Saturday, September 24, 2022

Oconee County Schools Losing Two Top Central Office Administrators

***Three Of Six Cabinet Posts Turned Over In 16 Months***

Two top leaders at Oconee County Schools, Chief Operations Officer Brock Toole and Director of Communications Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, will be leaving the system at the end of this month.

The Board of Education approved the separations for Toole and Jimenez after its usual executive session at the end of the regular meeting on Monday.

Friday, September 23, 2022

COVID-19 Cases At Area Hospitals Decline For Third Week In Row

***Seven Confirmed Deaths From Disease NE District***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 23 COVID-19 patients, down from the 29 cases reported last Friday and from 56 reported three weeks earlier.

The number of ICU beds in use on Friday was 76, the same as a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 24, down from 30 on last Friday.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Responses To Questions For Board Of Education Voter’s Guide Highlight Similarities, Differences Among Candidates

***Guide Available For Downloading***

Only incumbent Amy Parrish among the four candidates seeking election to the Board of Education in November said that the Board had made the case for the 4.7 percent property tax increase it approved on Aug. 1.

Parrish also disagreed with fellow Republican Ryan Hammock and Independents Melissa Eagling and Ryan Repetske, all of whom said the Board should hold Town Hall meetings, should resume live-streaming its meetings, and should let voters fill unexpected vacancies on the Board.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Two Independent Candidates For Oconee Board Of Education Focus On Transparency Of Board As Key Issue

***Speaking At Democratic Party Meeting***

The two Independent candidates seeking a spot on the Oconee County Board of Education leveled the same criticism at the current Board last week.

The Board of Education “is not doing business out in the open,” Melissa Eagling, a candidate for the open Post 3, said. The Board “is not giving community members the real opportunity to be heard and taking the voices and making decisions based on those things.”

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board Votes To Move Forward With Plans For A Water Treatment Plant

***Oconee Sets Limits On Its Contribution***

The Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board took four steps last week to move forward with construction of a water treatment plant and transmission lines on the reservoir in Walton County jointly owned by Oconee and Walton counties.

The Board agreed on a professional services agreement to assess the water in the reservoir, authorized a request for qualifications for water treatment facilities and transmission line designs, and authorized a request for qualifications for construction of the facilities.

Friday, September 16, 2022

COVID-19 Cases At Area Hospitals Drop Sharply; Case Count In NE Health District Continues To Decline

***Two New Confirmed Deaths From Disease In Oconee***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 29 COVID-19 patients, down from the 47 cases reported last Friday and from 56 reported two weeks earlier.

The number of ICU beds in use on Friday was 76, up from 75 a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 30, down from 35 on last Friday.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Oconee County Schools Releases Site Plans, Renditions For New Instructional Support Center Plus Proposed Redistricting Maps

***New Building To Reflect Design Of 1902 High School***

Oconee County School administrators released to the Board of Education and to the public on Monday site plans and architectural details of the new Instructional Support Center to be built on the 6.7-acre property the Board owns on North Main Street in Watkinsville.

Fred Ricketson, Director of Facilities for Oconee County Schools, told the members of the Board of Education at their work session that he expects Oconee County Schools to issue a request for proposals for the Instructional Support Center in late January or early February.

Construction is expected to start in the spring of 2023, Ricketson said, and be completed in June of 2024.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Oconee Commissioners Being Asked To Postpone Again Decision on Oconee Crossing Rezone

***Applicant And Citizens Ask For Delay***

Oconee County Commissioners probably will have at least another month to sort out promises made more than 30 years in a rezone for a combined commercial and residential development at U.S. 78 and Hog Mountain Road.

Attorneys for the property owner and for residents of Oconee Crossing subdivision submitted a request Monday afternoon to table consideration of the rezone request by Donald Hammett of Kennesaw so they can continue discussions.

Friday, September 09, 2022

COVID-19 Cases At Area Hospitals Drop; Case Counts In NE Health District Continue To Decline

***One Confirmed Death From Disease In Oconee***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 47 COVID-19 patients, down from the 56 reported last Friday.

The number of ICU beds in use on Friday was 75, up from 72 a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 35, up from 31 last Friday.

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Fund Balance For Oconee County Schools Grew To $48 Million in November Before Settling Back To $39 Million Near Year’s End

***Size Of Balance Seems To Exceed Board's Guidelines***

Oconee County Schools had a Fund Balance of more than $20 million every month from the beginning of the last fiscal year in July of 2021 through May of this year, the last month for which Oconee County Schools has been willing to release data.

In May, the Fund Balance was $39.5 million, $1.8 million lower than in April. April was $1.7 million lower than in March. The peak had been $48.4 million in November.

Friday, September 02, 2022

COVID-19 Hospital Cases Up To Highest Level Since Late February; Case Counts Also Up In NE Health District

***One Confirmed Death From Disease In Oconee, Clarke***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 56 COVID-19 patients, up sharply from the 44 reported last Friday.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the area hospitals has not been this high on a Friday since February 25, when it stood at 70.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Oconee County Says It Will Not Pay Full Costs For Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Water Treatment Plant

***New Elections Director Appointed***

Oconee County has told Walton County that it will not pay its full share of the costs of building a water treatment plant at the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir that the two counties built and own in Walton County.

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell told his fellow commissioners on Tuesday night that he had met with Walton County Commission Chair David Thompson on Aug. 26.

Daniell said he informed Thompson at that meeting that Oconee County is willing to pay only $12 million toward construction of the plant.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Independent Candidates Say They Rejected Both Parties In Decision To Run For Oconee County School Board

***Made Comments In Video Recorded Interviews***

The two candidates running as Independents for the Oconee County School Board said the chair of the Oconee County Democratic Party was wrong in suggesting that the petition drive that put them on the November ballot was the work of the Democratic Party.

Both said that a large number of people were involved in soliciting signatures of voters on the petitions required for them to be on ballot, and that only about a quarter of the signature collectors were affiliated in some way with the Democratic Party.

The two said they emerged as candidates from a group of parents who wanted to see some changes in the Board of Education and that they decided from the very beginning to run as Independents, rather than as Democrats or Republicans.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Oconee County Town Hall Meeting Offered Give And Take On Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax Referendum

***School Board Criticized By Speakers***

The decision by the Oconee County Board of Education to approve a 4.7 percent increase in property taxes–after first proposing a 9.8 percent increase–hung in the air at the Tuesday night Town Hall meeting of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners.

The advertised central theme of the Town Hall meeting was the decision of the commissioners to put a 1 percent Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum on the ballot in November.

Friday, August 26, 2022

COVID-19 Hospital Cases Down Slightly For Third Week In Row; Northeast Health District Reports Drop In Case Count

***Six Confirmed COVID Deaths, One In Clarke***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 44 COVID-19 patients, down from the 46 reported last Friday.

The number of ICU beds in use was 68, down by one from a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 27, also down by one from Aug. 19.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Democratic Candidates For Oconee County State Legislative Seats Say Republican Incumbents Are Absent, Out Of Touch

***Focus On Reproductive Rights***

Andrew Ferguson said Sen. Bill Cowsert is not actively engaged in Oconee County.

Jeff Auerbach said much the same about Rep. Marcus Wiedower.

Mokah Jasmin Johnson said Rep. Houston Gaines is out of touch with the community he has been elected to serve.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Oconee Crossing Residents Seeking Help From Other Oconee County Citizens In Fight Against Rezone For Grocery, Drive Throughs

***Plans For Nearby Grocery Inactive

Residents of Oconee Crossing subdivision at U.S. 78 and Hog Mountain Road have made it clear from the beginning that they are not opposed to commercial development on the edge of their neighborhood.

