Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Buck Stops Here

I remember as an 8-year old history buff proudly declaring my non-traditional pick for worst president.

"Who do you think is our worst president," would ask my adult neighbor, with whom I often discussed civil war history and other topics.

"I think Harry Truman was our worst president," said the skinny know-it-all kid.

"Why would you say that," Jerry would reply.

"Because if he'd finished the job in Korea, we wouldn't have had Vietnam."

So works the mind of an 8 year old whose most extensive foreign policy experience involved negotiations between the kids on my street and those in the new neighborhood behind us. Keep in mind that in 1983, it was a big deal that we had "lost" Vietnam because America had never "lost" a war according to the history books I had managed to read (not sure how they accounted for the War of 1812).

Twenty five years later, I am in the middle of reading Harry Truman's biography by David McCullough. It is a remarkable work about a remarkable man. Lets just say this: I stand corrected, and Truman is certainly in my top 10 list of presidents.

The issues that he had to contend with -- the emergence of the USSR and communism, the moral and policy implications of the atom bomb and subsequent hydrogen bomb, the emerging civil rights situation, the creation of Israel, communist aggression in China, the legacy of depression-era government programs in a thriving economy -- would have swamped many. Almost any one of them would have been a defining event for most of our recent presidents.

But Truman, who began as the son of a farmer and failed politician, clearly had a wonderful sense that came from a background without advantage or prestige, but with considerable common sense and decisiveness. He could have nuked the Russians before they had the bomb, and he didn't, despite State Department pressure to go to war with the Soviets. He could have blown North Korea off the map, and he didn't. He had the courage to remove Gen. Douglas McArthur, one of America's military icons, from command.

So, an interesting epistle on history, huh?

Actually, I was struck as I read by some of the similarities between that era and this one.
  • A mysterious "movement" spreading across part of the world that America and free states are trying to contain (Radical Islam and communism) and a strong focus on the future of democracy in the middle east.
  • A confident, compelling politician preaching about unity leads an older, less compelling candidate by double digit poll margins as an election approaches (although the parties of Obama and Dewey are reversed, many Republicans are hoping McCain can pull off a similar upset to what unelected incumbent Truman managed in 1948).
  • And a general "we're not sure what's ahead" malaise in America.

But the Truman story offers hope. It shows that it doesn't take a high-priced education, a wealthy family, or incredible eloquence to lead. These stories show that much of the strength of America is in its values, its strong pride, and our willingness to defend our traditions and way of life. These strengths are balanced by our Christian ethics and our willingness to admit mistakes and change policies when necessary. If you haven't read it, I encourage anyone to pick up and read McCullough's Truman. A wonderful read as the elections approach.

P.S. For those of you interested in a local connection, Truman at one point justifies his support for civil rights legislation to someone from his home town in Missouri by referencing the infamous Moore's Ford murders, as well as a similarly gruesome incident in Batesburg, SC.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

An Enigma for a Congressman

I'm going to be honest: I don't know what to think of Paul Broun (pictured here with Coach Richt).

Like many on July 15, I was surprised by his easy defeat of Republican primary challenger Barry Fleming, despite the dirt Barry and his crew dug up on him. Surely he had a mandate, as he had run a strong, grassroots campaign. Voters clearly rejected the business-as-usual negative campaigning model employed by Fleming's team (it is curious to note that Dr. Broun's own campaign website still references Fleming's attacks).

But what should have been a triumphant month has played out like a train wreck. First, stories emerge that he has used nearly half of his office's entire budget on "franking" costs to mail flyers out to his district to "educate" voters. Based on the results of the election, it now looks like needless spend. More importantly, to many, it looks like a thinly veiled use of taxpayer dollars to campaign.

Then the AJC says in a front page story what many politically savvy observers in the district have been whispering for the past year -- that without broad agreement among all congressmen, a personal "no earmark policy" is silly, and could be disastrous for our district, especially given the University's need for federal funds for specific research activities. And even worse, Broun and his co-horts are apparently asking our Senators to carry the water for them and ask for things anyway. If you haven't read this story, be sure to read it for an education on the practicalities of working inside the Beltway.

