Jackson County Opinions...

February 28, 2001

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
February 28, 2001

Time To Impeach President Over USS Greeneville
Senator (R-Florida): "Distinguished colleagues, the American public is sick and tired of presidential shenanigans. The President has made a mockery out of the highest office in the land. I say it's time for the Congress to impeach the President.
"The public remembers Paula Jones, Whitewater, Monica Lewinski, Travelgate and the pardons.
"He's rented out the Lincoln Bedroom, tried to steal furniture and gifts, lied repeatedly to the American public and resisted efforts at tax relief. Now his liberal buddies caused a U.S. submarine to crash into and sink a fishing vessel, murdering nine civilians.
"I propose that we open public hearings. You can bet that those civilians didn't get on that sub without giving something in return. I tell you, he's renting out our Navy for campaign contributions for himself and his wife. That's more than the American people can stand for.
"My colleagues, this latest action is nothing less than murder. Can we continue to let this man occupy our top national office after what amounts to the murder of nine foreign civilians? Can we look the representatives of other nations in the eye without blinking when our President commits this crime?
"Ladies and gentlemen, the man will stop at nothing. He not only put his Arkansas friends at the helm of a United States Naval vessel and caused the death of innocent civilians, but he also put the armed forces of the United States at risk in an attempt to divert attention from this most serious of matters.
"Just as the questions about the submarine incident were beginning to be asked, what did he do? He ordered U.S. airplanes to strike Baghdad, a move calculated to force the USS Greeneville incident off the nation's front pages.
"My friends, this is evil incarnate. That a President, who never served so much as a day in the armed forces of his country, would order our brave young men into harm's way for purely political reasons is beyond belief. How cold and calculating can he be, to put our military men and women at risk and for what good reason? To detract attention from the shameful incident off the coast of Hawaii. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a crime of monumental proportions. The President's actions have killed people. Is it not time to act to remove this scourge from office?
"I propose that we once again impeach this president; that we seek a special prosecutor to establish the connections between political contributions and presence on the USS Greeneville. How much money did the President or the Democratic Party receive from each of those civilians? I propose that we investigate the use of deadly military force to divert attention from yet another presidential fiasco and that these hearings and proceedings be public so the voters will understand what a scoundrel we have occupying the White House. Bill Clinton must go."
Senator (R-Texas): "For the record, Senator Mack, Bill Clinton is gone. George W. Bush is President, and those were Texas Republican friends of his on the USS Greeneville."
Senator (R-Florida): "Well, dang my chads. Just strike everything I've said from the record. These things happen."

