Jackson County Opinions...

 May 3, 2000




Editorials
The Jackson Herald
May 3, 2000

Time to abolish planning commission
We have discussed the problems surrounding the Jackson County Planning Commission in this space numerous times. Specifically, we have been critical of the board's willy-nilly, incoherent, finger-to-the-wind style of conducting business, especially in regard to rezoning controversies.
Rather than bringing a level of thoughtfulness to their deliberations, this board has proven to be anything but serious and reflective. The only thing consistent about this board's actions has been its inconsistency.
That was proven again this week when the board recommended approval of plans that would lead to over 400 new homes in the county while it tabled plans for a project of 50 homes. The difference? Several people complained about the 50-home project while few spoke against the other projects.
As many people have learned, all you have to do to stop or slow a rezoning project in Jackson County is to round up a handful of people to complain. The technical and legal merits of the rezoning don't matter - the only thing that seems to carry any weight with the planning board is popular opinion.
We don't say that to be critical of individual members of the planning commission. Most of those who have served on the board sincerely want to do the right thing. It is collectively that this group tends to make bad decisions.
The reason for that is simple: We are asking a board of amateur political appointees to make professional recommendations they simply aren't equipped to decide. We put these people in a room of friends and neighbors, some of whom don't like new subdivisions in their midst, and ask them to look beyond those voices to the legal and technical merits of the rezoning itself. Most part-time appointees simply aren't equipped with the experience or knowledge to deal with such high-pressure situations. The easy thing to do is bend to popular opinion, even if that opinion is legally wrong.
We believe a much better system would be to beef up the county planning office and let that agency make recommendations to the various governments it works for. Certainly there should be some method for the public to voice its opinion as well and that could be done with public hearings held before the government that will make the final decision. The hearings could be held after the planning office makes its recommendation so that all sides would have a better frame of reference for the discussion.
Zoning issues are the hottest matters most local governments now deal with. In a growing county, those issues stir up a lot of emotions on all sides.
What we don't need, however, is a planning commission that reacts to emotions rather than to the merits of a zoning question. That, unfortunately, is the way the system works today.
There are 18 candidates vying for the five seats on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. One of the issues voters should ask all those candidates for is their view of the county planning commission and its role for the future.
Do we keep that group, or should we move toward a more professional system?


Editorial
The Commerce News
May 3, 2000

Plan For New Road Needs Tweaking For Safety
State and county officials designing a road to relieve congestion and remove unsafe conditions at Benton Elementary School are on the right track, but the plans for State Route 1007 need fine-tuning for safety purposes.
The problems at Benton are obvious to anyone who drives into the area as school begins or lets out. They include limited access from a major highway, lack of clearly defined traffic flow patterns in the school parking lot and sporadic management of the traffic flow by law enforcement and school personnel.
Typically, a Jackson County deputy assists in directing traffic on U.S. 441 during those hours, and school personnel assist in the parking lot. But some deputies never get out of their cars and work the traffic, and some school personnel are not as organized as others, so the flow of traffic depends to a large degree on who's at work on any given morning or afternoon.
Even at its best, though, the limited access to the school is a problem, and it's destined to get a lot worse once U.S. 441 is widened. Thus the need for SR 1007, which would provide direct access from Georgia 335 and also another access from U.S. 441 via Birch Road.
What remains to be done with the current plan is to detail safety measures where the new road enters what is now the northwest end of the parking lot, and a new design of the parking lot to control flow between it and the new road. Without adequate planning, the new road could create problems worse than those already there.
Local officials should not allow that to happen. The Nicholson government, Jackson County School System, Jackson County Road Department and the Georgia Department of Transportation need to meet again to address the safety concerns of both the road and the school parking lot. Reducing the congestion is important, but not nearly as critical as the safety of the children. The plan has merit. Now make it safe.


End Embargo Of Cuba
Always in the background of the Elian Gonzalez story is the United States' relationship with Cuba, which has served to make most of us sure that the child is being used for propaganda purposes in both countries.
That is no doubt true, but a bigger question than the future citizenship of one child is, what purpose does it serve for the United States to continue its decades-old trade embargo against Cuba?
The intent was to isolate Cuba in retaliation for the policies and government of dictator Fidel Castro with the hope that an embargo would weaken Cuba's government and result in Castro's ouster. It has done neither.
Economic embargo as a tool of diplomacy has seldom worked. It failed with Cuba, with Iraq and with China. In fact, there is sufficient evidence to argue that the governments of these countries might have fallen and the people been better off had there been no embargo. Communism is dead most everywhere except in Cuba and China. The Soviet Union collapsed after it became a trading partner. Its satellite, East Germany, collapsed and was absorbed by West Germany via reunification. Capitalism won out over communism.
Cuba's brand of communism will probably die shortly after Castro dies. In the meantime, all that the embargo accomplishes is to increase the poverty and shortages that Castro's policies have created, adding to the misery of the people. Rest assured that Castro and his top officials are not suffering. It's time to end the embargo of ordinary and necessary items and materials, not out of sympathy or respect for the Cuban government, but for humanitarian reasons. The United States is more likely to accomplish its goal of toppling the government if it allows trade than it is by continuing the embargo.