I still wasn't ready to pile on and write about all this, but today it came to light that apparently Rep. Broun's chief of staff has resigned. Now perhaps, given all of the above, this will be a good thing, but the turmoil is worrisome. Paul Broun seems to be an enigma. Or perhaps even a riddle wrapped in an enigma and shrouded in mystery.

But I for one am struggling to have an enigma for a congressman. Part of me likes having a strong conservative with a maverick streak representing our district. He seems to be responsive to constituents and has stayed engaged locally. He also seems to be a nice man personally when I have met him (I have not had any extended interaction with him personally or politically). But another part of me worries about his effectiveness as an advocate for the needs and causes of voters and institutions in the district. While principles are great in politics, there are times when rhetoric must be put aside and the art of compromise must be employed.

Can someone solve the riddle for me?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pickens Plan

I have been hearing ads for the "Pickens Plan" for the past few weeks on the radio and online. I decided to check it out, and I like what I see. Not necessarily perfect, but some good thinking from someone who knows more about energy than I will ever hope to. I think it's about time somebody in America starts thinking outside the box about energy, and it is great to see an oil man take a stand on the issue, unlike those who currently occupy the White House who seem to insist that we continue to stay harnessed to oil over the long term. Today he presented his ideas to Congress.

Now let's be clear, Pickens obviously has a strong financial interest in wind power. But that is fine. It's how we do things in America. What is great to see is the time, energy and resources he is putting into educating Americans about the need to make a change. As someone who has made billions from oil, he has a lot of credibility.

As a communicator, I also appreciate the multi-faceted, new and old media approach he is using as he makes his case to America.

Click below to learn more about his energy plan or click here to learn more about Boone Pickens' connection to Athens last fall.

Visit PickensPlan

Conservation Center Likely Earns a Reprieve

Some good news in this morning's paper -- it looks as if the J. Phil Campbell Natural Resource Conservation Center will make it another year. While the paper attributes the reprieve to a congressional rejection of the President's plan to close the Watkinsville "experiment station" and other similar facilities, Voice of Moderation's D.C. sources say that nearly everything is "on hold" until November and that without an appropriations bill passing, everything was set to remain status quo, anyway. Bottom line: not a lot happens in D.C. while everyone waits to see who the next president is.

However, long-term it doesn't look like the Experiment Station is going to be with us as the undersecretary of agriculture essentially told our Senators that the station's "work is done." Hopefully this is not the case, but if it is, station administrators will hopefully shift the focus so they are making the wisest use of our tax dollars.

If this can't be done, the time is now for Oconee's leaders and perhaps officials at UGA or with the state department of agriculture to begin collaboratively planning "BRAC-style" for the future of this facility and its 1,100+ acres of greenspace in the heart of Oconee. The Campbell Center and its research heritage should remain an asset for Oconee County as we seek to preserve our agricultural roots and manage our future growth.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Oconee Government Alum Makes Us Proud

Earlier today Matt Forshee, former planning director and director of economic development in Oconee County, e-mailed me the annual report of his current organization, the Fayette County Development Authority. Matt has obviously done well in Fayette, and his annual report shows some impressive accomplishments. Some of the highlights:
  • His organization created 750 jobs from new projects, most of which will be filled as new positions. These positions will see an annual average salary of approximately $55,000 for a total annual payroll of $41,250,000.
  • There will be over $175 million in direct investment in Fayette County through all phases of these projects. This includes purchasing of land, developing buildings and buying and installing equipment.
  • Annually, these projects will create an estimated $5,000,000 in property taxes. However, during the first 10 years of operation, these projects will save an annual estimated average of $2,251,867 in property tax payments due to tax incentives they received. Still, these projects will create an estimated annual average of $2,748,132 in property taxes during that same initial 10 year period. Depending on phasing, some of these initial 10 year savings and payments will be carried out over different 10 year periods. So, over 20 years, these facilities will create an estimated $77,481,320 in property taxes.
This is a great example of how well a unified economic development campaign can pull high quality jobs into a suburban community. There are some things brewing in this regard in Clarke and Oconee counties -- lets hope we can do as well as Fayette County. Check out this link for a copy of the report and more the results. Matt was one of the best and brightest young government officials ever to reside in Oconee -- congrats and best wishes to Matt!

