The Commerce News
October 31, 2001
Could Shrink Gov't, Cut Property Taxes
Authorities are trying to keep it quiet, but thousands of Jackson
County residents experienced terrorism by mail last week. It
wasn't anthrax; it was far worse. It was their county tax bills.
Mine arrived Tuesday and, as with my monthly mutual fund statements,
the thought of opening it brought terror to my heart. Even Cipro
can't give relief.
My tax bill will cost me about the same as a six-week supply
of what is quickly becoming one of America's favorite drugs,
but I'm not going to make a scene in Don Elrod's office; we'll
just pay it.
No, we'd been well warned about the impending increase, and the
reasons for it are pretty clear. County government is expensive.
Too expensive. Now if only we could agree on how to trim it,
then we'd have progress.
Personally, if God ordained me as czar of Jackson County and
I had the authority, I'd reduce the size of government by eliminating
the county transportation system, doing away with the county
prison and eliminating the recreation department. I'd order the
sheriff's department to keep two or three cars out on I-85 and
ring up the speeders to increase cash flow. I'd mandate countywide
garbage pickup and contract with a private firm to handle it,
taking a percentage of the proceeds and fining any resident who
failed to retain service. I'd close the two transfer stations.
No doubt my popularity would be soaring, encouraging me to move
I'd next issue an executive order requiring an annual tax of
$1 per year per tattoo, proceeds of which would roll the property
tax rate back five mills. A similar annual tax on body piercing
would eliminate property taxes altogether. I'd implement a ban
on plastic and glass containers for beer and soft drinks, thereby
eliminating half of all litter in the county, and I'd direct
law enforcement officials to shoot any smoker seen throwing his
or her butts around.
All this power is intoxicating.
I would next dismiss the county planning commission and handle
all rezoning requests myself. I would eliminate all zoning districts
for mobile homes, apartments and houses under $450,000, and businesses
and industries that did not meet my high standards would be prohibited.
I would order the sheriff (as czar, I have absolute power, remember)
to shut down all rental housing not meeting the tighter housing
code (did I mention I would rewrite the housing code?) and the
fire departments to burn all abandoned structures. I would order
all junked vehicles removed from residential and agricultural
By order of His Imperial Highness, I would require paternity
tests for all children whose parents aren't married and send
the sheriff to visit the fathers to ensure support of those children.
I would make it illegal for anyone not enrolled and passing in
high school or with a high school diploma to drive.
See how much better (and cheaper) government would be if I had
absolute power? If you don't like my ideas, that's tough. If
God appoints you the Jackson County czar, you can do it your
The Jackson Herald
October 31, 2001
for Jefferson mayor
Jefferson has grown and changed a lot in recent years. Unfortunately,
its governing structure has failed to keep pace with those changes.
In ways large and small, the city administration is still operating
under the same system it did 20 years ago.
On Nov. 6, the citizens of Jefferson will have the opportunity
to put progressive leadership into place by electing Jim Joiner
mayor. As a small businessman, Joiner has been involved in the
Jefferson community for many years, having served in a variety
of volunteer leadership positions. For the past two years, Joiner
has served with distinction on the Jefferson City Council.
Early next year, the city government will undergo a transition
as a city manager form of government is implemented. Joiner was
a leading proponent of this change to a more professional government
and has pledged to support a smooth transition. In addition,
Joiner has said he wants to review the basic infrastructure in
the city to ensure we can meet the demands of growth on our systems.
We believe Jefferson will benefit under the leadership of Jim
Joiner and we encourage voters to support his progressive platform
on Nov. 6.
The Jackson Herald
October 31, 2001
news most important
Most people probably think that newspaper reporters spend all
their time looking for the "big story." After all,
the "exciting" events are those that usually make page
While such hard news stories get a lot of attention, I suspect
that most readers really care more about routine news than government
scandals. In newspaper lingo, routine news is called "refrigerator
news," those items that families clip out of the newspaper
and hang on their refrigerators.
If your child's photo is in the newspaper for some event at school,
it will hang on the refrigerator.
If someone in your family is mentioned in an article, it'll be
hung on the refrigerator.
If a family member gets married, it'll be clipped and hung on
Those may be routine items, but they're the bread-and-butter
of what a community newspaper really does. All the government
and crime stories combined don't touch the importance of seeing
your child's photo in the paper for getting a certificate at
Each of these community news items, has its own ritual. In fact,
the way we handle such items has changed dramatically in recent
years as society has changed. The most obvious of items is the
listing of names in weddings and death notices. Because of fractured
family situations, there are now a variety of step-fathers-mothers-siblings
that must get attention. In the past, that wasn't an issue. Today,
however, we are much more liberal in how we list family members
in such community news stories.
But the biggest change I've noticed in recent years has been
a change in engagement and wedding announcements. To really get
the flavor of a community, just look at the local newspaper's
wedding and engagement page.
There is no story that an editor would rather get correct than
a wedding or engagement. Every editor dreads getting a "mother-of-the-bride-call"
wherein he receives a verbal thrashing for getting the name of
the bride's lace pattern wrong. (Garrison Keillor, the Minnesota
humorist of Lake Woebegone fame, told a newspaper group once
that the hometown paper of his mythical town wrote in "excruiting
detail" about every bride's dress.)
