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May 21, 2008

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PO Box 908
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Jefferson, Georgia 30549


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By Mark Beardsley

Group Must Decide If Fight Should Go On
The members of the citizens’ group who have opposed the design of the new Commerce High School have a decision to make.
What do they do now that the school board has voted to proceed?
To say that they were incensed after last Wednesday night’s meeting would be an understatement. They came away feeling insulted by a board that refused to let them ask questions and by former chairman Steve Perry who acted personally offended that they’d gotten involved.
The leadership of People Excited About Commerce Education right now is very angry at the Commerce Board of Education and Superintendent Mac McCoy.
That’s OK, but the issue is that new school.
I thought the board’s presentation, particularly that of the lead architect, did an excellent job of addressing the issues PEACE brought up. They gave logical reasons for selecting a one-story building instead of two-story, addressed the “green” issues, explained how the elevations would work, described input from school staff into the design and discussed at length the gym situation, the reasons for it and their plans to address it.
A spokesperson for PEACE acknowledged that if that same presentation had been made in March, many of the group’s concerns would have never come up.
What’s left involve the gym, the practice field, the track and the performing arts center — none of which are directly related to the central functions of CHS.
Personally, I would have preferred a two-floor school, for reasons that are largely aesthetics, but several speakers presented good arguments for going with one floor. I can accept those. The gym, practice field and even the track location are secondary issues. Is the size of the performing arts center a deal-breaker?
Among the options for PEACE are filing suit, trying to recall the board of education or accepting the current plan.
Before either of the first two is attempted, PEACE must assess the situation solely on the merits of the plan, laying aside the school board’s cowardly response. I think Wednesday’s session answered most of the group’s important concerns. At the least, it should have given members a higher comfort level with the architects. Are there still sufficient concerns among enough people to warrant hostile and costly action that could very well delay and increase the cost of the new school? Are the remaining differences of opinion substantial or cosmetic? The risk is that the anger felt over the school board’s response will carry an inordinate amount of weight in deciding whether to escalate the fight, to the detriment of the school system.
My inclination is that the architects have come up with a plan that, while it does not totally fulfill my wish list, will result in a functional, attractive high school, and I came away from Wednesday’s meeting reasonably satisfied that Robertson Loia Roof is up to the task.
PEACE members likely feel otherwise. They must soon decide if the lingering questions warrant taking the fight to another level.
Mark Beardsley is the editor of The Commerce News. Contact him at

What Does Commerce Board Of Education Fear?
The Commerce Board of Education missed its chance last Wednesday night to build public support for its plan for a new high school. In a clearly orchestrated event, the board used its panel of architects, attorneys and others to refute concerns raised by citizens about the school’s design, refused to let the public ask questions and approved a prepared-in-advance motion to proceed with the school construction.
The presentations, particularly by the architects, appeared to answer most of the concerns raised by People Excited About Commerce Education (PEACE). Then two things happened. First, former board chairman Steve Perry insulted the group for its audacity in questioning the design. Second, the board of education refused to let citizens ask questions or make comments. The parents, alumni and others who were interested enough to attend the meeting left enraged, and the school board came across as weak and cowardly.
That’s a shame, because the school officials, architects and attorneys who addressed the issues raised by PEACE appeared competent and thorough and should have been able to adequately answer lingering questions. But by refusing to allow questions when it had the professionals on hand to answer them, the board lost rather than gained traction.
Then, when member Bill Davis read a prepared motion, it was clear that Wednesday night’s meeting was held only to fulfill a promise made to PEACE to respond to its written concerns. The school board was actually committed to not engaging citizens in discussion about the most important construction project in Commerce in the past 50 years.
The board blew the chance to decisively demonstrate the validity of its process and its design with its cowardly action in refusing questions. What did it fear? The presentations of its consultants (and staff) were, for the most part, strong and credible. It had presented sound responses to the group’s concerns. It should have welcomed questions from the audience because it had the expertise on hand to deal with all concerns. Because it feared to let its audience speak, the board’s credibility in the community among some of the school system’s strongest supporters is greatly diminished. Restoration of respect for the board of education require more time than the construction of a new high school and may prove to be the greater challenge.

Memorial Day: It’s About Showing Some Respect
For many Americans, next Monday will pass with nary a thought of what Memorial Day is about, other than a day to go to the lake or lay out of work.
It’s about respect for the foundations of and defenders of our freedom — the people who served and died for their country. Some died defending our freedom. Others died in pursuit of freedom for foreign citizens, here for a valid cause, there for a lost cause. They’re still fighting and dying, ostensibly for the right of Iraqis to be free and to bring to justice the architect of 9-11.
Soldiers aren’t called upon to choose their battles. They go where their country sends them, and we owe them all our continued respect. While we sit in our recliners and watch TV or snooze on the sofa, men and women around the world put their lives on the line for people who scarcely think of a soldier’s lot.
When you fly your flag on Monday, realize that many have died for it and that thousands still wear that flag into conflict. Say a prayer for those who served and died and for those who serve now.

By Susan Harper

The Wine Of The South
Rapid change is nothing new; we didn’t invent it in the 21st century. My dad entered the world of the Model-T, yet at the height of his aviation career he was watching American astronauts walk on the moon. So Dad might say that the pace of change has slowed in recent decades. It’s almost as if we had to absorb what had been achieved before we moved on.
I could be wrong, though. Maybe it’s all out there, still happening, and I’m the one who had to slow down. I know I begged the cell-phone people not to confuse me with a phone that took pictures. Please! Cameras take pictures! And phones are for talking and listening. And why anyone would want to type on them is completely beyond me. Oh, and by the way, when did “text” become a verb?
You see how it is: I sound like a Luddite. Why, I remember when “The Times, They Are A-Changin’” was the theme song of my generation. The times are still a-changin’, but I’m a-standin’ still, especially at the end of my driveway — there’s so much traffic now that I have to get up five minutes earlier in the morning because I wait that long for an opening in the line of cars. Who are all these people? And where did they come from? I went to bed one night in the 26th fastest-growing county in the U.S., and woke up the next morning in the 10th fastest-growing county. Who can keep up?
As for “Who are all these people?” — I guess I’m one of them. My family’s been in Commerce for many generations, but I moved here from San Francisco just 13 years ago, and Frances Griffin, who worked with me at the library, told me at the time that there was no way to become a native: you either were one or you weren’t. I got here ahead of the rush, though, which I think should get me points for perspicacity.
When I arrived, there were no computers in the library. Now there are more than 25. We use them for everything except making the coffee, and I suppose they could do that, too, and be better at it than I am.
But they couldn’t make the tea, and these days neither can a lot of people. One person who can is Gayle Pritchett, and she says there’s a secret to it. You can’t let the water come to a rolling boil, although it has to come close. You mustn’t squeeze the tea bags, either — that bruises the flavor. (Notice how close we’re getting to the language of wine aficionados.) Another friend says you have to put a cup of sugar and a big pile of lemon slices in the bottom of a pitcher and then pour the hot tea over all that and let it sit, and then stir it VERY gently with a wooden spoon.
These are the stalwarts who are still making the wine of the South. These are the people who care about tea. In far too many dining establishments, “tea concentrate” is mixed with water to create a dreadful concoction, dark as coffee and so sweet that it cloys. This is the kind of progress we don’t need. (Notice that “we” — I’m still trying to go native.) Some people order an Arnold Palmer: half tea, half lemonade. Luddite that I am, I just mutter, “Bring back the wine of the South.”
And by the way, we do have a camera/cell phone in our family. It belongs to my dad. Now there’s a fella who keeps up!
Susan Harper is director of the Commerce Public Library.


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