Jackson County Opinions...

May 16, 2001

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
May 16, 2001

New Plan Calls For New Level Of City Commitment
Having, no doubt, heard an earful from Commerce citizens appalled at the city council's "come hither" approach to subsidized housing, suddenly the Commerce City Council wants to eliminate substandard housing.
And who should bring the issue to the table but Bob Sosebee, who has been leading the effort to lure 100 units of federally subsidized housing into this town.
Sosebee now wants the city to inspect all rental housing units between tenants and make the owners bring the property up to minimal housing codes.
Three cheers, I say, but with a bit of skepticism.
It makes good copy for the city council to propose such a plan; it will be a lot harder for them to accept it once the city hires another inspector and goes to work.
City manager Clarence Bryant appeared to share that skepticism, warning the councilmen that they have to stay out of the process.
Fat chance.
For one thing, Councilman Donald Wilson is himself the owner of several rental properties that, to be tactful, could stand some improvement. What will his reaction be after a city inspector keeps ordering expensive improvements in that property?
City councilmen have been known to interfere in the city's attempt to enforce the cleanliness of premises ordinance enacted by a council supposedly tired of all of the unkempt property. Some council members ask for extensions so friends or constituents can get work done on their property, work that never actually gets done. Property owned by prominent citizens, former citizens or local businesses somehow takes longer to get cleaned up than the overgrown lot of Mr. and Mrs. John Doe, who happen to live in Atlanta. Don't think that won't happen to substandard housing owned by people who have friends in the right places.
The mayor and several councilmen are now on record as supporting efforts to clean up poor housing. It'll be up to citizens to hold their feet to the fire when a councilman wants to get involved on behalf of a constituent. Like all other ordinances, this should be enforced across the board without regard to race, creed, religion, national origin, sexual preference, not to mention prominence in the community or who one knows at City Hall.
If the city council backs the inspection of rental property, backs the occasional condemnation and enforces the housing code, over time, substandard housing will disappear. That is a very big "if."
This is a commitment of more than the several thousand dollars it will take to hire the right inspector and to fund the administrative assistant that will be necessary. This is a commitment to getting tough with landlords who have had a free hand in the past to rent out anything with a roof and not too many broken windows. It will be a tough transition for the landlords and for the city government.
But if it works, over 10 or more years, it will transform the appearance of Commerce. Drive around, look at all the ratty houses and imagine the city without them.
It could happen. Possibly.

The Jackson Herald
May 16, 2001

End of school a time to reflect
As school winds down for another year, it's time to pause and reflect on the status of our education efforts.
As food for thought on this subject, we offer the following:
· Public schools aren't as bad as we sometimes think they are. With a few exceptions, most public schools offer a fairly good education for those who really want an education.
· While public schools may not be bad, neither are they reaching their potential. Part of that is due to federal and state mandates that tie the hands of those in the classroom, and part of that is due to a resistance to change from within the public educational system.
· Standardized tests are one important way a community can make decisions about its local schools, but they should not be the only measure. The overemphasis on these tests by the community and by schools themselves is leading us down a slippery slope. We have not yet learned how to view standardized tests in their proper context.
· Private schools educate a small number of students relative to public schools, but private schools will force public education to change in ways no one today can predict. The power of competition is stronger than any other social force and it will eventually force changes in how we operate public schools.
· Social problems will continue to have a negative impact on public schools. Someday soon, however, public policy makers will stop trying to solve all those problems and admit schools should set educational goals, not social goals.
· If we could get the federal government out of public education, our schools would be better off.
· If we could get the state government to set goals, not policies, our schools would be better off.
· If we could get parents more involved in education, our schools would be better off.

