site Improvement Costs

***Costco Requires Site Upgrade As Part Of Contract***

Oconee Chamber of Commerce President Courtney Bernardi touted Costco’s aura, its personnel policies, and its strong sales record on Tuesday when she made the case to Oconee County leaders for the deal to bring the company to the county.

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniells focused more on the county than Costco in comments he has made about the deal.

Daniell said the county did not seek out Costco and the reason he brought the proposal to the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday was because it was financially sound, met county objectives, and was consistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

Friday, August 27, 2021

COVID-19 Cases Continue To Increase In Oconee, Clarke, Across Northeast Health District; Oconee School Cases Increase Again

***Hospitals Report Jump In Cases, More ICU Bed Use***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added 3,218 new cases of COVID-19 in the week ending on Friday and 12 new confirmed deaths from the disease.

One of the confirmed deaths was in Oconee County, and another was in Clarke County.

The 3,218 added cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths compare with the 2,558 new cases and six confirmed deaths added in the week ending Aug. 20.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

No Decision Made On How Odom Will Be Replaced As Chair On Oconee County School Board, Vice Chair Says

***No Promise Process Will Allow Open Applications***

Conversations among Oconee County Board of Education members are ongoing regarding the procedures for replacing Board Chair Tom Odom when he steps down on Sept. 1, according to Board Vice Chair Kim Argo.

Argo on Tuesday, said, however, that “the process and time line are not available at this time” for the decision.

Argo would not say if the Board will be deciding to replace Odom with one of the existing Board members and then replace that Board member or replacing Odom with someone not currently on the Board.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Oconee County Parent Outlines Work Of Group Releasing Data On COVID-19 In Oconee County Schools

***Calls For More Transparency From Schools

John Phillips, in a virtual meeting with Oconee County Democrats last week, said Oconee County Schools has not done enough to keep parents and the community informed about COVID-19 cases in its schools.

To get a sense of what should be done, Phillips told the audience members, all they need do is look at Barrow County.

“I just Googled Barrow County school COVID,” he said, holding up his mobile phone to demonstrate. “And it pops up right here. And look at this. They have a chart here where they list cases by school, by date, broken out by student and staff.”

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Oconee County Approves Agreements To Bring Costco To Epps Bridge Centre

***County Will Own Land On Which Store Will Sit***

The Oconee County Industrial Development Authority on Tuesday agreed to issue $16 million in bonds and waive real and personal property taxes for 15 years to entice Costco to locate in Epps Bridge Centre II.

The Board of Commissioners followed by agreeing to cover the costs of the bonds, since the Industrial Development Authority has no ability to raise taxes on its own.

Monday, August 23, 2021

School Age Population Accounts For Most Of Increase In COVID-19 Cases In Oconee County

***Large Increases Since Classes Started***

Forty-seven of the 153 new cases of COVID-19 added in Oconee County in the week ending on Aug. 19 were for persons aged 5 to 17.

Eight of the added cases were for persons aged 18 to 22, and seven were for children aged 0 to 4.

The remaining 81 cases were for those 23 years old and older.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Oconee County Schools Embarking On $54.6 Million In Construction Projects Following Tax Referendum

***Time Line Differs From Presentation To Voters***

Oconee County Schools has embarked on $54.6 million in construction projects since the passage of the Education Local Option Sales Tax referendum by voters in March.

Included is a $3.4 million addition to Colham Ferry Elementary School that already is underway.

Oconee County Schools also has issued a request for proposals for a $3.1 million addition to High Shoals Elementary School.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Oconee, Clarke, Northeast District COVID-19 Cases Continue To Climb; Hospital Cases And ICU Bed Use Increase

***Oconee School Cases Up Sharply***

The 10 county Northeast Health District added 2,558 new cases of COVID-19 in the week ending on Friday and six new confirmed deaths from the disease.

The 2,558 added cases of COVID-19 and six deaths compare with the 1,964 new cases and five confirmed deaths added in the week ending Aug. 13.

The average of 365.4 new cases per day for the week ending on Friday compares with the average of 280.6 new cases per day for the week ending on Aug. 13.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Elections Set For North High Shoals And Watkinville In November; Bishop Election Not Needed

***Bogart Qualifying Still Underway***

Two of the county’s four municipalities will have elections on November, with qualifying in Bishop, North High Shoals, and Watkinsville completed on Wednesday.

