Friday, December 11, 2009
Monday, November 30, 2009
While the President may claim that your federal taxes will not go up if the bill passes, you can bet your state ones will. A $2.4 billion unfunded mandate on top of an already stressed-to-the-breaking-point state budget will be a back breaker.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
- Like Tom Friedman, I too am a clean energy hawk. Read his column today and you'll wonder why our national chambers of commerce are so opposed to plans to make America less dependent on foreign oil. As I told the good folks at Beyond The Trestle, if Republicans could come up with any sort of responsible, environmental platform without it getting co-opted by big business, they would be able to grab a huge new demographic.
- Atlanta has captured another high-profile telecom company -- the North American HQ of consolidating Sony Ericsson. Sony is known for its high profile sports sponsorships (see photo) and slick technology (see other photo). Word on the street is that even state officials were surprised by the announcement, which explains why no chambers of commerce or politicians had press conferences scheduled, quotes ready, or any data on the number of jobs coming to Atlanta or where they would be located. If the company moves to Gwinnett, it could be a positive for our region. With the opening of the Kia Plant in West Point and the moves of NCR and Sony Ericsson in the second half of 2009, this has turned out to be a solid year for Georgia's Department of Economic Development. It also highlights our own area's continued lack of focus and success in larger economic development efforts. Not that we would have a chance at a Sony Ericsson, but the point is that there are opportunities in recessions. Our opportunity is to fix our economic development infrastructure. I hope our leaders seize that opportunity.
- Mayor Jeff Thomas has resigned in High Shoals. I only met Jeff a few times at political forums, and he seemed like a nice guy. But 18 years is a long time to serve anywhere. I hope this changing community can find some unity and move forward. With SPLOST funds come some opportunity to move forward on key initiatives. The best chronicle of all things High Shoals can be found at Councilman Steve Holzman's blog.
- Peggy Noonan, as always, offers wisdom. I hope the President listens.
- Those of you who want some free communications advice should be sure to read this column from Myra Blackmon. Some wisdom there.
- State Rep. Doug McKillip and Spencer Frye deserve a lot of credit for pushing this idea to the forefront. It is something I first discussed with a group during Annette Nelson's failed campaign for Athens-Clarke Commission years ago, but no one really ever wrapped their arms around it. Finding a way to stop the erosion of aging apartments in Athens makes a lot of sense, and ReNew Athens seems to be a sound approach, especially with the expertise of Frye and Habitat for Humanity at the table.
- I'm sorry, but the Barrow County Facebook teacher controversy is overwrought and unnecessary. They need to apologize, rehire the teacher, and allow this thing to disappear. See here and here for updates and interesting comments -- one likely theory is that the initial complaint e-mail was sent by a teacher, not a parent, and delivered from an anonymous e-mail address. Companies and organizations need to be sure their HR and marketing leaders understand social media before they start legislating it.
- The new mayor of Hartwell got arrested for DUI. Not the best way to start.
- One of the most demagogued pieces of health care reform has become end-of-life counseling. It's one of the few parts I like. Having tough conversations before you are on the operating table just makes sense. A massive amount of our overall health care costs are spent in the last 2-3 years of life. If this isn't what you want, you should have the opportunity to talk with your doctor and make that decision. A democrat tells the story rather effectively here.
- Lee Becker provides an update on the courthouse situation and the new QuikTrip planned for the University Parkway/Oconee Connector intersection.
- A couple of great books I have had the pleasure of reading lately if anyone is looking for some good non-fiction: Born to Run, The Wild Trees, and The Wise Men.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Oconee County has its share of unique events, but we can always use a few more. I was fortunate to be a participant in one on Saturday that hopefully will become an annual tradition: the Bishop Backyard Hoo-Hah Half Marathon hosted by Amy and Bob Parrish.
I think the Hoo Hah is actually a first of sorts for Oconee. While we have had a few trail half marathons, to my knowledge we haven’t had a half marathon road race in Oconee. Fortunately for Oconee, Amy decided that instead of traveling to Atlanta for one the more well known half marathons (including the up coming Thanksgiving Day half), she and some family and friends would host their own.
Participants met at Amy’s house on New High Shoals road, quickly registered and traveled (via the trailer pictured) to the race start at the intersection of New High Shoals and Union Church Road. The route was scenic and flat – traversing country roads through Bishop, along Colham Ferry Road and back to Amy’s house. The energy of the 20+ participants was fantastic, as was the support crew, which provided water and encouragement all along the course.
The energy level was appropriate, since the definition Amy gave us for Hoo Hah was “an uproarious commotion.” While it’s hard to be uproarious in the middle of a 13 mile run, we all did our best. Finishers were greeted by enthusiastic young cheerleaders and seasoned volunteers, and everyone got to break the finish line tape. First prize was a pack of country ham, grits, and a coffee mug. First male finisher was Michael Williams of WOW Boot Camp fame; top female was Julie Osborne followed by former UGA all-american runner Erin Jones Repac.
An added bonus: the early start allowed everyone to enjoy beautiful weather and get back home without losing the entire day, as often happens for traditional long road races. Here’s to another Hoo Hah next year!!!!