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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
May 3, 2000

What do party labels mean?
Party labels are meaningless in local elections.
Or are they?
That is a key question local voters will have to decide as they swim through this year's balloting process. Never before have local ballots had such a confusing array of candidates as this year.
Not long ago, local races were virtually all on the Democratic Party ticket. Those races were just about always decided in the summer primary elections. At most, there would be a runoff election. Seldom was the outcome decided in the November General Election.
Contrast that to this year's ballot where only one contested race - that for chairman of the board of commissioners - will be decided in the summer Republican Primary. And even that race may not be finished this summer, as another candidate announced this week he would attempt to get on the November ballot as an independent candidate. While that's a long shot since over 800 voters will have to sign a petition, it's not impossible.
All of this is the result of the rise of the Republican Party in Jackson County from the tidal wave moving out of Gwinnett County. Suddenly, party affiliation has become important.
What party labels have to do with local positions, however, isn't clear. Local positions revolve around local issues that transcend party politics. Who cares if the coroner or county surveyor or magistrate judge is a Democrat or Republican? In reality, all local races should be non-partisan contests. (As an aside, many local positions being voted on this year should not even be elected at all, but rather appointed. That's because those positions don't have any policy-making authority and are departmental functions. The clerk of court, coroner, surveyor and tax commissioner should all be appointed slots rather than elected.)
Local party politics is now mostly a strategic decision rather than an ideological affiliation. From that standpoint, the effect of party affiliation could make a difference this summer.
For one thing, only three local races have more than one Democratic Party candidate - BOC District 2, coroner and sheriff. The influence of the all-Republican race for chairman of the BOC, however, will dampen the number of voters who ask for a Democratic ballot in July. Voters who don't get a Republican ticket in July probably won't get to vote on who their chairman will be.
That's bad news for Democrats in those three races since anything can happen with a low Democratic turnout. Traditional political wisdom doesn't hold when only a candidate and his family vote.
The real question, however, is what impact party affiliation will have in the November General Elections. The multitude of local Republican candidates obviously hope the coattails of George W. Bush will be long and solid and that local voters will look beyond the names on the ballot to find that little (R). There is the belief that many of the county's newer, and mostly Republican, voters don't know the candidates personally and thus vote only from party affiliation.
But there will be a few races that even new voters will watch closely because of the issues being debated. In those races, party affiliation may not be as important as the personal aspects of the candidates themselves.
Such may be the case in the two races for our state senator and representative.
Ah, but that's another column for another issue. Stay tuned; an interesting political summer awaits.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Column
Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
May 3, 2000

Headline: Cheap Beer Leads To Spread Of What?
The headline at the top of Friday's Athens newspaper gave me a huge scare.
"Cheap beer could be the culprit in spreading gonorrhea ­ Page 4A," it stated.
My mind raced, trying to remember any corroborating evidence that drinking beer could lead to venereal disease; my knees were shaking. Had scientists determined that a batch of Milwaukee's Best or Southpaw got contaminated?
Immediately after reading "Robotman" in the comics, I summoned the courage to confront my fear. I turned to Page 4.
"CDC study: Higher beer taxes reduce STD rates," it said. I wasn't worried about the standard rates. Where was the link between cheap beer and a disease that, far as I know, one normally contracted while in the prone position, in which it is very difficult to drink beer?
If you read the same story ­ hopefully with a less threatening headline ­ you will realize as I came to understand that it isn't cheap beer that's spreading gonorrhea, but rather people who get drunk on beer and do things they wouldn't do if sober.
The story was actually the craziest propaganda for high taxes I've heard since Guyana proposed a 10-cent per pack tax on Kool-Aid as a means of preventing another Jonestown-type massacre.
It never said this, exactly, but in between the lines it seemed that the Centers for Disease Control was suggesting that an increase in the tax on beer could cut down the rate of spread of gonorrhea. It turns out that the CDC compared changes in gonorrhea rates to changes in alcohol policy in all states from 1981 to 1985 and found that when taxes were raised, the rate of infection dropped.
For example, when California increased the tax per six-pack by 2.25 cents in 1991, gonorrhea rates dropped 30 percent among people ages 15-19 the next year. If they'd raised it another 7.5 cents, I supposed they'd have wiped out gonorrhea entirely.
I am not one to try to refute science, but my experience as a drinker of (only) the cheapest beer and my observation of the state of affairs in Georgia regarding beer lead me to considerable skepticism.
If the CDC is correct, its research should show Georgia, with one of the highest beer tax rates in America, to have just about the lowest rate of gonorrhea in the country. I challenge the CDC to punch those numbers and see if the correlation holds up.
Secondly, it is my opinion that drinkers of cheap beer are more socially responsible than those who drink premium brands. We pay $4.75 for a 12-pack of beer instead of $9.85, thus saving, uh, you do the math, a lot of money for other family needs such as lottery tickets and cigarettes. At a 12-pack a day, Milwaukee's Best drinkers save a whole bunch of money every week. Anyone foolish enough to pay twice as much for beer is stupid enough to have unprotected sex with total strangers. We're too smart for that.
It's a conspiracy between the liberal Democrats and the media to raise taxes. If we let them get away with this, next thing you know, they'll try to tell us that higher prices for newspapers will result in better editorials.

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