Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Here and There

  • A study released yesterday by the Knight Commission has stirred interest among the editorial writers at the mighty AJC (even though they no longer distribute their paper to Athens). Jmac at Beyond the Trestle does a great job of dismantling the criticism. My point: even if the UGA Athletic Association and high end college sports disappeared tomorrow at UGA, would it do anything to improve the situation at UGA in terms of academics, revenues, budget challenges, etc.? Absolutely not -- in fact, it might make them worse.
  • Both Oconee County Public Schools were named to the Newsweek honor roll. Great news for our school system.
  • The bear is still around.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Candidate Choices

With early voting becoming increasingly popular, it makes less and less sense to delay endorsements until just before the week of the election. So, Voice of Moderation will make its picks in the Oconee County Board of Education, Oconee County Board of Commission, House of Representatives, and Governor's race in the next few days.

Readers should know that I will disclose any existing or past relationships I have with any candidates at the end of each piece that I write. This is a relatively small town, and having grown up here, being in politics and growing a business I have had the opportunity to interact with many of the candidates on a personal, political, and/or professional level. I don't believe these interactions have clouded my judgment, but I feel like they should all be disclosed so readers can take them into account.

As you make your choices, I would encourage you to visit the candidate websites (I will link the ones I can find in the stories -- candidates, send me a note with your website and I will add or include it).

There are numerous BBQs and events coming up where you can meet the candidates (including one this Thursday for Mack Guest at his office in Watkinsville, one on Friday at Veteran's Park for Tammy Gilland, and one next week at Harris Shoals Park for Hank Huckaby), or feel free to call or e-mail them with your questions. This is the time to interact with candidates and get your questions answered. Look for the first post tomorrow.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Movement on 316?

If you drive 316, you understand the irony in this entry's headline.

However, after years of inactivity on improving Highway 316 -- the four lane, at-grade access road connecting Athens to I-85 in Gwinnett County -- some momentum may be building.

Today, the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority -- a four county partnership between Gwinnett, Barrow, Oconee and Athens-Clarke -- announced it had received a $50,000 planning grant to help plan the future of the road (members of the GBJDA board are pictured at left on a tour of a site in Alabama). Their press release follows.

The creation of a nearly 900 person strong Facebook group seeking to turn the road into a limited access highway in the wake of another tragic death on the road is also refocusing public pressure on politicians to improve the road.

And they are hearing it. Hank Huckaby, arguably the front runner for House Seat 113, has mentioned improving 316 in several campaign appearances. His predecessor, Rep. Bob Smith, fought efforts to turn the road into a toll road, but did support creating a tax allocation district along the road to help fund improvements (the idea never took off).

It is great to see movement on this issue. A limited access University Parkway is critical to our region -- the current at-grade crossings are unsafe and encourage retail and residential development, not the high quality commercial and industrial buildings our region needs. In my opinion, a limited toll option should not be off the table if we want to get this done, but this may be a political non-starter. Time will tell.

The reality is that Gwinnett has the resources and political horsepower to upgrade all of its intersections over time. The other counties on the corridor have much less in the way of resources and influence with the GDOT and in Washington (despite the fact that Athens can claim three natives currently serving in Congress!). For now, our options are limited, but by working together over time the road can be improved.

Politics aside, this is a great show of regional cooperation, which will be a must to get this road improved. My old friend E.H. Culpepper is no doubt smiling down on the GBJDA!



(Lawrenceville, Ga., June 11, 2010) – The U.S. Economic Development Administration has awarded the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority (GBJDA) a $50,000 short-term planning matching grant to conduct an economic development study that will assist in the creation and implementation of a vision, strategic plan, and short term and long term goals for the development of the 316 Corridor.

“The short-term planning grant from EDA will allow us to conduct an economic development study of the 316 Corridor to determine what resources we currently have available and how best to utilize them to create high-paying jobs for Gwinnett, Barrow, Oconee, and Athens-Clarke counties. The 55 mile Corridor is important to not only the northeast Innovation Crescent technology area, but to the state. We have the potential to develop as a significant logistics corridor linking a network that can provide world class support of life sciences and technology based research, information, and manufacturing,” said Charles Bannister, Chairman of the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority and the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners.” “The study is critical in creating a plan and process for setting development priorities and policy initiatives.”

As stated in the grant request prepared by Will Hearn of Site Dynamics, the objective of the study will be to record the best information on the 316 region and in particular the four counties that make up the Authority in order to understand the economic environment, compare the economic characteristics to other similar markets, and to develop a work plan that engages all parties resulting in technology-based economic development strategies.

A Request for Proposal will be distributed to potential study firms in late June. Study completion is targeted for fall 2010.

