Madison County News

June 18, 2008

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By Zach Mitcham

Make a run for the border?
We’ve all had our squabbles about where to eat lunch, but it’s unusual to see such debates in public meetings.
The county board of assessors recently took a hard-line stance on the use of county vehicles, saying appraisers should never grab a burger across the county line.
Their position seemed in line with what county commissioners expressed a year or two ago when addressing alleged misuse of county vehicles by employees.
But chief appraiser James Flynt didn’t appreciate the restrictions the board of assessors placed on his staff, since appraisers spend much of their time riding in the county evaluating property. Flynt felt his staff should be given some discretion on where to eat lunch or make a pit stop. Please allow them to make the shortest drive, even if it’s over a county line, he asked.
The commissioners, with the exception of John Pethel, agreed that county employees working near county lines should have some discretion on where to drive a county vehicle for lunch.
Now, getting involved in employee lunch practices is a risky endeavor for any boss. It’s a sure-fire path to some deep resentment from an employee if he feels his superior is meddling with his limited lunch options. And officials getting involved in where government employees can and can’t use the bathroom, well, that’s just hard to hear without at least a smirk. When I first heard these discussions, I thought of my daughter, who is now potty training. She has a portable little potty we pack in the car on long trips. I chuckled to myself imagining the county investing in those kiddie seats for employees who feel nature’s call on the road.
I think the BOC handled the matter appropriately last week. They basically maintained, for instance, that it’s reasonable for a county appraiser who is working in the Hull area in a county vehicle to cross the county line to eat at Burger King or Zaxby’s on Hwy. 72, rather than drive back to Danielsville for a lunch break. But it wouldn’t be appropriate if that person hit the loop and went to the Taco Stand on Milledge or the Gyro Wrap in downtown Athens.
Keep tabs on where you go. And don’t abuse the privilege. That was the message from the BOC.
Board of assessor member Larry Stewart wrote a letter to this paper last week, criticizing the BOC’s stance. He notes that the commissioners were disturbed by reports of people driving out of the county over a year ago and took action to curtail such behavior. He questioned the BOC’s consistency, wondering why the commissioners have embraced a more lenient vehicle-use position these days. Though I agree with the BOC’s stance last week, I can understand Stewart’s point about consistency.
On Monday, Flynt approached Stewart and other members of the board of assessors, asking for an apology. He certainly didn’t get one, as the assessors’ meeting turned into a lengthy back and forth, with a lot of ill will.
Flynt was right to question the original board of assessors’ action, but wrong to go back before them demanding an apology. The BOC already voted on the matter, overriding the assessors’ decision. Flynt won. And the apology issue had the feel of a postgame fight, never a pretty thing from either side.
Hopefully, Flynt and the board of assessors can patch things up. The fighting over lunch and bathroom breaks seems quite silly, particularly given the magnitude of what Flynt and the board of assessors have on their plate — the evaluation of property for the purpose of taxation.
Perhaps this is not a sign of more turmoil, more in-fighting to come, but it’s not a giant leap to assume that the heated division related to lunch and bathroom breaks is just a surface skirmish above deeper conflicts.
Goodness knows, Madison County has seen plenty of political battles related to tax assessments in recent years.
Yes, it’s a tired, old lunch topic.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

By Frank Gillispie

We must seek ways to reduce our use of oil
The street in front of my house was amazingly quiet this weekend. There were noticeably fewer vehicles on the street, and the ones that were moving were the smaller ones. No big pickups, no big vans. No rumblings of large tires. It was refreshingly quiet.
Why? The most likely reason is the combination of extremely high gas prices, and the fact that Madison County residents have a low average income. People were off the street this weekend simply because they cannot afford the gasoline.
Now some people say this is a good thing. They argue that we Americans drive too much anyway. And the best way to force people to drive less is to make gasoline even more expensive. They would do this by charging a “windfall profit” tax on the oil companies and raise the federal gasoline tax even more.
Others argue that we need to devote vast sums of money to technology. They say that we need to develop alternative energy sources, such as solar, wind, tides, nuclear, ethanol, hydrogen fuel cells and so forth. Oil will eventually run out, they say, and as it becomes more scarce, the price of oil based energy will skyrocket anyway.
Then, there is the argument that we have vast fields of oil still in North America that have not been utilized, and that we need to tap those resources. Untapped oil is located on offshore areas, northern Alaska and other areas where Congress had forbidden drilling. In addition, we have billions of tons of oil shell on the western flanks of the Appalachians and Eastern Rockies, and the technology to extract that oil. One recent commercial claims that there is a 60-year supply of oil in these resources without importing a single barrel of foreign oil.
So who is right? I think that, to some degree, all three of them are right. But at the same time, all three fail to address some real concerns. As I said, many of Madison County’s residents work at relatively low-paying jobs. In addition, they usually have to drive out of the county to find work of any kind. The constantly growing gasoline prices are making it more and more difficult for them to get to their jobs.
Technology is great. Building new vehicles that run on alternative fuels is a good answer to our problems. But these new vehicles are very expensive to buy and often have to be driven to specialty stations for fuel. Few people in Madison County can afford either of them.
I am all for developing our own oil and coal sources. But getting Congress to open these areas for drilling and building the infrastructure necessary to use them will take years. We are hurting now.
I don’t see anything government or industry is doing that can bring quick relief. So it is up to us. We have to seek ways to reduce our use of oil products. Less driving, less heating and cooling, use energy saving light bulbs, all that kind of stuff. You already know about those. Then, pressure Congress to get started on real solutions. That is their job.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is His website can be accessed at


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