Jackson County Opinions...

April 18, 2001

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
April 18, 2001

Bush Gets Passing Grade
On First TestI have to admit it - the Chinese tested Dubya, and the Prez worked a draw. Not bad for a beginner. The 24 crewmen came home safely, American honor was not impugned and both sides get to brag about a moral victory.
Now, this all assumes that no back-room deals were cut on any other issues (trade, or arms to Taiwan) and that what we saw was basically all there was. You can never be sure in politics, though, and our leaders are no more likely to fully disclose the truth to us than the Chinese leaders are to disclose it to their people.
In the world of international politics, one cannot speak freely. Every word has to be measured against what it means to all those who will read it or hear it. Thus, the American statement contains the words "regret" and "sorrow" over the death of a Chinese pilot, words that allow the Chinese to say we apologized for the incident, but words that do not convey to the American public any sense of admitting guilt or negligence. Everybody saves a little face.
The early reports (I'm writing this on Friday) from the American crew suggest that the Chinese pilot made an error that caused the collision. My understanding is that the two pilots did magnificent flying to land the airplane, but one earlier published report from Hong Kong stated that the airplane was forced down by the second Chinese fighter. The American statement apologizes for "landing without permission" in Chinese territory.
Situations like this are the reason a four-year term in the White House ages a president about 15 years. He has to balance the intense desire to bring American personnel home safely against the need not to compromise American security, prestige and even face. Like a general, the president has to be able to accept the loss of American personnel in the pursuit of achieving national goals. We need intelligence on China and other nations, so we send men and women out to conduct surveillance, some in the air and some on the ground. It's a business that people die in. That's just the way it is. When something goes wrong and Americans are prisoners, the president is under enormous stress.
Our enemies know of our concern for our people, and they use it against us. North Vietnam and Iran come to mind. And, now, China.
There may come a time when the price demanded for the release of personnel is too high, a time when the president has to sacrifice men and women for the greater good of the country, knowing also that he cannot exact revenge or gain justice without precipitating carnage. We all know you can't put a price on human life, but times occur when a president is forced to do just that.
Our value of American lives is part of our national heritage, but it can also be a weakness when dealing with those who do not value life in the same way. If we did not value those lives, foreign policy might be a lot easier, but our national morality would be diminished.
You don't have to like Bush to appreciate what he just went through, and some other president might have handled it better or worse. He did OK. It was a test, and President George Bush passed it.
Mark Beardsley is editor of The Commerce News.

The Jackson Herald
April 18, 2001

School councils can be good
By July 1, every local school will have in place a seven-member school advisory council. Made up of parents, teachers and business representatives, the councils are supposed to take an in-depth look at their schools and make recommendations to boardS of education.
The Jackson County School System announced its schedule for electing parent representatives this week and the other school systems will no doubt have similar plans in place soon.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether or not these councils will take a leadership role in addressing the needs of a school. If they work as intended, these groups will bring parents, teachers, administrators and business leaders together to talk about the tough issues schools face, such as budgeting priorities, curriculum development and other major decisions. Such discussions can be a productive outlet for those who are generally outside the education process, such as parents and businesses, to have some real input into how schools operate.
That's the upside of the new councils. The potential downside is that these groups could become unproductive forums for those who have petty or political agendas. It's not too difficult to imagine that parents with an ax to grind could attempt to use these groups to oust teaches or coaches with whom they have a personal gripe.
Another potential downside is that these groups could become more of a cheerleader than real leadership. If these councils aren't willing to discuss some complex subjects, such as school budget priorities and curriculum plans, then they will be little more than another rah-rah group within a school and will contribute little to its growth or future success.
We believe that given the right leadership, these councils can provide a much-needed viewpoint in our public schools. Thoughtful discussions over key academic issues with parental and business input seldom happens today. These councils can provide just such a forum.
Much of the burden for the success of these councils rests on the shoulders of our principals. It is they who are charged by law with setting up, organizing and chairing these groups.
We hope that our principals and other school leaders will look at these councils as an opportunity for establishing a new highway of communication with their school's patrons. And we hope parents and business leaders will take the opportunity to get involved in a positive way with the schools in our county by taking a leadership role on these councils.
With leadership, these councils can achieve something good for education.