The twelve-member Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority includes the four counties of Athens-Clarke, Barrow, Gwinnett, and Oconee. The purpose of the Authority is to develop and promote trade, commerce, industry and employment opportunities for the 316 Corridor.

Description of photo attachment:
June 3, 2010 colleagues of the GBJDA participated in a familiarization visit to the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology located in the Cumming Technology Park in Huntsville, AL.
# # #

Friday, June 11, 2010

Watch Your Picnic Baskets -- Yogi is on the Loose!

Just heard from Watkinsville Police Chief Lee O'Dillon that we have a black bear visiting Watkinsville. It was spotted two days ago crossing 441 into Harris Shoals Park and has was seen again in the area last night. According to Chief O'Dillon, the DNR is advising us to leave the bear alone and to let it wander out of the area, but please be aware as you walk, run, cycle or drive that we may have a friend in the neighborhood until he moves on. After the Mountain Lion that was spotted last February and the recent rash of Alligator Snapping Turtle sightings, we are getting to be a regular Wild Kingdom. Some safety tips can be found here.

Update: The Oconee Enterprise has posted a story.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Innovation and Israel

Am posting two recent outstanding national columns everyone should read.

The first is directly relevant to our region. Readers of this blog will not be surprised that it is from Tom Friedman. The basic idea is that new jobs come not from the government or big companies, but from new and mid-sized companies focused on innovation. An excerpt:

That said, I think part of the business community’s complaint about Obama has merit. Although there are many “innovation” initiatives ongoing in this administration, they are not well coordinated or a top priority or championed by knowledgeable leadership. This administration is heavily staffed by academics, lawyers and political types. There is no senior person who has run a large company or built and sold globally a new innovative product. And that partly explains why this administration has been mostly interested in pushing taxes, social spending and regulation — not pushing trade expansion, competitiveness and new company formation. Innovation and competitiveness don’t seem to float Obama’s boat. He could use a buoyant growth strategy.
Retiring State Rep. Bob Smith is one of the great champions of innovation in our region, and organizations at UGA like the bio-business center are also hubs of innovation. The Georgia Research Alliance (a client of my company) is also a key to Georgia's innovation strategy. Check out the full column here.

The second is not directly relevant to our region, but certainly is to the world. I'm guessing that many of you, like me, follow Middle Eastern policy issues peripherally if at all. I found this to be a succinct if one sided overview of the compromises Israel has made in the name of peace in the past decade, and where it has gotten them, and helps one understand why they are trying to keep this blockade in place, and why their enemies keep looking for reasons to incite violence to end it.

City Council Preview

The June meeting of the Watkinsville City Council is tonight at 7 p.m. at City Hall. We are expecting a busy evening. With the political forum at 8 p.m. at Veteran's Park, it is likely that we will have several candidates stop by to visit (candidates always seem to appear in an election year).

Other activities planned will be a few business licenses, a building permit for a new 40 x 100 foot warehouse from the Bishop family, some changes to our beer and wine pouring ordinance, and the adoption of an ethics ordinance championed by councilman Toby Smith. John Devine and Nina Butler from the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission will also be on hand to talk with us about some greenspace planning they are assisting us with.

This will also be the final opportunity for citizens to weigh in on the FY11 budget -- we have had very little input so far and would always welcome more. Ideas we are considering in addition to our standard items include new breathing apparatus for the fire department, additional library funding (full disclosure: my wife is a library board member), employee raises, a speed hump on 2nd street, and continued funding for our urban forest board and tee planting.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Election season is heating up. There is a lot going on in Oconee in particular. Look for more posting soon, but also plan to attend Wednesday night's forum at the Oconee County Veteran's Park at 8 p.m. hosted by Russ Page and Lee Becker.

Monday, May 10, 2010

How Healthcare Reform Works in the Free Market

Okay, so when it rains, it pours. After not blogging for two months, I'm blogging twice in a day. A colleague of mine sent me this link last week with the subject line "Unreal." I would say it is not unreal at all, but very likely. If you wonder where the free market and the new health care proposal will intersect, be sure to check it out.

Summary: when Democratic Senators requested data from some of America's largest companies about their insurance cost increases as a result of the new health care bill, documents showed that all of them had considered dropping their employee sponsored benefit programs. Why? Because it would be cheaper to simply pay government penalties for dropping employees than actually paying for their health insurance.

Of course, the natural Democratic response will be to raise the penalties to attempt to make these companies maintain employee benefits, but anyone who has any experience paying for the rising costs of employee benefits certainly will understand the siren song of "free government health care."

Arson in Watkinsville?

It stinks to return to blogging with bad news.

