Jackson County Opinions...

 July 5, 2000


Column
Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
July 5, 2000

Finally, We Have A Real Festival In Commerce
Even the "professional" wrestling couldn't spoil the City Lights Festival last week.
I stand by everything I wrote earlier about the City Lights Festival as a venue for wrestling, and note that the two people who contested my point of view on that matter did not show up at the event to see for themselves.
However, the silly wrestling was but a small part of a three-day event that was otherwise splendid, carried off flawlessly and something Commerce has every right to be proud of.
While I was watching the Flying Jordans, and they were at least as good as the full-time hardcore wrestlers, folks who ate dinner with Bill Anderson, Helen Cornelius and Jim Ed Brown had a great time. It's an event that can be duplicated every year.
What can I say about the concert? It's not my preference in music, but it went off without a hitch. All of the concerns addressed after last year's concert were gone. Security was tighter, there were plenty of volunteers, the parking went better. Why, even the Hardcore wrestlers were there to help out. It was superbly organized, even if it did run a little long for old geezers like yours truly. Hats off to Rob and Gerald Jordan, the Commerce Area Business Association, Jan Nelson and to all of the folks who put in long hours to make it work.
The professional musicians drew people from places as diverse as Bermuda and New Jersey plus folks from all over Georgia. They all had a great time, which means they'll be back next year.
But the real success was Saturday, when downtown blossomed with tables, booths, music and dance. This was Jan's baby, and she did a splendid job putting it together.
I can speak as one who has been less than enthusiastic about festivals in general: this was great. There was a good variety of food, a wide array of real crafts, and some pretty good entertainment. One could walk the length of the downtown, visit with friends, explore the booths, harass the Republicans and Democrats, watch cloggers or singers, and be refreshed with a cold beverage or a hot barbecue sandwich.
Maybe it's too early, but I heard very few complaints about the entire weekend. There are adjustments that can be made that will make it still better, but that will always be the case.
We can finally truly call it the City Lights Festival.
Now I went to the wrestling match with the idea of reviewing it, and I wrote 700 words that essentially suggested it was a silly event. But, given the scope of the success of everything else, those comments seem irrelevant. For every bad thing to say about that, there are five or 10 good things to say about the rest.
On the one hand, you have the charity of Anderson, Brad Paisley, Jim Ed Brown, Helen Cornelius, Connie Smith and others. On another, you have the hard work of Nelson, the Jordans, the CABA and their volunteers and sponsors. Those folks working together produced something that was fun for thousands of people, an event that made Commerce a destination for something other than outlet shopping. Good job, folks.



Editorial
The Jackson Herald
July 5, 2000

Impact fees not THE answer
One of the key issues that has surfaced in the various board of commissioners races has been the potential use of impact fees in Jackson County. Several candidates have endorsed the idea as a way to "make growth pay for itself."
The idea of levying impact fees is no doubt popular with many voters in Jackson County. Growth does cost money and it's appealing to think that those who are generating growth should bear all the financial burden.
But while impact fees may have some limited uses, they won't do what many people believe. The funds from impact fees can be used only for very narrow purposes and are directly associated with a particular project. The funds do not flow into the county's general budget.
That means, for example, that impact fees cannot be used to help pay for the new Jackson County Courthouse. Certainly growth has created the need for additional courthouse space, but impact fees will not ease that financial burden.
Impact fees can be used for water and sewer projects, but even in those instances they may not be a viable option. For example, Jackson County is part of the Bear Creek Reservoir project and has a large debt associated with that venture. The county needs to sell water in order to meet its long-term debt obligations. To do that, it needs to encourage new customers to join the county water system, including those associated with new subdivisions and new industries. Levying a large impact fee may discourage rather than encourage the growth of that much-needed customer base.
Another problem with impact fees is that if the county government puts them in place, they would only affect unincorporated areas of the county. The nine towns in Jackson County would not be mandated to use impact fees inside their city limits. That might be important to the county school system, which is seeking industrial growth inside its tax district. If that industrial growth moves instead to Jefferson or Commerce because of high county impact fees, the outcome may actually cost county taxpayers more money rather than less.
There are some limited instances, of course, that may be suitable for impact fees. The building of a road to access a particular development may lend itself to some kind of impact fee. In future years when the county's water and sewer resources begin to reach capacity, it may be appropriate to levy impact fees for major projects that would cause an unscheduled upgrade of the system's capacity.
We hate to burst the bubble of those who have zeroed in on impact fees as a central issue of the current campaigns. But the truth is, impact fees are more hype than reality. There are no simple solutions to the county's complex problems.
For candidates and voters to embrace impact fees as THE solution is just setting all parties up for a big disappointment down the road.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
July 5, 2000

