Jackson County Opinions...

December 26, 2001

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
December 26, 2001

The Beardsley Awards Presented
For Year 2001
As the Official Journalist for Commerce, duty beckons. The nominations have been submitted; the envelope is in hand. It is my duty and privilege to announce the Beardsley Newsmaker Awards for 2001.
Without wasting more space, here are the winners:
The Legislative Initiative Award, by the unanimous vote of the judges, goes to Nicholson City Council members Chuck Wheeler and Billy Kitchens, for voting to "grandfather" property into the city limits.
The Lost & Not Found Award goes to the Commerce city government, which, when trying to enforce its yard sale ordinance in May, could not find it – and had to pass a new one.
The Can't Believe What You Read Award winner is Commissioner Emil Beshara for his own criticisms of newspaper coverage – which did not include his 2,100-word letter to the editor published last week.
The Caffeine Cup is awarded to the Commerce woman who attacked her ex-husband in March with a coffee pot.
The Include Us Out Award is presented to the Maysville City Council for voting to tell the Banks County Board of Commissioners Maysville wanted no part in the proposed Banks County flag.
The Good Timing Award for 2001 goes to the late Commerce police chief George Grimes, who managed to exit this life before anyone noticed he was stealing money from the city.
The If You Build It, They Will Come Award goes to the Commerce mayor and city council for promising to donate the insurance payment from Grimes' escapade to the Bill Anderson Performing Arts Center – even though we have almost no performing arts in Commerce.
The city government, which is on a roll this year, also wins the Fiscal Conservation Award for approving a budget that was up 37 percent over last year.
The Sept. 11 Overkill Trophy goes to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which sent its robotic bomb disposal unit to Commerce this fall to retrieve the beer from an ice chest abandoned near the Commerce Civic Center.
The recipient of the Most Embarrassing Crime Award for 2001 is the man caught shoplifting medication for PMS and menstrual pain at Ingles. No wonder he ran.
Winner of the 2001 Animal Lover plaque is the woman who blamed police when her dog had to be destroyed after it was bitten by a rabid raccoon, though she'd not had the dog vaccinated.
There is a tie in the Patience, Patience competition. Recipients are Larry White, superintendent of the Commerce Schools, for the CHS renovation project that was almost a year late; and the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority, whose Bear Creek Reservoir will be at least seven months late.
The Criminal Perseverance Trophy will be awarded to the burglar who stole a TV from a Nicholson area residence one week and came back the next for the remote control.
There you have it, another great year in news. Congratulations to all the winners and, in many cases, to those who did not win.

The Jackson Herald
December 26, 2001

Don’t push CRCT on all students
That schools should be accountable for their quality of education is a given. But how to measure that quality effectively continues to elude Georgia leaders.
The new CRCT exams are supposed to be one way to measure a student’s performance. That the exam is being manipulated by state officials to force local school systems to adopt politically correct curriculums, such as “New New Math,” is only one of the problems.
Now there’s a push to mandate that all students take the test, even those who are mentally handicapped and who are recent immigrants who don’t have a command of the English language.
We find that absurd. It is not fair to either the student or the school system to mandate such testing for those who are clearly incapable of understanding the test.
Although we have long favored standardized testing as one way to measure both student and school performance, such testing will lose validity if it continues to be politicized by special interest groups.
Students with legitimate disabilities should not be forced into taking tests designed for regular program students. That’s just common sense.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
December 26, 2001