The Jackson Herald
February 28, 2001

AJC column was a hatchet job
An opinion columnist for the Atlanta Journal/Constitution did a hatchet job on Jackson County Monday, implying that some kind of underhanded land deal had been done by the county's water authority.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, those who follow local politics had already heard the accusations during last fall's elections when Scott Tolbert attempted to paint the same picture in his re-election bid for the state House. Tolbert was defeated in that election, but Monday's AJC column appears to be his early bid for 2002.
Whatever columnist Lucy Soto's motives, her portrayal of the water authority's land purchase was unfair and misleading. Here's the real story:
After the county government won its court fight last year against Water Wise, it began work on upgrading the old Texfi facility and planning for its first sewer line to serve Mulberry Plantation and other areas of West Jackson. But abutting the sewage plant was a tract of 150 acres platted for a subdivision.
That worried county leaders because with the growth expected in the next 20 years, that property could become a gun to the county's head. Gwinnett County had learned that the hard way when it had to buy out a subdivision near one of its sewage treatment facilities at a cost of millions of dollars. Jackson County leaders didn't want to face the same problem 10-20 years down the road.
About the same time, Joseph Holcomb took an option on the property and offered to sell it to Jackson County. Ultimately, the county agreed to pay $7,100 per acre for the land. On the day the county bought it, Holcomb exercised his option with the owner and purchased the land for $4,000 per acre before selling to the county.
Tolbert, and now Soto, made a lot of noise over the fact that Holcomb made a profit on the sale. But the truth is, such property transactions are common when those with an option on a tract of land exercise that option for an immediate resale. There's nothing dirty or underhanded about that. We publish property transactions each week in this newspaper, so nothing is secret or wrong with how that deal was handled.
Moreover, the county had no choice but to deal through Holcomb because he had control of the land. A condemnation lawsuit would have taken too long and cost the county even more than the $7,100 per acre. Thus, if the county wanted the land, it had to make a deal.
Soto also complained that the county didn't get a written appraisal before buying the land. Perhaps it should have gotten a formal appraisal, but that still wouldn't have mattered in the end. A tract of land is worth whatever a buyer is willing to pay, and for Jackson County that 150 acres was worth the $1 million. After all, buying the land wasn't like buying office supplies - the county couldn't just go somewhere else to get it. And the truth is, that tract was worth more to the county than to anyone else because of the potential long-term impact. A formal appraisal, in light of the circumstances, would have been useless.
Like so many of the Atlanta anti-suburban naysayers, columnist Soto managed to pillage Jackson County by saying its move into sewerage service "leaves the impression of a county eager to jump into the melee of metro Atlanta's growth without fully considering the consequences for the taxpayer."
That's nonsense. The county government carefully weighed the issue of getting into sewage, and in fact had resisted the move until the Water Wise ordeal forced it to confront the matter. Readers of Soto's column will notice that she didn't point out the dirty dealings of Water Wise, or that its owner had been indicted and pled guilty to corruption charges in federal court, or that if the county had not acted to get into the sewage business, our growth would have largely been in the hands of such corruption.
The truth is, the county water authority didn't just "jump into" the sewerage business, nor was it involved in a shady deal to buy that 150 acres. Far more than most local agencies, the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority has looked to the future and attempted to plan for our infrastructure needs and to protect the long-term interest of county citizens.
This newspaper isn't known for going easy on our local elected leaders. In fact, we often disagree with them in this space when we believe they have acted in a manner that was not in the public's good.
But this is not one of those times. We have seen no evidence of dirty dealings with the water authority's handling of the land transaction; the only thing dirty we've heard came from the Tolbert campaign last fall.
Frankly, Soto's column was a poor piece of journalism. It may have served the interests of Scott Tolbert and his future political ambitions, but it was not fair to Jackson County or the water authority.


