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6-25-08 The Oconee County Courthouse should stay on Square in Watkinsville - Part 1

AB-H June 21, 2008 - Officials were able to keep the 2005 study under wraps at the time because it identified land the Board of Commissioners was considering buying, said county Administrative Officer Alan Theriault.

AVOC

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June 24, 2008

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The Oconee County Courthouse should stay on Square in Watkinsville - Part 1

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By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc

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Oconee County Courthouse site is more than 200 years old.   It was the original Clarke County Courthouse site.

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The Saturday Article on Oconee Courthouse space in the Athens Banner-Herald confirmed what close observers have known for sometime.   The current BOC, or a sizable part of it, is “working on” moving the Courthouse from Downtown.   The City of Watkinsville should be concerned and should have seen it coming.   The signs have been obvious for sometime.   The AB-H article confirmed a “secret study” done in 2005.    It is amazing how such things stay so secret in Melvin Davis’ administration.    The media has been asleep at the wheel on this like some other things.

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For three or more years, land totaling 10-11 acres has been available next to the courthouse complex.   Such availability does not happen often – it is a generational thing.   Signs about the sales (Estates) have been posted on Water Street for years now.   It is obvious that the County is not buying or planning to enlarge the courthouse complex.   In addition, there have been creditable reports of exploration of moving the courthouse to the Watkinsville By-Pass.  

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The Chairman and Mayor apparently had some disagreement over the design plans for the Experiment Road and Old US 441 Intersection.   Reportedly, Mr. Davis just “showed the Mayor” by shifting the priority for Experiment Road-Mars Hill Road improvement project to the Oconee Connector Development Road.  

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Apparently, after that decision some sentiment developed about moving the courthouse from downtown.   There is creditable information that some discussion has occurred about moving the Library to Eastville and tearing down the current library.   Some folks find this incredulous.However, look at the change in Parks Priority (Heritage Park and Bogart were lowered in priority for the Eastville Park) and a 20 year old jail has been demolished.

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The city was unknowingly complicit when it changed the parking area in front of the courthouse and went along with making so many streets one-way for the County Parking Lot.   Now the Commissioners are using the lack of access and parking as excuses to move the courthouse.    The Experiment Road – Mars Hill project would have provided a Traffic light interchange on GA 53 at Water Street.   This is badly needed and the City and the County should work together on this.

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SPL0ST projects need vision and public input and are not just for more funds for the County or City to spend.This Courthouse situation needs much more public discussion.   Otherwise, you can expect the “Plan to Move” will just quietly proceed to fruition!

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To see pictures of courthouse and the new Walton and Jackson Courthouses, SEE:

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5-16-08 Proposal to Move Oconee courthouse has surfaced publicly – Opposition Building


The Athens Banner-Herald

http://onlineathens.com/stories/062108/news_20080621015.shtml

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June 21, 2008

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Commission: Courthouse needs space

Expansion could move building out of city

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By Adam Thompson

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WATKINSVILLE - The Oconee County courthouse is a bit cramped, it's no secret.

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Officials in the last decade have tacked on additions, juggled offices and even battled each other because of limited space in the 1939 building, which also is home base for the county government.

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Now, Oconee County commissioners' hints that they may need a new spot for court or administrative services has ruffled the feathers of Watkinsville city officials - and the row even has become an election issue.

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Though no candidates this week admitted they'd want to move the courthouse from its historic Main Street site, at least one, Post 2 Commissioner Don Norris, has said a move is needed and that there's not enough land within current city limits.

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http://www.onlineathens.com/multimedia/pdfs/062108oconee_courthouse.pdf

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Norris isn't alone in his view of the current courthouse, where parking is limited and traffic often is jammed on heavy court days. Last renovated in 1998, its courtrooms also don't have some security features like separate entrances for inmates and visitors, they say.

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If things get bad enough, judges eventually may order the local government to expand the courthouse, commission Chairman Melvin Davis said this week.

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"The judges, frankly, can tell us what to do in this courthouse," Davis said.

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But Watkinsville Mayor Jim Luken is worried about that moving the courthouse, a city landmark and anchor, would be bad for downtown's economy and history.

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Though space at the Watkinsville site has been an issue for years, Luken said he was blind-sided in April when Norris spoke about a possible courthouse move as part of his re-election platform.

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Commissioners should have talked more in public or at least with city officials, Luken said.

In 2005 - following a public spat with District Attorney Ken Mauldin over moving his office in the courthouse - commissioners quietly authorized a short space and cost study.

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According to the findings, county offices alone in 20 years will need a building roughly the size of the current 45,000-square-foot courthouse.

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Court services will need 62,000 square feet in 20 years, according to the study by Bramlett Associates Architecture.

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Luken said last week he'd never heard about the study.

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Under the most viable scenario, the study suggested, officials would move court services to another building and let county offices stretch out where they are. Structural limitations in the 1939 building would make it hard to knock out walls for new courtrooms, the study said.