They said they knew that development was coming when they bought their homes.

What they are opposed to is the proposed four drive through restaurants and a large grocery that will be in their back yards if Oconee County commissioners approve a rezone request at their meeting on Sept. 13.

Friday, August 19, 2022

COVID-19 Hospital Cases Drop Slightly Again At Area Hospitals; Northeast Health District Reports 12 Confirmed COVID Deaths

***One Confirmed Death In Oconee***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 46 COVID-19 patients, down from the 50 reported last Friday and from the 53 reported two Fridays ago.

The number of ICU beds in use was 69, the same as a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 28, down from 34 on Aug. 12.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Campaign Coffers Of Democratic Oconee County State Legislative Candidates Dwarfed By Those Of Republican Incumbents

***Democrats Holding Forum For Party Candidates***

The three Democrats seeking to unseat the three Republicans who represent Oconee County in the Georgia General Assembly began the election season with a small fraction of the financial resources of the three incumbents.

Andrew Ferguson, Mokah Jasmine Johnson, and Jeffrey Auerbach had only $35,927 in unspent campaign funds among them, according to the Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report each of them filed in early July.

By contrast, incumbents Sen. Bill Cowsert, Rep. Houston Gaines, and Rep. Marcus Wiedower had $654,664 among them.

Monday, August 15, 2022

COVID-19 Cases Drop Slightly At Area Hospitals; NE Health District Case Count Up Slightly

***Two Confirmed Deaths From Disease Recorded***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 50 COVID-19 patients, down slightly from the 53 reported a week earlier.

The number of ICU beds in use was 69, down from 71 a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 34, down from 38 on Aug. 5.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Oconee County Schools Will Receive More Property Tax Revenue Than Budgeted Even After Approved Cut In Millage Rate

***Rollback Millage Rate Also Produced Budgeted Revenue***

Administrators of Oconee County Schools underestimated the size of the county’s Tax Digest in the budget the Board of Education approved on June 6 by $195 million, or 7.4 percent. (See Note below.)

As a result, that budget underestimated the amount of tax revenue Oconee County Schools would have expected to have received had the Board set the tax rate at 16.25 mills as recommended by Superintendent Jason Branch by just less than $4.5 million.

Board Member Wayne Bagley cited that underestimation of the Tax Digest when, following citizen protests, he proposed at the end of the meeting on Aug. 1 that the millage rate be dropped to 15.5 from the 16.5 of last year, rather than only to 16.25.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Oconee County School Board Members Rejected Arguments Of Citizens For Millage Rate Cut And Then Cut Rate Anyway

***Final Conversation Missing From Video Recording***

Oconee County Schools Chief Financial Officer Liz Harlow told Board of Education members at the start of their final tax hearing last week that state law required them to gather “for the purpose of listening to the public.”

Before citizens were given a chance to speak, however, Board Member Tim Burgess talked for 10-minutes about the importance of the proposed nearly10 percent tax increase–which most citizens present had come to oppose–for maintaining the school system’s fund balance.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Oconee Board Of Elections Puts T-SPLOST On Ballot, Gets Update On Secretary Of State Investigation Of Petition Drive

***Board Told Throwing Out All Petitions Not An Option***

The Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration met last week to put the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on the county ballot in November and to set the qualifying dates for Watkinsville Council Posts 3 through 5.

The Board also received an update on the investigation by the Secretary of State Office of irregularities in the petition drive that put Independent candidates Ryan Repetske and Melissa Eagling on the November School Board ballot.

Monday, August 08, 2022

State Announces Award Of $42 Million In Federal Recovery Funds For Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Water Treatment Plant

***Plant Estimated To Cost $80 Million

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has informed Walton County that its application for funding for a water treatment plant for Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir has been approved tentatively at $42 million.

Walton Commission Chair David Thompson announced at a called meeting of the reservoir Management Board last week that he had been notified of the favorable review of the county’s application for funding on July 14.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

COVID-19 Cases Up Sharply At Area Hospitals; 10 Confirmed Deaths From Disease Reported By Public Health Department

***Case Count Declines In Status Report***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 53 COVID-19 patients, a 36 percent increase from the 39 cases on Friday of last week.

The number of COVID-19 cases at the area hospitals is the highest reported on a Friday since 70 were reported on Feb. 25 of this year.

The number of ICU beds in use was 71, up from 54 a week earlier but at roughly the same level as on each of the other Fridays in July.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Oconee County School Board Increases Cut To Millage Rate After Public Hearings

***New Rate Represents 4.7 Percent Tax Increase***

The Oconee County Board of Education on Monday evening unanimously adopted a final millage rate of 15.5 for 2022, rather than the 16.25 rate proposed by Superintendent Jason Branch.

The 15.5 millage rate represents a tax increase of 4.7 percent from the 2021 rate.

The Board would have had to have reduced the millage rate to 14.8 to have avoided an increase in property taxes for Oconee County property owners for the year.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Area Hospitals Report Increase In COVID-19 Cases; Oconee Records Confirmed Death From Disease, Clarke Records Two

***Cases In Northeast Health District Up Slightly***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 39 COVID-19 patients, up from 33 on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 54, down from 70 a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 23, down from 25 a week ago.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Oconee School Board Ready To Adopt Policies Required By Recent Action Of General Assembly

***Divisive Concepts, Parents Bill Of Rights Included***

The Oconee County Board of Education on July 18 approved for discussion three policies mandated by legislation approved by the General Assembly this year.

The policies specify Unstructured Break Time, a Divisive Concepts Complaint Resolution Process, and a Material Harmful to Minors Complaint Resolution Process.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Speakers At Oconee Board Of Education Tax Hearings Overwhelmingly Express Unhappiness With Proposed Tax Increase

***Final Hearing On Monday***

The three members of the Oconee County Board of Education who attended the public hearing on Monday evening on the proposed 9.8 percent increase in property taxes for Oconee County Schools got an earful.

The increase is “incomprehensible,” “unconscionable,” “ridiculous, absolutely absurd,” “a tax grab,” “nuts,” in the words of the 12 speakers at the 38-minute-long session.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Oconee Elections Board Accepts Petitions, Putting Two Independents On November School Board Ballot

***Votes Set Up Contests With Republican Nominees***

The Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration, over the objection of its Republican Party representative, voted on Monday to accept the petitions of Melissa Eagling and Ryan Repetske to run as Independents for the Board of Education in November.

Director of Elections and Registration Rebecca Anglin said Eagling and Repetske had met the requirement that each get 1,425 signatures of voters on petitions asking that they be placed on the ballot.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Oconee Elections Board Meeting On Monday To Decide If Independents Get On School Board Ballot

***Will Receive Report On Verifications***

The Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration will meet at 11 a.m. on Monday to review a report on the verification of signatures by voters asking to put Ryan Repetske and Melissa Eagling on the ballot as Independent in November.

The Board will then vote to accept or reject the petitions from Repetske and Eagling, seeking to run for the Board of Education, according to Oconee County Director of Elections and Registration Rebecca Anglin. Anglin chairs the Board.

Anglin said on Friday that she and her staff completed signature verifications on both of the submitted petitions about 4:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Number Of Cases Of COVID-19 Remains Unchanged At Area Hospitals; Case Count In NE Health District Up Just Slightly

***Clarke Records Another Confirmed Death From Disease ***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 33 COVID-19 patients, the same number as on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 70, down from 72 a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 26, down from 29 a week ago.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Hearings Set On 9.8 Percent Increase In Property Taxes For Oconee County Schools

***Millage Rate Drop Does Not Offset Assessment Inflation***

The Oconee County Board of Education will hold the first two of three public hearings on Monday on what amounts to a 9.8 percent increase in property taxes for operation of Oconee County Schools in the coming year.

