The Commere News
June 21, 2000
Meal Price Increase
I am a resident of the city of Commerce and a Commerce City School
System parent. While I did not agree with the whole Education
Reform Bill, that seems to be a moot point now. I was, however,
concerned with several items that I read in the latest Commerce
News. In the issue of time and space, I will only address one.
How wonderful that the Commerce Board of Education is ahead of
schedule in many areas. Things seem to be going perfectly, except
for the families who were affected by the changes brought about
by the new bill. But I was concerned that the prices of school
lunches are going up next year. Why?
If things are going better than ever, why increase the prices
of lunches for students and faculty? Oh, I'm sorry, "They
are still in line with other school systems." Let me ask
a silly question; why does that matter? It sounds like we are
more concerned with keeping up with the Joneses than having the
better interests of our community individuals in mind. I thought
we were in great shape, budget wise. So why burden the working
I don't have room to air all of my opinions, but I would love
to read a response from a member of the board or a member of
the community who has a better understanding of this issue than
Thank you, Ricky Fitzpatrick
Editor's Note: Food Services Director Lynda Baker reports that the
meal program has to break even. Elementary school meal prices
had not been raised in several years, so had to be increased
more than middle and high school meal prices, The food service
budget receives no local monetary assistance and is completely
separate from the maintenance and operation budget of the school
June 21, 2000
Surprise! Tax Assessors'
Office Was Mismanaged
The county is hearing a familiar tune these days. A consultant
is singing the blues that the tax assessors' office has been
mismanaged for years.
To quote the teenagers when the obvious is stated duh!
That the office of the tax assessor has been mismanaged is as
startling as an announcement that something called the Internet
is a new way of doing business. Where's the news here? Anyone
who has been involved in city government or a school board over
the past decade has known for years that the office of the tax
assessor has been mismanaged.
The clue has been there every fall for the past four years when
the tax digest was not ready in time for city governments and
the three boards of education to send out tax bills. Another
clue was the frequent reassessment mandated by the state because
the county tax digest did not meet state standards. Errors repeated
year after year provided further evidence.
These problems have been explained away in the past. It seems
like Jackson County has invested in at least two new computer
systems, both of which were to solve the problem. Last May yet
another consultant was brought on board. Oh, and the problem
is not the fault of the current employees. It never has been,
come to think of it.
Out of the confusion and the mismanagement, one thing will happen
for certain. County property will be reappraised and your tax
bill will go up. "Everybody's got to pay their fair share,"
they say, but somehow over the past decade, that still hasn't
There can be more than one reason for mismanagement, and while
it is easiest to blame people no longer employed in the office
of the tax assessors, maybe the Jackson County Board of Commissioners
needs to look more closely at itself. Did the commissioners provide
sufficient resources for the tax assessors to do their jobs?
When the tax assessors asked for more help to keep up with the
property changes in a fast-growing county, did the commissioners
One of the first things to suffer when a staff gets overworked
is attention to detail. If the county commissioners did not provide
sufficient personnel for the office of the tax assessors, they
deserve a lot of the blame for the "countless errors"
now turning up.
The obvious that the office has been mismanaged has
been stated. The blame has been cast, for what that's worth.
What the citizens want, and what the other taxing authorities
need, is for the board of commissioners to do what it takes to
get it fixed and to provide the funds to keep it fixed. We've
been hearing this sad tune long enough.
The Jackson Herald
June 21, 2000
Time for rec review
As the annual baseball recreation leagues wind down, it's time
for the county to review its overall recreation programs. While
baseball is the dominate sport, other programs do exist and several
more should perhaps be considered.
The problem is, there is no way for Jackson County citizens to
really evaluate the county's recreation programs. The county
recreation board has not met publicly in years and we wonder
if it has become defunct altogether. Recreation issues seldom
surface at meetings of the board of commissioners unless there
is a major controversy involved.
Organized recreation programs have come a long way in Jackson
County over the last decade, but they still have a long way to
go. While our recreation programs have the usual problems of
some boorish coaches and parents who disrupt games, our concerns
are more fundamental - that is, have we organized our recreation
programs in the best way possible, or could we do better?
We believe Jackson County could do better. For one thing, the
relationship between the various community booster clubs and
the county recreation department is fuzzy and unclear. Under
the current system, everyone is in charge, which really means
that no one is in charge. Rather than having clear leadership,
we have a system that actually encourages bickering and infighting.
Beyond that, there are a myriad of smaller issues that someone
should address. Why, for example, are the baseball seasons so
long? Often a week or more will pass between games. And why doesn't
the recreation department explore offering new programs beyond
the traditional ones that have been around for years?