On a separate matter, will be taking a bit of a hiatus from blogging -- will be back in action the middle of next week.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Robin Hood to the Rescue

My childhood years in Oconee County were spent in Northwest Woods, then the largest subdivision in Oconee County. We lived at 1510 Robin Hood Road, and I spent my middle school years riding bikes in the neighborhood, mowing people's lawns with my buddy Cody for spending money, exploring the woods behind the neighborhood, playing tennis, and swimming at the Northwest Woods Pool. Other past times included being Jay Allen's victim in faux professional wrestling matches on the trampoline, posing as a skateboarder, arguing with my brother and cousins, and playing hoops with a big group of friends at our house, at the Claghorns, or on Danny Dyer's cul-de-sac down the road.

It was a long walk, but if I had the energy and time, I would often stroll home from the old OCHS rather than wait on Mr. Huff and bus no. 22. I might also walk up to Dreamboat Annie's (to get the new Bon Jovi tape!), Oconee Sporting Goods, or the "old" Golden Pantry via Mars Hill Road on a summer morning. The roads were calm enough that my friend Danny and I could pedal our bikes to "the four way stop" to get a drink or get adventurous and ride out to High Shoals via the "speed bump" hill on New High Shoals Road and watch older kids at Paradise Falls. A trip to the "cool pool" at Killarney West was not out of range either if your friends from Lake Wildwood, Hillcrest or Killarney could sneak you past the Bishops, who guarded access pretty tightly.

In my teenage and college years, I spent most of my time pounding the neighborhood pavement, sweating on nearby country roads, or covering miles on the red clay tractor road that bisected the Dooley's fading farmlands behind the neighborhood as my brother and I prepared for upcoming cross country and track seasons. My high school girlfriend also lived in NWW and my job was just up the road at Bell's, when it was the only grocery store in Oconee.

The voting precinct for Northwest Woods was always Briarwood Baptist. Now NWW is part of the civic center precinct (the Civic Center was not around back in the day). In my wrap up on the elections last night, I mentioned how surprised I was that this district went so strongly for Sarah Bell given the fact that it had always been solidly pro-business, pro-development and the fact that Chairman Davis also lived there for many years. I also referenced the fact that voters in that district were beneficiaries of some recent and highly-touted county initiatives like the new park and the Mars Hill widening.

However, a more astute observer who happens to still live in the old neighborhood made me rethink my assumptions and consider my own impressions of that area today. Perhaps nowhere in our county is a transition from quiet, moderate growth to rapid, suburban style development more obvious than the area around Northwest Woods. In fact, this area and the adjacent area along Hog Mountain Road are the posterchild for what frustrates many about Oconee's current growth pattern. Look at the map and consider (NWW is the cluster of homes in the middle):

