Jackson County Opinions...

 August 30, 2000

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
August 30, 2000

For REAL Good TV, Can't Beat Little League
Perhaps missing the final episode of "Survivor" will become a generational shortcoming, sort of like missing Woodstock in the 60s, but while 50 million people were trying to figure out who would win the CBS "reality TV" cash prize last Wednesday, I was watching Little League World Series baseball on ESPN2. It never even occurred to me to switch to CBS.
I "discovered" LLWS baseball last year. It's the best baseball on TV because every game is huge to each and every 11-and 12-year-old boy on each team. Emotions run high, but so do skill levels. I watched one pitcher take a perfect game into the seventh inning (regulation play is six), saw a diving grab and backhand flip as Saudi Arabia beat Canada and witnessed some pretty sophisticated coaching and pitching from the Bellaire, Texas, U.S. champs. I saw a great bunch of big athletes from the Bronx beaten in extra innings by a New Hampshire squad that looked like midgets by comparison, and I saw the Texas catcher save a run by blocking the plate like Mike Piazza.
Baseball is my sport. Football is OK and watching basketball is better than having a hemorrhoid lanced, but a good baseball game is something to savor. I'll take a low-scoring contest, given the option, and watch the strategies unfold as managers and players try to steal a run.
But above all, baseball is a kids' game. It may be that the pros have a good time, but when you watch a Little League all-star game, you see kids having a great time.
I pitched for our Little League all-star team, losing the eliminating game in the state tournament, an extra-inning affair, thanks to an umpire's bad call. But when I watched the LLWS last week, the baseball I saw was a lot better than what we played in 1962.
The 12-year-olds take the game seriously in that they play hard and smart and, above all, to win, but not so seriously that they throw tantrums and pout when they lose. They know it's just a game, even if some of their parents haven't worked that out yet.
The games were as exciting as any World Series competition. There were great defensive plays, heads-up baserunning, pitchers striking out the side after loading the bases with no outs, diving catches and clutch hits from the eighth and ninth spots in the lineup. Reserves came in to get big hits, pitchers threw change-ups for strikes, and there was a 12-year-old with a mustache.
It was a different kind of "Survivor" on ESPN2, the kind where the fittest team for six (or seven) innings survived and the other was eliminated. There were no silly contests, no votes to see who was put out and no cash prize for the winner.
The American public's taste in entertainment is always subject to analysis. That "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," "Survivor," "Big Brother," and the others are considered "reality" shows is bizarre. They are invitations to a voyeuristic escape from reality, and the fact that so many people are entranced by them says. a lot about our culture.
Little League is baseball at its purest. The 11-and 12-year-olds are fun to watch and the games are exciting. They're also real.

The Jackson Herald
August 30, 2000

Tolbert response on Water Wise deal long on words, short on the truth
After months of staying quiet about his role in the Water Wise affair, Rep. Scott Tolbert responded to critics last week by saying his work for the firm was only attempting to "ease the burden on the taxpayers of this county."
Unfortunately, Rep. Tolbert's words were more about easing the burden of his political career than about the truth. Once again, he attempted to mislead the public about the depth of his own role in that controversy.
Let us be specific:
·Rep. Tolbert claimed that Water Wise had made offers to the county water and sewer authority that were "both realistic and economically beneficial for the county." Water Wise did indeed attempt to get the authority to sign off on its dealings, but that group balked when it realized that it was not in the community's interest to allow a private sewage company to have control over the county's future growth. The terms set forth by Rep. Tolbert and Water Wise were not beneficial for the county.
·Rep. Tolbert said he was only the "closing attorney" when Water Wise purchased the old Texfi facility and that only after the county condemned the plant was his law firm of Tolbert & Elrod hired by Water Wise. But the truth is, both he and other members of his family were deeply involved in the Water Wise negotiations and dealings long before the county filed a suit to condemn the Texfi plant. Rep. Tolbert cannot rewrite the history of his entanglements now that he wants to distance himself from Water Wise for political reasons.
·Rep. Tolbert said he is "no longer affiliated in any way with the City of Pendergrass" and attempted to distance himself from the July 1999 meeting when the Pendergrass City Council was mislead by Water Wise. But the truth is, Rep. Tolbert's law firm attempted to represent both Pendergrass and Water Wise in that deal until this newspaper pointed out the obvious conflict of interest. Rep. Tolbert played a key role in setting up that 1999 meeting as a ruse to end-run the county water authority. To do that, Rep. Tolbert used his brother, the mayor, and his father, a city councilman, to mislead the council about the real intentions of Water Wise. To say he is unfamiliar with all of that simply isn't the truth.
·Rep Tolbert said Pendergrass was "eager" to get sewage and voted to approve the signing of a Trust Indenture with Water Wise. The truth is, the Trust Indenture was never mentioned in that 1999 meeting, although his brother the mayor did indeed sign it the following day. Whatever the rest of the city council believed, Tolbert family members on the city council and Rep. Tolbert himself knew that there would not be a sewage plant in Pendergrass. (Where is it?) All they wanted was a government signature on a key document Water Wise needed for an EPD permit.
·Rep. Tolbert said his attempt to gut Sen. Eddie Madden's bill that gave local governments final say over private utility firms' power to condemn land was an effort to defend the state's businesses. He also said he was not "arguing on behalf of Water Wise" when he made that effort on the floor of the state House of Representatives. Poppycock! Rep. Tolbert blatantly used his public position in an attempt to stop legislation that would curtail the power of Water Wise, his private legal client. Not only that, when questioned by a fellow legislator, he denied that he had anything to do with Water Wise. That Rep. Tolbert's effort to gut the bill failed 107-53 shows that even his legislative colleagues saw through his attempt at deceit. Of all his actions, this one on the floor of the state House was the worst.
Rep. Tolbert said in Tuesday's political forum that he's "disgusted" with the political process. But if the political process has been compromised, it is because of politicians like Rep. Tolbert himself - politicians who openly use their public positions for private gain.
We agree, Rep. Tolbert - "disgusted" is a very good word to describe how we feel about both your words and your actions.

