Responsibility for prosecution of five types of misdemeanors in Oconee County will shift from the Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney to a Magistrate Court prosecutor as a result of action taken by the County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night.
Included is prosecution of shoplifting cases, which Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell said makes up the bulk of misdemeanor cases in the county.
Daniell said the case load will be “a couple hundred cases per year.”
The county will pay prosecutor Jason Slider $1,500 per month, and the money will come from pre-trial diversion fees paid by offenders, Daniell said.
The Board took this action on Tuesday after a brief executive session at the end of its regular meeting.
During the regular meeting, the Board approved three rezone requests, approved Fiscal Year 2023 Year End Budget Amendments, and agreed to pay $547,220 as the county’s share of the costs of design services for an expansion of the Bear Creek Water Treatment Plant in Jackson County.
In the Public Comment section at the beginning of the meeting, David Clementson thanked the Oconee County Library staff in Watkinsville for holding a Christmas story time with a nativity focus on Nov. 4.
Clementson said he felt it was important to publicly praise the library staff after it was criticized in June for hosting a “drag queen homosexual children’s story time.”
Magistrate Court Prosecutor
Daniell described the decision to move parts of Magistrate Court prosecution responsibility from the District Attorney Office to a Magistrate Court Prosecutor as a “win-win situation for our citizens.”
|Daniell After Executive Session 11/7/2023|
Daniell said the move was made after discussions with Magistrate Court Clerk Angela Elder-Johnson, District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez, and CSRA Probation Services Inc. CSRA currently provides probation services for the county.
Slider will have responsibility for prosecution of five types of misdemeanors spelled out in Georgia Code: possession of less than one ounce of marijuana; misdemeanor theft by shoplifting; misdemeanor refund fraud; furnishing alcoholic beverages to, and possession of alcoholic beverages by, a person under 21 years of age; and criminal trespass.
The appointment of Slider is effective next month.
At present, Slider prosecutes violations of county ordinances, such as for code infractions and animal control violations, and he will continue to have that responsibility.
“I appreciate the support of all the stakeholders in this,” Daniell said at the end of the executive session.
Daniell said after the meeting that “shoplifting is a big number” of misdemeanor cases in the county.
Moving the shoplifting cases to a Magistrate Court Prosecutor will “take some of the pressure off” the District Attorney Office so it can concentrate on other misdemeanor violations, he said.
When Clementson came forward to address the Board at the beginning of the meeting, he said he wanted to talk about “a good event on Saturday at our Oconee County Library, Watkinsville Branch.”
|Clementson Addressing Board 11/7/2023|
“My wife and children love children’s story time. They attend most of them,” Clementson said.
“Saturday’s story time was led by the branch manager, James Mitchell, and it was all Christmas,” he said.
“James read two books about the nativity story, about the birth of Jesus Christ, and Glory to God in the Highest. Then there were crafts of Baby Jesus and coloring Happy Birthday Jesus. The children’s story time was a big success.”
“We all know about the criticism that this library sustained for hosting a drag queen homosexual children’s story time in June,” Clementson said.
“Critics might say that this Christmas reading was poorly timed, being on a football game day in November,” he said. “But it was five hours before kickoff, and the library won’t be open during the month of December due to the move to Wire Park.”
“We have to give compliments where they are due,” he said, “and express gratitude for the Oconee Library and specifically the branch manager.”
“Thank you. Merry Christmas,” Clementson said as he departed the podium.
The Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a rezone request by William Ross, who developed the nine-lot Chestnut Glen subdivision off Chestnut Hill Road, who was seeking to incorporate a small amenity area into his 2.9 acre lot.
Ross said the amenity lot has never been used and all of the residents of the subdivision were in favor of reconnecting the land to the larger Ross lot from which it had been carved.
The Board also approved the request of Michael Ash to be allowed to subdivide 10.4 acres at 1160 Maxey Road south of Hog Mountain Road and west of Elder Road into four lots. The property currently is owned by Bessie Turnbull.
Ash, who has property on Berta Drive near the Turnbull acreage, did not attend the meeting on Tuesday, but he told the Planning Commission he wants to purchase the property to create four lots, one for each of his children.
The Commission also approved the request by property owners Marsha D. Rogers and Melissa L. Finerty for modification of the concept plan for a little more than two acres of land on Hog Mountain Road east of Goat Farm Road currently zoned for Office Institutional Profession use.
In 2003, commissioners approved a rezone for an office/business condominium complex of two structures, and the current request was for a single building for a medical office.
The requests of Ross and Ash were without controversy, but the Rogers and Finerty request led to discussion among commissioners of the impact of the new and original rezone on the agricultural nature of the area.
Commissioner Amrey Harden said he cannot change what was done in 2003 but he would prefer not being able to see either the parking lot or the building being proposed in “the agricultural area out there.”
In the end, the Board voted unanimously to approve the rezone.
Budget Amendment, Bear Creek
Finance Director Melissa Braswell presented the Board with a lengthy report on amendments needed to the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget, which ended June 30.
Included was a $6.2 million adjustment to the General Fund, reflecting a $4.8 million addition of American Rescue Plan monies and nearly $1.1 million in unbudgeted Local Option Sales Tax revenue.
The Board had given tentative approve of the $547,220 spending for the county’s share of the cost of design services for the upgrade of the Bear Creek Water Treatment Plant in Jackson County at its agenda setting meeting last month.
The Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority has awarded a $2.3 million contract to Jacobs Engineering Group, an international professional services firm with offices in Atlanta, for the upgrade of the water treatment facility from 21 million gallons per day to 42 million gallons per day.
At its meeting in May, the Authority agreed that Oconee County will get an additional 5 million gallons per day from the upgraded treatment facility, Barrow County will get 6.25 million gallons per day, and Jackson County will get 9.75 million gallons per day.
Athens-Clarke County is a member of the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority, but it has its own water treatment plant and will not take water from the expanded treatment plant.
County Administrator Justin Kirouac said after that meeting that the current estimated cost of construction of the expanded treatment plant is $58.5 million, with Oconee County’s share at $13.9 million.
The video below is on the Oconee County YouTube Channel.
Clementson began his comments at 1:10 in the video.