  • The trails I used to run on and enjoy as a teen are now Parkside, just west of the neighborhood. But the problem is, there is just a road that connects 53 to Mars Hill. There are no homes, no shopping, no nothing. The woods and trees are gone, with nothing to replace it; for many in Northwest Woods, their views and peace and quiet are gone; while this neighborhood has enormous potential if it is built, I'm sure it is frustrating to see the woods disappear behind your home and then watch the land lay fallow.
  • Several years ago, amid a controversial rezoning effort on the Southeast side of Northwest Woods, Bob Cain decided to spread chicken manure on land that was not rezoned from its agricultural use to teach the local residents a lesson. This incredible classy act soured many in Northwest Woods on the development community. This land, now rezoned, features paved roads, pipes emerging from the ground, but no homes, trees, or landscaping.
  • When traveling to Butler's Crossroads (on the right edge of the map), residents in the "new side" of the neighborhood now get to enjoy stunning views of neon lights at a nail salon in the Colony Square shopping center along Highway 53, a beautiful new AutoZone with requisite bright orange paint, and several other vacant retail tracts. Those on the "old side" of NWW likely take Mars Hill to Butler's Crossroads. They now enjoy views of the half empty Manders Crossing shopping center at its intersection with Cliff Dawson Road (which is also now home to several vacant subdivisions), an undeveloped storage and retail parcel "developed" by one of our own planning commission members, and a variety of other vacant commercial lots.
  • The easily accessible country roads I used to ride my bike on are now filled with subdivisions, some successful, and some less so (see Coldwater Creek, Parkside and others).
  • The drive to "Herman C." -- once an easy bike ride or quick drive, now features no fewer than three large vacant "field hoods" of empty lots. Even worse, when these neighborhoods fill up, the county has promised to four-lane Hog Mountain Road to Herman C. Michael Park -- just what local residents want.
I would guess my former neighbors are not thrilled about these changes. All told, within a one mile radius of Northwest Woods, I would guess at least 1,000 lots have been rezoned and approved (mostly unbuilt), strip shopping centers have proliferated, and they have seen few if any benefits. I doubt anyone in Northwest Woods had any idea that Hog Mountain Road was being eyed as a growth corridor -- it just happened overnight.

It's a shame, because the corridor between Butler's Crossroads and Herman C. Michael Park should have been a showcase for Oconee County. It features one of the state's top high schools with a wonderful architectural design, several architecturally significant churches, pastoral land owned by UGA, and our county civic center. Instead, with poor planning, we have turned that stretch of road into our own little slice of Snellville. The scary thing is that it may be worse when it is built out.

The Mars Hill corridor is currently a crowded -- but stable -- two lane road right now. When it is four-laned, Northwest Woods will be surrounded by traffic, by more commercial development, and more change. Perhaps all of our BOC members new and old would benefit from a stroll around my old neighborhood. A talk with the residents of Sherwood Drive, Robin Hood Road, Kings Court, and Colliers Creek Road might make for some interesting conversation, and offer a pretty good picture of what many residents in Oconee think about our community right now.

Bottom line: if we're going to grow the "north end" of the county, lets say where that is and what it is going to be. Landscaping requirements should be enforced. Growth corridors announced and planned. Homes and buildings should face the street. Medians should be grassed and treed. Commercial architecture should be consistent. Careful planning and some of these steps can enhance property values of existing neighborhoods and make sure Oconee's great old neighborhoods stay that way.

So, current and former NWW residents .... what do you recall about our neighborhood? What were your fondest memories? And what do you think about what is happening around it now?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Election Recap and Analysis

Wow. A very interesting night. First, a few overarching thoughts and then we'll take a look at the BOC races individually. This is my first attempt at post-election blog punditry, so take it for what it's worth.

  • First and foremost, congrats to all who took time to throw their hats into the ring for elected office. I applaud everyone with the courage and conviction to put their name on the line and take the time to campaign, and if elected, to serve. This is what makes our country great. Tonight likely marked the end of the road for long-time Oconee Commissioner Don Norris, who has served our county for many years. Thanks Don for your years of service.
  • Voters are not thrilled with what is happening in Oconee County. The candidates most closely identified with the status quo lost or were challenged most strongly.
  • With Norris losing, the often narrow 3-2 balance on many Oconee County BOC votes may have shifted. Chuck Horton and Margaret Hale, often on the losing ends of 3-2 votes and perceived as being the most moderate of the Oconee Commission members on a number of issues, won by wide margins against well-financed opposition.
  • I am suprised that Paul Broun defeated Barry Fleming by such a large margin. Having a congressman from our county is always a positive, so this is good news for Oconee and a strong endorsement of Paul Broun's maverick approach rather than Barry's more typical political style.
  • Bill Cowsert won Oconee by a bit more than I expected; this is great news. Kudos to Tommy Malcom for a strong, well run campaign.
  • Alcohol was probably a factor in the Oconee races, but not the deciding factor. Jim Luke and Melvin Davis won re-election despite supporting and pushing it through. Don Norris lost after supporting it.
  • The board of election races played out largely as expected. While Ashley Hood worked incredibly hard, it is tough to overcome the "brand exposure" Kim Argo received with years of teaching in the Oconee County school system. Most of us who went through Oconee Schools in the 80s or 90s certainly remember Mrs. Argo. Bottom line: we will have a strong, diverse board to choose our next superintendent.
  • New media has made its mark in Oconee. It is obvious that online versions of traditional media, various activist blogs and e-mail lists in the community are educating voters and helping them turn out. Whether it is AVOC, Oconee County Observations, Oconee Democrat, The Oconee Enterprise, The OnlineAthens Blogs, The Oconee Leader, Small Town Politics, or even archived audio on WGAU, there is much more information readily available to the average voter than there was four years ago as journalists and activists alike dive deep into the records and background of candidates. There is also much more discussion around the issues online. This has been a trend at a national and regional level for several election cycles now and has finally trickled down to Oconee. This is a double edged sword locally just as it is nationally -- inaccurate, incomplete or unvetted information is much more likely to be posted on these "new media" sites than traditional media, which presents challenges to candidates.