Even worse than a "mother-of-the-bride-call" is the
"new-wife" call in which an editor is told that the
woman's life has been ruined by an error in her wedding story
that listed Uncle William as "Uncle Bill."
Of course, newspaper editors have their own humor about engagement
and wedding notices. That's especially true with many of the
photos. In their spare time, editors write humorous cutlines
for wedding and engagement photos. We're especially fond of engagement
photos where the bride-to-be is hanging all over the groom-to-be,
as if to say, "He's mine now, d____it! Stay away!"
Another favorite are the engagement photos where the bride-to-be
is sprawled across a sofa like Cleopatra and the groom-to-be
is barely seen to one side. "Look at me and despair,"
is a favorite cutline for those photos.
The look on the groom-to-be's face is also another source of
unending amusement for newspaper society editors. More often
than not, there's a kind of bewilderment on the poor guy's face,
as if he's silently asking, "What the heck have I gotten
myself into now?"
Another common wedding photo is one where the bride and groom
are staring off into space with a wistful look, as if they are
sailing off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Newspaper
staffs often wager on how long it'll be before the divorce notice
appears after the blissful union.
There was a time when no newspaper would run an engagement or
wedding photograph unless it was made by a professional photography
studio. But we've all relaxed those standards to accommodate
the changing times, which has in turn led to some interesting
shots; an engaged couple standing at a lawnmower; a married couple
with a family member holding a shotgun for the wedding photograph;
newlyweds on horseback and a variety of other nontraditional
But my own pet peeve with such photos is engagement and wedding
pictures in which the groom, or groom-to-be, is wearing a hat
with the number of his favorite NASCAR driver. I have nothing
against NASCAR, but come on guys, can't you lose the hat for
a minute to get an engagement picture made?
Another routine news article that generates a lot of debate within
the walls of newsrooms is how to handle birth announcements.
Some of our reporters don't like using a photograph of a newborn.
"All babies look alike," he says.
Other reporters don't like using the weight and length of the
"Makes it sound like a lizard," she says, with something
of a pained look on her face.
But frankly, I like the photos of new babies and I like knowing
how big the little bugger was. Women, perhaps, don't like thinking
The news coverage of such family events as births and marriages
is important and reflects the vast changes taking place in society
at large. And that is perhaps more important than anything you'll
read on page one.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
October 31, 2001
It will be most interesting to see the level of participation
in next Tuesday's municipal elections, given that they are the
first elections held locally since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Why is that relevant?
Because, supposedly, "everything changed" Sept. 11.
Note the proliferation of "God Bless America" signs,
banners, T-shirts and license tags; every vehicle, business and
yard seems to contain an American flag. Patriotism is rampant.
One of the ways Americans show their patriotism is to participate
in elections, so it stands to reason that increased patriotism
would lead to higher voter turnout.
There are those who say that the "new" patriotism is
a mile wide and an inch deep, a symbolic gesture but little more.
Hopefully, they are wrong. Hopefully, most Americans have taken
a closer look at their faith, family, freedom and rights and
responsibilities after Sept. 11 and realize that they've taken
them for granted.
In recent elections, the level of voter participation has been
dismal due partly to taking the right to vote for granted and
partly to a growing cynicism about the democratic process. If
everything truly changed Sept. 11, the percentage of people going
to the polls next Tuesday should be the highest it's been in
years. But if the same trend of low voter turnout continues,
we'll have to concede that the cynics were right about the real
level of patriotism.
Keep Eye On The Gov.
Having circumvented much of the Department of Transportation
with the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and having
created an agency to oversee a large portion of the state's water
resources, Gov. Roy Barnes is now said to be eyeing more state
involvement in controlling land use.
A keen observer who has traveled the width and breadth of Georgia
might be inclined to agree that the state should take over where
local communities have failed. The state's mountains are carved
up into tiny resort developments with roads that lack pavement
and drainage; in the Atlanta area, building is outpacing both
water and sewerage supplies; at the coast, no acre is safe from
being turned into part of a strip mall or a condominium; agricultural
land in the piedmont is succumbing to development. All over,
rapid growth is changing the landscape and taxing our resources.
But do we really want some agency dominated by political appointees
and heavily representative of Metro Atlanta deciding policy for
Jackson, Banks and Madison counties? Not hardly.
With the notable exception of Nicholson, every community in Jackson
County is striving to protect itself and its people through zoning.
The county's comprehensive land use plan is due to be updated
and officials all over the county are reconsidering their communities'
approaches to development. These are people who live here, who
know the people and the challenges and, even if indirectly, they
are accountable to the people.
The state already mandates that a certain percentage of our land
be reserved for "greenspace." If Gov. Barnes has his
way, who knows where one would turn to fight the location of
a landfill, a huge residential development or a mega-industry
that selected a location in Jackson County. In a time when there
seems to be public concern over "big government," it
is troubling that the governor proposes to wrest more of the
decision making on local issues out of the hands of local government
and into those of a group likely to have little or no local input.
We ask that our legislators keep watchful eyes on Gov. Barnes
during the 2002 legislative session. Local zoning and land use
decisions are sometimes flawed, but it's a lot easier to correct
problems at the local level than it is to reverse a mistake made
by a statewide panel so removed from the situation that it hasn't
figured out that it erred.