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12/26/00 - My last newsletter as Chairman of the Board of Commissioners

 

REPORT ON OCONEE COUNTY
December 2000

 BY:  Wendell T. Dawson, Chairman
Oconee County Board of Commissioners
P O Box 528
Watkinsville GA 30677

 

Visit the Oconee County Web Site at www.oconeecounty.com

To:  Citizens & Friends of Oconee County

            In a few days, I will retire from active public service after 30 years of county-city involvement and practicing law besides the courthouse.   I will be relocating my law office to 1671 Meriweather Drive, Suite 105, Bogart, Georgia.   I will be working in the private sector but expect to be doing some consulting and mediation work that may involve some governmental entities arising from my experience and network of contacts regionally and around the state.  I plan to continue to comment on area, state and national issues from time to time by letter, email and on my personal website at www.AnotherVoiceFromOconeeCounty.com. 

This will be my last newsletter as Chairman of the Board of Commissioners.    Because of that the report is longer and has more opinion and data than previous issues.  To preserve a record of the last 12 years of activities in the history of our county, I have arranged a compilation of all the Reports, added pictures, and had them bound for the library, family, friends and others who want a copy.

            An important issue to Oconee County is the need for responsible leadership.   This is not always present in some communities.   It is not something you hire or import.  It is grounded in one’s native ability, background, education, community investment and sensitivity to the “big picture” and its long-time effect on all of us.

            Leadership does not come with simplistic slogans or slick marketing.   It comes from hard work, knowledge of the entire community, interest in the entire community and a demonstrated interest and love for the community.   It has credibility and respect from the responsible citizens of our county who are in the majority.

            Our system of government allows anyone to run for office and to campaign with little limit on speech and claims no matter how outrageous or naïve.   Our system does not run credit reports or background checks on candidates or their supporters.    You must take a test and obtain a license to drive a car and you need a license to fish but not to run for office.   This is the nature of our system.   As voters, we all can make mistakes which are usually corrected by recall or in the next election.   However, damage can be done to our community while the system works itself out.

Responsible, mature, open-minded and smart candidates can learn in office and become good officials after some adjustment to the real situation, which is not always as simple as one perceives from a superficial involvement.

 Some candidates promise things that may run afoul of state and federal law as to purchasing, hiring, bidding, zoning issues etc.    Some promise to cut wasteful spending but one person’s waste may be another person’s treasure.   Some promise to stop change or growth, which is impossible.   Managing and influencing growth and change has to be the goal of responsible leadership.

Negative or outrageous claims can help one to get elected but can result in an inability to govern effectively.   As an official, one is bound to uphold state and federal law and one is limited in the amount of resources.  There will necessarily be some “on-the-job” training and learning for most new officials but the ones with real involvement in the community and a history of civic and government service will make fewer mistakes.

 It is imperative that responsible citizens take an active interest in our county.  They should attend meetings of elected officials and see what really goes on.  It is amazing what the presence of some citizens, without an agenda or cause, can do to the rhetoric and actions of officials and visitors.  With involvement of responsible citizens and leaders, our county will continue to prosper and enjoy its great quality of life.

So long and God speed!!

                                                                                                            Sincerely, 

                                                                                               Wendell T. Dawson


NIMBY and LEADERSHIP: One of the greatest challenges and threats, in my opinion, to local government is the NIMBY syndrome (Not In My Back Yard).   Anytime a zoning change or public facility occurs in a neighborhood, it receives natural resistance. All change effects somebody.   I personally experienced it when the widening of U S 441 came within 75' of my backdoor and changed the entrance to my driveway. However, life is not static.  Change is part of life.

The county government has to be consistent in its decisions and not be influenced by personalities or numbers of neighbors objecting to something.  State and Federal law protects property rights and individual rights of citizens even though they may stand alone at a zoning hearing.   Decisions have to be based on some defined reason or we have government by the “buddy” or “good ole boy” system.   Decisions not based on principles and consistency are more likely to be successfully challenged in legal proceedings.

Public facilities have to be located somewhere.  Oftentimes, all neighborhoods will oppose an animal shelter, landfill, collection sites, water plants, water tanks, wastewater treatment plants and even recreation facilities.   However, these things are absolutely necessary in a vibrant, living county and can’t be located outside of the county or at a great distance from the center of population.  Usually, after the facility or road improvement has been in operation for a while, most objections turn to positive acceptance.  NIMBY opposition is a factor in most every decision effecting a community. Leadership must consider many factors in making such decisions but cannot let NIMBY opposition be the deciding factor.  

