Jackson County Opinions...

June 20, 2001

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
June 20, 2001

Loss Of Trust Is Worse Than Loss Of Money
It would be just like George Grimes to derive delirious pleasure out of my discomfiture. I can almost hear him laughing after the revelations of his malfeasance in office came out right after my glowing endorsement of his tenure as police chief.
I herewith nominate myself for the Good Timing Award for 2001. To vote, dial 1-900-335-5126. It's only $2 per vote.
Certainly Grimes has proven to be a lot more colorful in death than in life ­ and certainly disappointing. I considered him a friend, as did more people in Commerce than would now admit it, so I feel that sense of betrayal one feels when a friend goes bad. There are a lot of others with reason to feel more betrayed ­ like the officers of the police department, the officials of the Command College where Grimes was an instructor and a director, and all the city's elected officials.
Perhaps city manager Clarence Bryant should feel the most betrayed, for he is the one who hired him, trusted him and who is most on the spot now that money is missing.
If you can't trust the person you've hired as police chief, who can you trust?
Apparently, you can't trust the police chief ­ so maybe you shouldn't trust anyone ­ and that sad message will shake up the way business is done at City Hall.
Grimes should never have been able to get away with stealing large quantities of money from traffic fines and forfeitures. Whoever handled the money Grimes brought to City Hall probably should have noted the fact that a lot of receipt numbers were skipped. In addition, the city auditor probably should have insisted on internal controls. It wouldn't have taken someone with an adding machine two hours to add up the value of receipts in the book at the police station so they could be compared with the amount of money deposited to the city account from the police department for any fiscal year. The job of the auditor is to make sure internal controls are in place so anything amiss will be discovered. Given that the auditor knows the volume of money flowing through all the departments, one would expect the auditor to insist on checks and balances with this money.
Meanwhile, if the reports of Grimes' alleged crime are not entertaining enough, local gossip can fill the void. Anything and everything about Grimes will be said and believed. Stories of complicity, of cover-ups, girlfriends, drugs, pornography spread like wildfires in Florida.
It says a lot about us that such pleasure is derived from soaking up all the details of Grimes' alleged corruption. The very people who once held him in high esteem are anxious to pass on any tidbit of gossip, as though to atone for trusting someone who was not trustworthy.
The $300,000 officials say Grimes may have taken will be small potatoes compared to the loss of trust in and by city government. Every public official, every cop, everyone who handles money will be more closely scrutinized and new checks and balances will be instituted ­ all because of Grimes.
The loss of trust is more costly than the loss of the money.

The Jackson Herald
June 20, 2001

Problems with standardized tests
Teachers give students copies of the test beforehand and even provide them with answers during the actual testing. Pep rallies are held to get students to "SCORE, SCORE, SCORE" on these tests.
While these scenarios haven't been reported in Jackson County, they are being played out across the country as elementary and middle school students take standardized tests.
It has even come to the point where real estate agents are using the scores to try and sell a house near a "good school." This is ridiculous. To find out if a school is "good," visit the school, talk to the teachers, talk to the parents, talk to the students and decide for yourself. Don't look at scores from one standardized test and judge a school or a teacher.
Students are judged throughout their academic career based on standardized tests. CRCT, SAT and ACT are among the tests students are given. These results are used to place students in academic groups and to determine whether they are accepted into a university.
The problem is that these tests are given in pressure situations. A student may have knowledge of a subject, but not be a good test-taker.
Another problem is that while these tests are only one indicator, they are often used to change the curriculum and textbooks. If students test low in one area, educators immediately change the way that subject is taught. If they score low in another area next year, the same thing is done. This causes a lack of consistency in what students are being taught.
Standardized tests should never be used to change the curriculum or to judge how well a teacher is doing. If these tests are used to reflect how well a teacher is doing it, all of the teachers the student has ever had should be considered instead of only the current teacher.
Standardized tests may be an indicator of how much an individual student has progressed from one year to another. What the test should not be is a tool to judge a school or a teacher. It shouldn't be the only thing used to judge a student. It should be used along with the day-to-day performance of the child.



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By Todd Simons
The Jackson Herald
June 20, 2001