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Officials were able to keep the 2005 study under wraps at the time because it identified land the Board of Commissioners was considering buying, said county Administrative Officer Alan Theriault.

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But the land was too expensive - more than $ 1.2 million for 5 acres behind the courthouse, for example - and commissioners rejected the purchase, Theriault said.

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Since then, officials have shuffled around county offices within and without the courthouse, relocating the county planning department across Main Street and making various other moves.

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Before they decide whether to build a new courthouse or expand the existing one, commissioners still need "a good, quality analysis," that looks decades into the future, something board members haven't yet asked for, Davis said.

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"If this board, any board, looked at that possibility, they would be obviously in close contact with city officials," he said, in a nod to Luken.

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Most recently, commissioners briefly discussed moving the courthouse in December, at a poorly publicized planning retreat, while brainstorming capital projects that could benefit from a new special sales tax.

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The next referendum for a new $ 45 million special-purpose, local-option sales tax likely would come in March at the earliest, Davis said.

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The tax has been another sore spot for Luken, who says communication between county and city officials has never been poorer.

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The mayor wants to make sure Oconee's four cities, which contain 15 percent of the county's population, aren't left out when it comes time to settle on sales-tax projects. He's trying to rally the other mayors behind him and has drafted a letter to Davis.

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"Our situation is simple: We just want our fair share," he said. "I don't want to fight with the county, I just want to play."


5-16-08 Proposal to Move Oconee courthouse has surfaced publicly – Opposition Building

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Recently, Commissioner Don Norris (never one to be bashful about spending) announced he would support relocation of the courthouse.He cited the Walton and Jackson County Courthouses as precedent.    Walton folks are not happy with the moving of their courthouse from town………………

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AVOC

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May 15, 2008

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Proposal to Move Oconee courthouse has surfaced publicly – Opposition Building

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By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc

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For a year or two, AVOC has reported on delays in buying additional courthouse land in Watkinsville.    Finally at the Madison Retreat” in December 2007, the minutes revealed that the current board leadership is talking about building a new courthouse complex outside Watkinsville.   One problem is that the law requires the courthouse to be in the city limits of the County Seat.

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Recently, Commissioner Don Norris (never one to be bashful about spending) announced he would support relocation of the courthouse.He cited the Walton and Jackson County Courthouses as precedent.    Walton folks are not happy with the moving of their courthouse from town.You have to drive to a restaurant to eat lunch.   It is massive and expensive and is blocked from Hammond St by “out parcels” in private hands………………………..


5-15-08 Watkinsville Mayor fights to keep courthouse

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The Oconee Enterprise

http://www.oconeeenterprise.com/articles/2008/05/15/news/doc482c6f80cf286422225906.txt

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May 15, 2008

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Mayor fights to keep courthouse

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By Billy Vaughn

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Watkinsville Mayor Jim Luken Wednesday night blasted a member of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners for saying the courthouse should be moved out of the city of Watkinsville.
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Luken did not name names, but was referring to statements made in April by Commissioner Don Norris who said that if re-elected, he would work to have the courthouse moved outside of the city, probably to property on the U.S. 441 bypass.
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“There is no doubt we are going to have to relocate the courthouse,” Norris told The Oconee Enterprise when announcing his candidacy. “In my observation, you cannot relocate it within the city limits of Watkinsville
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5-15-08 Watkinsville Mayor Luken Opposes County plans to move courthouse

Oconee County Georgia Politics

http://oconeedemocrat.blogspot.com/2008/05/mayor-jim-luken-comes-out-against-move.html

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May 15, 2008

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By Dan Matthews

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Mayor Jim Luken comes out against move of Oconee Courthouse, changes mind on annexation if they do

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Watkinsville is the county seat of Oconee County. That much being said, there is a movement afoot to move the Courthouse to outside of the current city limits of one round mile around the Courthouse. There are three properties for sale immediately adjacent to the Courthouse, stated Mayor Jim Luken. He is an ex-Marine and chooses his words carefully, not given to dramatic or grandiose statements. Luken did not come out and name names by saying that it was Don Norris who came out and stated what evidently Board of Commissioners chair G. Melvin Davis said in the infamous secret meeting in Madison in December of last year.
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Former chair Wendell Dawson was the first to
write about the plans to move the courthouse out of its current location out of this notorious meeting which now threatens to end the political careers of at least three people. Given the economic state, and the recent upgrades and $4,000.00 window treatments going on even two weeks ago, the current courthouse is fine.
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Anyone, especially Norris or Davis, should be put on notice that any support of this foolish idea to move the courthouse will not only insure their imminent primary defeat, but the defeat of other people perceived to be supporting this completely superfluous expenditure. We do not need to move the Courthouse from its current location. The county could even resort to using condemnation procedures to take the adjoining property and expand the current foot print……………………….



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