Jackson County Opinions...

March 14, 2001

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
March 14, 2001

A Boon For Lawyers And
Trauma Units
In case you missed it, the great secret of "Ginger" is out. No, there is no dirt on one of Gilligan's castaways; rather the explanation is the invention of Dean Kamen, which made headlines a couple of months ago.
Industrial espionage techniques were used to establish that "Ginger," sometimes called "IT," is a one-person, two-wheel motor scooter of sorts. It purportedly burns hydrogen, leaves no emissions and gets fabulous mileage.
The rendering published by the Atlanta Journal resembled a souped-up version of my canister vacuum cleaner.
I am known as something of a skeptic, which is a Beardsley family trait. (It is said that the earliest known Beardsley, Og, took one glance at the first wheel and declared, "It'll never work.")
So, forgive my skepticism about Ginger being the new mode of transportation. No way. What Ginger will be, if the article and artwork are anywhere near accurate, is the biggest boon for emergency rooms and liability litigation in history.
Our highways are already over-clogged with cars, SUVs and trucks. Imagine millions of souped-up unicycles competing for the same space. Envision Gingers racing up and down our sidewalks. Buy stock in your local trauma center.
Ginger is promoted as a personal transportation unit that will take cars off the roads, which in turn will reduce air pollution. Try to imagine downtown Atlanta or even downtown Athens traffic with a couple hundred PTUs mixed in.
Even without other vehicles, Ginger is just waiting for the abuse and improper use to which we ingenious Americans put everything. People who try to dry laundry in the microwave and mix paint in the blender will be just as creative in finding unexpected uses for Ginger, such as cruising the Appalachian Trail.
Within 20 minutes of the sale of the first unit, the first Ginger accident victim will be en route to the nearest emergency room, whether because the owner fell off in a turn, pulled out in front of a Chevy Suburban or collided with the second Ginger sold.
But like every huge dark cloud, there will be a considerable silver lining. Attorneys are already boning up on product liability law in anticipation of the millions of injury claims to be filed by future owners. Insurance companies have dispatched their brightest managers to come up with a way to get massive premiums from owners ­ look for laws requiring each Ginger to carry 100/300/100 liability insurance ­ and with ways to deny paying those claims when they're made. Now is the time to buy stocks in companies that manufacture bandages, braces and the steel pins that hold broken bones together.
There is no doubt Ginger will be a marketing success. It has a motor and will do 60 mph ­ everyone will want to be unique and have a Ginger, so they can be seen by their friends cruising along, one hand holding a cell phone to the ear and the other holding a latte. What could be more natural?
This is technology. We can't refuse it. Not being enthusiastic about it is akin to rejecting Windows 2000
Coming next: The Ginger SUV.

The Jackson Herald
March 14, 2001

Time to stop video poker
It took a while, but South Carolina finally discovered the dark side of video poker - essentially, it exploits those who can least afford to throw away their money.
But since the games have been shut down in that state, they have traveled down I-85 toward Atlanta and can now be found all over Northeast Georgia, including Jackson County. In convenience stores across the area, people sit at these machines hoping to win a jackpot. The problem is, this gambling is unregulated and the video poker machines are rigged heavily against the bettor.
It's time for Georgia to put a stop to this growing problem and the Georgia House of Representatives has an opportunity to do that with SB 204. As amended in the Senate by Sen. Mike Beatty and others, this bill would ban video gambling machines. It would not, however, affect other video machines that are used in kids' amusement games.
We recognize, of course, that a large number of people approve of gambling. Even the state of Georgia endorses gambling with its lottery. But a trip to Las Vegas or playing the Georgia Lottery is different than dropping money into a video gambling machine. Both the lottery and the betting machines in Las Vegas are regulated such that the players have known odds of winning.
These unregulated video gambling machines, however, are not required to post odds or maintain any particular level of payout. For most players, it is only a pit into which they throw dollar after dollar.
We hope our legislators in Northeast Georgia will vote to support this legislation and put these machines back in mothballs.