There have been several situations in the last 15 years requiring leadership decisions that were strongly criticized and opposed when first proposed or planned but were later viewed as positive accomplishments by many folks, i.e.: new Jail, new schools, Civic Center, courthouse addition; Heritage Park, William Daniell House Restoration; interchange at Hwy 78 and GA 316 (the County paid $00,000 toward ROW costs to help the project happen);  county operation and expansion of the Watkinsville water and sewer system;  hiring a professional planner; hiring a full-time fire chief;   widening of U S 441;  closing a landfill, opening convenient collection sites; locating fire stations;  using  tax money to expand the water system (which allowed for commercial development outside of Watkinsville)  Land Application System for Wastewater at Eastville (which will allow sewer service in the GA 316 and Highway 78 commercial nodes); and many others.

There have also been many zoning controversies over the years that some said would “ruin the county”.    Brookwood on Mars Hill Rd was strongly opposed because it would bring small houses.   Fieldstone (now adjacent to GA 316) would bring small houses and disrupt poultry operations; Wellington Park Duplexes on Hwy 78 would flood our schools and bring “undesirables”; Lane Creek Plantation would invade agricultural land (although the property had been part of a golf course complex for 10 years and was noted as such on county maps and  is adjacent to the “city “ of North High Shoals) and is nearer to GA 316 and the GA Square Mall than my house is located adjacent to the southwestern city limits of Watkinsville);  Windridge Office Park on Mars Hill Road;  Oconee Plaza where Bell’s is located; and almost all county or state road improvement projects.

Public input is needed in county government.   Procedures are in place to allow it.  Almost everything is opposed when first brought up but the “big picture” has to be seen by our leaders or we will stagnate and have gridlock.  It takes principle, vision and leadership to “ do what’s right” for the community in the face of such pressures.   Some leaders and officials can do it.  They may not always prevail but it is necessary for our community well-being.

TRANSPORTATION AND ROADS:  There are many projects in various stages of progression and they are funded and scheduled in many different ways:

Federal & State Projects: 

1.        U S 441 widening between Watkinsville and the Athens Loop is nearing completion, hopefully by the first of 2001;

2.        Widening of U S 441 between Watkinsville and Madison (Interstate 20) is still in the environmental assessment stage and because of limited state funding for GRIP projects keeps getting pushed further and further into the future.    It needs completion for safety purposes (the ‘30’s design curves have been involved in fatal accidents for decades) and the need to improve access to Interstate 20 for the entire region.  Morgan and Oconee Counties need to continue to press for this project to be given higher priority because U S 441 is the route used by much of the state to come to Northeast GA.

State and Local Projects:

1.  GA 53-Mars Hill Widening from Watkinsville to GA 316 is in the engineering stage.  ROW acquisition is currently scheduled for State FY 01-02, meaning after July 1. Oconee County is engineering this project at a cost of approximately 1 million dollars and the county will be responsible for 20% of the cost of utility relocation.   The State and Federal funding will pay the cost of ROW and construction, to be in the millions.  It will take several years to complete this project which is the main north-south corridor in Oconee County.  It was designed for rural, farm type traffic as opposed to the more urban traffic it will handle now and even more over the next several years.    This project has some local ROW issues to be worked out but has good support from DOT personnel in the district and state planning offices though there have been rumors that some funding may be redirected to make up for the imbalance of funding among Districts.  It is committed in the state and federal programs and local and state officials need to be vigilant to keeping it on schedule to avoid gridlock in a few years.

2.  Jennings Mill Parkway-Oconee Connector Linking: The county has done some preliminary engineering and the State has contracted with the county to build this project with State and Federal funds (total cost estimated at 8-9 million dollars).   This is part of the county’s master transportation plan to facilitate the flow of local traffic and avoid gridlock at the 316 intersection.   The DOT district and state planning offices support this plan.   The county and state have executed a project contract for this project that will take several years.  It is a vital link in Oconee’s transportation plan in the area and also will allow safe and facilitated traffic flow for local residents and customers of the commercial activities in the area.

3.    Improvements to Simonton Bridge Road: This road needs widening, lowering of hills, and lessening of curves for safety and traffic load reasons.   It is scheduled in the long-range tier of State/Federal projects.  Meanwhile, some areas can be improved, in phases, with local funding and the use of county road department personnel and equipment and local contractors.

