Saturday, April 06, 2024

Citizens At Oconee County Commission Meeting Continue Discussion Of Oconee County Library

***Challenges To Voter Registration Also Raised***

Concerns about the Oconee County Library and about election integrity were prominent again at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday.

Five citizens used the public comment opportunity at the beginning of the regular meeting of the Board, with one focusing on recent legislation designed to make it easier to challenge voter registration, two voicing criticism of the Oconee County Library, and two voicing support for that Library.

Two of those who spoke are challenging members of the Board of Commissioners, one in the May Republican Party Primary and the other in November, and the issues they raised on Tuesday are ones they also are addressing in their campaigns.

The Board of Commissioners also issued a proclamation on Tuesday honoring the Oconee County Library Friends for advocating for library services and promoting literacy throughout the county.

Representatives of the Friends were called to the front of the room to receive a plaque bearing the proclamation, and they were joined by Oconee County Library Branch Manager James Mitchell, who is liaison to the Friends.

Valerie Bell, Director of the Athens Regional Library System, and others from the Library were in the audience to show support for the Friends.

Bell had addressed the Board at length at its agenda-setting meeting last week on action taken by the Library to address citizen concerns about youth access to library materials, but she did not speak on Tuesday.

In other action, the Board approved two rezone requests, a property special use, and a zoning variance request as well as funding for an update to the county’s Hazard Mitigation Plan, new funding for law enforcement equipment, and funding for design work on Oconee Veterans Park tennis court expansion.

Speaker On Elections

Victoria Cruz, who is challenging Post 4 Commissioner Mark Saxon in the May 21 Republican Primary, was the first citizen to speak.

Cruz 4/2/2024

“I just wanted to give you a little bit of an update on some of the things that I have been concerned about, and want to tell you about” Senate Bill 189, passed by the legislature on its final day in session last month, she said.

Cruz has spoken about election issues in the past, including at the Town Hall meeting in September of last year

Senate Bill 189 increases the opportunity for challenges to the registration of voters, and Cruz said “We are over registered in this county, not through the fault of the county, but through the fault of the leaders in the state.”

Cruz reminded the Board that in 2020, Oconee County citizen Pat Daugherty, on behalf of True The Vote, challenged the eligibility of 1,450 Oconee County voters to participate in the Jan. 5, 2021, runoff election. 

The Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration rejected Daugherty’s challenge.

“There are even more provisions in SB 189 to allow citizens to challenge invalid registrations--not voters--invalid registrations,” Cruz said. “There are errors on the rolls, and those need to be changed.”

“Prepare for lawsuits,” she said, “because they will come, but don't give in, please.”

First Speaker On Library

Suzannah Heimel followed Cruz, and said “I've spoken about the library before and I'm back again to speak further about it with some documents I found in research.” Heimel has spoken before the Commission several times about the Library, most recently in February.

Heimel 4/2/2024

Heimel’s concern on Tuesday was with the American Library Association. She said the 1949 Constitution of the Georgia Library Association says it is a chapter of the American Library Association.

The Athens Regional Library System has adopted the American Library Association's position on intellectual freedom, its freedom to read statement, and its freedom to view statement, she said.

“Why are we taking guidance from the ALA in our library system if we are not a member of the ALA?” she asked. “We are an ALA chapter,” she asserted earlier in her comments.

Heimel is program chair for the Conservatives of Northeast Georgia and has qualified–without party support–to run as a Democrat on the May 21 Democratic Party Primary ballot.

She is seeking Post 1, held by Mark Thomas, and she has no opposition in the Democratic Primary, so she will move forward to the November 5 election.

When Heimel came to the microphone to speak on Tuesday, she was wearing a T-shirt bearing a political slogan and Internet meme used as a euphemism for a vulgarity directed at President Joe Biden.

Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell told Heimel after she spoke that “my understanding on that is we are not members of the Georgia Library Association either. That is individuals. Our employees may be members of these organizations. Taxpayer money is not used for any membership in that.”