Michael Williams 1:32:25
Brian Brodrick 1:32:26
Julie Osborne 1:51:20
Erin Repac 1:57:25
Tia Chandler 1:58:42
Jack Murray 2:00:42
Teena Wilhelm 2:05:06
David Ducan 2:08:14
Wade Shields 2:08:15
Melissa Pearson 2:09:33
Teresa Guthrie 2:12:11
Elizabeth Patrick 2:12:11
Tammy Gilland 2:12:11
Mary Carroll Murray 2:22:58
Holly Fowler 2:22:58
Deborah Dietzler 2:42:22
Thursday, November 12, 2009
--Unemployment: Lotta publicity and talk going on about high rates of unemployment. Check out this interactive chart that the New York Times has put together. The secret to having a job -- a college education. Not a huge surprise, but this really throws it into relief, as does research by one of my company's clients, the Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education. Of course, the chart doesn't account for "underemployment," which is a common problem in Athens, where your barista might have more degrees (but less ambition) than you.
--City Biz: Had a great city council meeting last night. One of the highlights was approving a new single family home on a vacant lot on South Main Street. An historic home on that lot was demolished several years ago without council approval, and the lot, while pretty, had sat vacant since. It was exciting to see a new family make a big investment on one of downtown Watkinsville's most historic corridors. We also approved several new business licenses for small businesses, approved one alcohol license, and tabled another. A work day is also planned by the Daughters of the American Revolution at the Watkinsville Cemetery. The DAR is also planning to begin the application process to get the cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places.
--Bulldawg Illustrated has produced a great video about Oconee County resident Brook Whitmire, the voice of the Bulldogs in Sanford Stadium.
--Oconee County has a proud tradition in distance running. One of the bedrocks of that tradition, Coach Gwen Peck, will attend her last cross country team banquet tonight at OCHS. Coach Peck has coached two state championship teams and done a wonderful job at Oconee through the years, nurturing runners great, good and average alike and teaching them lessons of character and compassion. One of her best athletes is featured in this week's Oconee Enterprise. A coach's legacy is often measured by much more than what happens on the field, and Coach Peck's will continue for many years to come with the successful student athletes she inspired, cajoled, and convinced to shine for Oconee.
--This weekend looks to be beautiful. If you're into landscaping (like I am), fall is the time for planting, especially for trees and shrubs. Water has been plentiful, and the soil is soft. Great plants are to be had at any number of our locally owned retail nurseries. Check them out -- some of my favorites are Land Arts (Monroe), Goodness Grows (Lexington), Outdoor Specialty (Watkinsville), Thyme after Thyme (Winterville), Thomas Orchard (Watkinsville), and Cofer's (Athens)!
--The Athens Symphony will perform its Winter Concert this Sunday at 4 p.m. The Symphony is one of the region's gems. Tickets are free and still available at the Classic Center. Information here and here. Full disclosure: my company does pro-bono work promoting the Symphony.
--Big congrats to Dr. Debra Harden and Mrs. Jean Bell for being inducted into the Oconee County school system hall of fame. I didn't know Mrs. Bell as an educator, but Dr. Harden was certainly a transformative presence for our schools in the early to late 1990s, and really helped establish Oconee's reputation for educational excellence.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Two of the ideas he focuses on are Community Improvement Districts and Tax Allocation Districts. While the tools have different uses (and can be used in tandem at times, although not always), each essentially allows political and private sector leaders to find new revenue streams to jump start infrastructure and planning improvements in designated districts. CIDs rely on a voluntary levy on current property owners; TADs allow for bonds to be issued to install infrastructure that will allow a blighted or under-developed area to be redeveloped. Those bonds are then repaid with the increased tax revenues as the designated area's property tax base increases.
My company works with several CIDs and has helped TAD supported projects in Atlanta, so I am a big supporter these ideas in general. For whatever reasons, local economic development leadership has not seen fit to remove this tool from the economic development toolbox in the Classic City.
Johnathan does a good job of articulating the potential positives: leveraging private funds to get significant public dollars, new streetscapes, public safety improvements, rising property values, potential transit, infrastructure investment, coordinated planning, etc.
Two take aways from the article:
1) One of the commenters says that "those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it." He or she is exactly right. In Oconee, we have the opportunity to learn from Atlanta Highway (and countless other examples in Georgia) and not repeat those mistakes. We can and should require higher-quality buildings, require long lasting trees, develop a different type of street grid that accomodates uses besides big boxes, etc. in our retail zones. Otherwise, as our retail infrastructure expands, the older properties will decay much sooner than we realize.
2) As you can tell by the comments in the article, the most visceral Athens and anti-Athens folks want nothing to change. This is the danger of listening to these types of feedback channels. The fact is, Athens -- rightly or wrongly -- created the mess that is Atlanta Highway. The question is 1) why is that area consistenly ignored by the leadership in Athens (too big a problem to tackle? no voters in the commercial districts?) and 2) what can be done to improve it. A CID would activate the private sector to work on solutions, as opposed to relying on government.
CIDs have been proven as good approaches (assuming you define improving run down retail and commercial areas as good). However, Athens is a different animal. For one thing, I'm not sure that Athens political classes will be comfortable allowing self taxing and relinquishing direct control of the wide ranging improvements a CID can make.
I'm also not sure there is the same type of private sector leadership on the Atlanta Highway corridor that drives and motivates the most successful CIDs in Atlanta, which are found in Buckhead, the Cumberland District, Midtown Alliance, North Fulton, and the Perimeter area.
However, these hurdles are easily overcome if local and regional leadership decides to make "fixing" Atlanta Highway a priority, and embracing an area that is of vital importance to the future of the region.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Yes, the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile will be in greater Watkinsville at the Athens Area Humane Society tomorrow. The Humane Society recently moved to Oconee from Athens-Clarke to reduce costs and in the wake of a split with the ACC government over their desire to become a no-kill shelter. Details are below; you can also keep up with the Wienermobile at its blog and via twitter at @wienermobile.
>Please join us THIS Thursday, November 5th from 10 AM - 4 PM, and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. There will be prizes, giveaways, adoptions, games, AAHS merchandise for sale, and of course, HOT DOGS!!!