Some of these problems may, over time, work themselves out. Jefferson's
programs, for example, have grown so large that it may be time
for the city to hire a full-time recreation director. Likewise,
the Braselton-Hoschton area could likely also support a full-time
director for the programs in the West Jackson area.
But all of that will take leadership and such leadership is in
short supply today.
We have always been cautious about how far the county government
should go in its recreation offerings. Like a lot of other parts
of government, recreation can be a deep hole into which large
sums of money are thrown.
Yet, if we are going to offer a recreation program, we should
make sure it is done right and run efficiently and effectively.
One only has to look at neighboring Madison County for an example
of a first class recreation program.
Unfortunately, we can't say the same for Jackson County. That
isn't any one person's fault, but is rather a failure we all
have a hand in.
It's time for some leadership on the county's recreation programs.
Is that person you?
The Jackson Herald
June 21, 2000
stolen off grave
I suppose that when one hears of things such as school shootings
and church burnings, one should not be surprised at what I am
about to relate. Nevertheless, when it happens to your family
on the grounds of the church you grew up in, it still comes as
quite a shock.
Monday, I received a call from my two older brothers, Dan and
Gilmer, about what Dan called "a problem." It seems
that a rather large, mostly red and white silk flower arrangement
that we, along with our sister, Lori, had purchased in honor
of our late father's birthday and Father's Day had disappeared
from his grave in Brockton!
Our Mom, understandably distraught, at first thought the flowers
had been blown elsewhere in the cemetery. She searched both sides
of the road there at Bethany United Methodist Church to no avail.
The inescapable conclusion was that someone had stolen the flowers.
I understand from my mother-in-law that this type of theft has
become somewhat of a racket. The flowers are stolen, and later
show up at things such as flea markets and the like. What a despicable
practice, but I suppose nothing should really surprise us any
more, and that is a dirty shame.
At first, I, too was outraged at the egregious nature of such
a theft. The sheer lowness of this thing galls me to the core.
Then, I also felt a kind of sadness. Anyone who would perpetrate
such an act, whether it be from the standpoint of money or meanness,
is also to be pitied. I shall pray for whoever did this.
I shall also pray that the law finds them first.
Sincerely, R. Garry Glenn, Oakwood
The Jackson Herald
June 21, 2000
Questions for BOC
The one political race that will be decided this summer is that
for chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. Since
all three candidates are Republicans, there won't be a Democratic
challenger in November.
This will be an interesting race, magnified by the fact that
this is the first election under the new county government structure.
For the first time ever, the BOC chairman won't be full-time.
Rather, a county manager will be hired to run the county on a
day to day basis, while the chairman will run the meetings of
the new five-member BOC. The chairman will also act as the county's
spokesman at ceremonial occasions.
Thursday night, the three candidates for this position, Harold
Fletcher, Roy Grubbs and Tommy Stephenson, will participate in
a Republican forum in Commerce. That should be an interesting
meeting since these three men come from varying backgrounds.
Both Fletcher and Stephenson are former members of the BOC while
Grubbs is a political newbie. Fletcher's political history is
as a tough, outspoken board member. Stephenson's style is more
laid-back (with the exception of his years as mayor of Commerce
in the mid-1980s which was a tumultuous time.) Grubb's style
is less clear. Except for a heated exchange with the board two
years ago during the Mulberry Plantation issue, Grubbs hasn't
been on the public stage very much. (He was tossed out of that
As a member of the forum panel Thursday night, I get to ask one
question to this group of candidates. Should I ask this group
a hard question (what percent of the county budget comes from
property taxes?), or should I be gentle and lob a soft question
(why are you running?)
Alas, I'll be fair and give these candidates a hint about what
they will be asked Thursday night. I'll ask one of the following
Question #1: Outline in detail how you would propose the board
of commissioners hire a county manager? How should the county's
day-to-day operations be run prior to the hiring of a county
Question #2: As chairman of the BOC under the new government
structure, what do you see as your role in county government?
Question #3: Growth is the major issue in Jackson County today.
Given that each of you is a Republican and Republicans believe
in a minimum of governmental intrusion to the marketplace, what
do you believe is the fair and appropriate role for the county
government in these growth issues? Should the county government
be "activist" in attempting to manage, control and
regulate growth, or should the county government just attempt
to provide a level playing field for the various interests and
address infrastructure issues?
Question #4: Everyone complains about property taxes and rising
assessments. But a recent state audit showed that in fact, many
local assessments aren't high enough because of inaccurate data.
On top of that, the demands of growth, such as the need for a
new courthouse, animal control and other major expenses, is pressuring
county finances. As chairman, what would you propose to do to
keep property taxes in line while at the same time funding all
these needs? As part of your answer, please indicate your views
about impact fees on new homes.
