Banks County Opinions...

October 17, 2001


Our Views

The Banks County News
October 17, 2001

What's really happening with CVB moves?
The accountability for public money is one of the most important issues in any government agency. Yet two local government groups have been lax in having their books officially audited each year, even though both handle a large amount of taxpayer funds.
The Banks County Chamber of Commerce and its sister organization, the Banks County Convention and Visitor's Bureau, have both been lax in complying with basic government agency audit standards, even though around $170,000 per year in taxpayer funds are handled by the organizations.
So the recent moves by several chamber leaders to suddenly change their affiliation to the CVB organization raises a lot of questions. Could it be that those involved in chamber leadership think they'll have less public scrutiny under the CVB organization? Indeed, although the CVB is a public agency and subject to both the Open Meetings and Open Records Laws, there is no schedule of when its board meets or where its headquarters will be located. That group handles around $150,000 in tax money, so it's kind of important that the public at least knows where to call for information.
In the past, both the chamber and CVB have been controlled by the same small group of people. While we understand that most of those involved in both groups do so just to help the community, that does not absolve them from having audits done or being open to public scrutiny.
But a few of those leaders apparently believe they are above such accountability. Last Thursday, some of those involved in the CVB and chamber blasted this newspaper for having the gall to ask questions. It was a hyper-sensitive reaction and an unprofessional response that taints all of those connected with its leadership. Indeed, this defensiveness by chamber and CVB leaders is perhaps one reason for a dwindling number of people attending chamber meetings each month.
We believe the Banks County Board of Commissioners should take a stronger hand in how these CVB funds are being handled and to make sure the proper auditing is being done.
This is taxpayer money, not funds for a small group of people to use for their own ego playground.
This newspaper won't stop asking question, but the ultimate responsibility falls on the desk of the BOC. And that board should do whatever it takes to make sure that taxpayer funds are fully audited and accounted for.

Column

By Phillip Bond Sartain
The Banks County News
October 17, 2001

Travel guide: the old myth of Old Faithful
When you spend three weeks driving across America, there just isn't enough time to see everything. But some stops are mandatory. In fact, the Federal Rules and Regulations for Trans-American Journeys actually requires a stop at Yellowstone National Park to see Old Faithful. We didn't want to get in trouble with the law so we got in line with everyone else. And that's how I came to learn the old myths of Old Faithful.
There is a sense of urgency upon arriving at the big geyser. After all, it only goes off every so often. That means you don't want to miss all the hoopla because you were standing in the parking lot looking in the sideview mirror to make sure your hair looks okay.
As a result, everyone rushes around like a chicken on a bad hair day. And like chickens, everyone moves in no particular direction but just gravitates toward any sort of crowd under the assumption that all the other chickens have some better idea of where they're going. And humans think chickens are stupid.
In the end, all paths lead to Old Faithful. In truth, it's about as faithful as the Post Office. Sure, you'll probably get your mail some time today, but you don't really know when. And that's the reason you don't stand and wait by your mailbox all day.
Not so at Yellowstone. The spectators come in waves and without the slightest clue as to the timing of the next eruption. We asked one of the chickens that arrived before we did based upon an improbable theory that he was somehow waiting to tell us what he knew. "Oh, in about 15 minutes," he said with a smile.
In response, we took a seat, pleased to have avoided a long wait in the hot sun. Then, for the next hour and 20 minutes, we sat and we waited, trapped by an invisible forcefield that told us we could not return to Gainesville without seeing the geyser no matter how long the wait.
We tried to make the most of our time. Little things helped, like checking the film in the camera 37 times. After a while, you ponder the probability that your battery will go dead if you check the film just one more time. And because your brain is melting, you wonder if you have enough time to flap over to the welcome center to pay $16.95 for a spare camera battery.
It's a pretty hopeless plan because the odds are great that the geyser will go off while you're in the checkout line waiting for someone to search all their pockets for an extra two pennies so they don't have to break a dollar. And if that happens, you're likely to spend the next 30 years in prison for manslaughter.
Instead, you guard your ground and take turns telling your children, "Oh, in about 15 minutes. So just sit down and be still for one minute." That works about as well as walking into a chicken house and telling the birds to line up, that they're going for a little ride.
In the meantime, the geyser began teasing everyone with little bubbles and squirts, and a weird whirring sound. Eventually, I realized that the whirring sound was coming from all the cameras whose batteries had finally died. The squirts were always false alarms, and at some point, I began to understand what it must have felt like to wait for Elvis.
When the geyser finally blew, it was almost anti-climatic. I turned to the kids, and said, "Hey wasn't that great?"
I think it was my oldest daughter who said something along the lines of "Why couldn't we have just gone to Six Flags?"
As we were leaving, a new flock of chickens began to wander up to the pavilion area, clucking and scratching around in the dirt. That's when some guy asked me how long until Old Faithful goes off. He looked fresh and unrumpled, and his hair was perfect. "Oh, about fifteen minutes," I said. "You'd better hurry."
Ordinarily, I would have felt a little guilty. But hey, it's an American rite of passage. Like waiting for the mailman.
Phillip Bond Sartain is a Gainesville attorney.

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