The Commerce News
September 26, 2001
Your Patriotism By Spending More
Get out there, readers, and show Osama bin Laden you're not intimidated.
Spend your money.
That is the message being delivered by everyone from President
Bush to the local chamber of commerce. It is your patriotic duty
to keep your credit cards filled to their limit.
The problem is that Americans, who were already slowing their
spending somewhat before Sept. 11, really cut back following
the terrorist attacks. Unless America returns to its buy-now-pay-later
spending-to-excess lifestyle, the nation could experience a recession.
I think the terrorists blasted some common sense into Americans,
though probably it will not last too long. I mean, the Democrats
and Republicans are actually talking to each other, more people
are going to church and praying and all races, genders and national
origins are pretty much united. Maybe, just maybe, some of us
have figured out that we can survive without having every item
our hearts desire.
One of the many fascinating aspects of the aftermath of the attacks
could well be the status of the economy if Americans have substantially
changed their spending habits. I don't have much confidence that
the changes will last forever, but what if they do?
The economy is based on spending to excess. What would happen
if the nation suddenly decided to pay off its VISA bills and
quit carrying a huge balance, quit buying new cars or trucks
every two years and discovered that there is life without AOL,
eBay and the Home Shopping Network?
Economists shudder at the very possibility. Were a rumor to be
advanced that such a scenario was unfolding, the Dow Jones Industrials
would drop below 6,000, Alan Greenspan would cut the prime rate
to minus-five and Congress would have no choice but to declare
war on somebody.
"It's the economy, Stupid," was the motto of Bill Clinton
when he first ran for president. And he was right. The economy
is the foremost concern of every politician and every stockbroker,
banker or financial consultant, a group that seems to make up
40 percent of the American population.
Or, at least, we were.
It's not in the Bill of Rights, but Americans view the right
to a healthy economy as a Constitutional privilege second only
to the right to bear arms. A poll of high school juniors in America
would reveal that 74 percent think "freedom of spending"
is constitutionally protected.
But what if, slapped upside the head with the terrorists' 2 by
4, Americans agreed with what the rest of the world has been
saying, that we're spoiled and materialistic, and changed its
ways? That would be a good thing, right?
Not right, say the economists, because the economy is as dependent
upon our over-spending as the crack addict is on his next smoke.
I don't suppose they'll have to worry. It'll take more than a
few buildings destroyed and 6,000 lives lost to keep us out of
the malls and outlet stores or to make us surrender our cell
phones, Palm Pilots or cappucinos.
We're not just the land of the free; we're the land of the free-spending.
The Jackson Herald
September 26, 2001
a 'clash of civilizations'
Sept. 11 was a terrible day for America, a day where buildings
tumbled and new fault lines were created in the world order.
In 1993, Samuel Huntington wrote a highly touted article in "Foreign
Affairs" magazine in which he predicted that the end of
the Cold War would lead to a world where conflict would revolve
mostly around cultural rather than ideological or political differences.
The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 may have been another in a
string of such clashes that in the coming decades will reshape
the balance of power in the world.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communist
ideology in 1991, the world order has been in transition. As
Huntington pointed out in 1993, the old labels of East vs. West
and First World vs. Third World no longer apply.
What has been notable, however, are that many of the major conflicts
around the globe since 1991 have been between people of different
cultures. More pointedly, many of those conflicts have been between
Muslim cultures and Western cultures: the Gulf War, Bosnia, Sarajevo,
Croatia, Azerbaijan and the Caucasus region.
Leaders of this country have been correct in saying that America's
war on terrorism is a "new kind of war." And President
Bush has been successful, so far, in bringing in friendly Middle
Eastern states as allies in the fight against terrorists.
But one has to wonder if the events of Sept. 11 were not just
another stepping stone toward a broader conflict down the road.
If Huntington's analysis is correct, this conflict won't revolve
around governments or nations, but rather around cultural differences
that are deeply rooted and not easily changed; a "clash
of civilizations" as Huntington stated it.
Militant Islam is not the cause of those differences, but is
the gasoline that makes them burn hotter and longer. And therein
lies a danger for the future which could easily transcend the
events of Sept. 11. While currently small in number, Islamic
militants are poised to inflame an entire Islamic civilization
against the West.
In the coming weeks, the world will teeter on the edge of civilization's
fault lines. What happens now will shape the world for decades
The Jackson Herald
September 26, 2001
county getting top-heavy?
I'd hate to be a county commissioner. Although various county
commissioners have been grist for this column over the years,
I do have sympathy for their plight. Being a county commissioner
is like living in a room with moving walls - no matter which
way you turn, the pressure is coming at you.
So it isn't without some compassion this year that I've been
looking through the county's proposed 2002 budget. We all know
the story by now of how the "old" board of commissioners
drastically rolled back the property tax rate last year, forcing
this year's "new" board to dip into reserves to the
tune of $4.5 million. That in turn has forced the board to lop
off $3 million from the 2002 budget even as it raises the rate
back to a higher level.
But for all the talk about an austere budget, I'm not sure that's
totally the case in the 2002 proposal. While a lot of requests
are going unfunded, one of the costliest items in the budget
has passed by without mention - the growth in department head
It's no secret that the biggest cost in government is personnel
pay and benefits. A decade ago, many local government salaries
and benefits would have barely gotten a passing grade. That's
no longer the case with many local government positions where
both the pay and benefits have grown at alarming rates.
