The two contenders for chairman of the Board of Commissioners expressed different approaches to intergovernmental relationships at a Monday candidate forum hosted by retired journalism professor Lee Becker. The forum can be viewed at vimeo.com/leebecker.
Republican incumbent John Daniell maintained that the BOC had communicated with the Board of Education about the Malcom Bridge Road roundabouts for two years.
“The only thing that’s left to me is the five members of the Board of Education sit down with the five members of the Board of Commissioners in an open meeting,” said Daniell, emphasizing the importance of hearing everybody’s viewpoints.
Eric Gisler, the Democratic candidate for BOC chairman, said that the BOC makes decisions “without
getting buy-in from the Board of Education in these areas where the two boards co-own the facilities.”
“These engineers, these plans—all these things cost money,” Gisler said. “So getting together earlier on in the process for some of these joint projects would really do a lot of good.”
Both candidates weighed in on roundabouts.
“The state is highly encouraging them, and they work,” Daniell said. “The places we’re putting them—they do work. The places they’ve been engineered meet the standards that are required.”
Gisler had some reservations about potentially forthcoming projects.
“As far as putting roundabouts on [Ga.] 53, I’m not a traffic expert,” he said. “That seems like a high-speed highway; it might be questionable…[but] if the engineers showed me examples of where it’d been successful in other places, I’d be willing to do it.”
Brig. Gen. John Gentry, the former Oconee County Parks and Recreation department director, submitted a question about citizens’ desire for aquatic facilities, which isn’t reflected in the current master plan.
“I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to have that in the county,” said Gisler, “particularly for the schools and being able to host regional swim meets….I think it’s time to take a deep dive and revisit that and get more input from the citizenry.”
Daniell mentioned that per the last SPLOST, the master plan mentioned Oconee Veterans Park’s tennis courts and other assets at the park as the primary intended use of those funds.
“What’s missing here is the limited resources we have...we’re still paying the debt on Oconee Veterans Park as well as working through the master plan,” said Daniell.
Becker also asked the two candidates about historical examples of racial discrimination or violence in Oconee.
Daniell said that the county will be recognizing the victims of the 1905 Old Jail lynching.
“We’re just trying to find the right location and method of delivery for that, which I think would be in front of the Courthouse and not around back where the Old Jail was,” he said.
Gisler noted that slaves were once sold on the Courthouse steps and that he’d be open to ideas from the community.
“Maybe find some local artists that’d be able to come up with something appropriate and tasteful,” he added.
The candidates were asked about providing affordable housing and food assistance.
Daniell pointed out that the county recently supported Oconee Area Resource Council and Area Churches Together Serving by providing $20,000 in federal funding to each entity.
“We try to create an environment where people have a place to work and just offer opportunities throughout Oconee County,” he said.
Gisler commended those donations and discussed some of his ideas.
“I’d also look for ways through zoning and the permit application process … to make housing more affordable...to attract people of all races,” Gisler said. “I think that’d be a great way to increase diversity in the government and a lot of the citizen advisory boards.”