But the news about the attempted arson of officer William Horton's home in Watkinsville is too maddening to ignore. While apparently damage to the home itself was minimal (although his truck was totaled), this action is reprehensible.

There are lots of links and some conjecture out there, but I just want to say that Officer Horton is one of our finest Watkinsville Police Officers, and we are glad to have him. Lots of links here, here, here, and here.

As for whoever did this, let's hope the long arm of Chief O'Dillon and the Watkinsville PD grab a hold of them real soon. There is a $10,000 reward for any information leading to arrests in the case.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Patriot Park

As you drive through Watkinsville, you might notice a small triangle of land in front of Jittery Joe's that used to be an eyesore has been transformed over the past few years into a small greenspace called "Patriot Park" that also has a memorial to Oconee County's revolutionary war soldiers. This has been done thanks to the good works of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, who are a very active civic group that is doing some great things in the area.

The formal dedication for the park will be this Sunday at 2 p.m., and all community members are invited to attend. Details are in the press release below. Many more details are in the press release below.
Contact: Emily Givens,

The Reverend John Andrew Chapter National Society Daughters of the American Revolution will formally dedicate PATRIOT PARK, a memorial greenspace honoring the heroic efforts of Revolutionary War patriots buried in Oconee County, on Sunday, March 7, 2010 at 2 p.m. The ceremony, with a reception following, will take place on the park grounds, located at 27 Greensboro Highway in Watkinsville, Georgia. The greenspace occupies the small plat of land that intersects South Main Street and the Greensboro Highway. Patriot Park is directly in front of Watkinsville’s Jittery Joes coffeehouse.

Brigadier General Maria L. Britt will be the keynote speaker and recipient of the NSDAR Women in History award. She is the first female Commanding Officer of the Georgia Army National Guard in the Guards’ 273 year history. Brigadier General Maria L. Britt is a native of Gloversville, New York and was commissioned from the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York a Second Lieutenant in May 1983. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in General Engineering and a Master of Science Degree in Strategic Intelligence from the Joint Military Intelligence College, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bolling AFB, Washington D.C. BG Britt is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA., and has a second Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies.

On hand to present the award will be the Georgia State Society DAR Regent Mrs. W. Franklin Chastain. Other state and local dignitaries will also be in attendance and additional NSDAR awards will be presented, including a Community Service Award.

The Elijah Clark Militia and the award-winning Georgia Society Sons of the American Revolution Color Guard will be in attendance in colonial dress.

Ample parking will be available behind the Golden Pantry and across the street.

Patriot Park is filled with native and historical plants of Georgia. From the memorial granite monument that will be unveiled at the foremost point, to the roster of Patriot names gracing the entrance, the landscaping gradually increases in height from dwarf yaupon hollies, ornamental grasses, through white flowering dogwoods and to the back most point, the October Glory Maples. Knockout Roses, though not natives, are included to complement Watkinsville’s streetscape roses. Virginia Sweetspire and fragrant August Beauty Gardenia offer the beauty of spring and summer blooms of white.

Work on the Patriot Park garden began in the fall of 2008. A nearly $15,000 project, from the initial design plans to the plants and labor, the park has been financed by generous donations from individuals and local Watkinsville businesses

Patriot Park has received significant support from the community. The Rev. John Andrew Chapter, NSDAR, would like to extend special thanks to: Jim Flanagan, Allen Ward of Jittery Joes, Steve Brown, Cole Brown, Peter Givens, Jim Bennewitz, Bill Douglas, Chris Swann of Lotus Landscapes, Outdoor Specialty, Hancock Construction, Athens Area Master Gardeners, City of Watkinsville, Industrial Mechanical Inc., Southeastern Growers, Bridge Creek Nursery, Nasworthy Landscaping, The Stone Store, Boyd Granite Company, Inc, and Graphic Communications Corporation for their assistance.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C in a building encompassing an entire city-block, the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) was founded in 1890 and is a non-profit, non-political volunteer women's service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America's future through better education for children. Any woman 18 years or older-regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background-who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution, is eligible for membership.

The Watkinsville chapter was founded on June 25, 2007 and is the youngest in the Georgia State Society NSDAR. The chapter meets monthly August through May, at the Oconee Library. To find out more about the DAR and genealogical research contact local Regent Dana Anderson at or visit

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Reverend John Andrew Chapter

National Society Daughters of the American Revolution


Revolutionary Patriots buried in Oconee County, Georgia

Rev. John Andrew, (24 Sept 1758-10 Mar 1830), Mt. Zion Cemetery off U. S. Highway 441 S

John Barnett, (7 June 1762-10 Mar 1814), Buried in family cemetery off Barnett Shoals Rd.

