The Madison County Journal
May 3, 2000
Two conflicting stories crossed my desk
this week that have a direct bearing on Madison County's future
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
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.
The Madison County Journal
May 3, 2000
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
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
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