Jackson County Opinions...

December 12, 2001

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
December 12, 2001

Plastic Is Natural For A Christmas Tree
One of the best things about Christmas is the smell of the tree. Singed plastic has a unique fragrance that just says "Christmas" in the Beardsley household.
We're an old-fashioned family when it comes to trees. We have always used genuine plastic trees, thereby saving landfill space, reducing the consumption of water and sparing the destruction of something only God and the U.S. Forestry Service can make. Besides, no matter how carefully a real tree is grown, you can never make it look like a plastic tree.
The trend is to use actual trees, living things that, when cut, ooze sap, slowly turn brown, and die. A week after Christmas, those that didn't catch fire and burn the house down can be found discarded along the nation's streets like vegetative road kills. That's one barbaric ritual our family avoids.
I come from a family that participated in the slaughter of young natural trees. I have a vague memory of driving into the countryside, back when my part of Florida actually had some countryside, in pursuit of a tree to be decorated for the holidays. Apparently, the destruction of the tree was so horrific that I've suppressed the gory details of chopping the tree down.
Later, my father took pride in bringing the best scotch pine home from the local Christmas tree lot, which was operated by the Jaycees, of which he was a member.
An obsession with using former living things as decorations had its consequences, however. Back then, every tree had one or more "bad sides" that had to be hidden by placement against a wall or in a corner. The massive trunks were hard to get in Christmas tree holders; we used a 10-gallon bucket anchored with boulders. This, no doubt, led to my best Christmas memory ever, when the tree, as we were opening gifts, toppled into the chaos of Christmas Eve.
Fortunately, technology produced the plastic tree, which is perfectly symmetrical, straight and fireproof. Plastic trees even shed somewhat, though not like real dead trees, just enough to preserve the illusion for those who think the principal decoration for celebrating the birth of Christ should be a former living thing. Since Barbara and I have been married, we've spared at least 25 trees from destruction so they could mature to be better utilized in the making of newsprint or oriented strandboard. Our environmentally-friendly tree is made from recycled credit cards and reprocessed monofilament fishing line.
Last year, we upgraded to a pre-lighted tree. This new technology spares one the frustration of getting all the lights on the tree only to discover that one strand failed (after testing perfectly an hour earlier), which requires the bulb-by-bulb search for the failure. It also saves the un-Christmaslike language accompanying such a search. After Christmas, just cram the tree parts into the coffin-size box and use it as a substitute for a coffee table.
Plastic is natural and permanent. With care, you can use the same tree for two decades, creating cherished memories for your family.
And every time you smell scorched plastic, you’ll think of Christmas.

The Jackson Herald
December 12, 2001

Don’t rush to ‘understand’ terrorists
Even as the Taliban have fallen and Bin Laden’s last fighters hide in caves, some Americans apparently have more sympathy for the terrorists of Sept. 11 than for the victims.
There’s more than enough evidence to suggest that America’s college campuses have lived up to their reputations as bastions of liberal dogma during the last three months. If there is a “blame America first” movement, it certainly resides in our colleges where some professors have said America is to blame for the 9-11 attacks.
Now many of these colleges are rushing to create new courses to study the roots of Middle East terrorism. While examining the social and political context of terrorism is a legitimate topic, we suspect these courses will evolve into little more than another round of blaming the U.S. for terrorism. No doubt these courses will continue the campus dogma of being “sensitive” to diverse cultural concerns.
Pardon us if we don’t rush right out to sign up for these classes. We aren’t in the mood to be “sensitive” toward inferior political cultures that wish to do us harm by killing thousands of civilians.
This nation’s colleges continue to sacrifice common sense on the altar of diversity by promoting the idea that “understanding” will lead to peaceful coexistence.
But understanding Islamic terrorists will do nothing to end their vision of bringing down Western Civilization. That mindset is just as ingrained in Islamic culture as was the warped vision that gave support to Hitler and Nazism in the 1930s.
And just as appeasement didn’t stop Hitler in the 1930s, neither will being sensitive stop Islamic terrorism in the 21st Century.