William Scott Branch, (1765-1839), Branch Cemetery off U. S. Highway 441. 1 mile south of Bishop, GA

Stephen Crow, (28 Feb 1750-8 Aug 1830), Mars Hills Baptist Church Cemetery

William Daniell, (d. 5 Sept 1840), Mars Hills Baptist Church Cemetery

David Elder, (7 Jan. 1760-4 Aug. 1853), Elder Cemetery off Elder Mill Rd.

Anderson Fambrough, (10 Jan 1759-8 Nov 1815), Fambrough Cemetery off U. S. Hwy 15 S near Green County line

James Greer, (15 Jan 1742-ante 5 Sept 1825), Buried on the Greer family land off GA Hwy 53

Ben Hagood lived in Oconee County but was buried in Hancock County, GA. There is a memorial stone in the cemetery at Mars Hill Baptist Church

Moses Hopkins, (1760-6 Jan 1810), Mars Hills Baptist Church Cemetery

John Nunnally, (12 Feb 1758-10 June 1825), Nunnally Cemetery on Bishop Rd.

James Sloan, (1744-1808)

John Stroud, (1732-1805), Mars Hills Baptist Church Cemetery

Philip Tigner, (12 Feb 1758-10 June 1825). Buried in family cemetery on Beechnut Lane, near Elder Covered Bridge.

William Willoughby, (24 Sept 1759-ante 2 Nov 1829), Presumed to be buried at Antioch Christian Church, Antioch Church Rd.

About Brigadier General, Maria Britt; Commanding General, Georgia Army National Guard:

Brigadier General Maria L. Britt is a native of Gloversville, New York and was commissioned from the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York a Second Lieutenant in May 1983. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in General Engineering and a Master of Science Degree in Strategic Intelligence from the Joint Military Intelligence College, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bolling AFB, Washington D.C. BG Britt is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA., and has a second Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies.

Her military education includes the Military Police Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the U.S. Army Jungle Warfare School, the Command and General Staff College, the Post Graduate Intelligence Program for Reserves, the Military Intelligence Officer Transition Course, the Military Intelligence Advanced Course for Reserves, the Military Intelligence Battalion Pre-Command Course, the Recruiting and Retention Management Course, the Joint Task Force Commander's Course and the Defense Support to Civil Authorities Course.

Brigadier General Britt’s assignments have included Platoon Leader, 411th MP Company, 720th MP Battalion; Executive Officer, Law Enforcement Activity, 89th Military Police Brigade; Field Operations Officer, 3rd Region Criminal Investigation Division; Company Commander, Military Police Company (FORSCOM Honor Guard) Ft McPherson, GA; Deputy Provost Marshall, Ft McPherson, GA; Security and Intelligence Officer, Headquarters STARC; Program and Support Specialist, HQ STARC; S-1 (Adjutant), 48th Infantry Brigade (M); Deputy Chief of Staff for Organizational Improvement; HQ STARC and Training Officer, HQ STARC; Commander of the 221st Military Intelligence Battalion (Tactical Exploitation), Fort Gillem; Commander of the Recruiting and Retention Force and Director of Personnel for the Georgia Army National Guard; the COS of the Georgia Army National Guard. BG Maria Britt is currently assigned as the Commanding General, Georgia Army National Guard.

Among Brigadier General Britt’s awards and decorations are the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal with 4 oak leaf clusters, the Army Commendation Medal with 2 oak leaf clusters, the Army Achievement Medal with 2 oak leaf clusters and the National Defense Service Medal.

She is married to Brigadier General Timothy B. Britt. They have three daughters.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Doctor's Orders

The Athens Banner-Herald pulled some of these in its article this morning, but I wanted to post Doc Eldridge's full comments from yesterday's Terry College Economic Outlook Luncheon at the Classic Center. Doc's role as a lifelong Athenian, former mayor and current Chamber head give him a full perspective on the impact of the potential cuts at UGA. The highlights are his, not mine.

Let's hope our legislators listen to "their Doctor" in this case.

>First off, what I am about to say is not at the request of UGA, the Board of Regents, or anyone affiliated with any of the University system.

What I am about to say is not a formal position of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, although I would assume and hope that our board would fully support it.

What I want to say comes from me… Doc. As a lifelong resident of this community, a business person and a former elected official, I, like you, have come to understand and appreciate just how vital the economic health of the University of Georgia is to our community, our region, our state , and yes well beyond. When UGA sneezes … we get a cold.

We are in fact joined at the hip with UGA, and both UGA and our community have worked hard over the years at strengthening our "town and gown" relationships.

Well folks, our friends on the other side of the Arch need our support now, like they have never needed it before.