Show your support, visit the animals, and tour the Wienermobile at the
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
- The Oconee County Board of Commissioners will once again discuss regional economic development tonight at 6 p.m. at the Oconee County courthouse in advance of their regular meeting. Most business leaders, chambers of commerce, business writers, and state economic development officials are in favor of the regional approach, and wonder why we haven't done it already. But there are several Oconee County commissioners and some long time residents with fears of Athens who can't get comfortable with the concept, and it could cost us jobs in the future. (Full disclosure: I was a part of the group that visited regions around the state to see how they structure their economic development plans and assisted with the drafting of the regional economic development plan, so you know where my loyalties lie). Coverage found here, here, here, here and here. Wendell Dawson counsels caution here. Many in Oconee want "more time" to study the proposal, which has been discussed for 18 months and been on the table for more than nine months now. This desire for more talking is a a good segue to our next point....
- .... which is a great blog post from Blake on the parking deck in Athens. It is indeed a tradition, not just in Athens, to have citizens weigh in at the last minute on a community changing project after ignoring it for years. People, please weigh in early on things.
- Election day in High Shoals. Check out Small Town Politics for the scoop.
- Holly Ward is taking on Keith Heard for the district 114 seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. I have met with Holly and really like her. She has some strong ideas and sending someone to the Gold Dome with experience in education would be good for Athens. However, I'm not sure firing a shot across the bow of Georgia Power is the wisest way to kick off a campaign, even for a Democrat in Athens.
- Interesting top 10 list on Georgia's transportation future from Benita Dodd at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. I agree with much of the piece (especially the need to consider technology, variable tolling and freight), except the author's knee jerk opposition to transit. While I agree that the proposed Lovejoy line will be a disastrous waste of funds, the Brain Train concept -- with destinations at both ends and a spine along growing, populated areas -- will succeed for all the opposite reasons and makes a lot of sense.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Today was a little different. For those who don't know, I have been focusing on exercising and diet for the past few months in an effort to shed a few pounds. So far, so good. Early last week, I decided I wanted to see how things were progressing and I thought the 3rd annual Toys for Tots half marathon on trails at Heritage Park in Farmington might be a good barometer, and a good way to stretch out my long run by a few more miles. Susan graciously agreed to let me mess with our routine and give it a try, so at 10 a.m. this morning I lined up with about 80 other runners for a 13.1 mile run through the woods.
Heritage Park is one of Oconee County's best kept secrets, and that is a shame. I think a lot of people think of it as the place where the giant Easter Egg hunt is rather than a park for year-round use. Perhaps that is the nature of a park that largely involves passive uses, but I wish more people would get out to the woods of Heritage. Heritage features more than eight miles of heavily wooded, undulating terrain criss-crossed by single track trails suitable for running, hiking, or mountain biking. The trails border creeks, touch the Apalachee River, and pass by old homesites. Today, the park was stunning -- creeks were bubbling, leaves floated from trees like red and yellow confetti, and the temperatures were perfect.
As I ran along those trails today, I wondered again why more Republicans don't embrace the ethos of Teddy Roosevelt and become more aggressive about establishing parks -- particularly passive areas -- in their platforms and when elected to office. I can't tell you how many Republicans I know who are pretty doggone green -- they just disagree with pretty much everything else about the Democratic platform. Personally, I find Republican pandering to corporations on environmental issues the thing that frustrates me the most about my own party.
On a local level, three of Melvin Davis' lasting legacies in Oconee County will be the improvements to Heritage Park that have occurred during his tenure, the growth and professionalism of Oconee Parks and Recreation Department, and the establishment of Veterans Park along Hog Mountain Road. In Watkinsville, we're planning $250,000 worth of improvements to Harris Shoals Park. Currently, Watkinsville and Oconee County are jointy funding, along with the Department of Community Affairs, a greenway and trail planning study that could provide a road map for future trail development in our communties. Wouldn't it be great to connect our parks and green spaces with a network of pedestrian and bike pathways?
Anyway, back to the present. It was a beautiful day for running, and athletes from across Georgia were in Oconee County to try out our trails. Among them were 10-15 Marines, and other troops were stationed along the course offering encouragement, handing out water, and providing direction. It felt a little weird to watch men who put their lives on the line for our country giving back by volunteering at a small road race, but their service today and their commitment to the Toys for Tots program is a great example of the good our troops do here at home.
I managed to run the distance -- the longest I have run by 25 minutes -- but as I write, my legs feel like they have been beaten by a baseball bat. Repeatedly. Calves and Quads. Hammys and hips. Achilles and illiotibial. I'll be limping tomorrow.
But whether you want to ride, hike, walk or run, fall is the perfect time to get out and try out these great trails in Oconee County. Heritage is located on 441 South about 10 minutes from Watkinsville -- give it a try!
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Growing up in Northwest Woods, I didn't really think about whether Oconee County was a safe place to ride a bike or not. Our bikes took us to the NWW pool, or to the tennis courts at Herman C. Michael, or up to Butler's Crossroads (then known as the "Four Way Stop" to most of us) for a drink. On some summer mornings, I just got up, got on my bike, and took off, gradually extending the radius from home as I got older (and as my mom worried less about my riding).
My teenage journeys on my 12 speed Raleigh (sans helmet, of course) with tennis racket grip on the handlebars eventually took me to exotic locales like downtown Watkinsville, or down Union Church Road to Bishop, or down the "big hill" one of my high school teammates nicknamed the "speed bump" on New High Shoals Road, past Paradise Falls in New High Shoals, and all the way to Bostwick. Pit stops at the Golden Pantry for Mountain Dew (this passed for a sports drink when I was a teen) were a must.
