Jackson County Opinions...

 June 21, 2000

Letter To The Editor
The Commere News
June 21, 2000

Parent Questions School
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 families further?
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 I do.

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 system.

The Commerce
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 happened.
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 fund it?
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?

Letter To The Editor
The Jackson Herald
June 21, 2000

Flower arrangement stolen off grave
Dear Editor:
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

By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
June 21, 2000

Questions for BOC candidates
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 meeting.)
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 14 questions:
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 manager?
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 areas?
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 over again?
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.

Mark Beardsley
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 restaurant.
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 wild.
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.

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