4.   GA 15- U S 441 Connector - south of Watkinsville: This project is in the long-range plan of ACORTS and will take years to be funded.  At some point the county will have to start the engineering to get it going before development happens in its path.   It will allow more through traffic to go around downtown Watkinsville.

5.  Bogart-GA 316 Interchange: This project is long range although the county has done some preliminary engineering and the Development Authority has acquired much of the ROW.   It has been approved by DOT for a future interchange for the upgrade of 316.   The county, and commercial developers will need to help do parts in phases - similar to the Oconee Connector.  It is vital to access to Bogart and the Recreation Complex in the area.

6.  Bridge Replacement on Hale Road (at Greenbriar Creek): This is a project that has been in the works for at least 2-3 years.  Hopefully, design and funding by State and Federal sources will allow this road to be reopened in the next 1-2 years.  County staff and consultants are monitoring this project which is completely funded and managed by the state.

7.   Others:  There are many other projects in the planning stages: completion of Bishop Farms Parkway as a frontage road along the Watkinsville ByPass;  Jimmy Daniell Road interchange; Bridge from Jennings Mill Pkwy to Daniell’s Bridge Rd; and others.  The county will need to be deliberate in its planning and progress.  Funding is limited.  However, they need to be underway before they become serious bottlenecks in the future. Many can be done in phases with proper budgeting and assistance.

Local Paving Projects: The following roads have been paved this fall by Whittington Paving Co. at a cost to the county of approximately $9,000: ½ mile of Rose Creek Dr off Colham Ferry Rd; Virgil Langford Rd between GA 316 and Jimmy Daniell Rd (probably the last dirt road accessing 316); Jones Drive off U S 441 N (approximately 14 residences on a very narrow ROW); Oakwood Drive at Bogart between Jefferson Rd and Luke Drive in Clarke County (one of the last dirt roads in this area of county requiring motor-grader maintenance).   Ashford Road off McRee Gin Rd is scheduled for paving next summer after being graded by the Road Dept this past summer.

Roads considered for grading and paving in the coming year are: Boyd Rd off Barber Creek Rd in Dark Corner; Old Farmington Rd (south end below Farmington Community Center to U S 441); Still Rd in Dark Corner if ROW issues are resolved;  R D Mack Rd off Craft Rd at Bogart, in cooperation with Barrow County; a mile of Branch Rd from 441 to bridge.  Others have ongoing ROW activities (Tappan Spur, Goat Farm Rd, Potter Rd, etc.).

LARP- State Resurfacing Projects:   The county has paid a contractor about $0,000 to repair Hodges Mill Rd and Tanglebrook Drive for the State contractor to resurface with state funding.   The resurfacing should be completed over the next several weeks.  The LARP list submitted to DOT for consideration for resurfacing next year include the following roads:  Station Drive and Victoria Crossing in Victoria Station; Hillcrest Drive; Hunting Creek Lane in Hickory Hill; Julian Drive; Snow’s Mill Rd; and Dial’s Mill Rd.   The actual roads to be resurfaced during the coming year will be determined by DOT.

Local Resurfacing Project List:  Trestle Run and Sidney Circle in Victoria Station; Brookwood Court; Lois Lane off Daniell’s Bridge Rd;  Winthorpe Place in Hickory Hill; Hill Circle and Pleasant Hill Rd off Hwy 78; Cliff Dawson Rd; Sikes Rd, and others as funds permit.  These are short local streets that the county can more economically resurface without DOT involvement to allow the limited DOT funding to go on larger projects.

The county’s road improvement program requires vigilance and effort of the commissioners and staff.  It is important to do them in phases and to keep those in the state and federal programs alive.   Without local support and effort, they will not get done!

ANIMAL SHELTER:  The new animal shelter authorized by SPLOST 2000 is under construction.   The Road Dept. has graded a site on Branch Road adjacent to the Heritage Park tract.  William White, county Project Coordinator, is acting as project manager.  Plans are to have the shelter operational by mid-summer.   The new facility will have a total of 74 runs (37 outside and 37 inside) compared to the present  15 runs.  The Nov. 99 SPLOST referendum authorized $50,000 to build this much needed facility.  The old shelter will be converted to equipment storage and headquarters for Heritage Park.

WILLIAM DANIELL HOUSE: The house restoration has been completed and the house looks great.   The county held an open house on November 30 and over 250 people signed the guest register. Pictures of the house and the open house are on the County’s website.  The house and furnishings are ideal for receptions and parties and we have had many inquiries about renting the house and grounds.  Reaction to the house restoration has been overwhelmingly positive.   Everyone who has seen it has been very pleased.

