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County Holds Closed Meetings On Farmland Protection After Calling For Transparency

Chairman Melvin Davis At Meeting On July 30, 2013.
Chairman Melvin Davis At Meeting On July 30, 2013.
When the Oconee County Board of Commissioners began its overhaul of its farmland protection program 15 months ago, it did so, County Attorney Daniell Haygood said at the time, to make the process more transparent and to make sure the county was following state open records and open meetings laws.

Since that time, the Board assembled two different committees, one of which replaced a citizen committee that had been screening farms for the county’s program.

Those two county-appointed committees have met a total of seven different times, all without the public notice that would seem to be required by the state’s open meetings law.

During this time, the county also has passed up the chance to receive $175,000 in federal funds to protect a farm, though no decision to do that was made in an open meeting and no one has been able or willing to indicate how the decision was made.

At present, the county program is on hold, waiting on a decision by the federal government to release money to protect a farm selected by the county’s newly appointed screening committee. That screening committee held five meetings, all without prior announcement.

The farm that was selected by the county’s screening committee is one that the citizen committee it replaced also had identified as appropriate for protection. Had the county accepted the invitation of the federal agency to apply for the funding, that farm already could be in the process of being protected.

For much more on this long and complex story, including key video clips from many meetings, please go to Oconee County Observations.

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