Now, 20 years later, I still enjoy riding the country roads of Oconee County. The traffic count has increased significantly, I don't stop for Mountain Dew, and I do wear a helmet, but it is just as much fun as ever.
So you can imagine how pleased I was to see the Oconee County Cycling Organization kick off last night with an hour long meeting at Jittery Joe's in Watkinsville. The organization's tentative mission is to encourage more cycling in Oconee and create an environment for safer cycling for those who prefer self powered, two wheeled forms of transportation for recreation or commuting.
About 20 citizens attended the meeting, as well as Brent Buice from BikeAthens, who provided background on their organization, tips for organizing, and advice on how to get off the ground. The attendees were a strong cross section of Oconee citizens, including residents of unincorporated Oconee, Farmington, Bogart, and Watkinsville. Most were recreational riders and commuters, with several who were relatively new to cycling. As an added bonus, no one wore spandex to the meeting!
Discussions centered around safety in general, fostering greater awareness of cyclists on key roads, potential changes on Simonton Bridge Road, future land use and its impact on cycling, and giving back to the community through education programs at schools, helmet donation programs, etc. The consensus among attendees was to keep the focus of the group on cycling rather than that of BikeAthens, which has evolved into an advocacy group on broader transportation issues.
At the end of the meeting, an interim board of seven was elected, with retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Richard McSpadden as chair. The board will spend the next 180 days developing by-laws, doing strategic planning, and establishing the organization as a 501(c)3 so it can be up and officially active by late spring.
I have high hopes that this group can be a positive and effective advocacy group for cycling issues in the community -- so far, it is a great example of citizen led participation and advocacy. If you'd like to get involved or want more information, click on the FaceBook page linked above or comment and I will get you more information or added to the listserv. As always, let me know your thoughts!
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
- Lee Becker has posted a good wrap up of last night's commission meeting. One item of critical news is that the regional economic development effort will be discussed from 6-7 p.m. at the commission's Nov. 3 meeting. Let's hope that John Daniell and Jim Luke can find a way to keep this moving and get an important initiative back on track (full disclosure: I was a member of the committee that put together the regional economic development recommendations, and am a big supporter of a regional approach).
- Hard to believe it has been 10 years since OCHS won its only state football title. While it was a magical year, it has unfairly changed the expectation levels for a program that has been mostly mediocre for the better part of its history. Maybe Tony Taylor and Tyson Browning can suit up again and help us take on Apalachee.
- Reminder that the Oconee County Cycling advocacy group is having its kick off meeting tonight at the Jittery Joe's in Watkinsville at 8:30.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Don was the dean of the Oconee County Commission when I joined the Watkinsville City Council in 2003. His long tenure allowed him to recall details and subtleties of past government agreements and zoning decisions. He was wise in the ways of government and people, and was as committed to our community as any local leader (both stories above chronicle his involvement in detail).
I didn't know him that well personally, but the thing I admired most about Don as a politician was his unswerving honesty. Whether it was going to be a popular position or not, he let you know where he stood. He didn't change his story or shade his opinions to accommodate those who might believe differently. Most importantly, he always had the community's best interests at heart. Don, we'll miss your smile, your attitude, and your service. Rest in peace.
Monday, October 26, 2009
- Overland Park, Kansas was my home for two days last week. I was there for the SSTI conference (hotel and conference center pictured), and learned a good deal about technology based economic development (TBED, for short) that can be applied to Athens-Clarke and Oconee. Hope to share some of those learnings, as well as my impressions of Overland Park and any other "lessons learned" that might apply to our region later this week.
- A new Oconee county cycling advocacy group is kicking off its activities with a meeting at 8:30 on Wednesday night at Jittery Joe's in Watkinsville. If you are passionate about cycling and live in Oconee, please try to join us. Details on the Facebook page.
- Lee Becker has a good analysis of the pickle Oconee County finds itself in on Hard Labor Creek reservoir on his blog. I have said all along that financing reservoirs based on future revenues is a folly with growth slowing and pressure to reduce water. We must find a new way to finance reservoirs, and it looks like necessity is finally forcing our government to do so.
- Tom Friedman has a great column that everyone who is passionate about education needs to read. His contention: that the U.S. needs to educate for innovation and creativity, as those are the skills tomorrow's workforce needs. An education and just "doing the job" won't be enough.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Our rail line has long term potential to be a great asset for our community. As rail/trail combo that would allow cyclists and joggers to travel from South Oconee to Athens, as a resource for our industrial area, as a potential commuter rail line (20-30 years from now) to Athens, etc.
For now, my kids enjoy watching when the train happens to come by. My wife Susan remembers the train running daily past the house when she visited her grandmother, and waving to it from the front porch. The only down side to having a quiet rail line are the old train cars that are stored on the tracks between Watkinsville and Bishop. Although some feature graffiti, they aren't exactly works of art.
Today the tracks are under a long term lease with Hartwell Railroad, which serves Southwire and the University of Georgia. However, if you could wave a magic wand, what would you do with the rail line?
On the Watkinsville front, we are getting ready to move forward on a number of SPLOST investments, including more than $250,000 of improvements at Harris Shoals Park. The big tickets items include stream bank restoration with native plants, new bathrooms, and a new young children's playground. Toby Smith has joined the council to fill the unexpired term of Joe Walter, who will become mayor in January with the retirement of Jim Luken. Four new businesses applied for licenses in the city this month, and First Friday was a big success once again, thanks to the energy of the Mayor and our merchants.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
But I ran across this video on Facebook, and had to share. For all of you who remember your first Nintendo and Super Mario Bros., you've got to watch it.