The budget cuts that have taken place over the last 2 years and that have recently been proposed will have a disastrous effect on UGA, our state, and our community for decades to come. The problems will manifest themselves in countless ways.

We are talking about slashing the budget of not just bricks and sticks, we are talking about jobs, entire programs, people and their families. We are talking about the biggest and best investment our state has to offer for the creation of good decent paying jobs and economic opportunity. I hope you don't think I am exaggerating. This is serious stuff.

Let me be clear. I have the utmost respect for our local delegation to the legislature and I urge you to show them the same. I know the personal sacrifices that they make to their business and to their family in order to serve us. There is no one in this room or beyond that hates what is happening any worse than they do. They are fighting on our behalf every day.

I am not asking you to flood them with emails, phone calls, and faxes telling them what to do. I am asking you to offer your support for finding the means necessary to restore funding to the University system. There are options. I am asking you to share with them your ideas, and to show your appreciation for the tough position that they are in. I would hate to think where we might be right now without the leadership and hard work of Senators Cowsert and Hudgins, and Representatives Heard, Smith, and McKillip.

This is not about Democrats and Republicans. This is about the future. Our future. The future of UGA and its' academic standing, about jobs, about our community and our state.

I am saying this to you today as you are the true civic, and business leaders, leaders of our community. We need you to roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and help get our train back on track. This can be one of the defining times for our community and its future. This is a time for more than griping and gnashing our teeth This, I guess, is indeed a call to action.

Thank each of you for all that you have done and continue to do for our community …. and Go Dogs.

A lot going on

There is an enormous amount of news swirling about in the political world. A few thoughts:

Higher Education Budget Cuts
  • The number one thing on everyone's mind locally is the potential $300 million cuts to higher education ordered by the state legislature in 48 hours, which was requested on top of huge cuts already done by most of the state's public colleges and universities. Details here, here, here, here and a million other places. I for one support some revenue raising -- the $1 per pack tax on cigarettes, bringing back a 1/2 or 1 percent sales tax on groceries, and a market-driven tuition raise -- to offset the slash and burn mentality that is going to do untold harm to higher education and healthcare in this state. Would you rather pay $1 on a $100 grocery bill or potentially have your child miss out on higher education due to required reductions in enrollment across the state by massive budget cuts? Easy choice for me, and I think for most Georgians, especially if we could dedicate the revenue to higher education rather than sending it to the black hole of the general fund.
  • I find it laughable that the very state legislators who asked the Board of Regents to come up with $300 million in potential cuts in just a few days then come back and accuse UGA and others of playing political games with the process. Really?
  • So Gubernatorial candidate Austin Scott implies that 4-H is more important than the basic functions of the University. 4-H is a wonderful program that should be preserved (I had a lot of friends in school who benefited -- and even met future spouses -- through the program). But preserving the core function of higher education at an institution of higher education is more important than service and outreach. The real question is whether 4-H should be housed and funded independently of higher education, or perhaps in the department of agriculture.
  • Rep Scott states that "agriculture is Georgia’s major economic driver and vital to the success of our economy." Newsflash: could there be any institution more committed to the health of agriculture in the state (and even the nation) than the University of Georgia? UGA research is probably the reason that Georgia still is an agricultural leader. Better and larger poultry, healthy large animials, more bountiful crops, and new types of profitable turfgrass, alternative crops and ornamental plants have come from research at UGA that could be dramatically impacted by proposed budget cuts. The beneficiaries of this research are not the professors in the labs, but landowners and farmers across the state.
  • Rep. Scott also decides to play with the numbers a bit in his comments on Peach Pundit here. Okay, so the Regents' budget has gone up, from $5.2 billion to $5.4 billion while other budgets have gone down. Want to know why? Because our institutions of higher education have done what businesses do when a key revenue source (state funds) is consistently shrinking -- they have aggressively pursued revenue from other sources, namely private fund raising and federal grants. This year, UGA will receive about the same amount of state funds it did in 2002. And if the funding cuts proposed by the Governor and the additional $60 million cuts requested by the legislature took effect, UGA would get the same funding in fiscal year 2011 as it received from the state 13 years ago (1997), with thousands more students to educate, new facilities to maintain and inflation to deal with.
  • I really like some of the things Rep. Scott says on his website, and have high hopes for him. But his approach to this higher education debate could be a credibility killer. I have no doubt there are inefficiencies in higher education, as there are in any large organization. But after years of state budget cuts, most of those have been wrung out of the system. There may be a few more, but not $300 million more, and the damage we are doing to higher education -- the one area of education that is working well in our state -- is staggering.
  • Full disclosure: my company, Jackson Spalding, does limited project work a few units of the University of Georgia and also works with the Georgia Research Alliance, which helps fund research jobs and infrastructure at the state's six research institutions.
Some Good News
  • Athens has two exciting new sports events on the horizon this fall: a new sprint triathlon called the Tri to Beat Cancer, which will benefit the Cancer Foundation of Northeast Georgia, and a new half marathon, which will benefit Ath Fest. Athens has a long history in participatory sports that has waned somewhat in recent years -- it is good to see large scale, high profile events returning.
  • As you drive down Hog Mountain Road, check out the new trees going in at Veterans Park. Talk about a change! They were provided by Select Trees, a local nursery, and will leave quite a legacy at the Park. Kudos to the BOC for this investment. BTW, to connect the dots with the above points, Select Trees is one of those agricultural organizations that has been successful largely because of UGA-driven agricultural research.
  • There is still discussion of a park around Elder Mill and Elder Mill covered bridge. This would be a wise use of county funds if it could be pulled off. Lee Becker and the Oconee Enterprise have also covered the topic extensively. Oconee County doesn't have as much tangible history as a lot of other communities -- what we do have needs to be preserved when it is available, especially if we have excess SPLOST funds that could be so utilized. If we don't have SPLOST funds, then this obviously isn't the kind of economy where you can allocate annual budget resources to such a large effort.
Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Great News