The Board in June adopted a budget for the Fiscal Year that began on July 1 based on lowering the millage rate for schools from 16.5 to 16.25.

Because of the inflationary growth in the assessment of property in the county, however, the Board would have had to have dropped the rate to 14.8 to have avoided a real increase in property taxes for county residents.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Oconee Planning Commission Recommends Approval Of Rezone For New Shopping Center At Hog Mountain Road And U.S. 78

***Residents of Oconee Crossing Asked For Denial***

Residents of Oconee Crossing subdivision told the Oconee County Planning Commission on Monday evening that they are not opposed to a proposed shopping center at the edge of their neighborhood.

They said they have expected development of the acreage between their neighborhood and Stripling’s General Store at the corner of Hog Mountain Road and U.S. 78.

The Oconee Crossing residents knew the approved rezone plans for their neighborhood called for commercial development on that land, a representative of the neighborhood association told the Planning Commission.

What they object to about the current plans, the representative said, is the change from a B-1 General Business District Zoning to a B-2 Highway Business District Zoning for a portion of the property.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Oconee County Commissioners To Cut Millage Rate To Offset Growth In Property Tax Assessments Due To Market Forces

***Decision Offsets Tax Increase***

Oconee County commissioners are scheduled to adopt on Aug. 2 new millage rates for the unincorporated and incorporated parts of the county that are 0.7 points lower than the current rates.

When the Board of Commissioners adopted its Fiscal Year 2023 Budget on June 7, Board Chair John Daniell said he expected to be able to propose a millage rate reduction for 2022 to offset inflationary market growth in property value.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Area Hospitals Report Slight Drop In COVID Cases; Count In NE Health District Increases

***Clarke County Reports Confirmed Death From Disease***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 33 COVID-19 patients, down from 35 on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 72, up by one from 71 a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 29, down from 30 a week ago.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Two Independents Submit Petitions To Be Placed On November Ballot For Oconee County School Board Posts

***Verification Of Signatures Expected To Take Week Or More***

Independent candidates Ryan Repetske and Melissa Eagling submitted petitions signed by registered voters in Oconee County on Tuesday asking to have their names appear on the ballot in November for the Board of Education.

If the signatures for each of the candidates are verified to be of properly registered voters, Repetske’s name will appear as an Independent in November with Republican Amy Parrish for Post 2 and Eagling will appear as an Independent with Republican Ryan Hammock for Post 3.

The Democrats did not put up any candidates for the two races.

Saturday, July 09, 2022

Area Hospitals Report Highest Number Of COVID-19 Cases Since March; Case Count In NE Health District Nearly Unchanged

***No New Confirmed Deaths From Disease Reported***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 35 COVID-19 patients, up from 24 on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 71, up from 67 a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 30, up from 29 a week ago.

The number of COVID-19 patients at area hospitals has not been this high on a Friday since March 11, when it was 36.

Friday, July 08, 2022

Construction Underway On Two Commercial Projects On Hog Mountain Road West Of Butler’s Crossing

***Site Plans Approved***

Two construction projects, one visible to passing motorists and the other not, will have impact on the traffic and character of Hog Mountain Road between Butler’s Crossing and the Civic Center and Oconee County High School if they are built as planned.

The visible project, fronting on Hog Mountain Road, is to be built in phases, according to its preliminary site plan, and to consist of six buildings, including the relocated historic white house on the site.

Saturday, July 02, 2022

Area Hospitals Report Decrease In Number of COVID-19 Cases; Case Counts In Health District Up Slightly For Eighth Week In Row

***Five Confirmed Deaths From Disease Reported***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 24 COVID-19 patients, down from 29 on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 67, up from 61 a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 29, up from 27 a week ago.

Last week, the number of COVID-19 patients had increased from 14 to 29, but the number of ICU beds had dropped by two from the week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use had increased by four.

Friday, July 01, 2022

Oconee County Delivered Large Number Of Votes For Collins In June 21 Republican Congressional District Runoff

***Oconee Democrats Played Lesser Role In Party’s Runoff

Oconee County played an outsized role in Mike Collins’ sweeping victory in last week’s runoff for the Republican nomination for the 10th Congressional District.

In the primary on May 24, only 15.0 percent of Oconee County voters using the Republican ballot selected Collins as their preferred candidate in the race for the open U.S. District 10 Congressional seat.

A slightly higher percentage of the county’s voters–17.6 percent–picked Vernon Jones.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Oconee County Commissioners Initiate Plans For Putting Transportation Sales Tax Referendum On November Ballot

***Would Result In Property Tax Reduction***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners took the first step on Tuesday night to put a 1 percent Transportation Special Purpose Local Sales Tax referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot.

A portion of the tax would be used to cover transportation projects normally included in the county’s general fund budget, allowing the county to reduce its property tax by 1 mill. The current county millage rate is 6.686.

Monday, June 27, 2022

New Plans For Publix Shopping Center On Oconee Connector Under Review

***Main Access Off Connector***

Deferred Tax LLC has submitted preliminary paperwork for a second attempt to rezone property on the west side of the Oconee Connector between SR 316 and Mars Hill Road for a shopping center that is to include a Publix.

The rezone request includes only a little more than 34 acres of the total 47 acres owned by Deferred Tax and seeks a less intense business classification than sought in the first rezone. The Board of Commissioners rejected that request in May of 2021.

Friday, June 24, 2022

COVID-19 Hospital Cases At Area Hospitals More Than Double In Last Week; Case Count In Northeast Health District Also Up

***Three New Deaths From Disease Reported***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 29 COVID-19 patients, just more than double the 14 reported on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 61, down from 63 a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 27, up from 23 a week ago.

In its weekly COVID-19 report, the Georgia Department of Public Health announced that the number of new COVID-19 cases tallied in its electronic tracking system in the Northeast Health District in the week ending on June 22 was 696.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

GDOT Says SR 316, Oconee Connector, Virgil Langford Road Will Remain Open During Interchange Reconstruction

***One Exit Ramp Closed For 45 Days***

The Oconee Connector and Virgil Langford Road intersections with SR 316, as well as SR 316 itself, will remain open to traffic during reconstruction of the two intersections, scheduled to take place from 2024 to 2027, with one exception.

Eastbound traffic on SR 316 trying to exit onto the Oconee Connector most likely will be required to detour around the intersection for 45 days at some point after reconstruction of that intersection gets underway.

The detour will route eastbound traffic along Jimmy Daniell Road to Virgil Langford Road, where it will be diverted either north or south.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Hammock Defeats Mauck In Republican Primary Runoff For Oconee County School Board Post 3

***Collins, Johnson-Green Favored In U.S. House Races***

Ryan Hammock soundly defeated Julie Mauck in the runoff Tuesday for the Oconee County Republican Party nomination for Post 3 on the Board of Education.

Hammock won in each of the county’s eight precincts.

He also won in early voting, absentee ballot voting, and election day voting.

His final figure was 57.9 percent to Mauck’s 42.1 percent.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Oconee County Early Voting For June 21 Runoff Less Than Half Early Voting For May Election

***Republican Ballot Rate Increased***

Turnout in early voting makes it likely that a relatively small number of Oconee County voters will have cast a ballot in the party primary runoffs by the end of election day tomorrow.

When early voting ended on Friday, only 2,244 of Oconee County’s 29,155 active voters had cast a ballot.