By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
August 30, 2000

Leadership is important
Last week, I had the opportunity to talk briefly with the new class of Leadership Jackson County. Sponsored by the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce, the leadership program is designed to expose participants to a variety of timely issues and to foster a better understanding of leadership skills.
Many in this year's Leadership Jackson class are already leaders. Others will no doubt soon be leaders in various public and private efforts. All recognize how important leadership is to Jackson County's future.
Because news reporters spend a lot of time talking with various community leaders, we often get a unique look at the inner dynamics of local leadership. I don't know if that makes us better judges of those involved in community leadership, but it does make us sensitive to the demands of leadership.
Each month, this newspaper covers nine town councils, three school boards, a board of commissioners, a county water authority, a regional water authority, a planning commission and a host of lower-profile events and officeholders. Altogether, we come in contact with well over 100 leaders each month in Jackson County. (That doesn't count those leaders from Banks and Madison Counties where we also publish newspapers.)
From this broad perspective, there are several general observations about leadership that seem to be consistent no matter what group we're covering:
1. Individuals matter. While most public decisions are made by committees of people, individual leadership is important to the final outcome. Different people have different skills and each one is valuable in the decision-making process. The top leader in a group, however, is the person who can synthesize those various ideas into a cohesive package that leads to a final decision.
2. Personality does matter. People who get along well with others are generally more effective leaders. No matter the details of an issue, those who are sensitive to opposing views and who can "agree to disagree" on matters of policy are more effective than those who attempt to ram their views through a board.
3. Wide views are more important than narrow perspectives. Those who can keep some distance between themselves and individual issues are generally more effective than those who pursue single agendas. People with narrow agendas in public life usually wind up sounding like a broken record. Those who have the ability to weigh the issues and keep the various issues in perspective usually wind up making the best decisions.
4. A focus on public service rather than self-service is important. Those who enter public positions thinking they will find a way to enrich themselves personally generally make bad decisions. If the focus of a leader is on himself and not the public, he won't be a good leader.
5. Respect for the process is important. Those who have the patience to make sure issues are handled properly are better leaders than those who let their impulses control their actions. Just as important as the final outcome is the process to that outcome. If the process is compromised by end runs and impatience, the final outcome will be tainted.
6. Moral authority is important. Actions don't exist in a vacuum and policy leaders should ask themselves one question about every decision: "Is this the right thing to do?"
7. There is no substitute for common sense. All too often, leaders let themselves get tangled up in a legal or bureaucratic web. Some of that is to be expected, but good leaders also know when to step back and apply common sense to an issue.
8. Good leaders respect the individual. All too often, leaders get caught up in group politics and forget that the foundation of our government is to protect individual, not collective, rights.
9. Good leaders know when to hold and when to fold. No leader ever gets his own way on everything. Some issues are worth fighting for, while others fall low on the list of priorities. A good leader will pick and choose his battles carefully.
10. Leadership is proactive, not just reactive. Good leaders can spot issues before they come to the surface. They may not be able to solve those problems in advance, but at least they get the dialogue going early in the process.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
August 30, 2000

Shifting Tax Burden Not A Viable Solution
In a full-page advertisement published last week, Rep. Scott Tolbert pledged that, if re-elected, he would introduce legislation to "end county property reappraisals for Jackson County homeowners." The idea, he explained, is to reappraise homes only when they are sold, which means someone buying a house valued at $140,000 in 2001 could pay taxes based on 40 percent of that amount for 20-40 years ­ if the house was not sold.
That sounds like a wonderful idea, but it isn't. Tolbert's proposition would shift the burden of property taxation to other pieces of property and would create vast tax inequities between similar houses based solely on length of ownership. By slowing the growth of the tax digest, it could also force governing authorities to raise millage rates.
It is true that the sale of a house is normally the best way of determining its value, but it is the market that dictates the value of house and land. As long as Georgia uses property taxes to finance education and local government, the only fair way to implement that tax is to base it on the value of the property.
Tolbert also proposes to eliminate school taxes for the elderly, another case of redistributing the tax burden. If the homeowners are paying less and the elderly less, who will pick up the slack? Somebody will, because the school systems and city and county governments must have the funds to operate.
What motivates politicians like Tolbert to propose exemptions or exceptions to the current tax law is a desire to win votes; give breaks to the homeowners to win their votes, to farmers to win theirs, to the elderly to win theirs. But the reality of the situation is that every exemption for one group means more taxes must be paid by the next, and every change actually diminishes the fairness of the tax.
Tolbert says he does not like taxes. Who does? But his salary in the General Assembly is paid by taxes, the roads he uses to get there are tax-built, the schools educating his constituents' children are funded by taxes, and all government services are paid for by taxes of one kind or another. Taxes are unpleasant, but not evil, and responsible leaders will not only work to keep them as low as possible, but also to make sure they are equitably applied. Tolbert's proposals would do nothing to lower the overall tax burden; they would only shift it, and he's not saying who would have to pay more so some could pay less.

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