The Commerce News
September 6, 2000
Public From Public Meetings
You may have read Jana Adams' column on
this page last week about closed meetings. I appropriated it
from The Jackson Herald because it applies here. Also in last
week's Herald, Adam Fouche wrote on the subject of closed meetings.
So, you've probably figured out that we newspaper folk don't
like closed meetings.
Actually, we don't like meetings at all, whether they're open
or closed. But that's part of our jobs, attending these functions
where decisions are supposedly made. And when folks go behind
closed doors to discuss the public's business in private, we
Jana has to cover the Commerce Board of Education, which has
a long tradition of holding long closed sessions. I used to cover
those meetings, but someone decided they should be held on the
same night as Commerce Council meetings, and I can't be two places
It goes without saying that I was crushed to have to give up
The BOE always has a closed session, and it never gives a specific
reason for not being public with the public's business. Someone
reads a list of all the items that could legally be discussed
in a closed session, but they consistently refuse to say which
items were discussed.
The Commerce City Council seldom has a closed session, mainly
because Mayor Charles L. Hardy Jr. has a background in newspapers
and dislikes closed meetings himself. I cover BJC Medical Center.
It seldom has closed meetings, but all the real decisions are
made in committee meetings where the press is absent.
Both the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority and the
Upper Oconee Basin Group, which I cover, have occasional closed
sessions, generally to discuss litigation or acquisition of property,
both legitimate reasons. I've trained the basin authority to
behave, and members have been accommodating.
I also cover the Commerce Area Business Association and the Jackson
County Area Chamber of Commerce. Since our organization is a
member of both, they'd have a hard time kicking me out of a meeting,
but neither has shown an inclination to secrecy. Members of the
Commerce Library Board are still not used to having a reporter
on hand, but they've never seen a need yet to go into hiding.
The Nicholson City Council had a closed session or two that were
questionable. I'm willing to let one questionable closed session
slip by, but not two.
Most people who care about what's going on in local government
rely on our newspapers to find out, so we take umbrage when the
town council or board of education closes the door. When they
lock us out, they're excluding the public.
There's no quicker way to get us suspicious about what is going
on than to conduct public business in secret. There are legitimate
reasons to hold closed sessions, but when a body like the Commerce
Board of Education consistently devotes a large percentage of
each meeting to excluding the public, we get the feeling that
it is hiding something.
It's ironic that groups that supposedly solicit public input
feel the need to exclude the public from so much. What are we
The Jackson Herald
September 6, 2000
teen birth, pregnancy numbers
When a local hospital official questioned
teen birth rate numbers in Jackson County presented by the Northeast
Georgia Health District recently, he was on target. While we
don't want to underplay the issue of teen pregnancy, we also
don't want to see the problem overstated either.
One of the problems in getting a handle on that issue is to examine
exactly what is being reported. There is a vast difference, for
example, in reporting teen pregnancy and teen births. Not all
pregnancies result in a birth - abortions and miscarriages account
for the difference.
It's also important to define what is meant by "teen"
births or pregnancies. Not all teen births are to unmarried women.
A 19-year-old married woman having a child is far different than
a 15-year-old unmarried girl having a child. To lump both of
those together creates a distorted view of the issue.
Finally, we have to be cautious about reporting birth or pregnancy
"rates." A statistical "rate" is one number
shown in relation to another number, so it's important to know
exactly what is being compared.
Having qualified all of that, just what is the picture on teenage
pregnancies and births in Jackson County? Although we don't yet
have the 1998 numbers reported by the health district, numbers
from 1997 and before indicate that in reality, both the actual
number and overall rate of teen births and pregnancies is declining.
The key to look at in analyzing this is the number and rate of
births to unwed teen mothers. In 1997, there were 54 births to
unwed teen mothers. That was down from 73 births to unwed teens
in 1995. In addition, those 54 births in 1997 made up only 8.8
percent of all births in Jackson County, a percentage which has
dropped since the early 1990s. Moreover, those unwed teen births
were only one-third of all unwed births in Jackson County for
1997. The larger problem isn't unwed teen mothers, but rather
unwed births to older women in Jackson County.
But the actual births are only part of the picture. Although
only 54 children were born to unwed teen mothers in 1997, there
were 115 pregnancies among females ages 10-19. Some of those
were obviously to married women and some were aborted or resulted
in miscarriages. The rate for those 115 pregnancies was 45.7
per 1,000 female teens in Jackson County. That isn't the lowest
rate in the area, but it isn't the highest either.
Obviously, any pregnancy of an unwed teen could lead to a number
of other social, educational and health problems. Children having
children isn't something we as a society should encourage.
But we question the validity of the health district's reported
numbers. To get the total picture, all of the teen pregnancy
and birth statistics should be compiled and reported together.
In addition, those numbers should be shown over time so the community
could get a sense of the overall trend.
