Post 1 Board of Commissioners Candidates Express Different Views on TSPLOST, Other Issues
Citizens heard Thursday from Board of Commissioners Post 1 and Post 4 candidates, as well as those running for Chairman.
Oconee County Commission Post 1 candidates distinguished themselves during a political forum held Thursday night at the Watkinsville Community Center.
Incumbent Commissioner Jim Luke and challenger Sarah Bell answered questions about the budget and natural resources, among other topics, during their thirty-minute debate.
The forum was sponsored by the Oconee County GOP and Oconee Regional Republican Women, and was moderated by editor Blake Giles of The Oconee Enterprise.
Sarah Bell, who has spent most of her life as an educator and volunteer, described herself as "a penny pincher" and said she'd work to keep government spending down in Oconee.
"I have served on three different non-profit boards for a total of 34 years," Bell said. "If you're on a non-profit board, you have to work with what you got. I think that will help me on this commission."
Luke, who has served as commissioner for eight years, said there are many duties required of a commissioner and working on the budget is just one of them.
"I'm a pinny pincher, too," he said. "But I think that Sarah is going to find a different thing when she's elected if she tries to watch every penny and look after every dollar. If you do that in a county like ours, that's all you'll do and you won't do that very well."
Both said they'd look at ways to entice more private business to come to the county and promised to look at ways county government might be hindering development.
When probed about the proposed regional TSPLOST, Bell called it "a poor piece of legislation" and said she wouldn't vote for it.
Though Luke agreed the legislation was poor, he said he hopes it will pass because the county is in need of money for road improvements.
During closing statements, Luke, current vice chairman of the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board, suggested citizens take a look at Bell's record on issues such as development and resource management.
"I've heard Sarah saying we need to concentrate on water and roads and bridges, but I've also heard her say she's opposed to the Hard Labor Creek project," Luke. "How are we going to concentrate on water if we don't have somewhere to get water. And folks, it's not that long before we're going to run out of water with the present situation. In fact we may be sharing showers for a very different reason very soon."
Luke also said Bell has stated she was opposed to the development of retail stores near Epps Bridge Parkway.
Bell did not respond to Luke's statements. Instead she made a vow not to accept gifts of any value if elected.
"One of the things that people don't have is trust in their government for a lot of reasons," Bell said. "I'm going to promise that if elected I will not accept any gifts of any value. We don't have to accept gifts from anybody, but that gives us the objective side that we need. I don't have any special interests that I need to pay back. You are my special interest — the people of Oconee County."
Chairman Candidates Talk Transparency - Again
County Commission Chairman candidate and current Post 4 Commissioner Chuck Horton, like at last week's forum, criticized Incumbent Chairman Melvin Davis for not being more open during some commission decisions, and said if elected he would be more approachable and let people know when he believes pending decisions are wrong.
"I think it depends on the issue. If it's a zoning issue, there's protocol not to let people know what we're going to do," Horton said. "But a lot of the things have nothing to do with zoning. It has to do with stuff that impacts you every day. It may be sewer capacity fees, it may be a millage fee rate, it may be building fees that impact business. If it's wrong, there's nothing wrong with saying that it's wrong with saying that it's wrong. There's nothing wrong with the commission chair that known."
Davis said he worries announcing opinions before a vote might influence the commissioners, and that he feels the chairman should follow procedure.
"Our enabling legislation requires the chair to vote in case of a tie," Davis said. "After the vote is taken, it's fine for me to make that comment. On some cases I have done that, on other cases, I've not. But the enabling legislation makes it clear that our duty is to vote in case of a tie."
Gilland, Saxon Throw Support Behind TSPLOST
"A tax is not the most popular thing, and sometimes candidates have to decide are they going to do the right thing or the most popular thing," Gilland said. "I have to ask you, where is the money going to come if it doesn't come from T-SPLOST?"
Saxon said TSPLOST has been weighing on his mind for the last five months.
"Obviously we've all read and read and read about TSPLOST. Through my experiences the past five months I've come up with a decision that I think the people of the county are looking at and I believe the county needs to go at," he said. "The answer is, yes, I will be voting for TSPLOST."
All of the aforementioned candidates qualified as Republicans and, barring any independents throwing their hats in the ring, the races will be decided by the July 31 primary election.
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