Madison County Opinion...

 May 3, 2000

By Frank Gillespie
The Madison County Journal
May 3, 2000

Frankly Speaking
A workforce dilemma
Two conflicting stories crossed my desk this week that have a direct bearing on Madison County's future economic development.
A news release from the Georgia Department of Labor points out "a persistent mismatch between available jobs and available workers" in the metro Athens area. Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, a resident of Athens, said: "Last year, metro Athens' economy generated more that 2,700 new jobs, but the civilian workforce has declined by 686 workers."
The result of these changes is an unemployment rate for the area of three percent. In Madison County, the rate is 2.1 percent. Thurmond continued, "Unless we increase the size of our workforce, the shortage could threaten the area's future economic prosperity."
At the same time, articles and editorials in the Athens Daily News promote a new effort to "create new jobs, expand the tax base...." The Athens/Clarke Commission has re-allocated $200,000 to this effort.
Now, since there are not currently enough workers to staff the businesses we now have here, where does Athens/Clarke expect to find more workers to fill these new jobs they plan to create? Obviously, they will have to recruit them from the surrounding counties, like Madison. Who will make the retail purchases in Athens/Clarke needed to "expand the tax base?" People from the surrounding counties, like Madison.
Madison County residents already make sizable contributions to the Athens/Clarke budget by purchasing goods in that county. Madison County has only a limited retail base, making it necessary for residents to shop in Clarke County.
Efforts are currently under way to develop a retail shopping district in the Hull/Dogsboro area of Madison County. A new water system is nearing completion to provide water and fire protection to prospective businesses. The expansion of the Ingles market is the first direct result of this effort.
If Athens/Clarke takes any more workers from Madison County, where will we find people to staff these new stores? Athens/Clarke can only achieve more growth at the expense of Madison and other area tax-starved counties.
It would be much better for Athens/Clarke to spend their $200,000 to help "'upskill' untapped segments of our indigenous population," as the Department of Labor report suggested. With low unemployment figures throughout the state, a growing workforce will draw new businesses without any special effort by local governments. Athens/Clarke would benefit just as much or more by diverting this money into education than recruitment efforts. And their damage to their neighbors will be limited.
Athens/Clarke officials should use better judgment in spending the people's money. Their mistakes hurt us all.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal.

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By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
May 3, 2000

Law requires boards to police themselves
I've had several people ask me to clarify what happened at the county school board's April meeting in which I reported that state senator Eddie Madden and representative Ralph Hudgens met with the board in closed session.
Here's what happened: The board called a closed session to discuss personnel, litigation and land issues. I left the media center where the board meets and waited outside alone - I was the only audience member at the meeting. Mr. Madden walked by after attending a Cattleman's Association Dinner and was asked in to visit with the board. Then, Mr. Hudgens walked by and he too was asked in for a brief visit. I was not asked in to either session, nor was I asked in when the board voted on the superintendent's recommendations before adjourning.
Later, I asked Mr. Hudgens what he talked about with the board and he said they discussed traffic plans around the new Hull-Sanford Elementary School, an issue that should be hashed out in public.
School leaders certainly have more to worry about than one reporter's concerns. They have the welfare of kids, parents and teachers to consider. Likewise, they must manage taxpayer money with care. These are huge responsibilities. In light of this, some may feel this column has the ring of Gomer Pyle shouting "citizen's arrest," something not worth taking seriously, just a stink raised over nothing.
Perhaps. But the problem is this: Any board in Georgia, and particularly in Madison County ­ where the issue of open meetings has been a hot topic - should hear sirens whenever discussion in a closed meeting strays outside the topics allowed by law.
Neither talking in private about plans for traffic around a new school nor voting in a closed session are allowed by law. And whether there's one person, or 100 people waiting outside a closed meeting, the closed session should be halted and anyone on hand to observe board business should be invited in when talk veers outside what's allowable in private.
Reporters like me will harp on this all day, but state legislators feel it's important too.
Consider that last year the state signed into effect a law that requires the chairman of governing bodies to sign an affidavit promising that all discussion in private was allowed by law. If an affidavit was signed for this meeting, then the law was not followed.
A more stringent open meetings law was established to ensure the public that their leaders will keep them informed. This law, however, relies on board members to police themselves. It's an honor code. And if governing bodies treat this flippantly, the whole system goes bad and the affidavits required by the state are rendered unworthy of the ink to sign them.
With the recent state legislation on opening meetings and local attention to the open meetings law, claims of "we just didn't know better" don't ring true. You have to wonder if it's more a matter of "we just don't care."
One group that is now showing it does care about following the open meetings law is the Madison County commissioners. A couple of years ago, the county commissioners excused themselves from the public's view at the drop of a hat, holding lengthy private meetings on matters that sometimes seemed questionable. Nowadays, the board rarely closes a meeting. And when they do, the group may argue the legality of excluding the public.
This is the result of a lot of political upheaval, but the diligence the board now shows in following the open meetings
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