Individual Races

  • The Chairman's race was much closer than many -- including myself -- expected. Despite having significantly less funds and visibility in the community than Melvin Davis, Sarah Bell came within 100 votes of being elected. I was stunned when the Civic Center precinct, whose voters technically should be among the largest beneficiaries of recent county efforts (the new park, announced Mars Hill Road expansion, etc.) voted for Bell by more than 100 votes. Maybe the geography of this district has changed in recent years, but it used to be a solid "pro-growth" precinct. However, this district also now includes the old Briarwood Baptist Church district, and Briarwood has always been known for its opposition to alcohol. If many Briarwood members live in this district, this could have been a factor.
  • One of Chairman Davis' closest allies, Don Norris, drew strong opposition in John Daniell. Norris was closely identified with embracing rapid, suburban-style growth and also most supportive of the county's current form of government. He also floated the idea of moving the courthouse out of Watkinsville, upsetting many of the electorate, and was faced with conflict of interest allegations from a citizens group. He was defeated after years of active service on the board. In the end, there were probably just too many issues lined up against Don for him to win this time.
  • Incumbents Chuck Horton and Margaret Hale -- widely perceived as more moderate in their growth approaches and seeking a more collaborative approach in local government -- won despite facing strong challengers. This despite both of the challengers receiving laudatory editorial coverage in the county's largest newspaper and the support of many in the Republican party establishment. The fact that Mike Maxey did not run closer to Horton, despite his large expenditures and extensive advertising, indicates that a majority of citizens value Horton's experience and balanced, objective approach to growth issues. I do hope Mike will run again in the future -- he had a strong platform and a lot to offer.
  • Incumbent Jim Luke, who has been independent on a number of issues and our representative in the regional reservoir efforts, won over tough challenger Johnny Pritchett. Jim has a strong base of support in North Oconee, but perhaps more critically, has been responsive to citizens, is respected by other regional government leaders, and clearly articulates his own reasons for his decisions based on research and experience.

Overall, Oconee is left with an experienced board of commissioners with a balance that probably accurately reflects the overall mood of the community. Lets hope that the next four years will be among our most successful ever as we deal with the local and macro-economic challenges that are coming our way. Oconee is still an incredible place to live, with wonderful communities, cultural resources, civic pride, parks, homes, greenspace, schools, and most importantly -- great people. There is work to be done, but by pulling together we can certainly keep it that way!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Greenspace News

If you've ever been atop certain North Carolina mountains or hiking on the Appalachian Trail, you appreciate the unique beauty of "balds," grassy plains atop some of the Eastern U.S.'s highest peaks. There is nothing more incredible after a day of hiking than reaching the top of a mountain and having an unobstructed view for miles and a grassy place to sit down and absorb the view. While it is certainly off topic from my usual postings, this approach to preserving these unusual "greenspaces" certainly is unique. My mother was born and raised about 30 minutes from "The Roan" near Bakersville, NC and this Spring our family visited the Roan High Bald on a spectacular spring day.

