Monday, October 04, 2021

Oconee County Joint Board Of Education, Board Of Commissioners Meeting Mostly Dodged Conflicts

***Residential Growth Only Open Controversy***

Mostly, it was a very polite affair.

Kim Argo, chair of the Oconee County Board of Education, thanked the members of the Board of Commissioners at the beginning of the joint meeting of the two boards on Wednesday night “for coming and breaking bread with us and sitting down to have a conversation.”

Facilitator Keith Everson, executive director of the Northeast Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency, said “you all should be commended for getting together like this and talking about what you do. This doesn't happen everywhere.”

The two Board avoided the many topics that have divided them over the last several years, such as the construction of the entrance to Dove Creek Elementary School, roundabouts at Malcom Bridge Middle School, and fees the school system is charging the county for use of its athletics facilities.

The cordiality was strained near the end of the meeting, however, when School Board Members Tim Burgess and Wayne Burgess accused the commissioners of not doing enough to constrain residential growth in the county.

“You don’t have to lecture,” Commissioner Chuck Horton said to Burgess. “I understand all of that.” Horton ended by saying “I’ve said enough.”

“There’s still property rights,” Commission Chair John Daniell said to Burgess and Bagley in an even voice. “We just try to build an environment where it's not conducive for production builders to come in and make it.”

A few minutes later, Argo, in a very cordial voice, said “Well we appreciate y'all all coming. I think it's been an informative meeting, and I think it's great to open up lines of communication.”

Meeting Agenda

The meeting began at 5 p.m. in the Board Room of Oconee County Schools Superintendent Office at the end of School Street in Watkinsville.

Left To Right
Branch, Amy Parrish, Bagley, Burgess, 
Michael Ransom, Everson, Liz Harlow,
Saxon, Harden, Horton, Thomas.
Back to Camera (Left To Right)
Argo, Daniell, Kirouac
Zoe Gattie (Rear)

The first 45 minutes were set aside for “Dinner and Conversation,” according to the agenda released in advance.

Horton did not join the group for the dinner.

The remainder of the meeting was devoted to three topics: Organizational Overview, Budget Process, and Strategic Planning.

The meeting was held at the Superintendents Office at the insistence of the Board of Education.

Oconee County Schools would not agree to live stream the meeting.

Diane Baggett, communication manager for the county, recorded the meeting and uploaded it to the county’s YouTube site on Thursday. (The video is embedded below.)

Meeting Structure

Commission Chair Daniell had tried to get the Board of Education to join in a series of joint Town Hall Meetings with the public, but the School Board refused, saying it wanted to hold a training session instead.

Facilitator Everson told the members of the two Boards that “there are some annual training requirements for boards of education” set by the state.

“The training has to be done by Department of Education approved trainers, and I am one of those trainers,” he said.

“So my role this evening is just going to be to facilitate the discussion and give the Board of Education members training credit for this evening's discussion.”

Everson's only activity during the evening was to announce the transition from one topic to another.

In each case, Oconee County Schools Superintendent Jason Branch went first, with presentations by his staff much like those they give at School Board meetings.

Daniell brought along with him only County Manager Justin Kirouac, and they responded much less formally when Branch and the school administrators had completed their comments.


Board of Education members asked questions both of the school administrators and of Daniell and Kirouac. The Commissioners asked questions of Branch and his administrators.

The School Board members demonstrated little knowledge of how county government works. Bagley has served as an appointed member of the county’s Industrial Development Authority, and Ransom serves on the Farmland Preservation Committee.

Horton is a former member of the Board of Education and served four years as Chair.

Daniell and Commissioner Mark Thomas also served on the Board of Education.

Commissioner Amrey Harden’s wife was the last elected superintendent of Oconee County Schools and the first appointed superintendent.

Commissioner Mark Saxon’s wife has been a recognized teacher in Oconee County Schools.

“I was the one that signed the papers, and his wife was the superintendent that found the property where North Oconee High School is,” Horton said in his exchange with Burgess, pointing to Harden.

“So I understand all that,” he said, referring to the pressures of growing school enrollments.

Burgess And Horton

Daniell and Kirouac explained on Wednesday what the county had done to slow the development of two major subdivisions, Westland and Parkside, through he settlement of suits over sewer capacity.

“I mean you clearly understand why that's such a significant issue, why we're asking about it, because Jason's already talked to you about the plans that we have in place for the next five years to do the expansions,” Burgess said in response.

Burgess (Fourth From Left)
And Horton (In Yellow Shirt, Right) During Exchange

“That's just to meet the growth that we are sort of minimally expecting to happen,” he said. “If that growth trend expands in any significant way, we're four years out from being able to respond financially and then catch up with that.

“If we can't as a county agree to a sustainable level and somehow within the realm of the capacity you have, Justin, to execute it to that, to try to stay with that, or the growth will outstrip our ability to plan,” Burgess continued.

“I understand. I understand. You don’t have to lecture,” Horton said. “That's why we've done some of the things that we've done.”

“If we hadn't done the lawsuit to buy back the sewer capacity to Parkside and Westland, you would be having some problems,” Horton said. “That's a fact.”


Bagley, who is a developer working out of Atlanta, said “one tool that you have that can be used however you want to use it is your development impact studies that every county and every city any municipality that I ever developed anything in, and I had to spend hours and hours and hours improving and filling that thing out and ended up with facts.

“And one of the main things was how's it gonna affect the school system. And a lot of it’s transportation, roads,” he said. “And that's a big tool in you all’s toolbox.”

“You’re the controlling Board of the county, and growth and everything, a lot more so than we are,” he said.

All of these things currently are included in the documents used in zoning decisions in the county, but Daniell let that pass.

“I just don’t think there’s a whole lot of things happening that make me think it’s going to explode,” he said of residential growth.

Question From Bagley On Bypass

Daniell ended the session with a review of road projects underway in the county.

Bagley asked for an update on the proposed truck bypass from SR 15 to U.S. 441 currently before the metropolitan planning organization MACORTS.

Bagley specifically asked about Astondale Road as one possible route.

“All of the discussion on Astondale has been talk,” Daniell said.

The Georgia Department of Transportation “has not really done a detailed look at that to this point,” he said.

“This will be the first official look by DOT and bring truck traffic from 15 over to 441,” he said, of the proposed scoping study.

“They’ll look at from Flatrock Road north,” Daniell said. “That will be the area they will concentrate on.

“It may or may not work out, but that’s what they are going to try to study,” he said.


The video embedded below was recorded by county Communication Manager Baggett and is on the county’s YouTube site.

The video begins after the dinner, when Argo calls the meeting to order.

Baggett said only two citizens who were not staff members were at the meeting. I did not attend.

The discussion of residential growth in the county begins at 1:44:26 in the video.

Burgess and Horton begin their exchange at 2:09:00 in the video.

Bagley began his comments about tools not being used at 2:12:31 in the video.

Bagley asked about the truck bypass at 2:21:52 in the video.

1 comment:

Jeff Benko said...

The 2 governing bodies should meet on a regular and published basis for meeting the needs of all Oconee County citizens. Both need to work together on projects to efficiently and effectively manage the growth of our community. Communications are key to accomplishing this. Jeff Benko