Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Citizens At Oconee County Town Hall Meeting Talk About Libraries, Swimming Pools, Paper Ballots, School Board, Tax Receipts

***Request For Alcohol Sales Opposite Malcom Bridge School Noted***

Suzannah Heimel asked the Oconee County Board of Commissioners to find a way to provide oversight of the county’s libraries.

Julie Mauck said she wants the county to defund the two libraries until the problems she sees “gets worked out” and then the two libraries should “pull away from the Athens Regional Library System.”

Dan Magee told the Commissioners he thinks “the library system is fantastic” and the staff at the Oconee County Library is “outstanding.”

Libby Boosalis and Kelly Price want the county to build at least a Junior Olympics sized outdoor pool.

Victoria Cruz wants the county to adopt hand-marked paper ballots for elections and discontinue using the existing voting machines.

Chuck Williams told the Commissioners "to seize every opportunity” to tell members of the Board of Education “what you see as far as growth projections” for the county.

Steve Offutt said he wanted to know what the county is planning to do with new tax revenue from its commercial sector.

All of these comments were offered by citizens at the Board of Commissioners Town Hall meeting last week at the county’s new Administrative Building.

Commission Chair John Daniell told those gathered at the beginning of the meeting that the county has a requests to expand the alcohol pouring district to include the new shopping center opposite the Malcom Bridge Middle School and to allow distilleries and breweries to operate in the county.

No one took him up on his request for feedback.

State Route 316 Announcements

Daniell, near the end of the 80-minute-long meeting on Sept. Sept. 20, gave the latest dates for construction along SR 316.

Daniell said construction is scheduled to begin next year on the bundle of projects that includes full intersections at Jimmy Daniell Road and the Oconee Connector and a flyover at Virgil Langford Road.

A year later, 2025, construction is scheduled to begin at Dials Mill Road and Dials Mill Extension, he said, although “we have not seen the final plans on that yet.”

“I think there's going to be another Outreach (session) before the final approval from Atlanta,” he added.

The most recent plans made public after a MACORTS Technical Coordinating Committee Meeting showed a full interchange at the Extension and a flyover at Dials Mill Road.

Construction at McNutt Creek Road and Mars Hill Road is scheduled for 2027, Daniell said.

Current plans on the Georgia Department of Transportation web site show flyovers at both sites, but Daniell has said he expects the McNutt Creek Road design to be changed to a full interchange.

The dates for construction of the interchange at Julian Drive “has moved to To Be Determined, so they're not exactly sure what's going to happen at that location nor do are they saying when that will happen.”

Improvements to the intersection of SR 10 Loop and SR 316 also are now labeled To Be Determined, Daniell said, “and again they don't have a date on construction or design for that one.”

First Speaker

Heimel was the first person to come forward to speak on Wednesday, and she said “I've been told that a lot that our Board of Commissioners has no oversight of the library and that's kind of its own governing body.”


“I will say that the fact that our County gives the library $500,000 a year that's earmarked for this upcoming year with no oversight, that's very concerning and upsetting to me and I'm going to tell you why," she said.

The current budget for the Oconee County Library and Bogart Library includes exactly $500,000 from the county.

Heimel first held up three books that she said “need some kind of parental commission or group to kind of look and see what's there and where it's shelved.”

The first book was Welcome To Consent and “it's actually in the juvenile section, she said, which means juvenile is birth to fifth, birth to sixth grade, and this book is littered with instructions and discussions about sex, masturbation, horniness.”

Heimel read a very graphic section for a third book, Jack of Hearts, which she said was in the Young Adult section (sixth to 12 grade).

“So this senior, and I'm not naming names, and I are having sex kissing sucking and 69ing and what you have and then he says to me I want to f*** that pretty little ass of yours. And I was like, I don't know I've never done that before,” Heimel read.

Daniell interrupted her at this point and asked her to stop.

“I'm just asking and I'm praying and I'm hoping that there is some way that this Commission can figure out a way to agree to or demand oversight of what's happening in our library system," Heimel said

Heimel also asked that the libraries leave the American Library Association and leave the statewide PINES library system, which links holdings of libraries across the state.

Request for Pools

Boosalis and Price were the next to step forward, and Boosalis referenced a map from a 20-year-old Oconee Veterans Park Master Plan “and below, in the lower left hand corner of the park, there was a swimming pool complex listed on that map.”

Boosalis And Price

“That swimming pool has been removed,” she said, “and I just wanted to ask you to please consider giving us a place for a pool.”

Boosalis and Price provided details of current demands for pools, from swim clubs to teams at the county’s two high schools.