We owe much to Ray Goff for helping the county to lease and restore the house.  However, the restoration would have not been possible without the devoted “labor of love” by Stephanie Goff who worked many hours to supervise the restoration, landscaping and furniture acquisition.    We appreciate the efforts of these two people who made the project possible.   I have described the William Daniell House project as being like “wrestling a bull”!   There was little public support for the project for several months.  Then Ray Goff came to see me and helped “wrestle the bull to the ground”.    However, Stephanie Goff is the one who kept the “bull on the ground and tamed it”.   Without her efforts and involvement the project would not have been completed successfully.    We owe her a debt of thanks!

COUNTY WATER SUPPLY:   We have completed the installation of the 24-inch line that will bring water from the Bear Creek Reservoir from the Barrow County line to the Mars Hill Road 12-inch line.  We have also completed lines at Eastville to serve the Rocky Branch LAS site and to connect several wells and subdivision systems owned by the county.   The line along New High Shoals Rd. from Union Church Rd. to the Hickory Ridge well systems on Elder Rd. will be built in the early part of 2001 with a significant contribution from a private developer (total cost of $74,000 and developer contribution of $66,000).  This line will provide water and better fire protection for this area of the county and add approximately 3,000,000 gallons/month to our water supply from the wells already owned by the county at Hickory Ridge.   The county has steadily increased the volume of groundwater from wells which has made us less dependent on purchases from other jurisdictions.   For the month of November, the Utility Department distributed a total water volume of 46.16 million gallons.  Of that amount, 37.38 million gallons (81%) was produced by the county’s wells.  The county purchased 8.76 million gallons (19%) from Athens.   For the last 12 months, OCUD distributed a total of 583.94 million gallons.  Of that total, the county produced 65 %;  22% was purchased from Walton County Water and Sewer Authority and 13 % was purchased from Athens.  The increase in well production has lowered the overall cost of water and allowed the Utility Dept. to become self-sufficient, revenue wise.   The flow has been managed in an excellent manner even though we just went through a summer of drought conditions.   Next summer will hopefully see the Bear Creek supply coming on line. With that supply and the wells, the county will have an adequate water supply for the near term.   It does need to explore sources for 15 to 20 years down the road.   Lake Oconee is a possibility, especially if the water could be treated at the source and treated water then pumped to our nearest lines.

SEWER PROJECTS: The sewer line along U. S. 441 to Hog Mountain Road has been let to contract and should provide sewer service for this commercial node by Spring.   The LAS plant at the Rocky Branch LAS site will be let early in the year.    The main collection line in the Hwy. 78 and GA 316 area near Bogart is being engineered now and should be in place in 12 months.   Several have inquired about the schedule on this line so they can proceed with commercial plans.  The Calls Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant modification is underway but will take more than a year and will have to be funded.  Ultimately, this project (funded by ’98 Revenue Bonds and SPLOST) will cost over 1 million dollars and will add about 100,000 gallons capacity at Watkinsville for serving the commercial nodes between Watkinsville and Epps Bridge Parkway.

ATHENS-OCONEE RELATIONS:  Over the years, Oconee County and Athens-Clarke County have worked together on several matters: 1.  Upper Oconee Water Basin Authority; 2.  ACORTS for State and Federal Transportation projects; 3.   Meeting and talking to large economic entities looking at the Orkin tract; 4. Mutual aid agreements; and others.    However, there is still much room for better cooperation.

To many of our Athens neighbors, we were formerly a small rural, farm county with little economic clout except for purchasing power at businesses in Athens.    As roads have improved and with our infrastructure improvements and our land use planning and implementation, we have become a force to be reckoned with in Northeast GA.  Many regional stores and businesses are eager to locate in Oconee County along our major corridors: GA 316, Epps Bridge Parkway, Paul Broun Parkway,  Jennings Mill Parkway, U S 441, U S 78, Butlers Crossing, etc.

Prior to GA 316, Athens had connected some sewer customers in Oconee County, primarily at Jennings Mill.   In 1994, Athens told us that we could not count on any more sewer connections.  They did sell us 25,000 gpd capacity in the McNutt Creek Interceptor line for the price of $90,629.   We used the sewer capacity for the Malcom Bridge Schools, the Highland Hills Retirement Center, Golden Pantry Offices, et al.   We hope to free the Malcom Bridge school capacity with the completion of the Land Application System at Eastville.  It can be used in other areas at the County line where we do not have sewer service.