I still remember my introduction to Super Mario Brothers at the Claghorn's House in Northwest Woods. It was circa 1987, and we were still rocking the Intellivision at 1510 Robin Hood Road in Northwest Woods (yes, my parents went outside the box when it came to gaming). Shortly after Christmas, I got a call from my friend Joseph Claghorn about his new system, and went over to see what all the fuss was about. Atari 5200 this was not. It was a whole new world. I think I spent weeks finding excuses to visit Joseph's house and play Nintendo. While I left gaming behind years ago, but this performance brought back a whole lot of memories for me.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Pretty neat story out of UGA this week about caviar farming. So far, coverage has landed in the AJC and in The Wall Street Journal (scroll down once you click the link), mostly with a tailgate hook.
While a clever hook, I would imagine most of the uses won't be at high end tailgates. But that doesn't really matter. What is important is that this is another example of how the research enterprise at UGA produces a tremendous amount of ideas with economic and environmental value (full disclosure -- my company has done some project work for the UGA Research Foundation, which is part of this research enterprise, so I have more than a passing familiarity with what they do).
The sturgeon effort is a great example of a project that helps preserve a population of rare native species and provides a commercial product. Other products you may have heard about include a number of leading commercial trees pioneered by Tree Introductions of Oconee County and other types of shrubs and flowers, various types of turfgrass, Watkinsville's Electrostatic Spraying Systems, and many other commercial enterprises. Other UGA research enterprises focus on biotech, cancer research, and diverse areas of research in keeping with the University's broad focus.
For Oconee County and Northeast Georgia, these are also the types of companies and enterprises that have strong potential to spur innovation and create jobs in industries we haven't even thought about. As the Federal government ups its spending on higher education and research, we need to be sure our leaders understand its importance for our present and future economic well being, and fight for every last dollar that can come to UGA.
Monday, August 17, 2009
There has been some incredible action in Berlin (including some Athens connections in defending shot put champion Reese Hoffa [4th] and former resident Adam Nelson [5th]). But most importantly, I just had to share the video of this incredible run by Usain Bolt. He shaved the 100 meter world record by a full tenth of a second to 9.58 seconds. That would be like breaking the mile world record by 4-5 seconds. Pretty much unheard of.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
- The Atchley family, who reside in the historic green home on South Main Street, won the Beautiful Yard of the Month award. It is well deserved -- they have been landscaping and growing a beautiful garden in their driveway. This is one of the oldest homes in Watkinsville, originally built in the late 1700s or early 1800s, I think.
- Two-term councilman John Walsh tonight announced his official resignation as he has moved out of the city. The council appointed Christian Lake resident and former Realtor(R) Henry Norman to take his place. John served the city ably, and we look forward to putting Henry to work as well. Henry's background in public safety and real estate should bring a lot of strong and complimentary skills to the council. I have known Henry since going through Leadership Oconee in 2004 and can testify that he is a very strong leader and great thinker. He will fill the term through Dec. 31, although if elected in November to the post (he has declared his candidacy), he will continue on as a council member for a 2 year term. We are all excited to have a resident of Christian Lake -- our largest subdivision in the city -- on the council.
- We had a lengthy discussion of SPLOST priorities. Samantha Purcell and I provided recommendations on significant upgrades and improvements for Harris Shoals Park (including improvements of existing facilities, a new young children's playground, recycling bins, new restrooms, stream bank remediation, etc.) as well as funding allocated for Rocket Field and our newest park (along Barnett Shoals Road) at a later date. We will likely finalize these items at our next meeting and work through a delivery schedule.
- As I expected, the council unanimously opposed the four-laning of Simonton Bridge Road from the Oconee County line to 3rd street. There was discussion of what improvements may or may not be necessary (Kate McDaniel had suggestions as well), but the council was in agreement that the proposed MACORTS long range plan would not be good for the city. See yesterday's entry for more background on this and for details on how to offer your opinion on Simonton Bridge and other proposed future road improvements.
- We also kept the millage rate the same (city taxes will fall due to slightly lower property valuations), and adopted ordinances to deal with franchise fee issues and flood damage prevention.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I visited what appeared to be a sparsely attended public hearing tonight (three of eight attendees when I left at 6:10 were from the Watkinsville City Council) and came away underwhelmed. According to County Public Works Director Emil Beshara, MACORTS scaled back its plans to just what could be funded, resulting in lots of roads formerly slated to be widened (noticeably, 441 from Bishop to the county line and Hog Mountain Road to 78) off the list. A few notes from the meeting:
- According to the plan, Simonton Bridge is slated to be widened to four lanes from the River to 3rd Street in Watkinsville. It is likely that City Council will formally register its opposition to this approach tomorrow night at our monthly meeting and offer our own suggestions. Personally, I think widening Simonton Bridge beyond additional bike lanes and perhaps a center turn lane is a terrible idea and could jeopardize what is one of just a few scenic entries into Oconee County, and ruin one of the last good cycling routes in and out of Oconee County from Athens. And if Clarke County does not make commensurate improvements on their side of the river, the move makes even less sense. When I mentioned this to Emil, he stated that his (the county's) intention was to just widen and add turn lanes to Simonton Bridge (not four lanes!) and that this was not being done "for economic development purposes." Obviously, something was lost in communication to GDOT and MACORTS, as the plans clearly suggest four laning and adding turn lanes to the road.
- Union Church Road is slated to be four lanes from 53 to New High Shoals, despite none of the other roads around listed as being four-laned. This does not seem to make sense.
