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Watkinsville mayor wants Oconee County to secede from judicial circuit shared with Athens-Clarke

Watkinsville Mayor Bob Smith

By Joe Johnson

Watkinsville Mayor Bob Smith is seeking to have Oconee County secede from the Western Judicial Circuit that it curently shares with Athens-Clarke County.

In a letter dated Tuesday to Oconee’s Republican delegation to the General Assembly, Smith called on state reps Marcus Widower Houston Gaines and state Sen. Bill Cowsert to introduce legislation in the upcoming 2021 session that would create the “Oconee North Circuit.”

The Rebublican mayor said in the letter that the change would reduce the expense of a new county administration buildig that is currently under construction. The current courthouse may be sufficient for Oconee County’s needs if the new circuit was created, since it would have a smaller caseload. This would mean “substantial savings” and a “win for the taxpayers of Oconee County,” Smith wrote.

Although unstated, the request was probably motivated by last month’s election of a new and socially-progressive DA for the Western Judicial Circuit.

Immediately upon taking office Jan. 1 Deborah Gonzalez announced an ambitious agenda of progressive change that includes, among other things, the elimination of cash bail for non-violent offenders and greater emphasis on programs that rehabilitate rather than punish.

In the election, Gonzalez received 13,483 votes circuit-wide to independent candidate James Chafin’s 12,617.

In heavily Republican Oconee County, Chafin won by a large margin — 6,988 votes to 2,193 for Gonzalez.

People posting on social media have expressed concerns that crime will increase with Gonzalez as the two-county circuit’s chief prosecutor.

Gonzalez declined to comment when contacted Tuesday evening.

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