We are in our summer league just completely maxed out of space,” Boosalis said. “There's not enough space to hold a proper dual meet, which is just two teams, with parking and areas for spectators."

“This is just showing that the demand for a pool is absolutely there,” she said.

“I understand that it's millions of dollars to build,” Boosalis said of a pool. “I know it's an investment. It's millions of dollars to maintain. But there are ways to make it work.”

“Everybody likes to swim on a hot day,” Price said, “and I think that our county should be able to provide something.”

In response to questions from Commissioner Amrey Harden, the pair said that, if the county were to build a pool to meet the demand of competitive swimmers, space and time could be set aside for others as well.

Books And Pools

Magee followed Boosalis and Price and started by saying “I want to thank you all and Chuck too for working out the school system fees, use of the parks and everything.”


Commissioner Chuck Horton missed the meeting for health reasons.

“It's fantastic, I'm glad it's worked out,” Magee said of the agreement between the county and Oconee County Schools to share facilities at no cost to either party. “It's been a bone of contention for a long time,” Magee said.

“Ladies, great comments,” Magee said of Boosalis and Price.

“They mentioned schools a lot,” he said. “This is all ages. This is learn to swim. This is seniors.”

“The last thing,” he said. “The library system is fantastic. They do a great job. I love Pines. I read a lot of books. If they don't have it at Watkinsville, you can get anywhere in the state.”

“I think the staff there is outstanding. They listen. Excellent customer service,” he said.

“I'm all for the Library System,” he said. “I do they think they do a great job. We're very, very lucky to have the staff we have.”

Libraries Again

Mauck said the problem of the libraries “is much bigger than, more than a few books.”


“I'm amazed that she could stand up here and read the filth that they're putting in front of the kids out there,” Mauck said of Heimel’s presentation.

“So it's a lot to get into. I'm not going to get into a lot in here,” she said, “But you know my recommendation actually would be to defund them until this gets worked out.”

“And it does go all the way up to the ALA (American Library Association), who, I said the last time I was here, we had a self-proclaimed and proud Marxist lesbian ALA person who wants to use libraries as a grooming ground for socialists among other things."

“It's a big issue,” she continued. “It's a national issue.”

“So we need to keep our library safe,” Mauck said. “We need to pull away from the Athens Regional Library System.”

“So I would just ask that you would do a little research on your own. Just Google what's going on in libraries all around the country,” Mauck said. 

“It's a horrible thing for our children, and we need somebody out there looking out for them right now,” she said in conclusion.

Paper Ballots

Cruz began her comments by saying “I just wanted to keep you updated on some of the news in case you're too busy to keep track of it.”


“We, our country really, passed a milestone recently,” Cruz said. “We are now over $33 trillion dollars in debt-- $33 trillion dollars. I don't think most of us can imagine how much money that is."

She next gave an update on Congressional efforts to pass s continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown and on the Fulton County indictment of former President Donald Trump and 18 co-defendants.

Cruz said large percentages of “various demographic groups believe the 2020 election was rigged. I'm not here to prove that in any way. I've sent you emails to that effect.”

Many “are concerned that something similar will happen in 2024,” she said.

Cruz said the commissioners should “exert their authority under Georgia law that when use of the machines is impractical or impossible” they do not need to be used.

“Impossible would be, you know, they were flooded,” she said. “Impracticable is definitely open to interpretation. But what we're seeing is socialist takeover of our way of life.”

“The way a lot of the world votes is hand marked paper ballots,” Cruz said. “It's certainly not a system like ours which is so easily hacked and manipulated.”

School Board And Growth

Williams began his comments by praising the Board for the construction of the new Administrative Building, where the Town Hall Meeting was being held for the first time. Past meetings have been in the Civic Center.


“I also want to thank you all for having this meeting, and these meetings, not just the one-time meeting when you've got something on your wish list that maybe you want to put forth to the citizens,” Williams said.

“But the fact that you have these periodically, and you're willing to sit there and take the the good with the bad and listen to your constituents. All elected bodies aren't willing to do that and you all are, and I appreciate that.”

The Board of Education turned down an invitation from Daniell that it join the county in a series of joint Town Hall Meetings at the Civic Center, opting instead for a facilitated meeting between the two Boards at the Board of Education office. It has never held Town Hall meetings on its own.

Williams then turned to discussion of construction of a third high school for Oconee County Schools.

“I know again, I realize that the school board's issue is not your issue,” Williams said.

“What I'm wondering is, and what I'm asking is, it would seem to me that as it relates to future growth in Oconee County, particularly residential growth, that you as commissioners would seem to have a better handle on what those growth expectations are than an education body would,” Williams said.