- Hog Mountain Road is slated for four lanes between 441 and Mars Hill. Speaking of Mars Hill, that project -- which will widen the road from University Parkway through Butler's Crossroads to Watkinsville -- is still on the list and likely to move ahead in the next few years.
- Plans are on the list for a 441 - 15 connector that would relieve truck traffic from downtown Watkinsville, an absolute positive. The only other potential new roads planned are near the extreme north end of the county near the commercial corridors along Daniell's Bridge, Jimmie Daniel, and Epps Bridge, which will no doubt be necessary as commercial grows in these areas.
- Emil did say that while 441 and other projects were not on the maps, they were in an "appendix" and could be revived at any time. I found this curious.
- Interestingly, Athens-Clarke is the only community that submitted any non-road items in the plan (commuter rail is mentioned towards the end of the plan where it was moved to the unfunded portion of the plan). While the friendly lady at the session told me it was inefficient to pursue federal funds for non-road projects, I find it odd that no sidewalks, pedestrian transportation, or bike paths are even being considered as part of the MACORTS plan in Madison or Oconee counties.
Friday, July 24, 2009
- The memorial service and reception in honor of E.H. Culpepper yesterday were tremendous. Judge Stephens, Matt Sligh, and others offered wonderful tributes to a wonderful man, and of course, ribs were served afterwards at the Classic Center. All that was missing was a baggie of "extras" to take home.
- The Select Sustainable Tree Trust is in the news again, this time in the AJC for its contribution to UGA. President Adams toured North Campus with the guys from the tree trust on Wednesday as they begin to plan for fall tree installations (pictured).
- For all you eagerly awaiting the results of the Watkinsville City Council Strategy Session, it was a day well spent. We made progress on planning and prioritizing SPLOST, received an update on a number of other items, and will be moving forward on preserving our historic homes in Watkinsville and further evaluation -- and hopefully implementation -- of curbside recycling. It was a great opportunity to have dialogue in a more informal setting about the issues and opportunities ahead for Watkinsville.
- Athens is planning to require all new commercial and residential rehab construction to be up to LEED standards. Costs are described as a "few percentage points," but those add up quickly in these times. I hope they have done their homework on this and have a meaningful dialogue with local developers and contractors. LEED can be great but pricey, depending on the standards required. In Watkinsville we evaluated this requirement as part of our land use planning overhaul, and opted against it until costs came down.
- Water take 1: Don't be fooled -- a judge's recent ruling against Georgia in its effort to secure water from Lake Lanier for Metro Atlanta could have fallout for our region. If Metro Atlanta's faucet is indeed shut off, the largest beneficiaries of future growth and its attendant challenges could be Georgia counties close to Atlanta outside of the Lanier Watershed. That includes Jackson, Barrow, Oconee, Athens-Clarke, and Morgan. Dan Chapman and Leon Stafford do a good job summarizing all the challenges (and a few opportunities) on the water issue in today's AJC. Either way, this is a time for leaders to take stock and perhaps think outside the box as we plan for the future.
- Water take 2: Speaking of those water negotiations, Georgia's continuing fight seems futile. And even worse, the napalm-oriented approach of several of our federal congressmen may come back to bite us, according to Georgia's two political Toms -- Crawford at Capitol Impact and Baxter at InsiderAdvantage. Registration is required at both links, but Voice of Moderation is not holding out much hope on this effort, which has kept entire teams of lawyers in business for decades now. My preference -- cut the best deal we can now and begin to plan smarter ways to grow, conserve, and store more water. My fear is that we will be under the gun come 2012. One telling excerpt: "Even at the congressional level, Georgia could be hampered by the hostility generated by several of its Republican House members – notably Tom Price, Paul Broun, Lynn Westmoreland and Phil Gingrey – who have engaged in verbal battles with the Democratic majority’s leadership. “They [the Democrats] hate them,” said a House aide familiar with the Georgia delegation. “They won’t do things for Georgia just because of those guys.”
- Watkinsville's own Tifosi Optics gets some love in a paper out west. If you don't have Tifosis and need sunglasses, be sure to try them out!
- Speaking of local businesses, we had a great lunch at Girasoles on Wednesday. All of you in Watkinsville, don't forget Chef Jose and his staff. Apparently, he has also opened a new outpost in Bostwick as well!
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
This region lost a true leader when E.H. Culpepper passed away this morning. After a long battle with cancer, in which his body may have flagged but his spirit never did, E.H. has finally gone on to a better place in the sky.
When Susan and I first returned to Athens and I was starting the local office of Jackson Spalding, E.H. was one of the first people I met. He helped introduce me to lots of local folks, educated me about regional politics, invited me to events in Athens and Atlanta, and gave me informal lessons on transportation, regionalism, and dreaming big. For nearly eight years, he was a tireless advocate for me personally and our company. I can't count the times he would stop by the office to give me an idea he was working on. I would write it up, flesh it out, and help him put together a meeting to carry it forward to the next step.
His ideas were often far ahead of what Georgia's politicians -- and at times citizens -- were willing to conceive, and that was part of his charm.
Commuter rail in Georgia? Why not! 441 as a leading tourism corridor? Absolutely -- in fact it already is. A rail anchored triangle between Gainesville, Athens, and Gwinnett? Makes sense. 316 as a Biotech corridor? It will happen, not a doubt. On campus commuter rail at UGA? UGA will buy that line eventually. A significant airport in Barrow County? Who could be opposed to that?