By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
March 14, 2001

Jefferson council's decision-making process flawed
If there was ever any doubt about the wisdom of the City of Jefferson's move to a manager form of government, Monday's council meeting should be enough to convince doubters. Jefferson's city administration is faltering, partly because of a lack of strong leadership and partly because of years of bad habits in city governance.
The hot issue Monday night was a proposed pay raise for the city's police officers. Because police officers are difficult to hire right now, and because recruiting and training a new officer is so expensive, police salaries are climbing and surrounding departments are raiding underpaid staffs. Thus was a proposal to raise police pay by $1 per hour to quell what might have been a large loss of manpower to other departments.
The raise was justified, but the real issue Monday night wasn't just about police wages - it was the entire decision-making process which needs review.
Some years ago, Jefferson began naming each councilman as a liaison to a city department. In theory, that probably looked like a good idea, but the reality has been a nightmare for administration. Council members with too much time on their hands have taken over city departments, often referring to a particular department as "my department." Tension between council members over inter-departmental issues is often evident at council meetings and is widely discussed outside those monthly meetings.
In short, council members compete with each other for status, turf and funding. That's especially true with departmental pay scales. Some employees are underpaid and others overpaid. No one really evaluates employee performance in the city and pay has traditionally been more about longevity than about education, qualifications or the level of responsibility.
Compounding the problem is the lack of restraint by the council itself. If one "councilman's department" gets a pay raise, the other council members want pay raises for "their" departments as well.
Here's an example: At Monday's meeting, councilman Bosie Griffith was one of two councilmen opposed the police pay increase. He said the increase wasn't in the budget and wasn't fair to other departments. But after the pay increase was approved, he said he would bring back proposed pay increases for "his" department next month. Other councilmen echoed the same thing.
But no one asked Griffith about the $38,000 salary the council had just approved for "his" recreation department position, even though the city had only budgeted $25,000 for the position. (And the city didn't budget anything to buy equipment and fund other aspects of starting a city recreation program.)
The truth is, there is no objective, overall look at the city's pay rates, nor is there objective oversight of the departments. Favortisim is rampant and department heads bicker over pay and work schedules. Jealousies abound, both among employees and council members.
There's nothing new in any of this - it has been going on for years and has often been dismissed as just "small town politics."
But the stakes are higher now. These internal battles are distracting the council from doing its real job of policy-making and planning for the future in an era of rapid growth.
That may surprise some people because from the outside, Jefferson appears to be doing well with a lot of growth and development. But that surface prosperity has masked these internal problems of city administration.
To its credit, the council has moved toward a professional manager government. But the irony of that action is that it has highlighted the council's own weaknesses. Its management flaws have been magnified for all to see and that could open the door for more change than the council may have wanted.
The situation is similar to the late 1980s Soviet Union when Gorbachav began talking about the need to change a badly flawed and ineffective Soviet government. But instead of reform, which was all Gorbachav wanted, what followed was the total collapse of the old power structure, including the fall of Gorbachav himself. Once the system's flaws were admitted and in the open, there was no where left for its leaders to hide.
The same thing could happen in Jefferson. The undercurrents for change seem to be growing. Many new residents complain about a lack of city leadership and are asking a lot of questions. Even among long-time residents, there's a new sense that the time has come for some dramatic changes in city leadership.
Monday's meeting over the police pay rates is just one example of the city's flawed decision-making process. It highlighted the real need for professional management and perhaps, the need for some new blood in city leadership.
The winds of change cannot be controlled. Once unleashed, they blow on everyone in their path.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
March 14, 2001

Fight Against Violence Must Be Won In Homes
On March 5, a 15-year-old student at Santana High School in Santee, CA, killed two fellow students and wounded 13 people. President George W. Bush, on the day of the California school shooting, suggested that the way to stop such acts was "to teach children right from wrong."
That may be the greatest over-simplification in the history of presidential responses. It suggests that perpetrators of violence did not know that it is wrong to hurt and kill, a most far-fetched scenario.
But it is clear that society is teaching children that violence is a valid means of resolving conflict. Whether the cause is violence in entertainment (sports, movies, TV) or something else, too many children are willing to create mayhem and take lives when they are angry. The lessons of violence, from whatever their sources, are in some children overwhelming all of the other messages about tolerance, respect and diversity.
Unfortunately, children are not the only ones learning that lesson. Road rage is but one manifestation of a society where fuses are getting shorter. One need only look at the local police blotter to see weekly lists of assaults, harassment and other crimes of intense anger.
Controlling access to guns, teaching anger management, adopting zero-tolerance policies, rating movies and TV shows, promoting cross-cultural understanding and increasing security are all options proposed to stop the carnage.
All of the proposed solutions are aimed at institutions, but the greatest hope of preventing violence is in the homes of parents who know what their children are doing, who their friends are, how things are going in their lives and how they are feeling. A troubled youngster should be able to talk to his or her parents, but too many kids come from homes where there is no dialogue between parent and child. The lack of communication crosses racial, cultural and economic lines. It's rampant in the inner cities and in the suburbs, among the poor, the middle class and the rich. An emotionally isolated child is a child at risk; the failures of our families cause bloodshed in the schools and in the streets.
Alas, there is no one group, no institution to blame. It is not the fault of the Republicans or the Democrats, the liberals or the conservatives. The blame rests not with Caucasians, whites, blacks or Hispanics. Were there one group or policy to blame, it would be a small matter to correct.
If only it were that simple. The best we can do is to be vigilant about our own children, to maintain parent-child relationships that foster conversation, trust and understanding and to provide good role models. The parents are the most important line of defense in our schools and our streets, and if they fail to do their jobs, all the schools, legislators, courts and public agencies can do is pick up the pieces.
These kids know right from wrong. What they need to know is that their parents care, that they have time to talk with them, that they are interested in their children's feelings, concerns and hopes. No government agency, program or initiative can substitute for good parenting. No security system is as good as a strong family.
If the war against violence is to be won, it must be won family by family, household by household. Every parent has a stake in the problem and every parent has a role in the solution.

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