The move by the Athens-Clarke Economic Development Foundation to hire Matt Forshee is a great decision. Matt is young, energetic, and understands both Athens and Oconee. He has established relationships around the state and locally, and his background in land planning will also give him insights into the broader goals of each county.

I first got to know Matt as a member of the planning commission in Oconee County. He was planning director in Oconee County during the boom years of the early- and mid-2000s. He has always been action oriented, and was not afraid to take an unpopular stand, even under pressure from developers.

As Oconee's economic development director for a short time, he moved quickly on marketing and other initiatives, but before he could really get his feet wet he was recruited away by Fayette County to run the Fayette County Development Authority, where he has had tremendous success. Fayette County is the home of Peachtree City and has also recruited a lot of technology businesses and clean industry, which are similar to the type of companies Athens-Clarke is seeking.

Matt has had nothing but success in Fayette County, and his move also allowed him to deepen relationships with key recruiters and industries in Georgia. We are fortunate that he is coming back to help Athens and the region improve its recruiting efforts.

Best of luck to Matt Forshee!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Oxendine Parody

While this video was done by Democrats (so it includes necessary cheap shots against our other candidates), I think it does capture the horror that many Republicans feel as a possible John Oxendine primary win seems more likely.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Awesome Video

Elder Mill Park?

Creating a South Oconee Park around the Elder Mill Covered Bridge is a great idea, and one I think most people in Oconee would wholeheartedly support, especially if land beyond Mr. Cuming's home was available. If the opportunity is still there to leverage $1.2 million in state funds with a minimal county investment, it is a no brainer. Detailed stories on the bridge and potential land nearby for sale here and here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New Committee in House

The Athens Banner-Herald and Beyond the Trestle reported last week that Rep. Bob Smith (R-Watkinsville) had lost his vice chairmanship of appropriations, where he oversaw the budget for higher education.

While I'm sure this was a tough blow for Rep. Smith, my friends at the ABH and BTT missed the fact that he landed a nice gig that is probably even closer to his heart -- as vice chairman of a new committee focused on small business development and job creation.

Anyone who has heard Rep. Smith talk in recent years knows that his passion for entrepreneurship, job creation, and small business is unsurpassed. And given the role of small businesses in Northeast Georgia, this committee could also benefit our region greatly.

A press release follows. I've sent an e-mail to Rep. Smith asking if he has any thoughts on the new committee -- will post it if I hear back.

Speaker David Ralston


House Speaker David Ralston Announces the Formation of the Special Committee

on Small Business Development and Job Creation

ATLANTA- On Friday January 15th, House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) announced the formation of the Special Committee on Small Business Development and Job Creation— a new standing committee in the Georgia House of Representatives.

“We are going to make small businesses in Georgia a priority,” said Speaker David Ralston. “Small business growth will lead the way back to a strong and vibrant economy in this state by creating jobs. I have asked this committee to take a leadership role by examining proposals which will promote small business and job creation.”

Speaker Ralston appointed Representative John Lunsford (R-McDonough) as chairman of the committee, Representative Bob Smith (R-Watkinsville) as vice-chairman, and Representative Billy Horne (R-Newnan) as secretary.

“Our members are encouraged that Speaker Ralston and the House of Representatives are planning to focus on small business this year,” said David Raynor, Georgia state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, the state's leading small business association. “Small business is the engine that drives Georgia's economy. When you pass legislation that helps small businesses grow and create jobs, you help everyone.”