Question #5: What do you think is the one most important skill
for a county manager to have?
Question #6: Under the new form of government, four commissioners
will be elected by district. Some fear that system will lead
to factions and turmoil in county government. As chairman, how
would you propose to make sure everyone has a say in setting
policy, while at the same time keeping the board from bickering?
Question #7: As chairman, would you promote adopting board policies
to govern the actions of all board members, such as board members'
access to county perks and how individual board members are to
interact with county employees?
Question #8: The county government recently got into the sewage
business. Do you believe that was a good decision, or should
the county have continued to depend on septic systems in rural
Question #9: A large percentage of property in Jackson County
has low taxes because of special agricultural exemptions, such
as the conservation use program. That shifts more of the tax
burden to homeowners and businesses. Do you think these agricultural
exemptions are good, or should all property owners be taxed equally
regardless of the kind of property involved?
Question #10: The governor has said he wants fast growing counties
like Jackson to preserve 20 percent of its land as green space.
Do you think that is a good idea and if so, how would you propose
that the county government accomplish that? Would you favor raising
taxes to purchase land for green space?
Question #11: A major effort toward a new courthouse has begun.
Having followed those plans, do you believe the design is good
and sufficient, or would you prefer starting the process all
Question #12: Do you favor raising the homestead exemption for
senior citizens, giving older homeowners a tax break and shifting
the tax burden more toward younger homeowners? If you answer
"yes," would you also favor an income cap to qualify?
Question #13: Animal control problems are much discussed in Jackson
County. Do you favor the county government funding and building
a county-wide animal control facility? If your answer is "yes,"
how should that facility be paid for?
Question #14: Mobile homes as a choice of housing in Jackson
County has come under fire by some leaders. Critics say mobile
home owners don't pay their fair share of the tax burden and
that mobile homes should be more restricted. Do you believe mobile
homes should be more restricted in Jackson County? If your answer
is "yes," how would you propose to restrict them? If
your answer is "no," how would you propose to make
sure mobile home owners pay their fair share of the tax burden?
Now, readers, which question should I ask?
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
June 21, 2000
Mall Designed To Resemble Downtown Area
Barbara and I took last Thursday off in honor of our 26th wedding
anniversary, the highlight of which would be a meal at an Atlanta
Part of the excursion was to be a visit to the Mall of Georgia,
the first for either of us and more of an exploration than a
shopping trip. I'd driven around the mall during its construction,
but this was the first visit since it opened.
The most impressive thing was the way the exterior was designed
to resemble a downtown, curious, because malls originally were
designed to look like anything but a downtown. Strange things
happen in the fullness of time.
We entered at one end and walked the length. Barbara would enter
a shop, and I'd sit on the bench out front. Thursdays must not
be great shopping days, for though there were plenty of cars
in the parking lots, there were few people in the stores. I watched
for 15 minutes while a male clerk at the fragrance counter in
Dillards walked aimlessly around, stopping every so often to
talk to a female clerk at a competing fragrance counter. Neither
of them had a customer nor spoke to anyone else.
The developers get high marks for decorating. The upstairs was
richly carpeted and well planted with flora native to malls in
The mannequins were a strange lot. Some were full body, some
less, but there were an amazing number that suffered from lack
of hands and heads, though the latter disability didn't prevent
store decorators from hanging hats on the stumps. One store had
a line of mannequins suspended by the necks from a gallows-like
device that suggested a mass hanging. Perhaps it was a Goth store.
The Victoria's Secret shop advertised bras 40 percent off, but
they all seemed firmly attached from where I sat, and a majority
of those entering the Bath & Body Works store looked like
they could use a little body work. Actually, observing humanity
in a mall or other public place is all it takes to realize most
Americans need body work.
The stores were fishing for Father's Day shoppers.
Mother to 4-year-old daughter, holding up a shirt: "Do you
think Daddy would like this color?"
Little girl: "Bleccch."
A lot of tragically useless gifts must have wound up in the hands
of astounded fathers. The Pocket Handyman purported to contain
every tool (made in China) that a man would need to repair his
tractor or his hard drive. The "Here Fishy, Fishy"
hats were beer store castoffs, and the suitcase of garden implements
(including various pruning shears and faucet connections) fairly
shouted out YUPPIE! And then there was the belt with T-O-M-M-Y
H-I-L-F-I-G-E-R printed larger than anything in this newspaper.
For $33, one could be a walking billboard for the official clothing
company of Generation X.
The Mall of Georgia is an excellent place to watch people and
to shop for folks who already have everything. It's 38 miles
from Commerce by car, but light years away in time and in style.
It was built to resemble a downtown outside, but inside it resembles,
well, a mall. Too bad about that.
Mark Beardsley is editor of The Commerce News.