Another 282 voters had turned in an absentee ballot, bringing to 2,526 the total number of ballots received by the end of the day on Friday, or 8.6 percent of the county’s active voters.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Number of Hospital Cases Of COVID-19 Decreased In Last Week; Department Of Public Health Case Count Continues To Increase

***Oconee County Reported Drop In Cases***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 14 COVID-19 patients, down from the 18 reported on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 63, up from 58 a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 23, down from 24 a week earlier.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Runoff Candidates At Oconee County Democratic Forum United And Looking Forward To November Election

***One Congressional Candidate A No Show***

Jessica Fore and Charlie Bailey joined the Oconee County Democrats in person for the party’s candidate forum on Thursday night before the June 21 primary runoff.

Kwanza Hall, who, like Bailey, is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor, joined remotely via Zoom.

Dee Dawkins-Haigler and Bee Nguyen, candidates for the party’s nomination for Secretary of State, also checked in remotely.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

GDOT Releases Plans For Oconee Connector/SR 316 Interchange; No Access To Proposed Publix Shopping Center Shown

***Virgil Langford Road Plans Also Released***

The Georgia Department of Transportation released plans for the transformation of the SR 316 and Oconee Connector interchange on Wednesday that do not include access from the Connector to the proposed site of a Publix grocery.

The plans show the Oconee Connector flying over SR 316, as had been expected, but they also show an exit lane to the Oconee Connector for eastbound traffic that reaches far down the Connector, ending in a traffic light.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Oconee Town Hall Meeting Provides Answers To Questions On Costco Opening, Truck Traffic Ordinance, Tennis And Pickleball Courts

***Small Number of Questioners***

Costco is on schedule for an opening this fall.

Funding from the current Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) should be sufficient to begin construction of eight new tennis courts at Oconee Veterans Park by Fiscal Year 2025.

The existing tennis courts at Herman C. Michael will be converted to pickleball courts when new tennis courts are opened at Veterans Park.

Oconee School Board Approves $90 Million Fiscal Year 2023 Budget With Pay Raises And New Staff Positions

***Millage Rate Drop Included***

The Oconee County Board of Education, at its final meeting of the school year last week, approved a $90.2 million Fiscal Year 2023 expenditure budget that includes salary increases for certified and classified staff and 19 new staff positions.

The budget is 4.0 percent higher than the $86.7 million Fiscal Year 2022 budget and includes, for the first time since before the pandemic, full state funding of the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Oconee County Democrats Announce Candidate Forum For June 21 Runoff

***Recount Still Underway***

The Oconee County Democratic Party will hold a forum on Thursday night with candidates for three of the five races on the Democratic ballot in the June 21 runoff election.

Jessica Allison Fore and Tabitha Johnson-Green, candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for U.S. House District 10, have agreed to participate.

Dee Dawkins-Haigler and Bee Nguyen, candidates for the party’s nomination for Secretary of State, also will join.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Area Hospitals Report Increase in COVID-19 Cases; Department Of Public Health Also Reports Increase in Case Count

***Oconee County Adds New COVID-19 Confirmed Death***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 18 COVID-19 patients, up from the 11 reported on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 58, down from 66 as a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 24, down from 36 a week earlier.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Oconee Commission Agrees To Ban Truck Traffic From Mars Hill Road, Section of Connector, Astondale Road

***Update To Truck Traffic Ordinance Lists 56 Roads***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners passed an updated Truck Traffic Ordinance on Tuesday night that bans through trucks on Mars Hill Road in its entirety, on the Oconee Connector from Daniells Bridge Road to SR 316, and on Astondale Road.

The ordinance lists 56 roads in the county on which through truck traffic is forbidden, up from the 47 on the list when the ordinance was given first reading on May 24.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Oconee School Board Post 3 Republican Candidates Agree On Many Issues, Offer Support For, Criticisms Of Current Board Policies

***Disagree–Of Course–On Who Is Better Candidate***

The two candidates seeking the Republican Party nomination for Post 3 on the Oconee County Board of Education in the June 21 runoff election agree that School Board openings should be filled by voters, not internally by the Board, as is the case at present.

They also think older citizens should get a break on their school taxes and that School Board elections should remain partisan and at-large, rather than by district.

And both said that the School Board should hold Town Hall meetings, which it has refused to do, and that they are in favor of live-streaming Board meetings, which it does not do at present.

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Oconee County Commission To Consider Making Newly Widened Mars Hill Road, Astondale Road, Truck Routes

***Public Asked To Give Feedback***

Oconee County Public Works Director Jody Woodall’s recommendation that trucks continue to be banned on Astondale Road and on Mars Hill Road between Butler’s Crossing and SR 316 ran into opposition from two members of the Board of Commissioners last month.

Commissioner Amrey Harden said he thinks Mars Hill Road and the section of the Oconee Connector from Daniells Bridge Road to SR 316 should be removed from the list of roads on which through truck traffic is prohibited in a revised Truck Traffic Ordinance.

Friday, June 03, 2022

COVID-19 Hospital Case Count In Area Hospitals Up Just Slightly From Week Earlier

***One Confirmed Death From Disease Added In Health District***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 11 COVID-19 patients, up just one from the 10 reported on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 66, up from 60 as a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 36, up from 19 a week earlier.

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Oconee Election Board Certifies May 24 Vote, Outlines Plans For June 21 Runoff

***Only 11.9 Percent Of Votes Cast Were With Democratic Ballots***

The Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration certified the results of the May 24 party primaries and nonpartisan election on May 31, setting the stage for the party runoff elections on June 21.

Rebecca Anglin, director of Elections and Registration for the county, told the Board that the May 24 election had run smoothly, though there were long wait times on election day at all eight of the county’s polling locations.

The wait times ranged from 30 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes, she said.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Questions About Planned Roundabouts At Jimmy Daniell Road/SR 316 Interchange Dominate GDOT Virtual Public Information Open House

***Noise Barriers, Meriweather Drive Also Topics***

A team from the Georgia Department of Transportation responded to exactly 50 questions from citizens regarding the planned upgrade for the Jimmy Daniell Road and SR 316 interchange in a two-hour virtual session on May 26.

Many of the questions focused on the planned roundabouts at each of the exits from SR 316 to Jimmy Daniell Road, which will fly over SR 316 in the planned multi-grade intersection.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Hospital Association Reports Stability of COVID Indicators For Area Hospitals; Department Of Public Health Reports Local Case Increase

***Clarke Reports Confirmed COVID Death Of 27-Year-Old***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 10 COVID-19 patients, up just one from the nine reported on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 60, the same as a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 19, down from 20 a week earlier.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Questions On Oconee County Republican Ballot Send Messages To Board Of Education

***Only Five Days For Early Voting In Runoff***

The Oconee County Republican Party leadership sent messages to the Oconee County Board of Education Tuesday through four nonbinding questions it placed on the ballot.

In responding to those questions, voters using the Republican ballot said clearly that they, not Board members, should fill vacancies on the Board, and citizens more than 70 years old should receive a reduction in their school property taxes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Oconee Post 3 School Board Republican Primary Requires A Runoff

***Hammock And Mauck To Meet June 21***

Ryan Hammock and Julie Mauck are headed for a June 21 runoff as neither received more than 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s Republican Primary for Post 3 on the Oconee County Board of Education.

Mauck led the field with 41.7 percent of the vote, followed by 38.3 percent for Hammock and 20.0 percent for Elliott Rogers, based on the unofficial results posted just before 10 p.m. on Tuesday.