“My request is for you to seize every opportunity to share the insight that you as a County Commission have with those policy makers so that they can hopefully make a good decision with good information and not make it in a vacuum of what they think may happen,” Williams said.

Tax Receipts

Offutt came to the microphone after Daniell had made his comments on road projects and after both Daniell and Commissioner Mark Thomas told Williams they shared information with the Board of Education.


“I hear that there's some revenue that might be coming online from the Epps Bridge Corridor,” Offutt said. “I was at Harbor Freight one time and one guy told me, yeah we started having to pay taxes, and that's impacted him."

Offutt seemed to be referring to the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that went into effect in April.

“So that being said,” Offutt continued. “I just wanted to know when that revenue starts coming online to the county, what is the county going to do?”

“How are y'all going to use that money productively?” he asked.

“Do y'all have like a thing that we could read as a citizens?” he asked.

Daniell told him that the county has a strategic plan, and a road paving plan, and a list of “intersection improvements that we're talking about for safety.”

Daniell said the county also has reduced its taxes in the last four years.

“Yeah, I got it,” Offutt said. “I appreciate the low taxes though. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate your service.”

Daniell On County Alcohol Ordinance

Before calling those present to come forward to speak at the meeting Wednesday, Daniell said that over the last several years “people come and make comments about expanding pouring zones.”

“We've also had a lot of comments or questions about distilleries and breweries being brought into the county,” he said.

“We do want to kind of throw that out to the group as you're coming up to speak,” he said. “If you if you have an opinion one way or another about that, I'd love to hear from the community whether or not to proceed with any changes.”

Daniell said he did anticipate that some changes are going to be made in the next months.

These will be what he called “administrative changes” that specify where alcohol can be sold, “but that this will be the opportunity” for other changes, such as allowing breweries and distilleries.

“The main section that's being asked to be added is the new shops that are going on Malcolm Bridge Road,” he said.

“There's a new shopping center going in there, so it's been a request to add that area to the pouring zone to allow restaurants” to sell alcohol, he said.

Other Road Project Announcements

In his announcements near the end of the meeting, Daniell also said “the Hog Mountain trail that we've been talking about is in right-of-way acquisition now. Design is complete. Once we had the right-of-way we'll go to bid to try to see what the cost of that's going to be.”

Daniell, Harden, Mark Saxon

That multi-use trail, part of a proposed larger system in the north of the county, will run from Butler’s Crossing to Lake Wellbrook Road.

Right of way acquisition for the roundabout at Lane Creek Road and Snows Mill Road is underway, Daniell said, “so we anticipate construction next year.”

“The next intersection will be Union Church at new High Shoals Road for a round about,” he said. “Our goal would be to have construction for that in 2025.

“And then Astondale at Colham Ferry will be the third in line with a goal of 2026,” he said.

Road work on the Experiment Station Road from Butler’s Crossing to U.S. 441 is underway, Daniell said. “They had quite the traffic jam going on up there this afternoon. They blocked off a Publix entrance. As bad as it seems right now it’s going to be really great when its done.”

Bishop Bypass Comments

Williams, speaking from the audience, asked Daniell to provide an update on construction on U.S. 441 as it runs from the county line to Watkinsville.

“If everything stays the same, 441 will be four lane from Florida to North Carolina and two lanes through Bishop,” Daniell said.

Daniell said the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is not scheduled to take that conversation back up until 2029 right now.”

“We do anticipate trying to get with the city (of Bishop) and maybe GDOT and UGA and kind of sitting down hopefully over the next few years and try to work through how we can address that problem,” Daniell said.

Bishop officials, the University of Georgia, and others objected to a plan to build a truck route easst around Bishop that would have run close to the university equestrian center.

In 2019, GDOT withdrew the plans for that bypass because of that opposition.


The video below is on the Oconee County YouTube Channel.

I attended and recorded the meeting, but the audio is much better in the video the county recorded than on my recording.

The pictures used above, however, are from my own recording, since I was closer to the speakers than were the stationary cameras in the room used for the county’s recording.

The meeting begins at 5:49 in the county’s recorded video.

Daniell made his comments about the county’s alcohol ordinance beginning at 9:08 in the video.

Heimel began her comments at 11:58.

Boosalis and Price came to the microphone at 17:45 in the video.

Magee made his comments at 29:10.

Mauck spoke at 31:22.

Cruz made her comments after coming to the microphone at 33:12 in the video.

Williams made his comments at 54:26 in the video.

Offutt is at 1:13:32 in the video.

(Note: A slight addition has been made in this version in the comments of Heimel to illustrate where Daniell asked her to stop reading. Also a correction was made in the first name of Victoria Cruz. I apologize for the error.)

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