In what is perhaps more relevant greenspace news, Jim Langford has launched his "Million Mile Greenway" effort, and Maria Saporta covers it in today's AJC. This is a great idea that hopefully will take root in Oconee. While Greenways are established in Athens and other larger cities, many smaller communities lack the tools and resources to make them happen. Hopefully Jim and his team will be able to focus on rapidly growing Northeast Georgia as they move forward.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Upcoming Elections

In case you've missed the signs, local election season is here, with voting this Tuesday. This year's elections are pivotal for Oconee County. Several key issues are on the table that need to be addressed and handled carefully. These include water resources, land planning, overall growth, economic development, cooperation among governments, and more.

In general, it is my hope that on the county level, more resources and thought will be given to careful land planning and zoning and stronger, more open interaction and cooperation with other government bodies (BOE and cities). With the alcohol vote, Mars Hill widening and the down economy, this will be more important than ever. Given the dependence of our economy on construction, the logical temptation at the county level will be to approve anything that comes through the door, regardless of quality.

I will make one other comment -- several incumbent commissioners have made strong comments about the "sustainable" growth rate in Oconee in an attempt to offset the impression most Oconee residents have of rampant growth. Those commissioners conveniently focus on population growth rather than the votes they made that entitled several thousand more lots in our community than are currently built out. Had the economy not tanked, this "3-5%" growth rate would be much higher -- we would have trailers at our schools and roads that would be much too crowded for our infrastructure. Keep this in mind as you consider their claims.

At any rate, there are several seats that are of critical importance; while I won't offer a full slate of endorsements, I hope you will carefully consider the following positions along with all the others.

Oconee County Board of Commissioners

Post 1: Tough call. Johnny Pritchett is a good man and has been a good mayor in Bishop (he served on the BOC prior to 2004) and will serve the county well if elected. But Jim Luke, as a business owner, is a strong, independent representative for Oconee County and will get my vote.

Post 4: It is truly unfortunate that Mike Maxey chose to run against Chuck Horton. Had Maxey run against any other commissioner, he likely would have earned my vote. Mike is smart, independent, ethical, honest, a business owner and not afraid to think outside the box, and his platform reflects it. Unfortunately, he has chosen to run against Horton, a commissioner who already offers many of these very qualities on the BOC. In fact, Chuck's thoughtful votes on land use and development and his familiarity with other local governments are the true difference in this election between he and Maxey -- both have a record (Maxey from the planning commission, Horton from the BOC) and it is clear which is more in tune with the desire of most Oconee residents to have a managed, balanced approach to growth.

Despite Mike's thoughtful platform (note to other candidates -- you would do well to offer the same degree of thought as Mike does on his website in future elections), his required fealty to the "growth" industry concerns me. Chuck has shown considerable interest in Oconee County's municipalities -- he is the only candidate or BOC member to make a visit in the last 4 years outside the campaign season to a Watkinsville city council meeting. He also served as chair of the Board of Education in the 1990s and did an admirable job. His familiarity with the challenges facing municipal governments and our schools gives him strong insights that are needed on the BOC. It is my hope that Chuck will retain his seat on the BOC.

Post 3: Aside from one vote in favor of a large subdivision alongside the former Green Hills Country Club, Margaret Hale has been a strong supporter of common-sense growth in Oconee and a thoughtful approach to building infrastructure and development. Her opponent, Esther Porter, like Maxey, is beholden to the development industry by virtue of her business and in my interaction with her showed little knowledge of broader county issues.

Oconee County BOE

Post 4:
Chuck Toney is an experienced communicator, which is a critical skill in today's education arena. He is running against a qualified opponent in Mike Hunter. Chuck has been involved with the schools in a number of capacities for years, is the son of a high school principal, and will get my vote.