Jackson County Opinion Index

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
December 12, 2001

The Five Waddells
Few people would argue that the Jackson County Planning Commission needed to be updated. Although the board generally doesn’t have a final say on zoning matters, it does act as a filter and sounding board for other elected governments in the county, including the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
Over the years, the planning board had grown stale. Although some complained that it was too heavy with people involved in development projects, the biggest problem was a lack of aggressiveness in directing the county’s planning department on updating local zoning codes. In all fairness, however, the explosion of rezoning petitions in recent years had become a workload burden that left little time for such long-range planning.
But last week’s move by the BOC to abolish, then reconstitute the board under new rules amounted to little more than a takeover and did nothing to strengthen the zoning process in Jackson County. In fact, the new PC board is even more political than its predecessor.
At best, zoning issues are among the most contentious debates in communities. That’s especially true in a growing community where the pressures of growth rub up against long-established traditions. Making matters worse, too many governments, including this one, have gotten the idea that zoning is about “control” rather than a process of balancing landowner rights and other interests.
So a good question to ask members of the BOC is this: How did last week’s actions make the zoning process better in Jackson County?
If there is a good answer to that question, it’s not evident to this observer. In fact, I would argue that the actions made zoning decisions far more political than they have ever been. In the process, this new BOC shot its credibility to hell and it will have a tough time regaining public confidence in the weeks to come.
First, the BOC abolished the planning commission not to make major structural changes, but rather to put its own people in place. Three of the five county members were replaced. Moreover, the BOC did that by again using “district appointments” where each BOC member gets to appoint a representative from his own district. Where you live is apparently more important than qualifications to this BOC because it has a habit of using district appointments.
If that ain’t politics, nothing is.
The BOC then compounded those actions by making the terms of the planning commission just one year. Given that zoning issues are a Byzantine web of legal and technical issues, one year is hardly long enough to get one’s feet wet. The one-year appointment process, then, is nothing more than a political sword hanging over the planning commission — do the BOC’s will, or you’ll get axed.
If those mistakes weren’t enough, the BOC then helped to further split Jackson County by saying that the local towns represented on the planning commission could keep their seats, but couldn’t vote on matters outside their own city limits. That move was a direct slap at Jefferson, which is the largest local town still cooperating with the county planning process.
Think about that for a minute: Jefferson’s planning commission member can’t vote on a county rezoning, but the five county members can vote on Jefferson’s rezoning. Moreover, the five district county members can vote on each other’s rezonings, but none of the towns on the board are allowed to cast a vote.
None of that makes sense. In fact, that action will force Jefferson, Talmo, Pendergrass, Hoschton and Arcade to establish their own planning boards for property owners to get a fair hearing. Commerce, Braselton and Maysville have already established their own planning boards in the past.
But the outcome of this increasingly complex group of sub-agencies will be detrimental to Jackson County. Rather than having a coordinated planning process, we will now have 10 planning boards doing their own zoning codes. Give that a decade and Jackson County will be a mess.
Not only did the BOC make hash of the county’s planning process, it did so in secret. There were no public meetings to discuss these changes, no discussion with the five towns who also have representatives on the planning commission — the BOC simply showed up for a meeting and made a vote without discussion. Obviously there had been a lot of talk among the BOC members in the weeks leading up to this change, but those were in secret and away from the messy little detail of public input.
Two final thoughts on this mess: First, there were some good options available that could have strengthened the planning process in Jackson County. BOC chairman Harold Fletcher voiced some of those ideas during last year’s election. What happened to them? Indeed, it would have been better just to have abolished the planning commission altogether than to have created this whipping board.
Second, this BOC is increasingly looking a lot like its predecessors. Under the Jerry Waddell administration, there were charges and counter-charges of political favoritism, secret deals and power politics. This board was supposed to change that.
Instead, it is deja vu all over again, only now there are five men who think they are Jerry Waddell rather than just one.
For the record, here’s the difference: You might not have liked what the “real” Jerry Waddell did, but he did have the courage to stand up in a public meeting and tell you what he thought and at least he went through the motions of allowing public input.
The Five Waddells lack both that courage and that courtesy, a fact that is not going unnoticed by a public which expected much, much more.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
December 12, 2001

Commission’s Moves Smack Of Politics
If the actions of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners in "reorganizing" the Jackson County Planning Commission seem vaguely familiar, they should. Restocking all of the appointed positions with "their own" people is exactly what Jerry Waddell and Fran Thomas did in a previous administration – and it didn't set well with the public or provide for good government.
The current commissioners changed the planning commission to appoint new members to consolidate their own influence on this critical board. In addition, the commissioners have sought the resignation of two members of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority so they too may be replaced. Can an overhaul of the Industrial Development Authority be far behind?
The goal appears to be the total direct control of county planning and water and sewer functions through the appointment of individuals who will be, presumably, more loyal to and of one mind with the current board of commissioners.
When Waddell and Thomas used their appointments to load the IDA and water and sewer authority with people loyal to them, one result was a total breakdown among the commissioners, IDA and the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce, which set back the county's economic development for years. Some of the very people now putting their allies on these boards cried foul at what appeared to be the political machinations of two of the three county commissioners.
Just as the appointments years earlier damaged the credibility of the board of commissioners at the time, so do these moves reduce the public's confidence in this board of commissioners. The impression the public gets is that the commission is playing old-style politics even as it tries to stabilize government with the hiring of a new county manager. It didn't improve the perception any when the board of commissioners circumvented the Georgia Open Records Law requirement that it name the three finalists for the county manager position with the ruse of naming an "acting county manager," and that neither the hiring of a county manager nor the restructuring of the planning commission were on the agenda for the meeting at which both occurred.
The political games of the previous administration led to the restructuring of the county government and the institution of a county manager form of government. The board of commissioners' recent actions suggest that these commissioners are more interested in political turf than in making the new form of government work for the people who elected them.

Housing Inspections Work
It was with some trepidation that the Commerce City Council agreed to implement a minimum housing code and hire an inspector to make sure residential rental property is up to code. But the process has, to date, gone well with few complaints.
One result is that some 13 former rental units are slated for demolition and others have been or are being brought up to code. In addition, the city is better able to enforce its cleanliness of premises ordinance, which requires property owners to meet minimum standards for the cleanliness of their yards.
Enforcement of both ordinances is a slow process, but the city is making progress. The result is the removal of unsafe, unsightly and unsanitary rental housing through inspections made each time between tenants. Landlords are learning that the city is serious about improving housing and tenants are discovering that the city is an ally in getting safety hazards fixed.
All residents deserve safe housing. The city is doing its part to make safe housing available.

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