The Post 3 Board of Education primary race was the only contested local election on the ballot on Tuesday.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Oconee County Gives Legislative Delegation Independence From Athens-Clarke

***Registration, Campaign Spending Tell Story***

In the 2021 legislative session, Houston Gaines, who represents part of Oconee County and part of Athens-Clarke County in the Georgia House, introduced legislation to ban some local governments from reducing their law enforcement budgets.

The bill, which targeted Athens-Clarke County, passed and became law, with the support of Rep. Marcus Wiedower and Sen. Bill Cowsert, who also represent Oconee County, as well as parts of Athens-Clarke County, in the General Assembly.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Area Hospitals Report Slight Drop In COVID-19 Cases; Average Case Counts Down In Oconee, Clarke Counties

***Clarke Reports One New Confirmed Death From Disease***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had nine COVID-19 patients, down from the 13 reported on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 60, down from 70 a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 20, down from 33 a week earlier.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Heavy Turnout On Thursday And Friday In Oconee County Push Up Totals As Early In-Person Voting Ends

***Republican Ballots Continue To Dominate***

Nearly 16 percent of Oconee County’s registered voters have cast a ballot already for Tuesday’s primary and non-partisan Judicial elections through in-person voting, with a quarter of those casting an early in-person vote doing so on Thursday and Friday.

Rebecca Anglin, Director of Elections and Registration, said wait times had been “upwards of 45 minutes all day long” for early in-person voting on Friday and “average wait time” on Thursday was 25 minutes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Georgia Department of Transportation Asks For Citizen Input On Intersection Improvement At SR 316 And Jimmy Daniell Road

***Dials Mill Intersections Plans Revealed***

The Georgia Department of Transportation on Tuesday announced a virtual presentation and question and answer session for 4 to 6 p.m. on May 26 for the Jimmy Daniell Road and SR 316 Interchange Project.

GDOT also launched a new section on its web site containing information about the planned multi-grade intersection improvement at Jimmy Daniell Road. Construction of the interchange is expected to begin in 2024.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Few Oconee County Voters Opting For Democratic Ballot In Early Voting For May 24 Primary

***Contrast With May 2018 Election***

After 12 days of early voting, 2,516 of Oconee County’s 32,034 registered voters have cast a ballot, with 2,204, or 87.6 percent, using the Republican ballot, and 306, or 12.2 percent, using the Democratic ballot.

At the end of early voting in 2018 in the county, 72.5 percent of the ballots cast were in the Republican Primary, and 26.9 percent were in the Democratic Primary.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

COVID-19 Cases At Area Hospitals Increase; Case Counts In Northeast Health District, Oconee, Clarke Also Up

***Oconee Schools Reports Three New Student Cases***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had 13 COVID-19 patients, up from the four reported on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 70, up from 58 a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 33, up from 31 a week earlier.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

COVID-19 Cases At Area Hospital Remain Low; Clarke County Reports New Death From Disease

***Oconee Schools Reports New Staff Case***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had four COVID-19 patients, up just one from the three reported on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 58, also up by one from a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 31, the same as a week earlier.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Two Candidates At Democratic Party Meeting Offer Different Assessments Of Their Likelihood Of Winning in November

***Few Using Democratic Ballot In Early Primary Voting***

Jeff Auerbach told Oconee County Democrats last month that, as the Democratic Party nominee in the new House District 121, he does not expect to be able to defeat Republican incumbent Marcus Wiedower in his first match-up on Nov. 8.

Auerbach said he had been recruited by the Georgia House Democratic Caucus to run against Wiedower, and he thinks, in the future, he will represent the 121 House District in the Georgia General Assembly. The 121st is made up of  most of Oconee and parts of Clarke counties.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Citizen Tells Oconee County School Board She Is Concerned About Accreditation And Content Of Curriculum

***Board Members Profess Ignorance About Decision***

Suzannah Heimel told the Oconee County School Board during the public comment section of its meeting last month that originally she had planned to come before the Board with prepared comments about accrediting standards and critical race theory.

She said she decided to put aside her initial comments, however, because “the governor has passed a law stating that we cannot teach CRT in our school system.”

Friday, April 29, 2022

Area Hospitals Report Slight Decrease In COVID-19 Cases; Department Of Public Health Reports No Deaths From Disease In NE District

***Oconee And Clarke Have “Probable” COVID Death***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had three COVID-19 patients, down from six on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 57, the same as a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 31, down from 32 a week earlier.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Oconee County Voters Who Request Republican Ballot Will Decide Only Local Race With Competition; Early Voting Starts Monday

***Post 3 For School Board Has Three Contenders***

Oconee County voters who ask for the Republican ballot when early voting for the May 24 primary starts on Monday–or at the voting both on May 24–will get a chance to vote on the only local contest in the election.

Ryan Hammock, Julie Mauck, and Elliott Rogers are seeking the Republican Party nomination for Post 3 on the Oconee County Board of Education.

Those voters selecting the Democratic ballot will be deciding only state and federal contests. State and federal contests will be on the Republican ballot as well.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Oconee County Republican Party Includes Questions Written By County Democrats On Republican Primary Ballot

***GOP Party Leaders Campaign Against Questions They Asked***

Oconee County voters who choose the Democratic ballot in the May 24 primary will get a chance to express their opinions on nonpartisan elections for the county Board of Commissioners and for the county Board of Education.

They also will be asked if they would prefer to have districts for the Board of Commissioners posts, rather than the at-large districts used at present.

Voters who opt for the Republican ballot in the May 24 primary will be asked these same questions, but with a caveat.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Area Hospitals Report Slight Increase In COVID-19 Cases; Clarke County Reports Two New Confirmed Deaths From Disease

***Oconee County Schools Lists New Active Case***

The Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported on Friday that area hospitals had six COVID-19 patients, up from four on Friday of last week.

The number of ICU beds in use was 57, compared with 56 a week earlier, and the number of adult ventilators in use was 32, up from 25 a week earlier.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

COVID Cases Increase Slightly In NE Health District, Oconee, Clarke Counties

***Hospital Cases Fall***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added 75 new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days ending on Friday, up slightly from the 62 cases added last week, based on the Friday Daily Status Report of the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The Northeast Health District added seven confirmed deaths from the disease, down from the eight added in the week ending last Friday.

One of the confirmed deaths was in Clarke County.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

COVID-19 Cases Fall Back From Increase Of Week Earlier In Northeast Health District; Oconee, Clarke Report Decreases

***Deaths From Disease, Hospital Cases Down Slightly***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added 62 new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days ending on Friday, down from the 167 cases added last week, based on the Friday Daily Status Report of the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The Northeast Health District added eight confirmed deaths from the disease, down from the 11 added in the week ending last Friday.

One of the confirmed deaths was in Clarke County.

Sunday, April 03, 2022

COVID Case Counts Increase In Northeast Health District; Oconee Reports Slight Decline, While Clarke Reports Large Increase

***Hospital Cases Increase Slightly***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added 167 new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days ending on Friday, up sharply from the 25 cases added cases last week, based on the Friday Daily Status Report of the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The Northeast Health District added 11 confirmed deaths from the disease, the same number added in the week ending last Friday.

One of the confirmed deaths was in Clarke County.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Oconee County Commissioners Agree To Tax Refund For Caterpillar After Confirming Error In Tax Filings

***Comment Period Opened For Cole Springs Road Closing***

Oconee County commissioners gave tentative agreement on Tuesday night to a settlement that will result in a nearly $1.1 million refund to Caterpillar for taxes it mistakenly paid on personal property at its plant in Bogart.

Consistent with an agreement between Oconee and Clarke counties signed in 2012 when Caterpillar decided to move to the site, all tax revenue from the firm is split evenly between the two counties.

