The Commerce News
December 6, 2000
Nicholson Has Decided Its Future
Nicholson is emulating Arcade. At least the Arcade of a year
or two years ago.
Arcade is growing up, however, and Nicholson is not. Arcade residents
realized that they were at the mercy of the next person to buy
property and put up a shoddy development. They implemented zoning.
Arcade is on the road to improvement. Nicholson is passing it
traveling gleefully in the opposite direction. New mayor Ronnie
Maxwell has galvanized the sizable anti-zoning sentiment and
promises to bring two like thinkers into office when the special
elections are held in March.
The community is sharply divided over the issue of land use,
with the anti-zoning sentiment apparently stronger. It is fair
to characterize the election of Maxwell as an endorsement of
the anti-zoning sentiment. In this republic, majority generally
(except in some presidential elections) rules. For now, there
will be no zoning ordinance in Nicholson.
That will protect Nicholson's status as the community that will
take anything the surrounding communities reject. You don't need
a building permit to throw up a house or a restaurant or build
a rock quarry in Nicholson, and you can put that rock quarry
in your back yard and to hell with your neighbors.
You can build mobile home parks with unpaved roads, then leave
the city to clean up the mess. If you have the room in your yard,
you can collect junked school buses or rent it out as a depository
for construction debris or open a condom stand.
All of this is condoned in the name of property rights, as if
what happens on one piece of property does not affect the rights
of the owner of the adjacent tract.
How would you like to awaken one morning and find that the previously
agricultural tract next to you is being turned into a junk yard?
It happened last month in Nicholson.
Those who oppose zoning see themselves as standing up for their
right to do with their property as they please. A few of them
are making good money on renting mobile homes or building trailer
parks, but most of them just want to keep their options open.
In the long run, that means Nicholson will be the preferred area
for quick and shoddy development. It will not be considered for
the well-planned developments of stick-built houses that are
moving into virtually every other community, because few people
will want to invest in a community where there is no protection
against abuse. By turning its back on zoning, Nicholson is solidifying
its future as a large low-income community.
There is a lot to be said for being able to do what you want
with your land without government interference. All it takes
is a drive around the county, however, to find that there are
a lot of things you would not want built next door. The value
of property in a nice residential neighborhood is protected,
in part, by the fact that someone can't open a taco stand or
put five rental trailers in the back yard.
If that's what Nicholson wants, it's certainly headed in the
right direction. If the voters really mean it, they'll add two
anti-zoning councilmen in March. One thing's for sure; it will
be an interesting new year.
The Jackson Herald
December 6, 2000
should open meetings
It's no secret that the five members-elect to the Jackson County
Board of Commissioners have been meeting to discuss the upcoming
transition in county government. Early on, those meeting were
said to have been mostly about information gathering for the
new board members.
But it's obvious that the incoming board has now made a transition
from simply gathering information to discussing very specific
actions it wishes to take. Consider these three major issues
the board-elect has discussed:
· The new board has requested that the current BOC hire
an interim county manager, someone picked by the incoming board.
Indications are that some on the new board want to hire former
Clarke County administrator Al Crace for the interim job in an
effort to give Crace a "leg-up" for the position in
· At the recommendation of the incoming board, Ricky Sanders
was hired as the interim director of the county recreation department.
Although some 20 people have applied for the position, Sanders
undoubtedly now has the inside track for it.
· This week, the new board asked that the current board
enact a moratorium on all county industrial rezonings.
All three of these actions are major decision in county government,
yet the public has virtually no information as to why these actions
have been requested or taken.
For that reason, we believe it is time the new board of commissioners
announces the time and place of all of its future meetings and
open those meetings to the public.
The tone this new board sets early in its administration will
be very important to its long-term success. Jackson County citizens
voted overwhelmingly to create a new five-member board of commissioners
and to elect four of those members by districts. Much of the
impetus for that change in government was a feeling that the
current structure of the county government had lost touch with
those it represents.
So it is imperative that this new board not send the message
that the public isn't welcome to its discussions. Perhaps more
than any other BOC in county history, this new board of commissioners
will have to have the trust of the county's citizens to be effective.
This group of men will chart a new course for Jackson County
and the decisions they make will impact citizens for years, perhaps
decades, to come.
While the new board was meeting to simply gather information,
there was little reason for it to have announced and open meetings.
But now that it has begun to discuss and recommend specific actions
to be taken, it is time for its meetings to be open for public
This board may not yet officially be in office, but that does
not diminish its moral responsibility to the citizens of Jackson
The real measure of an open government isn't that it holds public
meetings because it has to, but rather that it is open because
it believes in the public's right to be informed.
