Jackson County Opinions...

 June 7, 2000

Letter To The Editor
The Commere News
June 7, 2000

Policy needed to protect mature trees
It's a shame City Hall has cut down that beautiful mature and irreplaceable magnolia tree in front of the City Hall building.
The magnolia tree, along with the other trees in Spencer Park, provided the city with a natural gateway into the Commerce downtown.
This city council and the county planning commission should devise guidelines before further destruction of mature trees occurs.

Claudia Markov, Commerce

The Jackson Herald
June 7, 2000

Update rezoning process
for C & I projects

It's virtually assured that the Jackson County Board of Commissioners will nix a rezoning request next week that would open the door for a private landfill north of Braselton. For one thing, the county failed to follow all of the notification procedures for such a rezoning, especially regarding the nearby Town of Braselton.
But even if there weren't a technicality, the approval of any private landfill, even one gussied up under a different name, is unlikely in Jackson County. We've been-there-done-that with the proposed Arcade landfill. Any plan to dig a hole in the ground and fill it with stuff will be met with a firestorm of opposition here.
This effort may have been doomed from the start, given that the rezoning application carefully hid the real intent of the rezoning. In reading that application, it is clear that those doing this landfill deal wanted to give the impression that an industrial park was planned for the site. There is no hint of a landfill or recycling center.
Such measures to disguise a rezoning usually means other matters are also hidden below the surface. For one thing, it isn't clear who all of the players are who have a hand in this deal.
But what is especially troublesome about this rezoning is the lack of advance scrutiny such projects are given by county officials. The process of gathering data for rezonings is loose and vague, giving those who wish to abuse the system an open door to do so. The format used for commercial and industrial rezonings should be far more detailed than the simple form currently being used. Specific details should be requested that would not allow applicants to hide their real intentions.
The second thing troubling about this is the broad usage given by some of our zoning categories. We've complained about that before in this space and this issue is an example of why our commercial and industrial zoning codes need a major overhaul.
In recent years, most of our local zoning disputes have centered around residential developments. Those zoning codes have slowly been modified and updated and while they're not perfect, they're far stronger than they used to be.
But Jackson County has not yet addressed the more serious issue of commercial and industrial rezonings. It's time we do so, because one misguided commercial or industrial development can cause far more damage to an area than a dozen subdivisions.
Whatever the ultimate outcome of this Hwy. 53 landfill proposal, this matter should serve as a wake-up call to our county leaders that the process for reviewing and approving commercial and industrial projects needs to be updated.

The Commerce News
June 7, 2000

Nicholson should spend
some money on library

If Nicholson city officials wonder why it is that the Harold S. Swindle Public Library is so underutilized, they need look no further than themselves. Monday night's city council meeting gave strong evidence as to why the library is so lacking.
The city council is sitting on cash reserves that could surpass $100,000 at the end of June, yet there is virtually no money in the budget for library programs or equipment. There has never been a public library budget covering more than utilities and upkeep and most of the library's lights do not work.
In short, the city has never taken enthusiastic ownership of what could be a marvelous facility. It accepted a Department of Education grant to cover 90 percent of the cost of the building, but since then has been reluctant to spend any money on it. As a result, the Nicholson facility lags behind similar libraries in similar towns. At one point, the town council declined to accept computers because it was unwilling to fund the monthly charges for service. Its rotation of books was minute, and those citizens who truly enjoy books ended up having to go to libraries in Commerce or Athens to meet their needs.
Even now, when the library needs computer tables to hold computers that were awarded in a grant, the town council insists on getting surplus office equipment and worries over the possibility that too much money is being spent.
As a new budget year approaches, the town council needs to heed council member Margaret Ward's advice and put some money into the library. It should budget money for books, for programs and maybe for a part-time assistant to librarian Bea Pearre. The city owes its citizens some return besides grass cutting and trash hauling, but it has been reluctant to spend a penny that was not absolutely necessary. City residents can point to very little that Nicholson buys with receipts from the local option sales tax, business license fees and franchise taxes paid by utility companies. After three quarters of the current year, the city spent only $1,320 of the $6,000 budgeted for the library, only $6,524 of the $28,576 budgeted for capital expenditures, only $217 of the $2,000 budgeted for beautification, only $2,929 of the $10,000 budgeted for equipment maintenance, etc. The only area in which the city is over budget is in "community service," a fund it uses to support local charities or sponsor school events.
Nicholson's revenue sources are largely mandated by law. It has no property taxes it can cut, so it just collects its share of the sales tax revenue and the franchise fees paid by utilities and hoards the money. The only way to return it to the Nicholson residents is through services such as the library and street paving.
The money sitting in the Nicholson treasury belongs to Nicholson residents. The council needs to start thinking about using some of that money to benefit city residents. The Harold S. Swindle Public Library is a good place to start.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
June 7, 2000