As a result, Oconee County and Clarke County each will refund $538,405 to Caterpillar.

Candidate For Lieutenant Governor Told Oconee County Democrats His Top Priority Is Medicaid Expansion

***Criticized Proposed Restrictions On Teaching Of History***

Charlie Bailey told a virtual gathering of Oconee County Democrats earlier this month that he is focusing his campaign for the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor on healthcare, education, and public safety.

His top priority, he said, is expansion of Medicaid, which he said would not only address problems of healthcare in rural Georgia but also be a boost to the economy of the whole state.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Deaths From COVID-19, Reports Of New Cases, Hospital Cases All Down In Northeast Health District

***Oconee County Schools Again Reports No New Cases***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added only 25 new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days ending on Friday, down from 47 added cases last Friday and considerably fewer than the 63 cases added in the bottom of the last wave in July of last year.

The District added 11 confirmed deaths from the disease, down from the 17 added in the week ending last Friday.

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Oconee County’s Two State Representatives Split Their Votes On Constitutional Amendment To Increase Legislative Salaries, Pensions

***Senate Votes To Increase Teams To Four Years***

Oconee County’s two representatives to the State House split their votes last week on a resolution that asks voters to decide on a state Constitutional amendment that would significantly increase the salaries for members of the General Assembly.

Houston Gaines, who currently represents Bogart Precinct, Marswood Hall Precinct, and the part of the Civic Center Precinct that was the East Oconee Precinct, voted against the resolution.

Marcus Wiedower, who represents the remainder of the county, voted in favor.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Voter History Files For Candidates For Oconee County School Board Reveal Range of Partisan Voting And Commitment

***Republican Voted Democratic; Independent Voted Republican***

Amy Parrish, the sole qualified Republican for Post 2 on the Oconee County Board of Education, has voted Democratic in one primary, voted Republican in eight, and skipped five primaries since she moved to Oconee County in 2008.

Prior to that, voting in Clarke County, Parrish voted using the Democratic ballot in four of the five primaries in which she participated.

Ryan Repetske, who is seeking to challenge Parrish in November as an Independent, has voted Democratic in two primaries and not voted in five primaries since he began voting in Oconee County in November of 2012.

Friday, March 18, 2022

COVID-19 Case Numbers In Oconee, Clarke Dip Below July 2021 Level; Local Hospital Cases Also Drop To Last Year Lows

***Confirmed Death Count From Disease Remains High***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added only 42 new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days ending on Friday, down from 134 cases added last week.

The number of cases added is fewer than the 63 added at the bottom of the last wave of cases in July of last year.

The District added 17 confirmed deaths from the disease, the same as the week before. Deaths have remained high even as the number of cases has fallen dramatically.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Oconee County School Board Awards Bid For Construction At Oconee County Primary School And Oconee County Elementary School

***Internet Filter To Address YouTube Problems***

The Oconee County Board of Education on Monday voted to accept a bid from Kevin Price Construction for $2.4 million for renovation of Oconee County Primary School and Oconee County Elementary School.

Total costs for the work at the two neighboring and linked schools is estimated to be $2.8 million, and funding will come from the Education Local Option Sales Tax (ELOST) and state Capital Outlay Project allocations.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

COVID Cases Continue To Drop In Northeast Health District; Confirmed Deaths From Disease Remain High But Fall From Week Earlier

***Hospital Cases Continue To Decline***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added 134 new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days ending on Friday, down from 174 last week, and the lowest number added since 63 cases were added in the week ending on July 2, 2021.

The District added 17 confirmed deaths from the disease, down from the 20 deaths added last Friday. Deaths are a lagging indicator of the disease.

One of the confirmed deaths was in Oconee County and two were in Clarke County.

Two Candidates Qualify As Independents For Oconee County Board Of Education Elections; Six Candidates Now In Races

***Independents Must Submit Signatures For Validation***

Two candidates for the Oconee County Board of Education qualified as Independents on Thursday and Friday, pending verification of nomination petitions.

The two candidates, Ryan Repetske for Post 2 and Melissa Eagling for Post 3, have until July 12 to file nominating petitions with 1,425 signatures of registered voters for each. The county has 31,894 registered voters as of the beginning of the month.

Incumbent Amy Parrish was the sole candidate to qualify as a Republican for Post 2, and three Republicans, Ryan Hammock, Julie Mauck, and Elliott Rogers, qualified for the open Post 3.

No Democrats qualified for any county office.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Oconee County Agrees To Sell Two Buildings Across From Courthouse Declare As Surplus

***Approves Rezone For Car Wash In Butler’s Crossing***

Oconee County accepted bids of $731,250 last week for sale of two properties that are next door to the Courthouse and will be surplus once the county moves its nonjudicial functions to the new county administrative building in June of 2023.

The Board of Commissioners voted to accept a bid of $376,250 for the Elections Office Building, 10 Court Street, on the south side of the Courthouse, and a bid of $355,000 for the Ward Building, on the opposite side of the Courthouse at 3 Third Street.

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Walton County Plans To Reapply For Federal Relief Funds For Treatment Plant At Hard Labor Creek Reservoir

***Oconee County Not Asked To Join At Present***

Walton County plans to reapply for federal pandemic relief funds for construction of a water treatment plant at Hard Labor Creek Reservoir, if the state decides to allow for a second round of competition.

Even without the federal funding, the county plans to move forward with construction of a 16 million gallon per day treatment plant, and preliminary design work already has been completed and bond financing lined up.

Walton County plans to go ahead without Oconee County, its partner in the reservoir project, with the idea that Oconee County, which currently does not need water from the reservoir, can decide to participate at some point in the future.

Monday, March 07, 2022

Oconee County’s Legislators In Atlanta Vote With Republican Majority On Education, Gun, COVID Vaccination Bills

***No Action On Okefenokee Protection Bill

Oconee County’s two representatives in the Georgia House voted with the Republican majority last week on three bills that, if passed and signed by the governor, will have impact on Oconee County Schools and on the University of North Georgia.

Republicans Marcus Wiedower and Houston Gaines voted to restrict how teachers handle “divisive concepts,” to allow parents to demand access to and challenge classroom materials used by teachers, and to eliminate “free speech zones” on college campuses.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

Early Voting Moves Back To Oconee County Elections Office Because Of Scheduling Conflict At Civic Center

***Precinct Consolidation Now Final***

Early voting for the May 24 primary will be held at the Oconee County Office of Elections and Registration, opposite the Courthouse in Watkinsville, rather than at the Civic Center, where early voting for county elections has been held since November of 2020.

Early voting for the June 21 runoff, if needed, also will be at the Elections and Registration Office, but early voting for the Nov. 8 elections will return to the Civic Center.

Qualifying for Posts 2 and 3 on the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners will take place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 9 a.m. to noon on Friday, also at the Elections and Registration Office.

Friday, March 04, 2022

Number of COVID-19 Cases In Northeast Health District, Oconee, Clarke Counties Drops To Levels Of Last Summer

***Confirmed Deaths From Disease Also Down***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added 174 new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days ending on Friday, down from 371 last week, and the lowest number added since 63 cases were added in the week ending on July 2, 2021.

The District added 20 confirmed deaths from the disease, down from the 34 deaths added last Friday. Deaths are a lagging indicator of the disease.

Three of the confirmed deaths were in Oconee County and four were in Clarke County.

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Oconee Democrats Told They Can Help In State Races By Making The County Less Red

***Candidates For Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner***

Oconee County Democrats do not need to turn the county blue, Jen Jordan, a candidate for Attorney General, said at last month’s party meeting.