The Jackson Herald
May 16, 2001

Some things never change
It's been nearly a quarter of a century since I graduated from high school. It doesn't seem that long ago, but the calendar doesn't lie. Neither do the lines on my face.
Starting this week, local high school seniors will don caps and gowns for their own graduation rituals. What they will find on the other side of this event isn't just the piece of paper they're handed. That's just the beginning of their entry into time acceleration.
For years, today's graduates have waited for their exit from school. Time seemed to move slowly, creeping along while they wondered if their school days would ever end.
Now time will speed up, the years will become a blur until they, like myself, will reach middle age and look back to wonder where it all went.
Yet, there is some good news in this. While change is a constant, the changes they will see in the coming quarter century may not be as shocking as they expect. I took a look back this week to the spring and summer of 1977 when I walked the path now being tread by others. Indeed, there have been some changes. In 1977, we didn't have personal computers or cell phones, two ubiquitous tools of today's graduates. The music was better back then (well, except for disco, which was my generation's contribution to cultural genocide). And our hair was longer, much longer than today's less rebellious styles. (But at least we didn't have body piercing.)
But for every change in the last 24 years, there are many things which have stayed the same. Here's a short list:
· In 1977, county commissioner Harold Fletcher was making headlines. In 2001, commissioner Harold Fletcher is still making headlines.
· In 1977, Zell Miller was a major political force in the state. Today, he's a major political force in the state and nation.
· In 1977, people wrote letters to the editor to complain about animal control problems. Today, well, the problems persist and the letters still pour in.
· In 1977, Mike Beatty made headlines as a coach. Today Mike Beatty makes headlines as a state senator. Different game, same strategy.
· In 1977, there was talk of remodeling the courthouse. In 2001, we're talking about a new courthouse.
· In 1977, there was a lot of attention on standardized test scores. Ditto for today.
· In 1977, Andy Byers was a leading spokesman for the county school system as its curriculum director. Today he is superintendent and is still a leading spokesman.
· In 1977, Bill Anderson came "back" to Commerce. This summer, he's still coming back.
· In 1977, there was a drought. In 2001, we're still dry.
· In 1977, sewer and water issues were debated. The debate continues now 24 years later.
· Recreation baseball was big in 1977, as it is today. The only difference is that players in that year are now coaches.
· In 1977, there was talk of a joint meeting between the county's three school boards. Today, they are meeting. It only took 24 years to get them at the same table.
· In 1977, a photo of me running nude was printed in The Jackson Herald. (It's a long story, you'd have to have been there.) Today, I expose less flesh, but more thoughts.

Graduates, no one knows what the future will hold. But one thing is for sure: the next 18 years will go by much, much faster than the last 18 years did. And everything will change, yet some things will always seem to be the same.
It'll just take you another 24 years to tell the difference.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
May 16, 2001

It's Time To Re-Draw City's Voting Districts
It's been years since we tried (unsuccessfully) to get the Commerce City Council to reapportion its four wards; the latest census data suggests it's about time for the city to take action before someone goes to court and forces it to.
The council has fled from the issue over the past two decades because some councilmen feared that any change in how officials are elected might cost them their jobs.
The city has a population of 5,292, according to the recent census count. Ideally, each ward would have 1,323 residents. Only one ward comes close to that.
Ward 1 has 2,386 voters, Ward 2 has 1,251, Ward 3 has 654 and Ward 4 has 1,001.
It doesn't take a U.S. District Court judge to notice that the ward containing virtually all of the city's black voters is the largest ward. A court's likely interpretation would be that city officials wanted to dilute the black vote, which is exactly what has happened.
The deviation from the ideal district size ranges from 5.44 percent in Ward 2 to 80.35 percent in Ward 1, so wards one, three and four are far enough out of balance to warrant change.
The logical move would be to adopt as wards the districts used by the Commerce Board of Education, switching to five wards and one at-large position instead of the current four wards, two at-large positions.
With five districts, the ideal size would be 1,058 residents. None of the school districts are within five percent of the ideal size, and its District 1, which contains most of the black vote, is also the largest (1,300 residents). Still, the school districts are less out of balance than the city's wards.
Commerce has avoided attracting attention because it has two black city councilmen. Riley Harris represents Ward 1, where most black residents live, and Archie D. Chaney Jr. is an at-large councilman. Chaney's at-large election, in a town that is about 85 percent white, has done a lot to assure federal officials that Commerce's voting system does not disenfranchise its black residents.
But this is not about race; it is about equity. Ward 1 has three and a half times the voters of Ward 3, but the same amount of council representation. All citizens should have equal representation.
The wards have been out of balance for decades; growth has made the situation worse. It's time for the city council to make a tough decision, do what is right for all voters and realign its wards or go to districts.

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