Qualifying in Bogart continues through the end of the day on Friday. As of 11 a.m. on Thursday, no one had qualified for the two open Council seats. (Update: As of 4 pm on Friday, David Kilpatrick Jenny Bridges and Greg Maddox qualified. The top two vote getters will assume the two seats, held at present by Kilpatrick and Bridges.)

In Bishop, no election will be held because only one person qualified for mayor and for each of the four Council seats.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Oconee County Schools Added 10 New COVID-19 Cases As New Week Of Classes Began

***Cases Range From Kindergarten Through High School

Oconee County Schools added 10 new COVID-19 cases from Friday until noon on Monday, according to data released on Wednesday in response to an open records request filed by parents.

On Friday, Oconee County Schools had reported a record 48 active cases.

According to the records released on Wednesday, the schools now have recorded 66 cases of the disease since the beginning of the school year on Aug. 4.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Oconee County Planning Commission Recommends Approval Of Modified Plans For Shopping Center On U.S. 78

***Citizens Still Concerned About Traffic***

The Oconee County Planning Commission on Monday recommended approval of a revised plan for development of a 90-acre shopping center and accompanying continuing care retirement community on U.S. 78 between Dials Mill Road and Pete Dickens Road.

The proposal involves a significant reduction from the original plans in the amount and nature of the commercial development and a marked expansion of the residential retirement community component.

One consistency is a proposed 65,000-square-foot grocery, which more than anything caused concern among residents of Belfair subdivision who spoke at the public hearing on Monday. The subdivision abuts the project.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Georgia Judicial Council Accepts Recommendation That Oconee And Clarke Remain Together In Western Judicial Circuit

***Final Action Rests With Legislature***

The Judicial Council of Georgia on Friday unanimously and without discussion accepted the recommendation of its Workload Assessment Committee that no change be made to the boundaries of the Western Judicial Circuit made up of Oconee and Clarke counties.

Chief Judge David T. Emerson of Douglas County, representing the Workload Assessment Committee, told the full Judicial Council that a change in the boundaries of the Western Judicial Circuit would not “improve the administration of justice” in the two counties.

The Workload Assessment Committee had reviewed a possible boundary change for the Western Judicial Circuit at the request of Marcus Wiedower and Houston Gaines, who represent Oconee County in the Georgia House of Representatives.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Oconee County’s Population Increased to 41,799 In 2020 Census, Outpacing Rate Of Growth In State

***County Also Became Less White***

Oconee County grew at nearly three times the rate of the state as a whole from 2010 to 2020, and it became more diverse in the process, according to data released late on Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The data are at the Census Block level, as is required for redistricting, but they also provide the first look at how larger units such as counties have changed.

Oconee County’s 2020 population was 41,799, up from 32,808 in 2010. That is a growth of 27.4 percent.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Oconee, Clarke Counties, Entire Northeast Health District Report Large Increases In COVID-19 Cases; Oconee Schools Set Record

***Hospital Cases Up Sharply***

The 10 county Northeast Health District added 1,964 new cases of COVID-19 in the week ending on Friday and five new confirmed deaths from the disease. Two of the deaths were in Clarke County.

The 1,964 added cases of COVID-19 and five deaths compare with the 1,371 new cases and three confirmed deaths added in the week ending Aug. 6.

The average of 280.6 new cases per day for the week ending on Friday compares with the average of 195.9 new cases per day for the week ending on Aug. 6.

In First Week Of Classes, Oconee County Schools Recorded 40 COVID-19 Cases

***Twelve Cases Recorded On Single Day***

From the beginning of classes and through just before noon on Thursday, Oconee County Schools has recorded 40 cases of COVID-19, all but three of them among students.

Seventeen of the 37 COVID-19 positive students were in kindergarden through fifth grade, 13 were in the system’s two middle schools, and seven were at the two high schools.

Two of the staff cases were at North Oconee High School, and the third was at Oconee County High School.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Routine Maintenance Of Oconee Voter List Results In Removal Of 368 Names; Another 432 Could Be Labeled Inactive

***Part Of A Statewide Secretary Of State Effort***

State and county election officials have removed 368 voters from the Oconee County registration list since the end of June as a result of routine maintenance of the list.

In addition, early this month county election officials sent notices to 432 Oconee County voters who have not had any contact with the county’s election system for at least five calendar years.

If those voters receiving the notice do not respond, they will be moved from active to inactive status and the countdown will have started for possible removal from the list.

Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board Votes To Support Application For Treatment Plant Construction Funding

***Two Oconee County Representatives Vote No***

Over the objections of two of Oconee County’s representatives, the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board on Wednesday voted to fund a lobbyist to assist in an application for $146 million in federal funds to build the reservoir’s water treatment plant and distribution system.

