Jackson County Opinions...

 April 12, 2000




Editorials
The Jackson Herald
April 12, 2000

Courthouse security needs common sense, too
Last week's discovery of a plot to help a Jackson County murder suspect escape underscores the need for better security in our courthouses.
Jackson County is attempting to address that problem as it builds a new courthouse annex, although that would have been of little use in last week's plot, which took place in neighboring Barrow County.
It would be great if all the facilities in the Piedmont Judicial Circuit were more secure. That's an expensive undertaking and it will take some time for both Barrow and Banks Counties to fund the necessary upgrades.
But there is another part of last week's plot that shouldn't be overlooked. The prisoner in question had been at a high-security state facility until earlier this year when his court-appointed lawyer complained about the five-hour drive. Judge Bob Adamson agreed to move the prisoner back to this area so he could be closer to his lawyer. Sheriff Stan Evans had recommended that the prisoner be housed in Clarke or Hall county and kept away from the local area. Adamson didn't follow that advice, however.
The irony of the situation is that Adamson has been one of the leading critics of the judicial circuit's lack of security.
In this case, however, the situation was one where not only was there a lack of security, there was a lack of common sense from the bench. Dangerous prisoners should not be put in low-security situations. Adamson's concern about the lawyer's driving time should have been less of a priority than the security issues involved.
Certainly our courthouses and jails should be more secure. But until some new facilities are built and the security enhanced, our judicial leaders shouldn't take chances with prisoners that are considered dangerous escape risks.


Editorial
The Commerce News
April 12, 2000

Answers And Solutions Needed For Local Creek
Something has killed aquatic life in Hardeman Creek south of Commerce, and five years after the situation was reported to the Environmental Protection Division, there is still no explanation for the situation. There is no excuse for this lack of state inquiry.
Granted, EPD officials have taken water samples. Excessive tannic acid has been identified during periods of high flow after rains. The source of that tannin, however, remains something of a mystery. Property owners downstream have cattle that drink the water; reports of birth defects and unexplained deaths among those cattle and the loss of aquatic life are disturbing and warrant a much greater level of state concern.
Once again, EPD has decided to look into the situation. This time, EPD should not stop until it has identified for sure the problem, determined where the problem is coming from, mapped out a remedy and, if necessary, ordered corrective action. Five years is too long a time for polluted water to be allowed to flow through our county's stream, from which it ultimately empties, by the way, into the North Oconee River, from which Athens gets its drinking water.
Those through whose property the stream passes have waited five years for answers and five years for a solution. So far, they have gotten neither. It's high time that the EPD did its job.


Another Reminder
Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, completed his second divorce last week, proving again that politicians make strange bedfellows.
It was Gingrich who led the Republican attack on President Clinton, an us-vs.-them assault centered on what used to be known as "family values." The man who led the GOP to its greatest prominence in decades got caught in the very moral shortcomings he so deplored about the commander in chief. It is reminiscent of former attorney general Michael Bowers' attack on the morality of a lesbian co-worker even as he was having an extra-marital affair.
At least Gingrich had the decency to resign from office, and however sordid his personal life might have been, it was not in the league of Clinton's. The whole affair reminds us that (a) politicians still sometimes say one thing while they do just the opposite, (b) they are subject to the same temptations and sins that beset the rest of mankind and are just as likely to succumb, and (c) the private lives of public servants are not really all that private.
The day may come when voters really don't care about the private lives of those who seek or hold public office, but for the time being, anyone seeking office should be aware that supposedly-private matters may be brought into public scrutiny


A Code Of Ethics
Kudos to Commerce for adopting a code of ethics. A warning, though: those who are subject to that code will be held to it, if only in the public's eye.
Any back-door deals, undue influence, conflicts of interest, private use of city equipment or manpower, any ethical shortcoming by elected officials and city employees may now be used to publicly embarrass the perpetrators.
The passage of the ordinance puts the city on the record as not willing to tolerate lapses in ethics, and if it has been embarrassing when such slips occurred in the past, it will be all the more uncomfortable now that the city has publicly taken a stand for strong ethics.
Let all city officials and employees take note.