Jackson County Opinion Index
The Jackson Herald
December 6, 2000
BOC will probably
rock the boat gently
The members-elect of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners
owe Al Gore and George W. Bush a big hug. With all the national
political turmoil in the news, the public is paying very little
attention to the impending change in county government.
In political parlance, that's called "flying below radar."
Public officials of every stripe love to fly below radar.
But there are a few people who are taking a close look at the
new BOC and who are getting a little nervous - county employees.
Many county employees are tuned in to the words and actions of
the new board and are looking for any sign of what may come after
That tension has been building in recent weeks as the board-elect
has been meeting to discuss the transition. All that meeting
has made some county employees wonder what plans are being made
that might affect them.
Compounding that worry has been some loose words from some incoming
BOC members who talk about making a lot of changes. That is being
viewed by some as code language for heads to roll.
But most county employees needn't worry too much about their
jobs just yet. There are two major problems the new BOC will
have to deal with before any major employment changes are made.
First, the new board will likely not want a lot of staff turnover
in the county government. There's already the loss of some key
county leaders who leave a large void to be filled. The departure
of David Bohanan as administrative assistant and the resignation
of county attorney Lane Fitzpatrick are two major losses to the
county. Add to that the inevitable departure of the existing
county commissioners and a lot of knowledge is walking out the
But the biggest thing protecting county employees is the law
itself. The fact is, under the new form of government the county
commission itself can no longer hire and fire county employees.
That duty rests with the county manager.
There are only three positions the restructured BOC can hire:
a county auditor, a county attorney and a county manager. The
board can also appoint the members to the various authorities
under the county's jurisdiction, but those are not county employees.
According to the new law, the county manager is empowered "To
employ and remove all department heads of the county..."
The law also gives the county manager "Managerial authority
and supervision over the county manager's staff and all department
This is the key provision in the restructured county government.
The new government is an effort to professionalize county administration
under a manager. The clear intent of the law is to remove the
elected BOC from the day-to-day decision-making and put that
authority on the shoulders of the county manager.
I doubt this new board would choose to ignore the law by meddling
in the hiring and firing of county employees so soon after taking
office. To do that would undermine the credibility of the board
before it got off the ground. None of the new board members want
to do that.
Still, there is one wrinkle in all of this that county employees
may want to pay attention to. While the incoming BOC can't do
the hiring and firing, it does have the authority to abolish
or combine departments. It could, in essence, get rid of a department
head by combining two departments or abolishing a department.
Still, that's unlikely to happen quickly. This new BOC has a
lot of items to deal with early in its term without creating
more problems and turmoil by some backdoor maneuvering with the
In fact, the members of this new board will likely remember what
happened when its predecessors took office in 1993. The new board
made wholesale changes in the county's departments and lost a
lot of skilled people. That resulted in months of controversy
and turmoil that plagued the county for years. In fact, it is
only in the last three years that some stability has been seen
in county government.
So county employees, don't fret too much about this new board.
Despite some posturing and bluster, cool heads will likely prevail
in the short term.
This board has so many hot issues to deal with it's unlikely
to create more just for fun.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
December 6, 2000
Need For Review
The post-presidential election process grinds on, subject of
course to partisan interpretation at every step and to possible
constitutional precedent setting. It is an election that, regardless
of the final outcome, will be debated for years.
One result will be the introduction of many "cures"
for the system, from abolishment of the Electoral College to
plans for uniform design of ballots. But there are at least a
couple of steps governments must take, having learned from this
The first is to make sure absentee votes from military personnel
are counted. Republicans were sharply critical when the Gore
campaign challenged some of those ballots in Florida; they should
have been incensed at the state of Florida, which has a law requiring
a postmark on an absentee ballot even from military personnel
whose mail does not get post-marked.
Most likely, this situation has existed for years. That leads
to a strong possibility that Florida has not counted the bulk
of its military absentee ballots for years. The only reason the
situation came to light this year was because of the closeness
of the presidential race, but it seems possible that some other
more local race might have been skewed because those ballots
were not counted.
Who knows how long this law has been observed in Florida, or
if similar laws exist in other states, but the first order of
business when Florida's state legislature meets ought to be to
change it. Other states should look to their books to make sure
similar laws do not exist.
Another area that states and the federal government should assess
is the protocol for election recounts. The 2000 election has
demonstrated a need for a clearly defined process that can not
be tweaked by partisan forces. The idea that a losing candidate
can demand and get a recount in counties where the candidate
was strong and ignore those where the opposing candidate was
strong is patently unfair.
Every election has its incidents of error, fraud and accident.
They are parts of a good but imperfect process. The 2000 election
points out weaknesses that can be addressed so that next time
a presidential race is razor-close, the process for determining
the winner will be clearer and easier and all sides will know
that all valid ballots will be counted.