By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
February 28, 2001

Heart-to-heart with 'old-timers'
OK, so I've had my say to the "newcomers" about some of the attitudes they express and actions they take after having parked their recliners in Jackson County. Now it's time for a little heart-to-heart with my fellow "old-timers," those who've lived in Jackson County for a while.
Of course, defining exactly what makes an "old-timer" is difficult. I've lived here 36 years, yet to some I'm still a newcomer. If you weren't born here and your daddy wasn't born here, then you're a foreigner to a few folks. For the sake of this article, consider yourself an "old-timer" if you've ever muttered a sentence that included the phrase "all those d____ newcomers."
First, we old-timers ought to stop blaming "newcomers" for all the county's problems. There were plenty of problems here before the county began to grow. In fact, some might argue that bigger problems existed before the growth than it does now after growth.
Second, let's stop chanting the mantra about wanting to "preserve our rural way of life." Just what do we mean by that? Let's face it, old-timers, Jackson County has not historically been at the center of great social, political or cultural achievement. It's only been in the last 35 years that this area was even noticed by the rest of the state. Before then, this was the backwash of the backwater. It was known as the home of "Crackers," a derisive term used to describe the poor white tenant farmers and sharecroppers. Sherman didn't even bother to come by here in 1865 since there was nothing of importance to burn.
Historically speaking, our "rural way of life" was that of hardscrabble subsistence farming. A few large landowners got wealthy, but most people barely got by. Even after the textile industries came to the area in the early part of the last century, life here was not easy. And even later, this area was mostly known for its bootlegging and car theft operations, not exactly the kind of image we could be proud of.
So let's don't get too romantic about wanting to preserve some bucolic view of rural life in Jackson County. While there were some good things, life was hard and harsh for many people.
And that leads to the third point, which is to be grateful for the increased job opportunities we now have because of growth. The truth is, most of our best and brightest packed up and moved away during the last 100 years to chase better opportunities elsewhere. It's only been in the last 10 years that some of these people have begun to move back, lured by opportunities that weren't available in the past. A huge brain-drain took place for decades in Jackson County. Let's be thankful that some of our children and grandchildren can now find good jobs closer to home.
Fourth, let's stop making the assumption that just because we've lived here longer, we somehow have more rights than new residents. I've heard local political leaders openly espouse such views. But legally, we all have equal rights. Just because you've lived here 50 years doesn't give you the right to have more of a voice in a rezoning than a new resident. Property rights are property rights and we should all be treated fairly, no matter what our pedigree.
Fifth, let's hope that the influx of new people will help dilute the influence of, for lack of a better term, a pervasive anti-education culture. Let's face it, we have a significant number of people in Jackson County whose cultural values are not what most of us want for our children. Some people's idea of a high cultural experience is a cigarette and lotto ticket in one hand, a beer in the other hand and "pro wrassling" on television. The last census showed that 45 percent of our population hadn't finished high school. In 1997, Jackson Countians spent $7.2 million on lottery tickets. How much did we spend on buying our children books, or finding other ways to enrich their lives? Our attitudes need to change.
And finally, old-timers, let's acknowledge that the influx of newcomers has done a great deal to revitalize many of our social, civic and educational institutions. Many programs that were dying got new life because new residents became involved. Here's one example: I work with our local Cub Scout program in Jefferson and out of 21 registered leaders, only two of us have lived in Jackson County more than 10 years. The same is true in area churches, civic organizations and schools. Newcomers aren't just sitting at home uninvolved. Many are working to make Jackson County a better place for all of us.
Certainly, growth and the influx of a new population is bringing changes to Jackson County. Some of those changes, such as increased traffic and crowded school classrooms, aren't necessarily good. We need to work on creating the infrastructure to deal with that.
But growth isn't inherently bad. A lot of positive things are happening in Jackson County because of our growth and the impact new residents are having in our communities.
So, fellow old-timers, let's don't be too hard on our new neighbors. The truth is, they're shouldering some of the load which we set down years ago.
We ought to be grateful for that.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
February 28, 2001

County To Benefit From 'Suspicious' Land Deal
It's hard not to look at an "investigative" piece in Monday's Atlanta newspapers without seeing local politics in action.
It's pretty easy, providing limited information is available, to characterize the purchase by the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority last August of 150 acres in unflattering terms. First, the authority bought the property from a man who that same day had exercised an option to buy the land. His sale to the authority netted a quick $700,000 profit. Second, there was no written appraisal. Third, Scott Tolbert, trying to link then-commissioner Pat Bell to scandal, made it an issue.
It was not your typical county land deal, but neither was it the sleazy operation Tolbert wished to cast it and that the Atlanta newspaper appeared to suggest. No one in the public trust profited and the county got land it needed for a price that was reasonable. It may be distasteful to some that the man who put the package together made so much money so easily, but few of the critics of that move would have done differently had the opportunity come to them.
Still, the land purchase provides an example of what can happen in spite of good intentions when standard procedures and sound principals are not followed. The water and sewerage authority has provided an opening for politicians to make allegations that, though false, many people will believe. It provides an opening for those who would like to attack the county government and it feeds the paranoia of those who view every government action with distrust.
Members of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority receive no pay. They bear the responsibility for meeting the county's water needs, including acquiring and distributing the water. Until just last year, the sole purpose of the authority has been to deliver water to the public. Now it must also build and manage a county sewer system. The authority has a track record of fiscal responsibility, quality management and of looking out for the interests of the citizens. Those opposed to the authority for political purposes or because of where lines are to be built will make whatever they wish of the 2000 land purchase, but it won't change a thing. The authority is doing good work for Jackson County.

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