In the four years between 1999 and the 2002 budget, total county
government salaries and benefits have grown a whopping 49 percent,
an average of over 12 percent each year. That's far more than
the overall spending in county government, which has grown around
32 percent in the same period.
Put another way, in 1999, total county government salaries and
benefits were 61 percent of the county's general fund expenses.
For 2002, salaries and benefits are projected to be 68 percent
of general fund expenses.
One could argue, of course, that such a growth in payroll was
necessary to keep up with growth in the county. That may be true.
But while the county has seen a lot of growth in that time, it
wasn't as much as the growth in government. The county tax digest
has grown by only 27 percent between 1999 and 2002, meaning that
the growth in government continues to outpace overall community
But the real quandary in all these numbers isn't just the overall
payroll growth, but is rather an explosion in department head
positions and salaries. Between 1999 and the proposed 2002 budget,
the county department head payroll has grown by nearly $500,000,
a 56 percent increase over four years. Only one county department
head makes less than $40,000 per year. Some 14 department heads
make over $50,000 per year.
Some of those salaries, especially for elected county officials,
are set by the state. But other positions are under the control
of the BOC, where over a four-year period, department head pay
has gone up from six to nine percent each year.
In addition to those increases, several new departments have
been created where the department head pay starts in the $50,000-per-year
range. And that doesn't include the new position of county manager,
the highest-paid county position at $92,000 per year.
While this growth in management has taken place unabated, not
all county employees have seen such increases in pay. The sheriff's
department, for example, continues to be a revolving door where
employees come and go and the pay has remained low compared to
None of these issues are new to government administration, of
course. It's always a challenge for governments to balance the
need for administrative positions against the demand for people
to actually carry out the work being planned by those administrators.
Not only that, but market forces have changed the landscape as
pay scales are forced upward by new industries and the influence
of metro Atlanta.
Still, one has to ask: Is the Jackson County government getting
There's no clear answer to that question. While there's no doubt
that local department head salaries have grown, as a ratio of
the overall payroll, they have remained about the same.
But it wouldn't hurt for county leaders to take a look at not
just the "extras" being asked for in their budget process,
but also look at the overall administrative structure. While
the dramatic growth in the county during the last decade afforded
an expansion in administrative expenses, we may be entering a
period of austerity where county leaders will have to make some
The truth is, the county has been flush with money in recent
years. Spending it was easy and as the numbers show, the county
government growth has been larger than the overall county growth.
Being a leader when times are good is easy.
Real leadership is steering a course when the seas get rough.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
September 26, 2001
Also Came Of Sept. 11
How many times did we watch the tape of the second airplane hitting
the World Trade Center Sept. 11 and the following days? How many
times did we see the twin towers fall? How many stories of horror
and heroism did we see that week?
But for every grisly photograph or story, for every death and
injury, there is also an act of kindness, generosity, unity and
strength of purpose emanating from the pile of rubble that was
once an icon of trade and consumerism. America lost a landmark.
It lost some of its security and it lost a number of its citizens.
It appears to be heading to war.
Yet, for all of the bad, great and good things have happened
as well. We've heard the stories of brave firefighters and police
officers who died and of passengers wresting control of one airplane
to thwart the terrorists. Those reports were just the beginning.
If the terrorists think they've cowed America, they're wrong.
Virtually every school in America is raising money for disaster
relief. Children, teenagers and adults are donating time, money
and prayers to benefit New Yorkers. The Red Cross has thousands
of volunteers from all over the world still helping support the
recovery effort. Tributes to the fallen are everywhere; the outpouring
of support is unprecedented. Even the Congress is united.
Commerce's Claire Gaus just returned from a week of helping the
Red Cross in New York, and she was overwhelmed with the individual
acts of kindness shown by people of all ages, races, religions
and backgrounds. Her impressions are recorded elsewhere in this
newspaper, but she was a first-hand witness of (and for) the
kinder side of America. The events of Sept. 11 were incredibly
moving; the individual acts of kindness, goodness, tribute, recognition
and generosity of the following days were more moving.
America, though attacked brutally, has responded with what may
be its greatest outpouring of kindness in history. If the terrorists
thought they could demoralize America, Americans are proving
them wrong every day in every village, hamlet, city and state.
They wanted to bring America to its knees, but seldom have Americans
stood so tall as they have since Sept. 11.
Welcome To Commerce's New Chief Of Police
There's a new sheriff, well, police chief, in town. John Gaissert
took the oath of office Monday morning. It's good to have him
Gaissert was selected from an incredibly strong field of applicants,
according to City Manager Clarence Bryant, so we know that we've
got someone qualified, trained and competent to do the job.
He has pledged to lead by example, to bring respect back to a
department tarnished by his successor. His reputation suggests
that he will do just that. He will find a group of men and women
anxious for strong, professional leadership, willing to give
loyalty to a man who will work hard for them.
A prediction: the new chief will be more involved in the community,
more approachable to officers and citizens alike, more respected
and more deserving of respect and he will be a good steward of
the taxpayers' money. The result will be better morale in the
police department and better policing for the citizens. Welcome
to Commerce, Chief.