Until 1998, Athens had allowed connections to its water system upon payment of an agreed connection charge.   We all knew the water was a temporary source until Bear Creek Reservoir came on line in 2001.  The county also had wells producing roughly ½ of our water except during peak periods.   In the summer of 1998, while we were struggling with system and pressure problems, Athens increased our wholesale rate to 1 ½ times their retail rate, or the highest wholesale rate in GA.  We got busy and contracted with a private company to operate our system and help us enhance our water production.  We reached agreement with the Walton Water and Sewer Authority to buy up to one million gallons per day along Hwy. 78 where we installed a line.  We also worked on our well production.   This resulted in minimum water purchases from Athens-Clarke in 1999 and 2000 even though we faced drought conditions.   With Bear Creek coming on line next year, Oconee will no longer need water from Athens-Clarke except as emergency conditions require it on both sides.

The Orkin tract has had at least 3 large interested users during the last 10 years -- Mercedes in 1993, another technology plant in 1997, and again with a user in the summer of 2000.  Each incident brought state officials and out of state visitors for confidential discussions.   In the presence of visitors, we presented a united effort and “erased” the county line in favor of  “one stop shopping”.  Few prospects want to deal with multi-jurisdiction sites.   After the 1997 event, we met with the Orkin family and members of the Athens-Clarke government, the Development Authority and the Chamber to discuss the future of the site.   At that time, I advocated that we jointly commit to spend up to $0,000 to hire a consultant to put together a package on the site showing infrastructure needs and existing facilities.    The consultant could help the two counties work cooperatively with each other and with the owners in a joint venture that would help this large, unique site be developed in a quality manner that would be a “show place” as well as tax boon for both counties, the University, the state and the owners.

We were not successful in doing anything until “Operation Spider” occurred this past summer.   Mayor Doc Eldridge and I met with the prospect, state representatives and local economic development folks at Jennings Mill Country Club in mid-July.   At that time, Macon was also in the running.   Mayor Eldridge and I agreed to get together on a plan and not wait to react to the next prospect.  We followed up with some meetings.   We reached a tentative agreement to ask our commissions to approve a general memorandum of understanding on items to be discussed.  This would involve utilities, fire protection, permitting, code enforcement and tax rate and distribution (a special tax district will be needed).   We also agreed to encourage the investment of up to $0,000 for a consultant to work with both counties and the owner in developing the site.   On November 7, the Oconee BOC approved the agreement and the funding.  Athens-Clarke has approved the general memorandum but WITHOUT any funding commitment.   In my opinion, a consultant working for both counties is needed.  We cannot rely on the staff of either county to draw up a plan that is equitable to all parties.

I feel that some in Athens-Clarke want a loose arrangement so that they can possibly control negotiations, etc.  However, circumstances have changed.   Around 600 acres (2/3s) of the 900 acres is located in Oconee County and GA 316 is in Oconee County.   By late summer of 2001, Oconee will have water to the site from Bear Creek.  We have 1 ½ million- gallon storage tank capacity nearby at Malcom Bridge-Mars Hill.   By fall of 2001, we should have sewer capacity available from the Eastville LAS site.   The site is already zoned for industrial purposes in Oconee, Athens-Clarke and the portion that lies in the Bogart City Limits.  In effect, the owner or user and Oconee could possibly proceed without the involvement of Athens-Clarke if it continues to delay a joint plan.

ATHENS AREA HOMEBUILDERS vs. OCONEE COUNTY: This suit was dismissed recently after the parties and county had looked at the revenue claims of the plaintiffs.  The county took the position that the fee income is less than the cost of inspection, plan review, and code enforcement.   The Plaintiff attorneys reviewed extensive documentation and financial records of the county.   We did agree to go to two-tier fees on larger houses.   This reduced the sq. footage cost from 20 cents to 15 cents per foot for square footage over 1500 sq. feet. The parties discussed this item and agreed that a two-tier permit fee structure was justified.  For instance, there may only be one heating system, regardless of size.  Plumbing, basements, etc. would not be as much on the second tier inspections.   This will change the cost of a building permit on a 3,000 sq. foot house from $00.00 to about $25.00.

In addition, the county changed its Subdivision Well Policy this year because the water shortage of 1998 had been corrected with other water sources.   The policy was initially enacted to avoid a building and connection moratorium in the county.   Now we have more wells.   Also, the county can locate better sites for wells than just in new subdivisions.   We have gone to a more uniform connection charge policy that meets the county’s needs and is fairer to everyone.