Post 2: Mack Guest is a client and friend. He is also perhaps one of the most qualified BOE members we have ever had. Mack has run and served on the boards of organizations large and small, and his understanding of what it means to be a board member (how to hire qualified staff, set policy, and let them run things) along with his knowledge of logistics, transportation, and cost savings from running his own transportation and logistics company is a great skill set. A vote for Mack is a no-brainer. This incident reinforces that point.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Oconee Veterans Memorial Dedication

For the past 16 years, I have spent my July 4 mornings running the Peachtree Road Race. Most years afterwards would then involve either hosting or attending cookouts in Atlanta with friends from Oconee, Berry, and the Atlanta Track Club. A combination of family situations, injuries, and illnesses worked together to cancel those plans this year. To say the least it was certainly a little strange to watch the race on TV this morning after all those years of making the 6.2 mile trek down Peachtree.

But it was a great year to be in Watkinsville on the Fourth. First thing this morning my dad, mom and I went to the dedication ceremony for the new Oconee Veterans Memorial. Dad served in Vietnam, and although he rarely mentions it, I wanted him to be among those honored this Independence Day.

There was a large turnout of veterans, their families, and others on a warm summer morning. The black marble memorial and its manicured surroundings have turned out spectacularly. The dedication ceremony was first class, with moving prayers, speeches, and music honoring the veterans still with us and remembering those who have died for their country. The ceremony was certainly a poignant reminder of the sacrifices that have been made to maintain the way of life that we so often take for granted today.

Regardless of the controversy surrounding its initial conception and fundraising efforts, it is obvious that when the business and government leaders of Oconee County put their hearts into something, it is done first class. Kudos to the Oconee Veterans Memorial Foundation board, the Oconee County Government, and Mike Maxey and Mike Power for their contributions of materials and labor from their personal businesses. I could kick myself for not taking my camera, but I'm sure there will be plenty of photos in tomorrow's Athens Banner-Herald.

Afterwards, Susan, Phoebe, Aaron and I also visited downtown Watkinsville for further festivities, and there was a good crowd enjoying the music, food, and various other forms of entertainment. While I missed running Peachtree and catching up with all of our friends, I sure don't miss being sore and I don't think I could have enjoyed a better, more relaxing 4th of July.

That said, I think one year off is enough. Time to get ready for Peachtree '09.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Political and Transportation News

Some local political and transportation news you shouldn't miss:

1) Paul Broun is claiming that he has saved the USDA's Phil Campbell Agricultural Research Center in Watkinsville. I really hope this is the case, as the center and the greenspace it provides is great for the community. I have not heard positive reports about this from anyone other than Rep. Broun.

2) Senator Bill Cowsert has been named one of Governor Perdue's floor leaders in the Senate. As I said in my earlier post, the level of promise and potential Cowsert has -- and the respect he gets from his colleagues -- make him the easy choice in the upcoming primary vote. While I don't always agree with the Governor and his laid back approach to governing, this is a significant assignment for Sen. Cowsert. Athens paper covers it here.

3) Well, nobody has officially notified the city of Watkinsville (despite our financial participation in the project), but the Oconee Enterprise is reporting that the Mars Hill widening project is moving forward. I have decidedly mixed emotions about this effort. Frankly, I have zero interest in seeing the whole corridor "opened up to commercial development" as the article says. Just what we need: another sprawling route full of strip malls, poorly planned commercial (see the recent Auto Zone and attendant shopping area at Butler's Crossroads for a good example of this) and the occasional subdivision entrance. While the road needs some improvements, the track record of GDOT road expansions ever being viable routes for cyclists and pedestrians (and for having any redeeming aesthetic value) is not good. We have been working hard to make sure the stretch in the Watkinsville city limits is designed and handled in a quality way that respects the existing business and institutions in the community while addressing traffic needs.

Bottom line, if there is one thing Oconee needs, it is stronger aesthetic planning guides governing the appearance of commercial and office buildings on commercial corridors. Extensive landscaping, buffers, brick buildings, hidden or buried power lines, generous sidewalks, street trees, landscaped (rather than concrete) medians should all be the norm for any road widenings. Lets hope "the new" Mars Hill includes these features.