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10-30-09 Oconee – Athens-Clarke Economic Partnership idea needs more reflection

OCONEE NEEDS TO PROCEED WITH CAUTION AND DELIBERATION……………….................................................................... Pray tell, if we cannot agree on Orkin after 20 years, why do we think we can deal with all economic development issues on a partnership basis?

AVOC

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October 30, 2009

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Oconee – Athens-Clarke Economic Partnership idea needs more reflection

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By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc

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Throughout my public career (30 years in local government), I was involved in and supportive of many regional and joint endeavors.    However, I am concerned about the current proposal to have a joint economic development partnership between only Oconee County and Athens-Clarke County. 

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My career involved active participation in Regional matters for many years: Regional Advisory Council (RAC-10 counties), NEGA Regional Development Commission (RDC- 10 and later 12 area counties), Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority (UOBWA – four counties that built Bear Creek Reservoir at the corners of Athens-Clarke, Barrow, Jackson and Oconee Counties – above Bogart); Athens Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study (ACORTS –Athens-Clarke and Oconee along with Georgia DOT personnel), 316 Alliance etc (Athens-Clarke, Oconee, Barrow and Gwinnett), Regional Development Authority of about 7 area counties - until some peeled away (notably Walton).  

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My involvement involved regular if not monthly meetings for years and being chair of most of these organizations from time to time.This information is provided to younger and newer officials and citizens to demonstrate my vitae or credentials and background on regionalism and economic development.
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For years, the NEGA RDC county chairmen (10 counties) had lunch at the RDC on a monthly basis and shared ideas and experiences.  Athens-Clarke Mayor Gwen O'Looney met with us and joined in discussions.   Some of the Chairmen all had little in common with ACC – the Oglethorpe Chair once said, “Gwen, I just can’t identify with 1500 county employees!”  Those meetings promoted regionalism and positive relationships.  

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Oconee County worked with Athens-Clarke on the Mercedes Project in 1992 for the Orkin Site. Local officials, the Governor and other state officials were involved.   The Germans spent two or three days in Athens and we ‘wined and dined them’ and the Governor made a very attractive offer but Daimler-Chrysler went onto Alabama.
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Doc Eldridge and I (and State Officials) worked on another Orkin Project in the late 90's.    I flew in the Governor's helicopter over Athens and Oconee County with some company officials to point out landmarks and the diversity of the area.  However, that project did not materialize.   The Orkin experiences led me to the opinion that our lack of success was because that tract was not developed or prepared for showing.  It is still basically an overgrown pasture and timber land.  It has long needed roads and infrastructure to make it a viable site. 
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We proposed a joint effort on Orkin with Athens-Clarke with each putting up some money ($0,000.00 each).  We met several times with the Orkin Family, in Atlanta and Athens.  We were hoping to have a joint agreement on that property and let the owners carry the land cost but work with the two county governments on development.   We never got a positive or affirmative response from Athens-Clarke County.Later, in 2000, Doc Eldridge and I were working on an agreement on how to regulate, tax and share costs and benefits of developing the Orkin tract which is located in both counties.   That effort was held up by some Athens Folks, particularly a long-serving commissioner, as I retired from office.
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Athens-Clarke had little interest in working with us when we had no water and sewer capacity.   A Watkinsville Delegation (I was there) met with Athens officials in the mid-eighties about the possibility of a sewer line to Watkinsville.    The proposal was rejected immediately.For years, Athens-Clarke controlled a lot of the negotiations in joint operations.    In Oconee, we were determined to deal with that and on December 31, 2000, Oconee had sufficient Water and Sewer capacity to serve Orkin.  
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Regional cooperation and efforts are good.  However, many Athens folks do not consider Athens in the same category of the area rural counties.   That attitude (arrogance, if you will) hurt us in getting a NEGA Congressional District in 2001.   At meetings, their comments were naive (April 2001 at Oconee Civic Center) as they talked about Athens being the "social, cultural, medical, educational and economic center’ of the area.  It turned off many area legislators who feel the University belongs to all the state.
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Some folks have long advocated consolidation of Oconee and Clarke Counties.   (Ed Benson was one who wanted it badly...... especially after City-County consolidation in the early 90’s.)That was a concern of mine and others for decades.   By 2000, it seemed we were on 'our feet' enough to remove that threat. 

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Supporting such a project will make some county officials popular in Athens and the media, in the short term.   However, as reality sets in, it will be considered a “White Elephant”. 
Pray tell, if we cannot agree on Orkin after 20 years, why do we think we can deal with all economic development issues on a partnership basis?

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If Oconee pursues such an agreement, if should insist on including some other counties to help balance the cost, voice and control.  Athens-Clarke will never be completely open on what it wants.It is difficult for a large and small county to be equal partners.
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Life and things change but after many years of actively working with regional matters, I believe Oconee needs to proceed with caution.    Idealism and hope will not always bring the desired results.    Oconee does not need to give up its local control of local economic development.  