                The county also agreed to have the Planning Department set up a list for notice of pending zoning and ordinance changes at least 15 days before action by the Board of Commissioners.  The Area Homebuilders Assoc. will be included on that list to receive notices.  Others can also ask to be sent notices.

                We feel the matter was resolved fairly and without significant cost  to the county.   The process was informative for the parties involved.   The situation was much more complicated than perceived initially.   It helped to improve communications between the building industry and the county planning and code enforcement departments.

HOME SALES IN OCONEE:  The average purchase price of a home in Oconee County has risen from $96,174 in 1999 to $04,686 in 2000, or about 4.3%.  The median purchase price rose from $65,000 to $79,000, or about 8.5%.  The volume of houses sold in 2000 is close to the volume sold in 1998, well below sales in 1999.

RELATIONSHIP WITH SHERIFF: I noticed a significant change in our relationship after June 1 when I wrote a personal and confidential letter to Sheriff Berry about anonymous letters and information I had been receiving about him.  While I expressed doubt about the content, I felt an official responsibility to share it with the Sheriff, District Attorney, Auditor and the other four commissioners.   Since we were in a political season, I did not go public about the matter and did not comment on it during the election process.   However, the Sheriff quit responding to any messages or memos from me (and Administration on finance and other matters) and many of his employees actively supported the Independent Candidate for Chairman.  

While I have had some personal misgivings about financial and computer management matters in the Sheriff’s office, I have not accused the sheriff of any criminal or personal wrongdoing.   Some critics of the sheriff have implied that I was involved in a cover-up for the Sheriff.   I have never intended to pursue anything for or against the Sheriff.   I did feel an official responsibility and obligation to pass on documents, letters and memos available as an institutional memory for the county as I leave office.    After my retirement announcement and in preparation for leaving office, I have made copies of some documentation for appropriate officials, county auditors and the Grand Jury.   I feel no further responsibility in the matter.

POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS:  Campaigns are getting to be less and less civil at the state, national and local levels.  I believe the media is at least partly responsible because of its relentless pursuit of sensational headlines.   They are now part of the news process rather than just reporters.  Changing values in our society have also contributed to the loss of civility.   With media and marketing campaigns, we seem to concentrate on “attention getters” instead of substance.   I used some campaign money this year for sending limited distribution campaign letters containing biographical information about candidates.   The media let opponents respond in newspapers with their spin and personal attacks on me rather than by mail-out as I had done.  One letter was only sent to about 75 close relatives, contributors and supporters.   Another was sent to about 4-500 addressees.  However, the “responses” were given much wider coverage and mostly concentrated on personal criticism of me.   I believe factual information about candidates is relevant; for example, education, taxpayer status, occupation, employer, associations, party affiliation and voting, etc.  These are matters of public record and I believe are valid matters for the public to know.   

A primary responsibility of a public official is to be "Trustee" of the public's interest. The public has an interest in whether an office holder or seeker is a taxpayer. It is an important consideration to many voters.

People have various reasons why they do not appear on the property records. They sometimes choose to title in names of spouses. This can be for several reasons, i.e. 1. personal preference;  2. gift or inheritance by one spouse; 3. owned by spouse at time of marriage;  4. past bankruptcy or credit problems; 5. to insulate assets from creditors.   In my own personal experience, I have noticed that most couples who have acquired property by joint effort choose to title it jointly - especially in the last 20 years or so. In the past, when we were a more rural society, many farms were titled in the husband. Until the 60's or 70's state law required property ownership, or taxpayer status, to hold office or serve on Grand Juries. The law and title status has changed.

            Unfortunately, personal attacks distract from the qualifications, experience of the candidates and an informed discussion about serious issues facing our county and society.  The whole climate discourages a lot of good people from running for public office and that is bad for our democracy.

THE OCONEE ENTERPRISE:  As I prepare to leave office, and in view of recent criticism of me by the Oconee Enterprise,  I feel I have a right (if not responsibility) to comment on my view of the Enterprise.   As a native of Oconee County, I grew up reading the Enterprise.  I have always supported our county newspaper.   I was one of the organizers of 15 investors who bought the paper from the Walton Tribune and brought it back to Oconee County in the early ‘70s. 