They just need to make it a little less red, Jordan said, for the party to have success in statewide elections in November.

To that end, Jordan said, it will be helpful if the party can field candidates for the county Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners races in November, as well as to run in the county’s two state House districts and the county’s state Senate district.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

COVID-19 Cases Continue To Fall In Northeast Health District, Oconee, Clarke Counties, While Deaths From Disease Remain High

***Hospital Cases Continue To Fall***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added only 371 new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days ending on Friday, down from 654 cases added last Friday.

The District added 34 confirmed deaths from the disease, down by three from the 37 deaths added last Friday. Deaths are a lagging indicator of the disease.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Walton And Oconee Counties Passed Over In Awards Of Federal Relief Funds For Water And Sewer Projects

***Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Requests Not Granted***

Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday the awarding of just more than $422 million in federally-funded water and sewer grants, passing over requests by Walton County for $115.5 million and by Oconee County for $23.5 million.

Walton County submitted its request for $80 million for construction of a water treatment plant and raw intake pump station for Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir and for $35.5 million for a water transmission system for the treated water.

Oconee Representative Wiedower One Of Eight Republicans On Natural Resources Committee With Funding From Twin Pines Minerals

Firm Seeking Permit For Mining Near Okefenokee

Oconee County Representative Marcus Wiedower is one of eight Republicans on the Georgia House Natural Resources and Environment Committee who have reported receiving a campaign contribution in the last cycle from Twin Pines Minerals, the Birmingham, Ala., firm seeking a permit to surface mine near the Okefenokee Swamp.

Wiedower and four other Republicans on the 24-member Committee also reported receiving campaign funds from the Macon-based Georgia Mining Association Committee for Good Government, which supports state legislation for mining in the state.

Friday, February 18, 2022

COVID-19 Cases In Northeast Health District Drop Dramatically In Last Month, But Deaths From Disease Increase

***Oconee, Clarke Levels Just Above Levels Before Surge***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added 654 new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days, or only just less than a 10th of the cases added in the week ending on Jan. 21, and down from 1,245 cases added last Friday.

The District, however, added 37 confirmed deaths from the disease, up from 28 last Friday and up from the 17 added on Friday four weeks ago. Deaths are a lagging indicator of the disease.

One of the confirmed deaths was in Oconee County and seven were in Clarke County.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Oconee School Board Approves Redistricting Timeline For New Dove Creek Middle School, With Expectation Plan Will Be Far Reaching

***Plan Likely To Impact Other Schools***

The Oconee County Board of Education on Monday gave Brook Whitmire, Chief Human Resources Officer for Oconee County Schools, the authorization to begin assembling school system leaders to create a redistricting plan for the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year.

Whitmire told the Board a week earlier that while the primary purpose of redistricting was “to populate” the new Dove Creek Middle School, “anything is on the table” in terms of redistricting and all schools in the county could be affected by the plan.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Oconee County’s State Legislators Begin Year With Hefty Reserves In Campaign Accounts

***Three Republicans File Campaign Finance Reports***

State Rep. Houston Gaines, fresh off a seven-month fundraising period during which he raised $169,915, has $258,848 available as he enters the 2022 campaign season.

Rep. Marcus Wiedower, who raised $84,900 in the second half of 2021 and first month of 2022, will have $135,704 on hand once the legislature ends its session and the campaign season gets fully underway.

Sen. Bill Cowsert raised $75,285 in the June 30, 2021, to Jan. 31, 2022, period and has $310,108 in his campaign account as of the end of January.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Number Of COVID-19 Drops Again In Northeast Health District, Oconee, Clarke Counties; Deaths From Disease Increase

***Hospital Cases Continue To Fall***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added 1,245 new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days, representing another large drop in cases from the week before.

The District added 28 confirmed deaths from the disease, however, up from 18 the week earlier. Deaths are a lagging indicator of the disease.

Two of the confirmed deaths were in Oconee County and one was in Clarke County.

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Oconee County Schools Issues News Release Announcing Re-Election Candidacy Of Board Member Parrish

***Includes Endorsement By Board Chair***

Oconee County Schools last week sent out a news release to 17 media outlets and journalists announcing that Board of Education Post 2 Member Amy Parrish plans to run for re-election this year.

It also posted the announcement on the front page of Oconee County Schools web site with a link to an inside page containing a picture of Parrish, an endorsement of her by Board Chair Kim Argo, and a biographical sketch of Parrish.

The statement quotes Parrish as saying “I would be honored to continue in this role with such a dedicated Board, as we remain fully committed to the sustained excellence for which Oconee County Schools is known.”

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Oconee County Schools Planning To Begin Work Next Year On New $12.7 Million Instructional Support Center

***Construction To Be Completed In 2024***

Oconee County Schools plans to issue a request for proposals for construction of a New Instructional Support Center on North Main Street in Watkinsville on April 4 of next year, with construction to be completed in July of 2024.

Cost of the 35,000-square-foot building is now estimated at $12.7 million, or more than 50 percent higher than the $8.3 million estimate when the project was planned in 2019.

The Instructional Support Center will be funded entirely by the Educational Local Option Sales Tax (ELOST) approved by voters in March of last year and will be the second most expensive project to be funded by that tax, behind the $34.2 million for the new Dove Creek Middle School.

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Oconee County Commissioners Approve Townley Rezone Requests For Subdivison, Approve Own Rezone For Administrative Building

***Citizens Again Raise Issue of Rentals***

Oconee County Commissioners on Tuesday night, despite opposition from neighbors and a negative vote of the majority of the Planning Commission, approved what amounts to a seven-lot subdivision surrounded by farmland in the west of the county.

The proposal for the subdivision came in the form of two requests by Tony Townley to subdivide two plots of land he owns totaling 15 acres, most of it currently farmland, so he can build houses.

Townley also owns most of the land surrounding the planned residential development, making those seven lots–and future houses–residential nodes in the pastureland surrounding them.

Friday, February 04, 2022

COVID-19 Cases Drop Dramatically In Oconee, Clarke, Northeast Health District; Deaths From Disease Also Down

***Hospital Cases Show Lesser Decline***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added 2,442 new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days, or less than half the number added in the week ending on Jan. 28.

The District added 18 confirmed deaths from the disease, compared with 34 added in the week ending on Friday of last week.

Three of the confirmed deaths were in Clarke County.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Oconee County Board Of Education Updated On Dove Creek Middle School Construction At Retreat

***Details Remain Sketchy***

The new Dove Creek Middle School will be a two-story building facing Hog Mountain Road just southeast of the existing Dove Creek Elementary School in the far northwest of Oconee County near the Barrow County line.

Parent entrance to and exit from the school will be off Osborne Road, with Drop Off in front of the school.

The bus entrance and exit will be off Hog Mountain Road, using the existing bus entrance and exit now serving Dove Creek Middle School.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Oconee County Finance Director Gives Commissioners Fiscal Update, Says Old SPLOST Accounts Now Exhausted

***Bond Sales For Costco Approved***

Oconee County has now spent all of the funds collected as part of the 2004 and 2009 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes and more than 86 percent of revenue from the tax referendum passed by voters in 2015.

The county has collected $1.3 million from the 2021 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which the county began collecting on Oct. 1 of last year and which will run for six years, but so far it has not spent any of the funds from the tax.

These were some of the messages County Finance Director Wes Geddings had for members of the Board of Commissioners at their Agenda Setting meeting last week.

Candidate For Georgia Secretary Of State Tells Oconee County Democrats November Election Is Crucial For Democracy In Georgia

***Focuses On Republican Candidate Hice***

The Georgia General Assembly, in the 2021 legislative session, gave itself new powers over the operation of local Election Boards and at the same time began using local legislation to change the composition of those Boards.