I wound up helping him with a tough campaign for State House a few years ago. He fought the good fight, but lost to a smart young politician in Doug McKillip. E.H. knew it would be tough to beat a Democrat in liberal minded Athens (he ran as an independent -- I just don't think there was a party for a train loving, government supporting, pro-business type like E.H.), but he walked miles speaking to voters and gathered petitions to just to make the ballot.
Perhaps his greatest strength in the time I knew him was his ability to bring people together. The wide ranging conversations might cover everything from nanotechnology to bicycling to recycling, and were often lubricated by heaping plates of E.H. and Eye's world famous BBQ. Those who joined those conversations benefited from what were easily the best ribs anywhere in Georgia, period. And even better, you often got to take home zip lock bags of the extras. At one point, I had ribs for lunch every day one week when E.H. stocked the office refrigerator with leftovers.
So tonight, it is my sincere hope that E.H. is looking down on us all with a smile on his face. Perhaps we can count on a little divine intervention to help us with some of the challenges E.H. foresaw years ago that our state and region have still not addressed when it comes to economic development, rail, and road transportation.
Either way, there will never be another Elijah H. Culpepper, but we can rest well knowing he has imparted these leadership lessons over BBQ to hundreds of Georgians: ignore county lines, reach out to others, build coalitions, and most importantly, don't be afraid to conceive of a big idea and then work tirelessly to make it happen.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
While he hasn't broken any laws, this sort of behavior isn't exactly normal. So if you visit local playgrounds, parks, etc. keep your eyes open and report him to the local authorities, who are monitoring him closely. Description of the individual is below:
He is a white male with no hair (shaven) and has a neatly trimmed reddish auburn
mustache and beard. He is driving a smaller red pickup truck with black and white checkered trim on his tailgate and has tons of bumper stickers in the cab window (it almost looks like a toy truck - like a lego truck). The tag is Virginia XVH 8157.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Sorry for the absence of blogging lately. Thought I would come back with a bang -- after being struck by all the "green" during a recent drive down Peachtree Street in Atlanta, I came home inspired.
As it turns out, there was a local connection between the trees I noticed on Peachtree and Oconee County, and I was lucky enough to get an op-ed on the topic in the AJC today. Even though the state's flagship paper doesn't deliver in these parts anymore, the story highlights one of Oconee County's top exports -- trees!
Look here for the story and click here and here for more on sustainable trees and an Oconee County company that is looking to educate the world about healthy trees.
Tree planting is an area where Oconee can learn from Atlanta. Sometimes we take our rural ambiance for granted, but in my opinion, Oconee and its municipalities could get much more aggressive about planting and requiring long-lived, sustainable trees throughout the community.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
As has been detailed elsewhere (here, here, and in a story only available to subscribers of the Oconee Enteprise), the city is considering loosening its beer and wine ordinance to allow limited package sales in convenience stores and perhaps future retail establishments. If you can't make the 5 p.m. meeting, visit Watkinsville's website and e-mail your opinion to the Mayor and council. Councilwoman Samantha Purcell and Councilman Joe Walter are members of the subcommittee working on this ordinance; other councilmembers will not be there due to open meetings laws.
Friday, April 17, 2009
At today's second round of the Athens Regional Foundation Classic, UGA alum Brendon Todd aced the 17th hole at Jennings Mill -- for the second day in a row. As far as we know, this is a first in professional golf. WNEG's Mark Edmonston captured today's hole-in-one on video.
The video is embedded below and national coverage is coming in droves (blogs, AP, ESPN, Bloomberg, PGA Tour). Keep an eye out for the video of local track Jennings Mill on local and national sports broadcasts and be sure to check out the tournament this weekend!
Caveat: My company, Jackson Spalding, proudly helps promote the ARFC!
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Monday, March 30, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
Earth Hour is this Saturday night. What is Earth Hour, you ask? It is a global effort to get everyone to turn off their lights for one hour, from 8:30-9:30 this Saturday night. Pretty neat idea.
Check it out, and maybe we can "turn out the lights" in Watkinsville for just a little while this weekend. I will try to remember and do my part. Check out the video below and consider doing yours. Maybe next year we can orchestrate a more organized effort to make this happen in our local cities.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The Georgia Department of Labor has released statistics showing that Oconee County has the state's lowest unemployment rate at 6.0%. The AJC also has an unemployment map and accompanying story out that is worth examining. Overall, Oconee and neighboring Athens-Clarke fare well, as they are among a handful of neighbor counties around the state with average unemployment below 8%. This is a glimmer of good news for our area and region.
As bad as the recession seems locally, the data shows that it is much worse elsewhere, particularly in Northwest Georgia, where carpet manufacturers are shutting down mills. Traditionally rural areas of the state where employment has always lagged are also severely impacted. Case in point are Dalton and Whitfield county, which recently had the dubious honor of having the nation's second highest unemployment rate. As you can imagine, they are not happy about it. Full statistics and more charts beyond what I have pulled are here; thanks to the DOL for making them so easy to find and understand.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
- Stem Cells: Former Perdue spokeswoman and native Athenian Heather Hedrick Teilhet speaks for thousands of Georgia families in her editorial in the AJC today regarding SB 169. I truly believe this stem cell bill -- even if it goes no further -- is unnecessary and has angered many conservative and pro-business Republicans. Just by getting this far, the bill has hurt our local and statewide economic development efforts amidst a recession. What a waste of time and energy.
- OC Party: Congrats to Watkinsville's Jay Hanley for being elected chair of the Oconee County Republican Party.
- Enough Already: Over at Tondee's Tavern, Oconee resident Johnathan McGinty articulates what I have been thinking for months -- enough already with the pessimism, state climatologists! While it hasn't been a banner year for rain, here in Northeast Georgia, the resevoirs and rivers are full. I'm not saying we're out of the woods, but our state officials need to understand that if all you do is talk continuously about how bad things are, people will quit listening (especially when we just got 3 inches of rain).