Other Speakers On Library

Fatma Gurel followed Heimel and told the Commissioners “I just wanted to say I really do appreciate the library.”

Gurel 4/2/2024

“I think we should leave it to the professionals and the families, the parents who decide, who make a decision what books their kids check out from the library,” she added.

Andrea Wellnitz spoke next and said she appreciated Athens Regional Library System Director Bell speaking at the last Commission meeting “and just providing you more details on what they're doing to address concerns in the community.”

Wellnitz said she also wanted “to thank you for not interfering with programming at the library because that's up to the professionals at the library. That's their job. That's what they're hired to do, and I feel like our Library is really inclusive of all people in our community, which I appreciate. And I hope that continues.”

Julie Mauck followed Wellnitz and Gurel and said “ obviously I disagree with the last two speakers...There are real problems at our library.”

“There were a couple people who emailed me shortly after it (the new Oconee County Library in Wire Park) opened about some displays in the children's section with gender bending books that people were offended by,” she said.

Friends Recognition

“We have very special group we'd like to recognize for a lot of time and dedication they put in for Oconee County,” Daniell said a little later in the meeting, “and we're going to ask Mark Saxon to read that proclamation for us.”

Friends With Commissioners
Friends President Alan Hickerson At CenterWith Plaque

“The Oconee county library friends endeavor to promote an appreciation for books and the enjoyment of reading,” Saxon said, “and strive to increase public awareness and use of the Oconee County Public Library.”

The Friends “played an invaluable role in assisting Oconee County Library staff with the 2024 move to a larger and more modern building located at Wire Park,” he read.

The Board proclaimed “April 2nd 2024 as Oconee County Library Friends Day” in recognition of the service by the Friends.

The Oconee County Library Friends serves the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville. Its most visible activity is the twice-yearly sale of donated books.

Friends of the Bogart Library serves that library.

Both libraries are funded largely by the county and are part of the Athens Regional Library System.


Before asking Commissioner Saxon to read that proclamation, Daniell provided an update on two road projects on Hog Mountain Road, which is state highway (SR) 53.

“As most of you know there was a pretty serious accident with a fatality at Snows Mill Road State Route 53,” Daniell said, referring to an accident involving two pickup trucks on March 28. “I just want to kind of give a update on that intersection, what's been going on there,” Daniell said.

Wellnitz 4/2/2024

Daniell said the county approached the Georgia Department of Transportation about the Snows Mill Road, Rocky Branch Road, Hog Mountain Road intersection and about the Rays Church Road, Malcom Bridge Road, and Hog Mountain Road intersection back in 2019.

One of the motivations, Daniell said, is “we want to get our Deputy out of the roadway” at Rocky Branch Road in front of North Oconee High School. “If you're familiar with both of those, they're pretty tough intersections,” he said.

“GDOT was very receptive to it,” Daniell said. “They went back and did their background investigations to make sure they could get the proper funding for it.”

The projects were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, but the design for a roundabout at the Snows Mill Road/Rocky Broad Road intersection with Hog Mountain Road is now complete, “right of way has been approved, and we're in the process of purchasing that right of way now.”

Daniel said “the schedule is showing” that bids will be open in the fall of this year, and construction will be in 2025.

“The Rays Church Road roundabout is running almost 12 months behind that on the process,” he said.

Zoning Decisions

The Board approved a request from John and Donna Washington to rezone 4.8 acres at 5671 Hog Mountain Road from its current AG (Agricultural) to AR (Agricultural Residential).

Mauck 4/2/2024

The Washingtons said they wanted to separate the acreage on which their home and barn sit from the surrounding strawberry fields and other farmland.

The Board also approved a request from Thomas Senyitko and Kristin Shea to rezone 23.11 acres at 2300 New High Shoals Road and 2250 New High Shoals Road from AG (Agricultural) to AR-3 (Agricultural Residential Three Acres).

The plan is to re-subdivide the two lots to create five residential lots, each exceeding three acres in size.