Other members of the committee include Representative Amy Carter (D-Valdosta), Representative Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), Representative Tom Graves (R-Ranger), Representative Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming), Representative Sean Jerguson (R-Woodstock), Representative Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), Representative Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), Representative Howard Mosby (D-Atlanta), Representative Allen Peake (R-Macon), Representative Alan Powell (D-Hartwell), and Representative Barbara Sims (R-Augusta).


Watkinsville Happenings and More

Watkinsville has been in the news a lot lately. In case you missed it:

--We're getting a neat new antiques store on Main Street.
--New Mayor Joe Walter is getting his feet wet -- literally.
--Good story on the retirement of Watkinsville Council member Mike Link from the ACC Fire Department. Mike is our longest tenured city council member, and always remembers details that the rest of us don't in meetings, especially on new construction and development projects.

Many thanks to the Athens Banner-Herald's Joe Van Hoose for his great recent coverage of all things Oconee. He, along with the Oconee Enterprise and Oconee Leader, do a nice job of keeping up with the goings on.

In non-Watkinsville political news, a few items of note:

--I think David Brooks has the Obama administration about right in this piece. I like Obama, I just think he has overreached in terms of policy, and think most moderates would agree. And the election of Scott Brown would seem to validate Brooks' position.
--Terry Dickson is convinced Hwy 15 -- the route most Oconee citizens use to get to the coast -- is a dangerous road. I don't really agree. I find it a much more pastoral route than the others to head south. I think the problem is actually probably tired and sleepy drivers on the narrow road, or the fact that people drive way too fast for the conditions of the road.
--Good editorial a few days back from the AJC.
--The AJC points out that the Massachussets election may also be good news for Sen. Johnny Isakson. Hadn't thought about all the implications, but I think Jim is right -- the Democrats will have a really tough time fielding a decent candidate.
--John Oxendine is an absolute train wreck.
--Is anyone locally paying any attention to the Governor's new transportation proposal? Athens-Clarke and Oconee would be grouped with Barrow, Jackson, Jasper, Elbert, Oglethorpe, Madison, Morgan, Greene, Walton and Newton counties in a 2012 vote for a 1 cent sales tax for transportation. Are there enough votes in Walton, Oconee, Athens-Clarke and Barrow to get needed transportation improvements? I'm not sure this is a natural region for transportation unity. The needs in Barrow, Jackson, Athens-Clarke, Oconee, and Walton are very different than the needs in our more rural counties. That said, those five counties also have most of the sales tax dollars as well. CORRECTION: Jim Thompson at the ABH discussed the proposal here.
--The Georgia Chamber of Commerce has its first female chair. Good for them.
--A good perspective on how economic development is changing and how American communities are being impacted.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eggs (and Bacon and Sausage) & Issues

Attended the Georgia Chamber's Eggs & Issues session this a.m. with folks from the Athens Chamber. I will try to post a comprehensive recap later, all I have time for now are some quick impressions:
  • David Ralston, the new speaker of the house, looks to be a calming influence. He and the Governor and Lt. Governor seem to have a good rapport. It was refreshing to hear someone practical and modest speak (I will never forget Glenn Richardson's "I've been poisoned" remarks from two years ago), who was also optimistic about solving our transporation and water woes.
  • Both Ralston and Gov. Perdue said they are hopeful we will have a tri-state water compact by the end of the session that will allow Atlanta access to Lake Lanier.
  • Governor Perdue hinted at transportation funding ideas, but gave nothing away. His most interesting idea was a plan to allow teachers to be compensated based on student achievement and classroom observation (with a higher ultimate salary ceiling) rather than years taught or graduate degrees. Teachers will get to choose whether they want to take this approach to compensation under his proposal. Interesting idea.
  • The governor also announced he will propose a bill that will allow Georgians to purchase insurance plans from other states. More competition = good idea, especially if the feds are going to mandate coverage.
  • All the speakers had harsh words for the federal health care bill as you would expect. I don't blame them. While Democratic commentators are going to say there will be no new costs to states, there always are with new government programs.
  • The Governor did not mention his proposed "bed tax" for Georgia's hospitals, but that will come up too. I wish he had stood up and talked (like Gov. Huckabee did the night before) about a plan for how Georgians and their employers can work to improve personal health, rather than ignoring plans to take money from our health care institutions.
  • As a side note, if improving Georgia's health is a top item on the agenda next year, perhaps we need to have a healthier breakfast menu at the event next year..... noticed that several legislators hardly touched their meals, including one who said that it would be easy to gain 40 lbs during the legislative session. That's not healthy.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tiger Tampering

Someone has way too much time on their hands.....