It's our sense that since 1995, Jackson County teen births and
teen pregnancies have declined both in absolute numbers and in
the overall rate.
Maybe that wasn't true in 1998, but you can hardly figure that
out from the skimpy report done two weeks ago by district health
Jackson County Opinion Index
The Jackson Herald
September 6, 2000
a rising issue
If there is one issue that appears to
be a central theme of this fall's elections, it is the idea of
school vouchers. From the presidential race all the way down
to school board races, the issue of school vouchers is being
debated and discussed.
Earlier this week, I did a worldwide web search using the phrase
"school vouchers." One search engine found 1.3 million
sites. Even allowing for overlapping search results, school vouchers
are undoubtedly a hot topic on the web.
I've never been a proponent of school vouchers. Vouchers always
seemed like a simplistic idea to a complex problem.
But now I'm having second thoughts. Maybe the use of school vouchers
would indeed introduce a level of competition that would force
some major changes in public schools.
There isn't a clear-cut argument for either side of the debate.
Like a lot of others, I'm still looking at the entire issue.
So in the interest of debate, the following is a pro vs. con
look at the school voucher issue. If you'd like to weigh in on
the debate, email me at MikeB21081@aol.com and I'll be happy
to publish your thoughts in a future issue.
THE ARGUMENT FOR
1. School vouchers would increase competition in education, forcing
public schools to change. By allowing students to move into private
schools with tax dollars, public schools would have to become
more focused on education reform in order to keep their best
students. Voucher supporters say that without the element of
competition, no real reform will take place in public schools.
2. School vouchers would lead to more parental involvement in
education. If parents had their choice of schools, and the power
to control where their education dollars were spent, they would
be induced to become more involved in their child's education.
There is little doubt that parental involvement is one key to
3. School vouchers would lead to the growth of new private schools
with various kinds of focuses. Rather than educating children
in the "big box" of public education, the growth of
these private schools would allow children to focus on particular
areas of interest and be in an environment with like-minded children.
4. School vouchers allow parents who live in a district with
poor public schools to put their children in a better school.
A recent study bolstered that argument by showing that low-income
black students in several urban areas performed better when put
in a private school setting.
5. Many political leaders are hypocritical on school vouchers.
They oppose vouchers, but send their own children to private
schools. Shouldn't other parents have that choice?
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST
1. Public tax dollars should not be used for private schools,
especially schools that teach with a religious bent. To put public
money into a private church school, for example, would amount
to the state supporting religion.
2. School vouchers would cause a flight of the better students
from public schools, leaving behind the poor and those in need
of expensive special education. Public schools would become a
second-rate system of education.
3. Putting public money into private schools would open the door
for more government regulation of private schools. If the government
funds it, history shows that government wants to control it.
4. School vouchers wouldn't make much difference because they
wouldn't cover all the costs of private tuition. In addition,
some private schools would raise their standards to keep out
"undesirable" students. The net effect would be to
only help those already in private schools without really adding
very many other students.
5. School vouchers would be open to abuse. Would home schools
count as a "private" school? What standards and accountability
would be in place to make sure the funds are used correctly?
6. Public schools aren't as bad as critics say. Given the wide
variety of students public schools are mandated to accept, they
do a fairly good job. In addition, public education serves a
useful social purpose of bringing together children from various
economic, social and ethnic backgrounds.
For more research on school vouchers, take a look at the following
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
September 6, 2000
Is On The Right Track
The Commerce Planning Commission is right
to push for a subdivision ordinance that requires developers
to provide open space in exchange for which they would
be allowed to cluster houses on smaller lots.
Clustering of houses makes the installation of infrastructure
water, sewer, electric lines, etc. less expensive.
Clearing of lots is cheaper, and the shorter roads are less costly.
The open space provides recreation and retains the rural atmosphere.
Planning commission vice chairman Greg Perry insists that developers
install "neighborhoods, not subdivisions," and Perry's
comments are valid. The large-lot developments that have become
so common discourage neighbors from being neighbors. Clustered
housing lets people be in contact with their neighbors.
The major challenge to cluster development is to make the lots
small enough to achieve the neighborhood effect but large enough
to meet homeowners' needs. Principally, that means space to park
three cars and an RV or boat. Some of the small-lot neighborhoods
in Commerce have a cluttered look because short driveways and
two-car garages cannot contain the vehicles. The result is that
vehicles are parked in front yards, side yards and on roadsides,
detracting from the appearance of the development.
Whatever ordinance comes out of the city's efforts will have
a long-lasting effect on how this community looks in five, 10
and 25 years. As growth accelerates and the demand for housing
rises, should this city settle for the sprawl that characterizes
residential growth in northeast Georgia? Members of the Commerce
Planning Commission say we should demand that developers use
a little imagination to design developments that will retain
the rural, small-town character. They're absolutely correct.