Time to stop state 'word police'
It's July 4th and I'm beginning to wonder where our freedom is going.
Now, I'm not one who subscribes to all the various conspiracy theories about a one-world government, or that Bill Clinton wants to turn the U.S. over to the U.N. No, my worry is more subtle and for that reason, more dangerous: The ongoing efforts to control free speech in this nation are far more insidious than any imagined plot cooked up by those on the political fringe.
What has really gotten my ire up in recent weeks is a movement by a little-known state agency to slam newspapers over the content in classified ads. The Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity has targeted newspaper housing ads and is gunning for those who publish ads deemed to indicate a preference for a particular type renter or buyer.
Several newspapers in Georgia have been hit by this shadow agency. Similar agencies exist in other states and have hit newspapers around the nation over the content of housing ads.
At issue are federal rules that say landlords and home sellers cannot discriminate in their housing. A landlord, for example, cannot turn down a renter because of race, religion, sex, family status or disability. A real estate agent cannot refuse to show or sell houses to a prospective buyer for the same reasons.
That's fair enough. No one should discriminate against people in housing.
But the state government, backed by federal laws on the matter, has taken that simple idea to an absurd level of stupidity. For one thing, it has targeted newspapers in its efforts, forcing us to be word police for housing ads. Not only does this agency respond to complaints of possible discrimination, it has people on staff whose job is to scour newspapers in an effort to find advertising that might be discriminatory. If the agency believes it has found a discriminatory ad, it has the power to fine the newspaper $10,000 for the first offense and up to $50,000 for other offenses.
But it gets worse. Not only does this agency look for obvious ways of discrimination, it looks for invisible ways a newspaper ad might discriminate. A "walk-in closet" listed in an ad, for example, might be deemed to discriminate against the handicapped. In Missouri, an ad for an apartment that said "fabulous view over St. Louis Cathedral" was red-flagged because it might discriminate on the basis of religion.
Here in Georgia, a publisher was cited for a rental ad that said "no children." He thought he was correct in doing that because one of the landlords was a convicted pedophile who couldn't be around children. The state's housing word police got him, however, and he had to attend "sensitivity" training.
Not only are words policed in ads, but images are scrutinized as well. Real estate ads have to use a mix of artwork to cover all possible ethnic, family and racial mixes. An Atlanta newspaper reportedly had to remove a golden retriever from a real estate ad because the word (and picture) police said that breed dog was too closely associated with white families and would therefore discriminate against other ethnic groups.
All of this is absurd. In an attempt to establish fair housing, the state and federal government has instead trampled on the First Amendment by going after newspapers even when there have been no complaints of discrimination. The basis for these actions is simply the language and images used in advertising. No actual discrimination has to be proven.
This government search for politically incorrect "code words" is frightening. In most civil actions, some damage has to be proven for a plaintiff to pursue his case. If there are no damages, then there is no case.
The word police, however, don't have to show any damages. They don't have to show that there was any intent to discriminate. They don't have to show that the newspaper conspired to discriminate. They don't even have to show evidence of obvious discrimination.
All this agency has to do is read a housing ad and look for what it believes are "code words" or images it suspects might discriminate.
Newspapers should not be targeted for state or federal harassment simply over the language in a housing ad. If we allow that to continue, other aspects of a free press will be endangered as well.
It's time for those of us in the newspaper industry to fight back. Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
July 5, 2000

Greatest threat to freedom comes from us
Yesterday (Tuesday) was the most important American holiday, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence at which point a rag-tag group of Americans declared that America was free of British rule.
July Fourth is typically a day of flag-waving, patriotic rhetoric, fireworks, and trips to the lake.
It is also another day of taking the freedom that the first patriots won for granted, even as it erodes around us. And while Americans tend to blame the government for the erosion of freedom, Americans are the reason there are movements to limit freedom.
Those who are careless or who commit crimes with firearms have created a national call for gun control. Businesses and individuals who use freedom of the press to publish pornography create a public demand for censorship. Internet sites dedicated to violence or to pornography result in government attempts at regulation. Programmers who give us violent television shows and movies have also caused interest in their censorship. America cherishes its freedom to worship, but it harbors those who want government to sanction one particular religion. Wherever there is a movement to deny or limit American freedom, there is an abuse by Americans of that freedom, and once a movement begins to limit freedom, there is no predicting where it will stop.
It is a cliche that with freedom comes responsibility; but maybe on this Independence Day Americans need to focus as much on their responsibilities as on their freedoms. We live in a Democracy, but less than half of the people who could vote actually do vote. We have freedom to worship as we choose, but only half of those who claim to be believers actually worship regularly. Nowhere else is freedom of the press enjoyed as much as it is here, but we Americans have created a vast market for books, magazines and other media depicting senseless violence and pornography, as though having that freedom removes any sense of responsibility.
For most of this country's history the idea was that Americans went to war to protect our freedom when it was challenged by some foreign power. Today, the biggest threat to American freedom is our own public recklessness with and apathy about that freedom. Those who exploit and abuse our freedoms are every bit as much a threat to them as were the soldiers of the British army in 1776. Some 224 years ago, Patriots banded together to fight for rights they didn't have. Unless we protect them, those rights will be taken away by our own government ­ by we the citizens in "the land of the free and the home of the brave."


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