The Enterprise owner told me early on that she did not vote or support me in 1988.  However, in later years, she told me on numerous occasions that she was glad I was elected and that I was doing a great job.  In fact, I have files of dozens (over 100) of personal letters from the Owner over the years.   The letters are generally supportive and complimentary of me.  Oftentimes the letters are critical of others and also provides a personal opinion opposing or supporting certain issues, i.e.:  opposition to the Bishop Museum,  advocating moving the Daniell House to Heritage Park, opposing the county assuming the responsibility for the Watkinsville Water and Sewer System and many other situations that were not publicly reported.

Generally, we had a good relationship on a professional level.   I believe our community needs and deserves a good local community voice.   To that end over the years, I held up many press releases until Tuesday to allow the Enterprise to have an equal shot at “breaking the story”.   The county spends considerable money with the paper for advertising or public notices and information.   I am an avid supporter of the public being informed and frequently authorized statements (tax statement, county positions and committee memberships, zoning regs amendments, etc).   Sometimes these ads would be ¼ to ½ page and the county paid considerable advertising bills monthly to the Oconee Enterprise.  Much of this was discretionary advertising that does not have to be published in the “legal organ” but in a paper of general circulation in the county.  On a personal basis, I bought countless ads supporting community projects and causes (High School, 4H, FFA, Season Greetings, etc).  These ads ran $5.00 to $5.00 each and I paid for it out of personal funds, at times at personal financial sacrifice.

Early on I realized that programs and issues important to me and the county could not be presented in the media.   This led to the County Report method of communication, which has been invaluable as a consensus builder as we went through some challenging decisions and periods for our county.

The relationship changed dramatically over the last several months.  I have letters and memories of personal conversations during the winter and spring of 2000 which supported and commended me.  

The biggest relationship change with the Enterprise occurred after I announced my public service retirement.   I had made a tough and long thought-out decision.  I expected strong reaction -- much of it for me to reconsider.   However, I had made up my mind and wanted to release the information, including memos to staff and letters to colleagues around the region and state, in a manner to indicate that the decision was irrevocable.   Not in my wildest imagination did I anticipate  mean-spirited and personal attacks from the Oconee Enterprise.   I know that letters and calls of support for me have not been published.  As I wound down my career, many friends and associates commented and encouraged me to ignore the personal attacks.   Largely, that has been my course of action.  However, I have many relatives and close friends and supporters who have felt hurt from the callousness of the Enterprise and I feel some obligation to them to take this public stand.   I realize this statement may well subject me to further public abuse and exaggerated innuendo by an obviously bitter and vindictive person.  However, sometimes in life, you just have to take a stand and show some backbone!

One of my biggest regrets is that the county does not have a unified, respected media voice that promotes county and community issues.   While I would not trade our county for any other in GA, I have observed many other county newspapers that I wish we had.   Eventually, time, age and circumstances will change the ownership of the Enterprise.  I join many others in thinking it is long overdue.

MAYNARD et al vs. Oconee County and Watkinsville:   Suit has been filed against the county in the matter of a sewer service request for townhouses in Watkinsville.   The county policy is based on the fact of the scarcity of capacity and the cost and time involved in increasing capacity.   The county is working on increasing capacity as funds permit.   To do this, we have used the very limited sewer capacity for commercial and institutional uses.   A number of property owners are watching and will ask for residential sewer service if we serve any residences.   There are presently enough potential residential sites to more than exhaust our limited capacity.  We then could not serve the retail stores, restaurants or hotels that will eventually come with sewer availability.   I told our lawyers that I doubted there would be much future political support for sewer investment if voters and citizens knew it would go to residential development rather than to grow our tax base.   This is a very important issue for the future economic viability of Oconee County.

THINGS TO DO: There are a number of issues facing the county and will need the involvement and assistance of leaders and citizens of Oconee County:

Ø       Land Use Planning and new comprehensive plan.   We have worked on this twice since 1990 and need to revisit the plan in next year or two.  Citizen advisory committees and public meetings have and will be involved.    The Comprehensive Plan is much more than a map.   Several State required elements of the plan are the substance of the plan which consists of 100’s of pages that probably are not read by many people.  It is important that a broad section of the county be involved in this long process (2 to 3 years), i.e: homeowners, environmentalists, farmers, developers, educators, planners, professional persons and “citizens”.   It cannot be left to a few activists or self-appointed county spokespeople.  The Planning Commission and the Citizens Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation should be involved in the process.   This is a subject that is very complex and, has lots of history and economic interests inherent in the process.   Individual rights, property rights and the true wishes of the greater majority of our citizens must be considered.