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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
April 12, 2000

Budget surplus leads to tax question
One dilemma government officials have is money. There's never enough money to do all the things officials would like - or that the public demands.
But for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, the dilemma is currently on the other side of the coin. Rather than being in the red and short of funds, the county is awash in funding, owing to a significant surplus last year.
Out of income topping $21 million, the county had a $2.9 million overage, around 14 percent of the total. By any standard, that's a lot of money and a significant boost to the government.
On the other hand, such a surplus begs the question of why don't tax rates fall?
It's a good question, but the answer is more complex than it may first appear. For one thing, the county has a lot of revenue sources other than property taxes. In 1999, property taxes were only 27 percent of the county's total revenue and the government only underbudgeted that amount by $175,000.
In addition to property taxes, the county also gets a significant amount of money from sales taxes. When times are good, sales taxes climb and are unpredictable. When times are bad, sales taxes fall and are unpredictable. Last year, for example, the county underbudgeted sales tax income by $872,000, meaning it took in that much more than it thought it would. The same was true for other types income as well - the economic boom, while costing more, is also bringing in additional income to the county.
But surpluses don't just happen because of more income. In addition to the growth of income, county spending remained flat overall. While most departments did get more money last year than in 1998, the growth wasn't as fast as the income. Most importunately, however, was that the county didn't have as many capital expenses in 1999 as it did in 1998.
That is about to change. With the decision to build a new courthouse annex will come a lot of additional expenses. Although county leaders have set a cap of $10 million for the project, few large construction ventures fall under budget. Not only that, but equipping the new facility won't be cheap.
The question now, however, is whether tax rates should fall later this year. On the one hand, last year's surpluses make a tax cut seem logical. On the other hand, the looming expense of a new courthouse make saving those funds for that project seem like a prudent choice.
A decision on the tax rate won't be made until later this year. It will likely be the last major decision this board of commissioners will make before the new five-member board takes over January 1, 2001. The new board will have to live with the tax rate set this year by the old board.
It will be an important decision. No doubt, the current three commissioners will hear a lot of opinions on the matter before the rate is set. Some people will demand a tax rate cut. Others will urge the board to keep the rate the same and use the surplus for the courthouse project rather than using it to finance a tax cut.
It's a dilemma that offers this lesson for public officials: Sometimes having too much money is as hard as having too little.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Column
Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
April 12, 2000

Student Should Be Suspended For Disobedience
John Robert Cruz, a 14-year-old freshman at Carver High School, appears to be headed for a stint as the darling of the conservative talk radio shows. He was suspended for praying aloud during the school's mandatory moment of silence.
He will be portrayed as a persecuted Christian and his suspension will be held up as an example of all that is wrong with schools, with the courts and with government.
It'll all baloney too.
This isn't really about religious freedom. It's about obeying school rules. Students are supposed to be silent at that time. Whether Cruz was talking about girls or God is not the issue. He was flouting authority ­ in the name of God.
Cruz says the persecution makes him feel a connection with the apostles Peter and John, who were told they could not preach or they would be sent to prison. Peter and John ignored the Jewish officials and preached what we now call the Good News. And suffered for it.
None of us can really know what's going on in the mind of this 14-year-old, but disrupting school or class in the name of God is still a violation of school policy and subject to school justice ­ including suspension. I suspect Cruz deliberately challenged school officials, knowing they would have to take action and believing either he was acting out the will of God or getting himself a few moments of fame. Or both.
Students and parents know schools are skittish about religion. They're positively fearful about any instruction that involves Christianity, because they might end up in court. They also tread as lightly as possible around school prayer issues for the same reason. For some, pushing the envelope over religion is exciting.
Carver High School Principal Cleophus Hope will no doubt be portrayed as a persecutor of Christians and as an opponent of prayer. If he is those things, you cannot determine it from this case.
If prayer were Cruz's real interest, he had not only the moment of silence, but the entire day to engage in silent prayer. He had time between classes, in lunch and elsewhere to pray aloud if he desired. But he desired to pray aloud in the only moment the school sets aside for absolute silence, and that act suggests less a devotion to God than a desire to challenge authority.
Hope collared Cruz for violating the policy of silence, not for what he said in breaking the policy.
"It's God's will. I wouldn't feel this strong if it wasn't," Cruz commented, adding that he planned to violate the policy until the state law is changed.
If God is using Cruz to bring prayer back into schools, His reputation for working in mysterious ways will surely be enhanced, for we would see prayers lifted in our schools in the names of every religion on earth, from Buddhism to Satanism.
The very people who will rally around Cruz would show up in front of the school board with Bibles in one hand and clubs in the other if Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems or even Jews were allowed to inflict their prayers upon the pure ears of good Christian children. The people who lament the loss of prayer in schools are lamenting the "loss" only of prayers to the Christian God.
Now won't that give talk radio something to rant and rave about?

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