Beshara’s rebuttal doesn’t add up
Of all the men on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, Emil Beshara has been the most colorful, and controversial, during the past year. Never shy, Beshara has often taken this writer to task over various issues. It is a debate we both enjoy, although our styles are dramatically different. An economy of words is not Bershara’s style, as was evidenced in last week’s humongous rebuttal to an earlier critical assessment of the BOC’s recent actions.
Alas, Beshara’s tome did little to change my mind that the board’s restructuring of the county planning commission was ill-conceived and poorly executed.
I won’t waste additional space to debate the latter point. That the BOC made the changes on the “joint city-county” planning board without first consulting the towns involved was undeniably bone-headed. That action will have unseemly reverberations for months to come.
I will, however, elaborate on two other points about what was done: First, that the short one-year terms on the new planning commission further politicized the agency; and second, that the process of appointing PC board members by districts is inherently bad public policy.
Beshara argues that the one-year terms of PC members will “draw from a larger pool of qualified people” who don’t want a three-year commitment and that the one-year terms won’t “bind incoming boards” in the future.
But let’s follow that logic to its obvious conclusions. If one-year terms will generate a “larger pool of qualified people” for public service, then why doesn’t the BOC shorten its own term lengths to one year? If, as Beshara argues, many of those who seek public service on the planning commission are unwilling or unable to commit beyond one year, then shouldn’t the same hold true for BOC members?
Further following Beshara’s logic, why should the public be “bound” to a BOC member beyond one year? Beshara’s sensitivity in not wanting to bind future BOCs to a previously appointed planning board is noble, yet the same could be said for the public’s interest as well. Why should we be bound to five members on the BOC for four years? Why not just one-year terms so that the public can keep tabs on its primary local government agency?
If one-year terms led to better public service and better government, I’d be first in line to advocate them. But the reality is that such short terms create little more than political patronage positions.
While the one-year terms are problematic, the district system used by this BOC in its planning commission appointments was simply bad public policy. Beshara attempts to defend that system by saying critics of district appointments are implying that some districts are deficient in qualified people.
But that isn’t the argument at all. Indeed, even those of us who are critics of that process see the value in balanced geographic representation on most of the various agencies that serve the Jackson County government. (That isn’t always true, however. On the airport authority, for example, should geographic representation be more important in a candidate than his knowledge of aviation?)
What’s wrong with this BOC’s hyper-sensitivity to district appointments is not that there aren’t qualified people, but rather that it is a system which could easily be corrupted or manipulated. While these appointments are technically done by the full BOC, in reality they are just individual appointments made by individual BOC members. In his district, for example, Beshara gets to appoint anyone he wishes to the planning commission and the rest of the BOC will rubber stamp that name. Even if Beshara puts someone incompetent on the planning board, his appointment won’t be challenged by the rest of the BOC because his fellow commissioners don’t want Beshara questioning their appointments.
So in reality, the appointments are not done by the full BOC, but rather by individual board members. Therein lies the problem. While this particular group of commissioners may make good appointments, what happens in the future if a commissioner attempts to use this power for personal gain? What if a commissioner appoints a developer who has a lot of conflicts of interest on the planning commission? Would Beshara still believe district appointments are paramount over qualifications? Would he still believe that each commissioner should have unchallenged appointment power?
It is ironic that Beshara puts forth the notion of not binding future BOCs by having one-year terms on the planning commission, but allows himself to be bound, politically if not legally, by the individual district appointments of his fellow board members. That is a contradiction in logic.
“The laws of our county should be more powerful than our elected officials. The days of good old boy politics in Jackson county are over.”
So said candidate Emil Beshara just before the November 2000 elections. Yet this new planning commission is without a doubt a creature of politics, one which has elevated the power of good old boy politicians over the zoning process.
In time, that mistake will become clear.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald


The Commerce News
December 26, 2001

9-11 Victims’ Fund Sets A Bad Precedent
In the fever pitch of emotions following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a nation stunned by the violence and thankful for the bravery and the sacrifices of so many passed a number of pieces of legislation that may come back to haunt it.
One of those funded the Sept. 11 Victims Compensation Fund for the families of the more than 4,000 people who died in New York City, Washington, DC, and in Pennsylvania. While the idea of assisting victims of terrorist attacks is noble for individuals and charitable groups, it does not make good public policy.
At present, officials are working out the details of who will get what money. The basic benefit will be $250,000 per person for pain and suffering, plus $50,000 per dependent. Additional funds will be provided to compensate for lost income. It is conceivable that some families could get $5 million or even $10 million.
The question that has yet to be asked is why should the American government indemnify the victims of terrorist attacks? Did it take similar action for the families of those murdered at Lockerbie, Scotland? At the federal building in Oklahoma City? Or for the families of those killed when Osama bin Laden’s men hit the USS Cole, or the American embassies earlier? More importantly, will this fund set a precedent to be rued should more unthinkable attacks occur on a grander scale?
One need not be unsympathetic to the plight of those whose parents, children or spouses were murdered Sept. 11 to see that federal funds should not be used to insure the lives of all of our citizens against acts of terror or war. Having established this fund, will the federal government not seem obligated to respond to the victims of the next crazed domestic terrorist who bombs a federal facility or who kills by mailing anthrax? Already, families still struggling from the financial implications of bomb attack on the Murray Federal Building in Oklahoma are shocked to see that Congress finds the families of the Sept. 11 attacks more deserving of assistance.
Sept. 11, 2001, is a day that will never be forgotten, but the decision to, in effect, provide retroactive life insurance for all of its victims has opened the door for massive federal spending in all future terrorist attacks. While it is fully appropriate for American citizens to step up and help the families of those victims – and millions did – the federal government has no business providing that level of indemnification.

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