By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
April 18, 2001

BOC needs a captain at the helm
Anytime there is a void, something will flow to fill it. It's true in physics and in politics. That's the situation in which the Jackson County Board of Commissioners now finds itself - in the absence of strong leadership, the void is being filled in ways that are inconsistent and often unpredictable.
It's a subtle problem. There are no major meltdowns, no overt confrontations and no single hot-button issue around which to focus public attention. Rather, there have been a series of low-key actions that individually mean little. But taken together, they paint a picture of a crew without a captain, a ship where no one wants to take hold of the rudder. Consider the following seemingly unrelated actions from this week's BOC meeting:
· The board voted to assign the car being used by Chairman Harold Fletcher to replace a vehicle in the ambulance department. No biggie, but it begs a question: Why did the board feel the need to involve itself in such a detail? Isn't that the responsibility of the county manager? Do we really want this new county government to micromanage inter-departmental decisions?
· The board voted to "suggest" that the county water and sewer authority move the first 4,000 feet of a new sewer line. Again, no major disagreement, but the move comes on the heels of an uneasy understanding between the two groups in which the BOC agreed to support leadership decisions of the authority. The problem isn't that the authority doesn't want input from the board of commissioners, but rather the manner in which such input is framed. The board didn't have to hold a vote to convey its feelings on the placement of a sewer line - it could have informally discussed such details with authority members. But in holding a formal vote, the BOC left the impression that it was strong-arming the authority in the decision. Not only that, but holding a formal vote played into the hands of those attempting to stop the sewer line by again playing one public agency against another.
· The board began naming members to a dangerous dog committee Monday night. Again, not a big issue, but why does the board feel the need to appoint a county committee and authority members district by district? No one would argue that the county government shouldn't be sensitive to local geopolitical considerations. Fair representation from around the county is a worthy goal. But the BOC appears to be overly concerned about appointees from districts, perhaps at the expense of getting the right people in the right positions. That may not be important on a dangerous dog committee, but it could be in other board appointments where specific technical expertise would be important. In getting in the habit of allowing board members to select agency and authority appointments on a district basis, the BOC may be unintentionally injecting political considerations into the process. The hyper-focus on district considerations was one of the main criticisms of the new five-member BOC system when it was first presented. The board should not be sending the message that district political concerns outweigh the broad view of what is best for Jackson County.
· The BOC did a good thing this week when it voted to start a rewrite of the county's zoning codes and land use plan. That need has been discussed for several years and is not a new issue. But the way that issue came to the table this week is of concern. It didn't come at the recommendation of a department head, or the county manager or the board chairman. Rather, it came from a couple of board members who got tired of waiting on others to bring it to the table for action. By itself, that isn't bad. But one has to wonder, where was the leadership on this issue?
In fact, while the above four actions appear to be unrelated, a lack of strong leadership is evident in each. When Jackson County citizens voted for a county manager form of government and a five-member BOC, they expected not only more professional management, but also more coordinated leadership. So far, that isn't happening.
Jackson County has five good people sitting on the BOC - in fact, it has more talent at the table than ever before. But there's a serious lack of leadership and that void is being filled by herky-jerky actions and habits that may not be in the long-term interest of Jackson County.
The precedent set by this board will be the one followed by future boards for decades to come. It's important that the BOC not only do the right things, but it must also do them in the right way.
That will take vision and leadership to fill what so far has been an empty cup.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
April 18, 2001

City Should Work To Reduce Poor Housing
Commerce, it appears, is bound and determined to land an "affordable housing" development. Translate that to mean a complex in which most of the units are set aside for people who meet low-income criteria.
Three different groups have made pitches to the Commerce City Council seeking its endorsement for funding from the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). The council voted to endorse two; the other fell apart when it became clear that the project would be approved by the Commerce Planning Commission.
The question to be asked is what does Commerce gain from one or both of these complexes?
The first project was scheduled to be endorsed Monday night by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, "for Commerce," and is on Progress Road. The second would go on Georgia 98 (Ila Road) at the bypass.
The developers say that DCA has identified Jackson County as having a shortage of "affordable" rental housing and has arranged its scoring system to favor putting such housing here. The theory is that Commerce has a lot of substandard housing, tenants of which could move into these nicer projects.
The flaw in the theory is pointed out by Commerce resident Joe Leffew, who notes that the new housing would be in addition to, not replacing, the existing low-income housing. Thus, the developments actually serve to bring low-income tenants into Commerce, where the city must pay to educate their children, provide water and sewer services and police and fire protection. The question then becomes not do we want better housing for low-income residents, but do we want to attract more low-income residents?
If the first question were the issue, the answer would be "yes," and Commerce would work to eradicate substandard housing. But since that is not happening, we gain nothing by building more low-income housing except to draw low-income residents from other areas into our community. A project to provide 250 duplex units will cost $11 million to build and add $4.4 million to our tax digest. A similar number of middle-income single family homes ($150,000 apiece) would cost more than $35 million and would add almost $15 million to the tax digest. When applied to property taxes to fund the city school system, low-rent apartments would provide less than a third as much revenue as an equal number of modest single-family homes. The result is a recipe for increasing school taxes.
All this occurs in a town where industrial and commercial growth are very limited. Councilman Bob Sosebee pointed out at the last city council meeting that Commerce is not prepared to accept any major industrial newcomers ­ which are every community's hope of balancing the tax burden. Even without the proposed housing developments, the city's growth is weighted too heavily toward residential; with those rental developments, the problem is magnified.
A better solution ­ assuming the city council really is interested in the welfare of its poorest citizens ­ would be to use its office of code enforcement to make sure that every piece of rental property in the city is up to code. That would mean inspecting each property between tenants, a process that is not without expense. The city could then crack down on some of our slum lords who provide substandard low-income housing. The result would be better housing for low-income residents, an increase in the tax digest but with no corresponding increases in school or other infrastructure. Substandard housing exists here not because we don't have modern rental properties, but because the city has allowed its poorest residents to live in squalid, unsafe shacks and mobile homes. Commerce doesn't need more low-income housing; it needs to improve the low-income housing it already has and to eliminate those units that should be condemned.

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