- Slippery Slope: Was surprised to see the Watkinsville alcohol issue get such prominent play in today's Oconee Enterprise (the story is not available online); ABH covers it here. If you read the OE article, it says I am opposed to retail beer and wine sales for philosophical reasons. I don't have a problem with alcohol, but here's my philosophy: there should be a good reason besides "everyone else is doing it" to change our ordinance. The situation in Watkinsville hasn't changed since we approved pouring licenses for beer and wine in restaurants, when we decided not to do retail sales. That was clearly a good decision as it helped our restaurants and enhanced our economic development prospects -- we had a good rationale for that decision. However, I don't think we should change our ordinance to "possibly" get a wine and cheese store or to save people a little gas when they want to buy beer. Frankly, the most likely immediate outcome is more gas stations, who will be the prime beneficiaries under the current ordinance. I have also suggested that if our goal is to get a gourmet food store, let's pass an ordinance for just that (I have provided a template for consideration), rather than one that accomodates all retail outlets. That said, a quick vote count indicates that the ordinance will pass with some amendments, and it is about as tightly constructed as one gets. I just don't see the need for it. And if we follow the line of the reasoning that "90% of the rest of the county has it, so why shouldn't we" on other issues, Watkinsville would be a very different place, wouldn't it?
- Transportation: Odds for meaningful transportation reform continue to dwindle as the House, Senate and Governor continue to play a parlor game with an issue that is critical to the future of Georgia. If you think this has bad consequences for Athens and Oconee, imagine the hand wringing in Atlanta, Savannah, and elsewhere.
- Republican Plans: Matt Towery has a nice piece on how the Republican party can become relevant again at Insider advantage. Unfortunately for us but probably fortunately for Towery's company, a subscription is required. An excerpt: "I recognize that this appears to be a simplistic set of proposals. They are, and for a reason. Simple bold concepts work. When people want change, and inevitably they do, they don't want halfway, watered-down reform. They vote for bold proposals and real change implemented as swiftly as possible." His ideas: bring back term limits. Get rid of the IRS. Eliminate federal agencies. And restore America as a manufacturing powerhouse. Towery is much better when he focuses on these types of issues rather than sniping over problems at the Georgia Dome, etc.
- Medicaid: Our local hospitals have gone to war at the legislature over medicaid reimbursement cuts recommended by the Governor, with a full scale e-mail and fax campaign that is rarely seen from Athens outside of environmental issues. The House has figured out a way to keep the money in by accurately applying the new FMAP match that is part of the stimulus funds. The Governor and senate budget writers aren't buying the change. Hundreds of local jobs would be lost in Athens if the Governor's version of the bill passes. Lots of detail here.
- Georgia Gets Railroaded: Shoutout in Flagpole for Voice of Moderation here. Thanks Ben. More detail on NC's intercity commuter rail program plans here. I'm green with envy.
- Those must be some good lobbyists: Speaking of SB 169, the author of the original bill plans to run for state insurance commissioner because lobbyists asked him to. Not the way to start a campaign, according to the ABH.
- It's a question of Priority: Charles Krauthammer gets to the heart of many Americans' growing unease with President Obama's plans and budget growth. They recognize energy independence is a problem. Healthcare is a problem. But are they the problems we should be dealing with right now? Did they cause our economic issues? Can we solve these in the middle of a recession? The least competent aspect of the new administration appears to be the Secretary of the Treasury. Not good. But can Republicans figure out an alternative besides the "wishing for failure" one being suggested by our esteemed talk radio hosts? Parts of the Obama platform have broad appeal -- energy independence, conservation, education investments, etc. -- others, much less so.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
While my son did enjoy the empty building and took the opportunity to show off his nascent football skills to the poll workers, it doesn't say much for voters in Oconee County to have such a small turnout. SPLOST will raise as much as $3 million for sewers, sidewalks, greenspace, playgrounds and public safety investments in the City of Watkinsville (and $37 million for the rest of the county).
Information (and some opinoions) can be found here, here, here, here, and here. The Chamber of Commerce has also weighed in in favor of SPLOST. As I have said before, it is a no-brainer.
Monday, March 16, 2009
I think it is interesting, at least. While the day-to-day operations of Hartsfield are generally well run, its approach to capital projects is often disastrous.
- Example 1: the planned International Terminal, which is sorely needed as passengers arriving in Atlanta from foreign destinations not only have to deplane but have to collect and re-check all luggage (even if you are not changing flights!), which is a tremendous inconveinience. This project has doubled in cost since its conception. Recently Delta requested $400 million in budget cuts to the project (as an added bonus, the project is now three years behind schedule).
- A new people mover to transport passengers to the rental car areas dubbed "CONRAC" has seen its budget spike by at least $30 million since inception as well.
- See also the infamous "new runway" built several years ago where the contractor who provided the dirt was convicted of corruption (he was allegedly "required" to raise $100,000 for then Mayor Bill Campbell's campaign as a condition for getting the bid).
- Until recent years, it was also always understood there was a certain level of corruption just below the surface at the airport, especially during the Maynard Jackson and Bill Campbell eras. Respected former Airport Manager Angela Gittens said essentially that as she left.
However, the real transportation asset that should be taken over by the state is MARTA. If there is one asset that needs new management, new capital, and new ideas, that is it. Limiting both our rail and air transportation assets -- which are of critical importance to the state's future economic health -- to the revenues and skill sets available in Atlanta and/or DeKalb counties, doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.