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8-16-04 AVOC Thoughts on Election and Runoff in Oconee County

Commissioners need to realize that every time they see two people, the odds are that at least one of them does not want them in office.  That is a sobering thought.



August 15, 2004


What Was Really Decided In Recent Elections


By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.


Contested elections and public debate always impact the status quo.   That is no less true in Oconee County this year.


AVOC has had several inquiries about the recent election results.  Various thoughts have been shared with a number of friends and correspondents and my appearance on the Tim Bryant Radio Show on WGAU on Wednesday August 11, 2004.  I have purposely waited a few days before publishing my thoughts.


Overall, I think the election cycle has been good for the County.   Much debate has occurred and I think more citizens are getting involved.   Winners were happy on election night and unsuccessful challengers and their supporters were sad.   However, the euphoria and sadness will not long last.  Reality sets in and life goes on.


An election is kind of a “snapshot in time”.   A low turnout for runoffs illustrates this fact.    If an election were held ninety days later, the results would probably be different.


Oconee County is a divided county.  Basically one out of two voters indicated dissatisfaction with the incumbent commissioners.   This was also true in previous liquor referenda although the issue has failed three times in the last 15 years.   The General Obligation Bond Referendum  for Recreation passed in November 2002 with 3-400 votes over 50%.  If that election were held today, it probably would not pass.   Even some enthusiasts for the initial plan are probably not happy with the progress and with the changes in “the plan” voted on.


Zoning issues were fairly quiet during the last four years until some MPDs were sought in residential areas and attracted the attention of neighborhoods.  It is not likely that those neighborhoods will be silenced any time soon.


There have been many “County” assurances about residential sewer capacity, the benefits of MPDs all over the county, future water plans, future road improvements, new jail, a major renovation of Heritage Park, Bogart Recreation Complex, Herman Michael and, of course, the new park on the Dickens land.   One wonders how these “assurances” will stand the scrutiny of activating and funding.


New and old commissioners will be looking at some of these issues more closely now.   User fees, connection fees, impact fees, etc sound good.  However, these are not magic wands.  Where will the money come from for the following?


  1. $.5 Million New Jail;
  2. $0 Million Master Park Plan;
  3. $00 Million for the Walton Water Reservoir project;
  4. $26 Million Master Wastewater Plan over 21 years;
  5. $??????? Million for road improvements and maintenance.


Pretty soon, the commissioners will need some REAL MONEY.  After all, Oconee has just started on a five year SPLOST list that allocates $5 Million over five years.   That will not pay for the Millions being talked about.


It will be interesting to watch the Recreation Plan and Wastewater Plan unfold.   These issues will have to be dealt with more and more in the open.   Citizens will no longer be passive about frequent Executive Sessions that may or may not be legal.  


Sources have told AVOC that a recent Executive Session was held on appointments to a Citizens Committee.  In my opinion, that is not an exemption from the Open Meetings law.   AVOC sources further indicate that there were some very angry remarks about some of the applicants and that the Chairman broke the tie for the Planning Commission appointment.  The dissenting commissioners should have voted no publicly and required the Chairman to break the tie in poublic.   This type of conduct of meetings will be hard to continue in view of the current interest in many of the issues facing the county.


AVOC has had a few mean-spirited emails from incumbent boosters.  One person connected with the county referred to recent citizen attendees at Zoning Meetings as “..Your group of misfits…”.   This statement indicates the simplistic view held by some in County Government.  


A lack of vision, realistic funding plans and a paucity of details result in many questions by responsible citizens.   I have always been impressed with the sophistication of Oconee Voters.  When they have the facts, most citizens want to do what is right.   Opposition to policies and actions of the Commissioners is much wider and deeper than the commissioners and some of their allies realize.


Much of this misapprehension of officials results from the lack of effective media coverage in Oconee County.  AVOC will be doing a more detailed article on that situation in a few days.    With the Internet, email and personal contact, citizens are not at the mercy of the local print media as much as in the past.  


Citizens need to be organized and not be just NIMBYs.   Interested citizens need to show up when someone else’s “Ox is Being Gored”.   The same principles apply no matter where the action is taking place.  A more studied and less emotional approach can give citizens, and even the media, a different perspective.   Citizens should ask questions and read reports and studies of the commissioners.   One cannot assume that all of the commissioners have read every report and understand the detail.


Our recent election has fed interest in many of these issues.  That is healthy and wholesome for our county.  More and more public discussion of major policy issues and changes is needed.  AVOC believes citizens groups and questions will intensify now and will not disappear quickly. 


Commissioners need to realize that every time they see two people, the odds are that at least one of them does not want them in office.  That is a sobering thought.