Ø       Water Quality and Stormwater issues: The county needs to proceed to look at water quality regulations that set up stream buffers and drainage provisions to protect the quality of our streams and drinking water.   Major streams, rivers and larger creeks, should have a 100-foot undisturbed buffer to help filter stormwater runoff into the streams. Detention ponds and other like systems must be planned and designed to address this important issue for our community.  For some time the county has been doing this in Rezone Actions by condition.  It needs to be incorporated into an ordinance while much of our stream corridors are still largely undeveloped.   It needs to be a comprehensive plan rather than an ad hoc or piecemeal policy.

Ø       Water Sources: The county will have a water source from Bear Creek and wells for the next 15 to 20 years.   Wells and groundwater development will be a significant portion of our water supply for the foreseeable future.  It takes a long time and commitment of significant resources to develop a dependable water supply.   The county needs to continue to study the Apalachee, including some involvement in the Walton County Regional reservoir.  The county needs to look at other regional plans, especially on our south and east, i.e:  Reservoir with Oglethorpe County near the Oconee;  possibly water withdrawal from Lake Oconee and possibly regional water plant with Greene, Morgan and others.    It is important to explore sources more removed from Metro Atlanta, which will continue to seek more water sources as Lake Lanier and the Chatahoochee become strained and probably restricted by the Ala-GA-Fla water dispute settlement or court resolution. 

Ø       Sewer Capacity:   Continuous development of sewer treatment capacity is critical to the county’s economic health.  It is not cheap.  It is presently costing around $0.00 a gallon for development of capacity.  It will not get cheaper.   Stricter discharge limits are coming.  However, the county must make the investment and have the patience to pursue much needed capacity for the sake of our economic future, water quality and our quality of life.

Ø       Veterans Memorial:  The county, with the involvement of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Cultural and Recreation Affairs, needs to pursue a permanent veterans memorial such as a garden area at Heritage Park and an appropriate monument at the courthouse grounds honoring all veterans of all wars and conflicts.

Ø       Parks/Greenspace: The county needs to purchase more parks and recreation tracts near the population centers while such tracts are available.  It will be expensive now but more so, and possibly impractical, in the future.  The areas are needed to protect greenspace and provide both active and passive recreation for our citizens.  Heritage Park development is a long-term project that will be done in phases over time as funding permits.    However, it will not be enough and more land should be sought.  We have been looking at possible sites or tracts for the last couple of years and there are some possibilities.

Ø       Transportation Planning:  The county must continue the tedious, long planning process for state & federal funding for transportation improvements in the county such as the upgrade of GA 316,  the county’s master plan at GA 316 and Epps Bridge Parkway-Oconee Connector, and other long-range, expensive projects that will not ever be done without such local effort and pursuit.

Ø       Budget and Taxes:  The county must continue to fund budget needs in an equitable manner but being ever vigilant to the cost to taxpayers (the county’s 99 tax millage rate was 8th lowest in the 12 county area.  Year 2000 figures are not known).

Ø       Regionalism:   Oconee needs to continue to be an active participant in regional activities but be alert to unreasonable encroachment on the county’s own best interests.  The county is not large enough or wealthy enough to “go it alone”  and cannot afford not to have a voice in progress and change in our region.

Ø       Planning and Zoning:  Keep up a professional approach to planning matters and not go off on tangents.  Oconee has done well with “evolution” and not “revolution” over the last 35 years.   There will always be fads and somebody will always have “a great idea” but cost, citizen acceptance and patience has served and will continue to serve us well.

Ø       Cultural Matters:  Oconee must continue to be a friendly environment for the arts and cultural affairs and should continue adequate support for our libraries, parks, historic sites and other activities that make us unique.

Ø       Heritage Park:  This is a multipurpose, long-range project that should be pursued in phases with appropriate funding.

Ø       Citizen Involvement: Frequently, new arrivals are the sharpest critics of our county before they really learn the county, its history and unique culture.  Responsible citizens, with a history of investment in our community, must take an active interest in our county government and community activities.   It is imperative that they take public positions for the best interests of the county.   Without this involvement, our county will be dominated by special interests, activists, NIMBYs, good-ole-boys; and a small group of self-appointed “saviors” and the like, who can steer the county toward a course that could cause our excellent quality of life to suffer.

THANKS:  I appreciate the support and help of many people during my public career.  My thanks to my fellow commissioners, staff, family and friends.  I also want to thank Tricia Smith for her efforts as Executive Assistant for the last several years.  She has edited and corrected my Newsletter and made them more professional in addition to carrying out many other responsibilities.  Her efforts have helped me and the county tremendously.  Thank you, Tricia!


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