Jackson County Opinions...

February 7, 2001



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
February 7, 2001

'Smart Growth' Embraces All The Increased Clutter
Now that Commerce has reinvented its zoning ordinance and Jackson County has discovered greenspace, it's time for the county and municipal planners to make sure development cleans up after itself.
The no-growth types complain that the rapid influx of Atlantans and others to our pristine hills destroys our rural way of life. Some of those rural ways no doubt merit destruction, but that growth we covet does more than add to the traffic, increase the cost of education and run sewer plants beyond capacity.
Both the commercial and residential growth create visual pollution that our cities and county totally ignore.
Drive around this county and you'll see what I mean. The mayors and councils and the county commissioners have given our rights of ways and public thoroughfares to the developers, entrepreneurs and con men. Actually, it would have been better if they had sold them; then the county would have gotten something in return. Instead, our public officials have ceded our roadsides to those trying to make a buck off of us.
Supposedly, it is illegal for anyone to post signs in the public right of way. The DOT and even the city of Commerce have been known to take down signs during the political season. Our own politicians are not allowed to advertise along the roads, but every real estate developer and every work-at-home rip-off artist and a variety of other companies that don't even have business licenses here are allowed to trash our roadsides.
That's part of progress in Jackson County, I suppose.
It shouldn't be. If our planning commissions can regulate subdivisions, they can damn sure prohibit Brentwood Estates and other developments from posting their signs on the right-of-way all over county. If they can pick up and burn the illegally placed signs of Scott Tolbert, Mike Beatty, Pat Bell and Eddie Madden, they can do the very same thing for the "affordable insurance" and "make money on your home computer" signs that appear on utility poles, the railroad right of way and even on the square in Jefferson.
Oh, the current residents do their share. We plant yard sale signs in the midst of our $1 million Streetscape project; Jefferson allows everything from pizza to work-at-home schemes to be advertised right next to its Crawford W. Long monument. Anyone with a lost dog, a revival or a doughnut sale feels free to staple advertising on our utility poles or post a sign at every street corner. In Commerce, anything to promote the Tigers can be hung on the city light poles in the name of community support and left there until it rots away.
None of this should be too much of a shock. In an area where abandoned farm equipment, plywood silhouettes of animals and people and ceramic deer are considered serious yard art, who's going to get upset over illegal signs scattered along the rights of way or on the utility poles?
If this is what government officials like to call smart growth, I'd like to know just what's so darned smart about it.



Editorial
The Jackson Herald
February 7, 2001

Keep water & sewerage authority independent
It's understandable that those in the path of a sewer line might have some questions about the project. But Monday night's call by a handful of landowners to abolish the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority appears to have more to do with politics than any legitimate complaint.
For one thing, the residents said the authority had a bad track record and that the control of sewer and water lines should be under elected, not appointed officials.
We disagree with both points. For the most part, the water and sewerage authority has done a good job for Jackson County. That group only came into existence in the mid 1980s and has been playing catch-up ever since. While some are disgruntled that they haven't gotten water quick enough, that's to be expected in a county as large geographically as Jackson.
But more importantly, the idea of putting water and sewer line decisions directly in the hands of the board of commissioners would be a huge mistake. It would, in fact, make the decision-making process for water and sewer lines much more political, not less. The BOC appoints authority members and that is an arm's-length relationship which we believe is healthy for both groups.
Can you imagine, for example, how some developers would use political pressure (and money) to get special treatment for their projects? The result would be that any long-term planning for the county's infrastructure would come second behind the immediate political considerations. That would be bad for everyone involved, especially the taxpayers.
No doubt, some on the BOC apparently would like to abolish the water authority and take control of those infrastructure decisions. Chairman Harold Fletcher hinted his support for that idea during Monday's meeting.
But one has to wonder if the presence of former county commission chairman Jerry Waddell as water superintendent has more to do with that desire than sound public policy. That Fletcher and Waddell mix like oil and water (no pun intended) is no secret to anyone who follows county government politics.
But gutting the water and sewerage authority just to undermine Waddell would be the wrong thing for the BOC to do. The authority is involved in some key decisions right now, among them the Mulberry Plantation sewer project and Bear Creek Reservoir, both of which are important to Jackson County's future. A political move to kill the authority could have a devastating impact on the county for decades to come.
If those in the path of the authority's sewer project have some legitimate complaints, their recourse is in the courts, not the political arena. That's the way the system works and that's what the BOC should have told the landowners Monday night.
That these people took their complaints to politicians makes us wonder if someone isn't privately encouraging the discord as a cover to for political mischief they'd like to create.
Frankly, we believe this new BOC has enough issues on its plate without meddling with the water and sewerage authority. They should leave it alone.

Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
February 7, 2001

Flag vote may hurt Beatty's bid for Congress
It was no great surprise last week when Sen. Mike Beatty voted against changing the Georgia flag. As a conservative official from a conservative district, he had little choice but to vote the way he did.
But in doing so, Beatty may have endangered his longer-term goal of becoming a Georgia Congressman. It's no secret that Beatty's run for the state senate was designed by Republican Party leaders as a prelude for him to make a run for Congress. With two new Congressional seats going to Georgia, many believe one of those seats will have to be in Northeast Georgia.
But here's the dilemma Beatty and Republican leaders face: The state legislature is dominated by Democrats who will draw new Congressional District lines to favor themselves as much as possible. One way they might do that in Northeast Georgia is to create a district surrounding Athens-Clarke County that would include Jackson, Madison and perhaps other counties in Beatty's senate district. Athens is a stronghold of Democratic strength in Northeast Georgia, in large part due to the presence of the University of Georgia. (For some reason, liberals are drawn like magnets to universities.) Athens-Clarke also has a large minority population that is a Democratic stronghold.
The result would be a district that Beatty, or any Republican, would have a difficult time winning. It's also easy to imagine that a Democratic opponent to Beatty in a congressional race would hammer him about his vote on the flag.
If Mike Beatty does intend to run for Congress, then he didn't have to vote against the flag. He could have cast a vote that would have been much more politically expedient for his future political plans.
That he did not let his own future political goals determine his vote on that issue speaks greatly in his favor as a public official.
***
Speaking of reapportionment, there's some indication that Gov. Roy Barnes intends to have a strong hand in drawing the new legislative and congressional lines. But after last year's education battle and this year's flag battle, there appears to be a growing sense of uneasiness within his own supporters. What if ol' Roy makes so many people mad that he gets defeated by a Republican during the next election? Democrats are becoming more concerned about that possibility and some are wary of giving the governor's office more and more power.
Any continued centralization of authority within the executive branch of state government is likely to be met with increased resistance from Democratic legislators. That includes allowing Barnes to have a free hand in the redrawing of legislative and congressional lines.
***
While we're on legislative issues, all the efforts being discussed to stem the carnage of teenagers on the highways are full of hot air. Driver's education won't help and is in fact a waste of taxpayer money and school time. Teenagers know the rules and how to drive, but because of a lack of maturity, many do not control their impulses to break those rules.
The simplest and most effective solution is to raise the driving age to 17 to allow for an extra year of maturity. Anything less than that simply won't work.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
February 7, 2001

No Kidding? Outside Money Influences Votes?
A report from the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University found that interest groups donated tens of millions of dollars into crucial House and Senate races and affected the outcome in some of those races.
Gee, no kidding.
If that conclusion came as a surprise, someone's been out of touch with the political process. However, the study is yet another indicator that elections are corrupted by groups with narrow interests. To put it less politely, the study appears to verify the national suspicions that a lot of politicians are bought by interest groups.
It's one thing to note the problem, but something quite different to find a remedy. Sen. John McCain continues to push the Bush Administration to act on "reform," but there are constitutional considerations that may make it impossible to stop the flow of special interest money into campaigns and not a lot of interest in either party in stopping that flow.
A major problem is that such groups need not donate money to a candidate or his or her party. They can produce advertising, put on promotions and stage rallies for any candidate ­ even without the candidate's permission.
One approach for controlling the so-called "soft money" would be to implement and enforce conflict of interest legislation. A politician who accepts major funding from a special interest group could be prohibited from voting on legislation directly affecting that group. Thus, a candidate who accepted $50,000 from the firearms industries' PACs would be ineligible to vote on gun control legislation due to a conflict of interest.
Campaign finance reform has attracted some attention, little of it from Congress, unfortunately, but the need for reform gets worse in every election. Money buys more than elections; it buys influence, access and passes legislation. The public may cast the votes, but too often the interest groups pull the strings.

Jackson County Opinion Index

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