The Board approved a Special Use request by Fellowship Baptist Church for 10.02 acres at 1820 Rays Church Road.

The acreage is zoned AG (Agricultural), and Fellowship Baptist Church needs the Special Use to be allowed to expand from its Neighborhood Scale Church that can accommodate fewer than 350 people to a Community Scale Church that can accommodate 500 people.

Finally, the Board approved a variance requested by Matt Godbee to reduce the side yard setback from 15 feel to 0.21 feet for his 0.75 acre lot at 1719 Shoal Creek Way.

No one spoke in opposition to any of these requests, and all of the votes were unanimous.

Consent Items

The Board approved without discussion three items it placed on the consent agenda at its meeting on March 26.

The Board approved spending $28,800 with Lux Mitigation and Planning Corporation from Ellijay to assist in an update for the county’s Hazard Mitigation Plan.

The Board also approved a request by county Finance Director Melissa Braswell to amend the budget to provide $156,000 in additional funding for law enforcement equipment.

Included is $35,000 for replacement of computers, $61,000 for specialized gear for the Special Resources Team, and $60,000 for a HVAC monitoring system.

The Board also approved a budget amendment requested by Lisa Davol, Parks and Recreation Director, to spend $202,880 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax monies for professional engineering services for expansion of the tennis courts at Oconee Veterans Park.

The new courts will be built between the Senior Center and the existing courts and “on the other side between the pond and the tennis courts,” Davol said last week.


The video below is on the county’s YouTube Channel.

I attended the meeting and recorded my own video, and the pictures used above are from the video I recorded.

The meeting begins at 4:23 in the video below.

Cruz, the first of the speakers, began her comments at 5:44 in the video.

Heimel began her comments at 9:27.

Gurel came forward to speak at 13:04.

Wellnitz spoke at 13:33.

Mauck spoke at 14:33.

Daniell discussed the intersection improvements at 15:56.

Discussion of the proclamation for the Oconee County Library Friends is at 19:00.

Zoning presentations begin at 21:45.


Michael Prochaska said...

It should be noted that according to Library Manager James Mitchell and as reported by The Oconee Enterprise, the gender-focused book display at the new library was staged by a citizen and not the library staff.

Michael Prochaska
Editor, The Oconee Enterprise

Harold Thompson said...

She ... is ... NOT ... a ... Democrat

Victoria Cruz said...

Perhaps I forgot to mention it in my public comment, but the challenges brought in 2020 by Pat Daugherty (Did you really dox her, Lee? That seems rather unethical if true.) were on behalf of True the Vote (TTV), a national election integrity nonprofit group that found over 364,000 invalid registrations on Georgia's voter rolls prior to the 2021 US Senate runoff. Citizen challenges like these are legal under GC 21-2-230. Stacy Abrams' Fair Fight and Marc Elias sued TTV and several of the other statewide challengers, claiming that the challenges violated Section 11b of the Voting Rights Act. These 2 litigious entities and many other partisan "nonprofit" groups had also at the time threatened all GA counties with federal lawsuits if they approved any of the challenges. That is why our county dismissed Dr. Daugherty's challenges without even investigating them.

The TTV lawsuit was adjudicated earlier this year, with Obama-appointed Northern District Court Judge Steve Jones ruling that there was no evidence that TTV's actions caused any voter to be intimidated. coerced, or threatened in voting.

New legislation passed on Sine Die will re-inforce citizens' ability to challenge invalid registrations and will give elections departments more tools to conduct their own voter list maintenance, something already required by the National Voter Registration Act. Many bad registrations can result from something as innocuous as typos, duplicates resulting from a voter renewing their driver's license with a nickname or a married name, or voters failing to notify the Elections Department when they move to another county or state. With 8-10 % of voters moving every year, failure to clean the voter rolls can easily cause bloated rolls. Because GA law requires One BMD per 250 registered voters, excess registrations can cost a county thousands of dollars a year in unneeded equipment.

Victoria Cruz