Oconee County has only three representatives on the seven-member Management Board and no representatives on the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority, which also agreed on Wednesday to spend the money in support of the application for federal funds.

Walton County Board of Commissioners Chair David Thompson, a member of the Management Board, said Walton County already has the application of the funds ready to submit and will go forward with or without the support of Oconee County, its partner in the reservoir project.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Oconee Board Of Education Chair Odom Steps Down, Citing Health Concerns

***Board To Pick Member For Three-Years Remaining In Term***

Tom Odom, less than nine months into his third, four-year term as chair of the Oconee County Board of Education, announced on Monday that he is stepping down from the Board on Sept. 1 for health reasons.

Odom said in a statement he read at the Board of Education meeting on Monday that he made the decision after an “unexpected health issue” caused him to consider his tenure on the Board.

Much of the rest of the meeting was devoted to tributes by other board members and by Superintendent Jason Branch, who praised Odom for long service to the school system and the community even before Odom was elected to the Board as chair in 2012.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Famed Political Scientist And Election Expert Told Oconee County Republicans That Biden Won In Georgia In November

***Fraud Was Not Widespread, He Said***

Political scientist Charles Bullock, an expert on Georgia elections and politics, told Oconee County Republicans at their meeting last month that Joe Biden won the November election in Georgia and that a focus on election fraud in the race was incorrect.

Bullock said that there is always some evidence of minor irregularities in elections but that there was no evidence of any major fraud that would have changed the results last November.

Bullock, the featured speaker at the July meeting of the party, made his comments about Biden’s victory and the lack of significant fraud in response to a question after his formal comments to the group.

Friday, August 06, 2021

Northeast Health District Adding Nearly 200 New COVID-19 Cases Per Day; Hospital Cases Increasing Sharply

***Three New Confirmed Deaths From Disease Recorded***

The 10 county Northeast Health District added 1,271 new cases of COVID-19 in the week ending on Friday and three new confirmed deaths from the disease.

The 1,371 added cases of COVID-19 and three deaths compare with the 837 new cases and one confirmed death added in the week ending July 30.

The average of 195.9 new cases per day for the week ending on Friday compares with the average of 119.6 new cases per day for the week ending on July 30.

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Oconee County Commission Votes To End Contract With Partner For Broadband Project

***New Options Being Explored***

Oconee County commissioners, after a 40-minute executive session on Tuesday, terminated the county’s contract with Smart City Capital, its partner in building a broadband network in the county.

County Administrator Justin Kirouac gave little explanation for the decision in the short public session following the closed meeting, saying little more than that it was time to “pivot” on the project.

In an email exchange on Wednesday, Kirouac said the previous model “was proving to not be viable” and the county is exploring “different models with different partners.”

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Georgia Office Of Inspector General Said Pirkle, Boswell Did Not Act Improperly In Oconee Connector Median Decision

***Confirms Boswell Met With Pirkle***

The state Office of Inspector General has concluded that Georgia Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Meg Pirkle acted properly earlier this year when she overruled lower-level engineers in favor of a median break on the Oconee Connector.

Although the Office of Inspector General only has responsibility for the executive branch of government, it also concluded that local commercial real estate agency owner Jamie Boswell did not “inappropriately impact the design decision” Pirkle made.

Monday, August 02, 2021

Oconee County Schools Not Altering COVID-19 Protocols In Response To CDC Recommendations

***Classes Resume On Wednesday***

Oconee County Schools will begin classes on Wednesday without making any changes in its COVID-19 protocols despite guidance issued last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at odds with those plans.

The CDC on July 27 issued new recommendations calling for universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.

The CDC also added a recommendation that fully vaccinated people should wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission of the disease.

Analysis Of Voting Records For Jan. 5 Senate Runoff In Oconee County Supports County Dismissal Of Elector Challenge

***New Law Encourages Future Challenges***

Last December, Oconee County resident Pat Daugherty, on behalf of True The Vote, challenged the eligibility and right of 1,450 Oconee County voters to participate in the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoff election, contending the voters had moved out of the county permanently.

The Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration unanimously rejected the challenge on the grounds that there was no probable cause of a violation of Georgia law that would render the voters ineligible to cast a ballot.

An analysis of voter records for the county shows that 165 of those challenged voters cast a ballot on the Jan. 5 election. That means that 1,285 did not.