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OCONEE NEEDS TO PROCEED WITH CAUTION AND DELIBERATION.


AVOC COMMENT:

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LOOK AT THE COMMENTS ON THE ARTICLE in The Athens Banner-Herald - October 29, 2009

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The arrogance of some of the comments is not atypical of many I knew in 25 years of "working" with Athens-Clarke County.   This woman seems to think the UGA belongs to ACC!
  
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The Athens Banner-Herald - October 29, 2009

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Partnership idea still divides Oconee panel

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Comments

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athensmother at Oct. 29, 2009 at 11:01:22 am

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I am still not convinced Clarke County needs this. I would think ACC is much more marketable than Oconee. Much has been made of ACC's supposed anti-business stance. I honestly haven't seen that much of that. What I have seen instead, is the intention of maintaining control over the historic parts of ACC. Do you really think the Commission would have much problem with a business locating on Atlanta Hwy, or off Chase Street or Newton Bridge, or along Lexington Highway.
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If you are going to build on Prince Avenue you are (I think rightfully) going to get some flack from the Commission to ensure it is in keeping with the other things on that street (where were they when the Georgia Power building was built?).
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I suspect Oconee would be the same way if a business was attempting to locate in downtown Watkinsville - they just have less historic or tourist type property to protect.
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From an economic development standpoint, what does Oconee have to offer? Athens has a vibrant downtown, the Classic Center, Cine, the University, lots of good restaurants, one of the top 5 chefs in the Southeast, the Georgia Museum of Art, the Botanical Gardens, Memorial Park zoo, the World of Wonder playground, two hospitals, a great country club and golf course (the Georgia Club is in Barrow county), etc. All the reasons we decided NOT to live in Oconee.


MESSAGE TO AVOC FROM CITIZEN -10.30.09

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Only ACC would benefit from partnership with Oconee. As one who was present at one of the initial meetings to consider this issue, I was struck by obvious conclusion that ACC realized that Oconee had taken the right path, and the only way to recover the lost revenue was to propose partnership.

In short; Oconee, don't do it.   


MESSAGE TO AVOC FROM CITIZEN - 10.29.09

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October 29, 2009

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To: Oconee County Citizens

From: The Winners Only Teams For Better Government

Subject: Merger with Clarke County on Economic Growth and Development

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Every Oconee Citizen should know that substantial pressure is being applied to our Oconee County Board of Commissioners for their approval of a project that involves Clarke County and thousands of our tax dollars.The cost of this project could possibly reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars coming from Clarke and Oconee citizens’ wallets. There is what I consider to be an attempt to fly this quickly under the radar of us citizens and get it approved..

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Oconee County Commissioner Chuck Horton has admirably resisted the move, clearly stating that he would vote against this expenditure of taxpayers’ money; at least until more is known about this project and its goals and objectives more clearly defined.A local newspaper has taken some cheap shots at Commissioner Horton for his stance. A commissioners meeting has been schedule for this coming Tuesday, Nov.3 at the courthouse to discuss this issue and could possibly involve a vote.

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Unless you want more ofthe same unwise decisions that has brought us double and triple property tax increases, acres of vacant undeveloped subdivisions, county debt reaching into one hundred million dollar range or more andtwo of our banks in serious loan Trouble, we request and advise you to attend the Commissioners meeting on Tuesday Nov 3.

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All you have to do is stand up and say you want no part of this merger with Clarke County. We need more time for study. The Commissioners need to hear from you.Those in favor of the merger, many of which are there to pad their wallets at your expense, will be there in numbers and without your input at this meeting it may be too late.

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Please email this message to as many citizens as possible and encourage them to pass this on to a friend.It is most important that you attend, bring a friend, and stop this merger.

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In conclusion, I /we are not opposed to good healthy controlled growth and development in our county but we do oppose throwing thousands of taxpayer dollars into a black hole with no clearly defined objectives or guaranteed outcome.There are simply far better options.

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Sincerely,

Larry S Ward

706-769-6123

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lszerocat@hotmail.com


BACKGROUND:

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10-31-08 Oconee – Clarke Economic Development partnership is bad idea as proposed

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3-10-09 Oconee Chairman Davis is right in questioning joint economic plan with Athens-Clarke

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Orkin Site

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OrkinTract.2006.TaxMap.Oconee.gis.JPG x

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http://www.oconeecounty.com/OCGIS/OtherPDFs/Orkin%20ED.PDF

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6-19-06 Progress on Oconee and Athens-Clarke "Orkin Tract” long overdue

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7-28-06 “Orkin” tract (Oconee & Clarke Counties) needs “grooming” for future prospects


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