These two changes, Bee Nguyen said during the Oconee County Democratic Party January meeting, represent a threat to democracy in the state and country.

While the legislature also weakened the role of the Secretary of State, Nguyen said, that office remains important in safeguarding elections in the state.

For that reason, Nguyen said, she is seeking the Democratic Party nomination for Secretary of State in the May 24 primary.

Friday, January 28, 2022

COVID-19 Case Counts Remain High In Northeast Health District, Oconee, Clarke Counties, But Down From A Week Ago

***Oconee Recorded Seven Confirmed COVID Deaths***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added 5,078 new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days, and 34 confirmed deaths from the disease.

Seven of the confirmed deaths were in Oconee County, and three were in Clarke County.

Last week, the District had added 17 confirmed deaths from the disease.

The average number of added cases per day in the last seven days in the Northeast Health District was 725.4, compared with 917.4 in the seven days ending on Jan. 21.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Oconee County School Board Meets For Six Hours In Retreat In Barrow County But Gives No Record Of Discussion

***Minutes Only List Reports Made To Board***

The Oconee County Board of Education met outside the county at the Georgia Club last Wednesday in a six-hour retreat that had been announced late on the previous Friday.

Minutes from the meeting, which take up less than a page, indicate only that the Board heard presentations from Superintendent Jason Branch and six other school administrators.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Oconee County Planning Commission Recommends Denial Of Rezone Request By Townley For Small Subdivisions In West Of County

***Citizens Express Concerns About Rentals***

Homeowners along Ray’s Church Road and Aycock Road told the Oconee County Planning Commission on Tuesday night they do not like the small subdivisions Tony Townley is planning on the edge of his large land holdings in the west of the county.

They said they are afraid the homes will be rented rather than owned, that the subdivisions will increase the traffic on the roads, and that the development would alter the rural nature of the area.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Northeast Health District, Area Hospitals Report Some Easing Of COVID-19 Cases; Oconee County Schools Cases Increase

***Confirmed COVID-19 Deaths In Oconee, Clarke***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added 6,422 new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days, and 17 confirmed deaths from the disease.

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

The average number of added cases per day in the last seven days was 917.4 compared with 1,074.6 in the nine days ending on Jan. 14.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Walton County Relief Funds Application Promises Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Water For Economic Development

***Included Possible Customers: Rivian***

Walton County has touted the value of the water in the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir for economic development in a $115.5 application for federal relief funds it has submitted for construction of a water treatment plant and distribution system for the reservoir.

The county submitted the application for the Oct. 31 deadline, and on Dec. 16 Gov. Brian Kemp announced that the state had put together an incentive package to lure electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian to a site straddling the Walton and Morgan county lines along I-20.

The state has not revealed the details of the incentive package for Rivian, but water and sewer are an essential part.

Friday, January 14, 2022

COVID-19 Cases Continue To Increase In Northeast Health District, Oconee, Clarke; Area Hospitals Report COVID Case Increases

***Oconee School Cases Jump***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added 9,671 new cases of COVID-19 in the last nine days, and 14 confirmed deaths from the disease.

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

The average number of added cases per day in those nine days was 1,074.6, compared with 815.4 in the first five days of the new year.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Citizen Asks Oconee County School Board, State Education Department, To Investigate Relief Funds Spending By Schools

***Other Citizens Praise, Criticize Board***

John Phillips told the Oconee County Board of Education on Monday that Oconee County Schools is out of compliance with requirements for use of federal relief funds and called on the Board to investigate.

On Tuesday morning, Phillips filed a complaint with the Georgia Department of Education, which administers the federal funds, also asking for an investigation to “determine if there has been fraud, waste, and abuse” at Oconee County Schools.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Oconee Commissioners Weigh In On Need For Reform Of Annexation Laws In State

***Citizen Speaks Again About SR 316 Transformation***

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell told his colleagues last week that Oconee County has had few problems involving annexation.

Daniell said he nonetheless recommended that the Board ask the Georgia General Assembly in its session that officially started Monday to reform its dispute resolution procedures for annexation.

The Board responded with a unanimous vote to ask the legislature to pass legislation that balances “the oftentimes conflicting interests among counties, cities, incorporated and unincorporated citizens, and developers seeking different land uses through annexation.”

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Conflicting Positions On Partisan Nature Of School Board Elections Confront Oconee County Legislative Delegates

***Legislation Could Surface In Session Starting Monday***

Oconee County’s three state legislators will face a tough choice if a bill seeking to make all school board elections in the state nonpartisan comes before them when they return to Atlanta for the General Assembly session that starts on Monday.

Kathy Hurley, chair of the Oconee County Republic Party, said the local party would like to keep Oconee County school board elections partisan, saying that in the current political environment “there is no such thing as a nonpartisan election.”

Friday, January 07, 2022

Northeast Health District Added 4,077 New COVID-19 New Cases In First Five Days Of New Year; Average Cases Per Day Increases

***Are Hospitals Report Big Jump In Cases***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added 4,077 new cases of COVID-19 in the first five days of 2022, and four confirmed deaths from the disease.

The average number of added cases per day in those first five days was 815.4, compared with 663.4 in the seven days ending on Dec. 31.

The Georgia Department of Public Health did not release its usual Daily Status Report on either Thursday or Friday, citing unspecified problems with its Electronic Laboratory Reporting system.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Freedom From Religion Foundation Closes Complaint Against Oconee County Schools After School Attorney Says Display Corrected

***OCS Response To Aug. 23 Complaint Dated Jan. 4***

The Freedom From Religion Foundation on Wednesday closed the file of a complaint against Oconee County Schools in August of last year for a religious display at Oconee County Middle School.

Phillip L. Hartley, attorney for Oconee County Schools, informed the Foundation on Tuesday that the display in question was part of a larger display by student groups.

Hartley said Oconee County Schools had not identified the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as the student group sponsoring the display “and that has now been corrected.”

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Georgia Transportation Department Planning Public Outreach On SR 316 Intersection Upgrades

***Dates Not Yet Set***

The Georgia Department of Transportation is planning meetings both with local officials and with the public this spring to discuss interchange improvements along SR 316 in Oconee County.

Details of these meetings, which remain incomplete, were first announced by SueAnne Decker, District preconstruction engineer with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) at a MACORTS Technical Coordinating Committee meeting on Oct. 27.

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Freedom From Religion Foundation Evaluating Nonresponse By Oconee County Schools To Complaint About Religious Display

***Schools Acknowledge Receipt Of Foundation Request***

Attorneys at the Freedom From Religion Foundation are weighing how to respond to a lack of response from Oconee County Schools to a request that it remove a religious display at Oconee County Middle School.

The national foundation based in Madison, Wisc., wrote to Oconee County Schools Superintendent Jason Branch in August and again in late October asking him to reply and to indicate what he did “to remedy this constitutional violation.”

Saturday, January 01, 2022

COVID-19 Cases Triple in Northeast Health District In Last Week; Area Hospitals Report Large Increase In Patients With Disease

***Oconee, Clarke Report Near Record Numbers Of Cases***

The 10-county Northeast Health District added 4,644 new cases of COVID-19 in the week ending on Friday, just more than three times the number added in the week ending on Dec. 24.

On Dec. 24, the number of cases had increased by just less than three times (2.8) over the week earlier.

The Northeast Health District added 11 deaths, compared with 13 a week earlier. One of those added deaths was of a 43-year-old woman in Clarke County without a chronic condition.