Day of partisan
politics has arrived

Although the November General Election is months away, two local Republican candidates are already dipping into their campaign war chests. Incumbent Rep. Scott Tolbert sent a letter to voters last week blasting his opponent, county commissioner Pat Bell, and touting a pre-qualifying March poll that showed him ahead of Bell.
Meanwhile, Republican senatorial challenger Mike Beatty is gearing up his campaign to unseat Democrat Sen. Eddie Madden. Beatty's campaign firm is routinely sending news releases to area newspapers, although none have yet been a direct attack on Madden. But an anonymous source mailed newspapers in Madden's district a packet of info that purported to paint the incumbent as being too cozy with lobbyists. That may or may not have come from Beatty's campaign, but it certainly came from an anti-Madden source.
Alas, there is less than meets the eye in all of this - in Tolbert's case, the poll he touted in his mailing misstated the actual results, apparently by throwing most of the undecided vote toward himself, showing his rating vs. Bell at 70 percent rather than the poll's actual 51 percent. (Question: Why would a campaign lie about poll results which were favorable without such distortion?) And his attack on Bell was carefully worded to make it look as though she had raised the county government's tax rate, when in reality it has not changed in four years. (New construction, both industrial and residential, had netted the county a lot more money, but the rate itself has not been raised.)
As for the attack on Madden, one hesitates to put Beatty's fingerprints directly on it since it came in a plain brown envelope with no return address and no name. But whatever the source, it was little more than a routine report of how many lobbyists bought Madden a meal during the recent General Assembly. Nothing major or even worthy of a debate was in the mysterious envelope.
If both of these tentative campaign forays by the Tolbert and Beatty campaigns appear shallow, they aren't. Both races are being run by professional political consultants and are driven by a slew of polling data. It's likely that Beatty will spend $200,000 on his race and Tolbert over $100,000. The day of the large-dollar campaign has arrived in Jackson County.
The reality is that both of these races exist on two levels: First, there are the local issues and concerns which are always a part of politics. That is the race which voters will see and which the candidates will talk about.
The other level, however, is the issue really behind these large-dollar elections: In a word, it is reapportionment. Both political parties are vying for legislative seats this year so that the party in power can draw Congressional and state election boundaries during 2001. Republicans believe this year's census data will create one or two new Congressional seats and that party wants to make sure the new lines favor them. Likewise, Democrats want to run the lines to their favor and to also reapportion state House and Senate seats in an effort to keep control of the legislature.
It is this reapportionment effort which underlies the money behind these two races. Local issues mean nothing to most of those who are funding these contests. Those issues are just fodder in the larger game of getting the right candidate elected to strengthen one party or the other. Democrats want to oust Tolbert and reclaim that seat for themselves; Republicans want to oust Madden and claim that spot for their party.
While all of that is going on behind the scenes, voters tend to focus on local issues and concerns. While there are some party loyalists on both sides - those who would vote for a particular party no matter who the candidate happened to be - most voters are far more independent. On local races, voters tend to cross party lines if they know a particular candidate, or are concerned about a particular issue.
Thus we have a situation where state and national political party money is being used locally to debate local issues that are not really the ultimate goal. Each political party wants control of the legislature, but voters want public officials who will represent them and their interests, the party politics be damned.
It's an odd arrangement, and while party politics has always been a factor in local races, it is reaching new heights in Jackson County this year. That's because of the reapportionment issue and the changing demographics of local voters caused by residential growth. In short, Jackson County is one part of a battleground in a much larger political war.
What voters here will have to weigh, however, are the local issues against the larger interests of the two political parties. There will likely be moments in these two campaigns when party politics will collide with a local issue.
In other words, do we as voters support a candidate because of his party, or do we support a party because of its candidates?
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
June 7, 2000

Action needed to attract rain
to end drought
Well, I tried. I did everything in my power to stop the drought, to no avail.
My effort culminated May 24. I had written a story about the drought, a story about how there would be plenty of water for lawns and gardens during the drought, and even an editorial (which I ended up running a week later) about a future water shortage. I also scheduled an evening of fishing.
Things appeared to be working. That afternoon, clouds appeared. Lightning flashed. The National Weather Service put the county under a "severe thunderstorm warning."
"You think we should go?" asked my fishing partner when I showed up at his house. "There's a sever thunderstorm warning. It's all around us."
The prudent thing would have been to stay home, but I was trying to make it rain.
"We have to go," I declared. "It's our civic duty."
At the lake, the storm clouds thickened. I felt a twinge of pride as it began to sprinkle. To the west and the south, the clouds were dark gray.
We fished from shore while we awaited the storm, but an amazing thing happened. It passed around us. Athens got a hard rain, but the Commerce area didn't get enough to wet the grass.
"I knew I should have washed the truck, maybe my car too," I commented.
It's been two weeks now, and while there have been a few clouds, we've had no measurable rain. Yards and pastures are suffering, and it's only going to get worse.
Weather patterns are changing; there was no rain during the Southern Nationals this year. It may be that even the City Lights Concert will be insufficient to bring rain.
It is time for city and county officials to show leadership. I propose that the county commissioners and the mayors and town councils throughout Jackson County declare June 17 as a countywide day of barbecues, picnics and car washes. Anyone planning a wedding for that day would be encouraged to schedule it outside, and companies, churches and other groups would be asked to have picnics and outdoor parties.
MainStreet Newspapers, as a community service, has already scheduled its company picnic for that day. (The year I was in charge it rained two inches, although dedication of a memorial at the county courthouse may have helped bring it about.)
Merchants should schedule sidewalk sales. Citizens can help by planning large yard sales. Civic and booster clubs could hold softball tournaments. It'd be a great time to schedule a parade.
They say it isn't nice to try to fool Mother Nature. I say that may be our only chance of getting some rain. We can sit back and wait, or we can take action.
Government must follow the MSN lead and declare Saturday, June 17, as "Outdoor Activity Day In Jackson County." The farmers, cattlemen, poultry growers and people who get water from wells will soon be desperate. We need to help them. Plan an outdoor event now for June 17. God bless you.

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