Video poker is hot ­ red hot
I quickly learned that this issue over video poker, which I had never given any time in contemplating, was stirring fires in other people. This issue is hot - red hot.
I parked my truck outside the ice cabinet in front of a local grocery store that houses a few video poker machines and loaded my camera with film.
Once I got my flash in place (or so I thought), I exited the truck and I walked into the store. I had been sent to do a story on video poker, to find out who plays it, what kind of games are played and what people win.
I decided I would start with the people because business owners have something to protect - their income. I walked into the back of the store where the games were. There were two people playing, a woman close to me and a man at the end of the row of games. The woman looked at me questioningly and I said, "I'm Todd Simons, I'm with The Jackson Herald and I am doing a story on these video poker machines and I was hoping I could talk to you a little about what you're playing, how you feel about the controversy. That sort of thing. You do know that Mike Beatty is trying to get these machines outlawed?"
She said, "I don't want to talk to you. I better get the manager. Have you talked to the manager? "
I replied: "No, but if you're not going to tell me anything, I would appreciate your getting the manager, that is. I'll want to speak with him too."
I turned to the man who was playing when the women left and before I could say anything he said, "I'm not talking to The Jackson Herald. They ran some bad information about my girlfriend." After a pause, he said: "It wasn't wrong, but they shouldn't have run that."
I just leaned back against the wall and watched cherries and gold bars roll across the screen and come to a stop.
I heard: "You sir, you will need to leave." I turned to find a reasonable looking man in a shirt with the store logo on it, so I assumed he was the manager.
I quickly said: "I'm sorry. I don't think you understand. I'm trying to do a story on the video poker industry. There are people who want to get rid of them and I just wanted to get your thoughts."
He said: "Leave. Leave now. Please leave the store."
"Leave? I just want to ask a few questions."
"No sir," he said. "Please leave the store or I will have to call the police."
"Call the police? I'm trying to do a story on video poker,"
"Please leave," he said. "I will have to call the police."
I said: "Will you come talk to me outside?"
He agreed. I walked out, camera on shoulder, note pad in hand. I was ready to figure out what had just happened.
He didn't come. I looked inside and didn't see him, so I went back in this time camera in hand.
I didn't go in looking for him. I went to the back where the machines were. I didn't know what I was going to do, probably tell the lady I had talked to earlier that the manager had nothing to say, but I would appreciate a few words from her and wouldn't have to get her name.
Just as I was about to enter the game room, my camera took a blow. My flash went flying and my finger set the shutter snapping. The manager had come to get me.
"I'm calling the cops." he said.
I picked up my flash and stuffed it in my back pocket. I put my camera over my shoulder and took out my note pad.
"I am calling the cops," I wrote.
"What are you writing?" he asked.
I wrote that too.
He motioned for someone to bring him the phone and then yelled, "Bring me the phone! Call 911 and bring me the phone."
Now there were two men who joined the one on the phone and I was backed up into a corner in the back of the store with mops and mop buckets and pails.
"I have a man here who is in my store causing trouble," he said. "He is trying to take pictures and is bothering my customers. Could you please have an officer come down here to help me get him out of the store?"
"Are you holding me here?" I asked.
"Yes, you cannot leave until the police come," he said.
"You are kidnapping me then," I said.
"No, no we are not"
"Can I leave?" I asked.
"Then you are kidnapping me."
My mouth was dry. I pulled out my wallet and held up a dollar and asked, "Could I buy a bottle of water?"
"I'll get you a bottle of water." He didn't take my dollar.
We stood there, the four of us. Me looking at them, them looking at me with my back in a corner. The two people at the video poker machines never stopped playing, except once when the lady I first talked to stood on the bottom rung of her stool to see over the men surrounding me to say: "You should have asked first. You really should ask."
I rolled my eyes and we quietly waited on the police.
When the officer arrived, he came without sirens or lights. I was a little disappointed that I didn't seem to be a bigger threat.
The sergeant pretty much rolled his eyes at the situation he had been called too.
"I am just trying to mediate here." he said. "It is not illegal to take pictures in a public place, or for him to ask people questions, but you do have the right to ask him to leave."
"I want him to leave," he said.
"That is fine," I said. "But I want it to be clear that right now I am going to write that I came into your establishment to ask about video poker, a legal and prosperous industry, and you attacked me, possibly breaking my flash, and held me in a back corner and you won't have any way to explain."
He did finally agree to talk to me and we went into the back of the store through some coolers stocked with beer. As we discussed video poker he spoke openly, but "off the record."
When I asked why he reacted the way he had, he said, "I didn't know who you were or what you were going to do with the pictures and information." Then he said, "I thought you might be the GBI. "
Todd C. Simons is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers.

The Commerce News
June 20, 2001

City Must Improve Its Internal Controls
Once the details of the George Grimes investigation are announced, what reaction should the taxpayers expect from the city government?
Some taxpayers just want somebody to blame, if not for corruption, then for negligence. But this is not the time to throw the Christians to the lions; a view of the larger picture is warranted.
Commerce's government has enjoyed a good reputation for more than a decade. It is fiscally sound, progressive and responsible, no matter what the result of the Grimes investigation might suggest otherwise. But clearly the city manager, mayor and city council need to make some kind of public statement once the GBI investigation is completed to show citizens that this isolated incident is being treated seriously.
The city did have the right reaction when evidence of missing funds surfaced; the police chief's office was sealed and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was summoned. This was not the time for an in-house investigation.
The most troubling aspect of this case is that it took the police chief's death to uncover it. How, taxpayers are asking, was it possible that so much money could be stolen without being missed? It is a fair question. Most of us would have assumed that the city audit covered the fines and forfeitures turned in to the police department; it did not. The response that officials trusted the police chief is insufficient; no employee should ever be put in a position where he or she alone is responsible for significant amounts of money. Trust is good, but trust without checks and balances can create temptations some people cannot resist.
Commerce's government needs to improve its internal controls. It can start with subjecting every individual and every department that handles money to routine controls that will make stealing more difficult, and it should expand the audit to cover funds not previously reviewed.
It appears that George Grimes fooled most of us. We expect at least to be told exactly why that kind of theft will never happen again. As for our next police chief, trust him (or her), but if we audit him as well, it may help him stay honest.

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