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12-20-04 Oconee’s Behind the Scenes “Wheeling & Dealing’

One of the Chairman’s friends is Larry Benson who has been on the Oconee County Development Authority for years. He got a ‘sweetheart deal” from Mr. Davis on his Bogart Bakery sewer connection early in the Davis Administration. He reportedly wound up paying about a 1/3 of what my Administration had been negotiating for connection.

AVOC

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December 6, 2004

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Wheeling & Dealing In Secret Worse Than Expected

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By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.

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Sources have told AVOC that Oconee County Commission Chair, Melvin Davis, has been doing some big scale dealing behind the scenes since soon after taking office.He allegedly had a plan for the Park about a year before it was announced publicly.

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As the story unfolds, there were apparently consultants and some staff working on a plan and information to later use in the referendum.   This took place before even the Board (or some of members) was aware of it.Several county staff members were privy to some of the conversations and dealings.At least three of the county employees are no longer employed by the county and are not now subject to pressure of the Chairman.

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Sources say that Chairman Davis was “wheeling and dealing” on the “Dooley” tract while he was working actively (behind the scenes) with the County Park Project.He was coordinating with a group of investors that would have included a golf course in the development, now known as Parkside.

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Apparently, there were road plans, water and sewer plans and some land swaps being discussed.All of this was done by the Chairman; reportedly without the involvement of the Board and unbeknownst to the general public.

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Allegedly, there has been discussion about spraying treated wastewater affluent on the County Park Property and using the County Park Property as settling ponds for wastewater.

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The earlier “Dooley Tract’ deal fell through after some of the participants came to have doubts about the viability of the project.Another group took over and involved some local folks in the purchase and rezoning.   A consultant who has been supportive of the project, as a citizen, was apparently a consultant for one of the groups and is allegedly working as consultant for the project.

SEE:  Athens Banner-Herald, 8-27-04, Oconee residents laud developers' neighborly efforts--A city next door? By Mike D'Avria, http://onlineathens.com/stories/082704/new_20040827060.shtml

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At least some of the Oconee Utility Department staff and consultants have been involved in some planning for a private wastewater treatment facility.Allegedly, the Chairman talked with the Parkside Developers about putting a large commercial development on Mars Hill Road and putting a road there from GA Hwy 53 to Mars Hill Road and sewer would be made available.  Seemingly, there was some discussion about “treating’ wastewater and working cooperatively by the County and Developers.

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For some time, it has been clear that existing road projects have not had priority although needed to handle the increased traffic from the accelerated residential growth.   The Mars Hill widening project was started in 1998 but has moved at a ‘snail’s pace -- (if moving at all) during the Davis Administration.   The flyover and Jennings Mill Parkway project at the Athens Loop and Oconee Connector have not progressed much either as far as becoming real projects.   Both of these will be badly needed to handle the mega-traffic coming from all of the development being supported and stimulated by the Chairman and some of his friends.

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One of the Chairman’s friends is Larry Benson who has been on the Oconee County Development Authority for years.    He got a ‘sweetheart deal” from Mr. Davis on his Bogart Bakery sewer connection early in the Davis Administration.He reportedly wound up paying about a 1/3 of what my Administration had been negotiating for connection.

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Mr. Benson has also been a beneficiary of the increased Freeport Exemption authorized by the County with Mr. Davis’s leadership a couple of years ago.Few new industries have come as a result of this tax break so far.

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Mr. Benson has advocated liquor sales in Oconee County for years.He has said he wants to build a Large Hotel with restaurant.Indications are that he has the ear of the commissioners who may bring up the liquor issue a fourth time in about 12 years.Mr. Benson was Treasurer of the Reelection Campaign for Chairman Davis this year.

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Like so many other big plans, some doubt that Oconee County is ready for a “Conference Center” type Hotel.The Georgia Club developers near the Barrow County line also considered such a hotel but I understand that the market analysis did not support it.

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A persistent rumor has Commissioner-Elect Jim Luke being groomed by the Chairman to succeed him.Some have even speculated that Chairman Davis may leave early and Mr. Luke would succeed him.Voters and other personalities have a tendency to derail such planning.

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At any rate, citizens concerned about the county’s rate of growth and fast growth stance feel strongly that Luke will be an ally of Chairman Davis and vote with him on most things.   Citizens may tire of that also.

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More questions arise:

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Oconee has been building (and assimilating) about 350-400 houses a year and now two to three thousand lots have been approved by the incumbent commissioners.WHO WILL BUY AND LIVE IN THESE HOUSES?

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Are we “overbuilding” in Oconee County?

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Are we outstripping our infrastructure and schools?

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What are the details on future sewer capacity plans and expenditures?

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Are we approving the projects too early?

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What is going on with the County’s Big Park on GA 53?How many acres of Wetlands are involved?How many of the “proposed facilities” will be or have been eliminated.   What is the estimate of costs for site preparation?Is there money for that?

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Is it realistic to expect large commercial developments on Mars Hill Road and GA Highway 53 any time in the near future?(Note the “Coming Soon” signs on Mars Hill Road that are fading from age).

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Who are the investors in some of the exotic Limited Liability Corporations and Limited Partnerships that are now acting as the legal owner or applicant for rezones?

Are the “investors” making disclosure of their campaign contributions disclosures required by GA Code Section 21-5 et seq?

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Most Counties have such a disclosure as a condition for the Zoning Application:

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See Henry County Application:

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Has the applicant2 made, within two (2) years immediately preceding the filing of this application for rezoning, campaign contributions aggregating $ 250 or more or made gifts having in the aggregate a value of $ 250 or more to a member of the Henry County Board of Commissioners or Planning Commission who will consider the application?

    Yes _____ No _____

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2Applicant means any individual or business entity (corporation, partnership, limited partnership, firm enterprise, franchise, association, or trust) applying for rezoning or other action.

Later AVOC articles will address the Oconee “land bubble” and the County’s ability to sustain residential construction at the pace approved by the Oconee County Commissioners in the last couple of years.   Some informed observers are concerned about the County’s direction and the consequences of some decisions that have been made.


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