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).