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday News

Good snowy morning. Some Friday thoughts:

--Good move by Oconee Schools to delay the start of school. My daughter is usually the last one on her bus at 7:00 a.m. So delaying the start allows parents and kids to actually see where they are going rather than trying to get to school (or the bus stop) in dark, icy conditions.
--This is the sort of thing that makes you really proud of the youth in our community.
--While Oconee County continues to sit on its hands rather than engaging in a regional partnership on the economic development, our neighbors continue to land prospects. Today's Atlanta Business Chronicle reports that a Japanese manufacturer will bring 40 jobs and a $27 million facility to Gainesville and Hall County. Folks, there are jobs and prospects out there. We just need to create the right environment and go after them in a systematic, unified fashion.
--New Speaker of the House David Ralston is impressing me so far. According to today's Insider Advantage (subscription required), he is going abandon Glenn Richardson's "hawks", allow media back on the floor of the house, and make some other positive changes. Let's hope he can keep up this approach through the session.
--Bob Barr doesn't always make sense, but this time he did.
--If you live in Watkinsville, check out all of our new trees, courtesy of Select Sustainable Tree Trust. We have planted six large new oaks along Hwy 15 South of the city, five new oaks in Stone Shoals park, and several others in Harris Shoals Park. Over the past five years, we have planted more than 200 sizeable trees in the city, largely spearheaded by my colleague on the council, Samantha Purcell.
--An update on the Athens Mayoral race from Jmac over at Beyond the Trestle. Be sure you are reading BTT, as Jmac is breaking all sorts of news there, including the decision by mayoral candidate Doug Lowry to abandon the race and move to Canada. Love conquers all. Good decision and good luck Doug.
--Also be sure to check out his Q&A with Jim Higdon.

Stay warm and safe today!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Water Woes

As we get ready for the legislative session, we'll recap a few issues that came up last year as relevant news and ideas get floated out. Despite all of our rain, water supply is a key issue for Georgia and our region. The Governor's Water Task Force issued its recommendations in December, and there aren't a lot of quick fixes for the problem. A mix of conservation and new supply is going to be necessary, but building reservoirs isn't a quick proposition, and finding funds for new ones isn't easy either.

One of the ideas that gets the most controversy is the potential to use some water from the Tennessee River. Some consider it politically explosive, a generally poor idea, implausible, or environmentally irresponsible. A lot of these people happen to live in Tennessee.

However, I'm willing to bet that most people who comment on the issue have no idea how much water flows through the Tennessee River on a daily basis, and how much of it actually comes from Georgia's mountains. The excess water from our recent rain (45 billion gallons) flowing past Chattanooga each day is equal to how much water Atlanta uses from Lake Lanier in six months. More fun facts in this story.

A New Year of Posting

I thought about making my New Year's resolution to post more often. However, that may not be realistic. But I will do my best, especially as we lead up to what is the most interesting 3-4 months of the year, as legislators head back to Atlanta to stir up all sorts of trouble.

Some quick hits for the day:

  • Despite hard right and hard left shots, the appointment of Brian Kemp as Secretary of State is a very good thing for Georgia and this region. Brian is a strong leader and was a very good Senator. Brian worked hard and cared deeply about the communities in his district, and will make a fine statewide official. The arguments that the appointment is politically motivated may have some truth, but what governor -- Democrat or Republican -- is not politically motivated? Was Brian honestly supposed to turn down the appointment? And since Brian was already a candidate (never mind the best candidate in my mind), he was an appropriate choice. My guess is that the political calculus was pretty easy for Brian: come November the power of incumbency easily trumps the grumbles of 100 hard core Republicans and a few Democrats who won't support any Republican for the office anyway.
  • If you are interested in Georgia's transportation challenges, read this editorial and take time to review the report. I worked briefly with State Transportation Planning Director Todd Long when he oversaw GDOT's Gainesville office, and he is one of the most honest and competent transportation officials I have been involved with. His bottom line is that we have to dedicate more dollars to transportation or we will fall behind, and the report makes a very compelling case. Let's hope the legislature pays attention.
  • Speaking of falling behind, check out this story on Georgia's new economy strategy. I don't know where these states get their resources (higher tax rates? different priorities?), but they are not just outspending us on transportation, but on economic development as well. The stem cell issue is one that could disproportionately impact Athens. We will be following it closely as we move into the session.
  • Looks like we are getting a nifty new antiques store in Watkinsville. They are locating just south of the courthouse in the row of shops. The owner, Joann Stewart, is a nice lady -- I have purchased Daylilys from her farm on Simonton Bridge Road (all you amateur gardeners out there should check it out).