Jackson County Opinions...

January 16, 2002

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
January 16, 2002

Rare Murder Draws Media Attention Here
From the number of television crews in Commerce early this week, one would think that Atlanta TV stations rarely get the "opportunity" to cover a homicide. In reality, they never have to drive to Commerce for what they can find inside the doughnut, but I guess even TV reporters like to get out in the country once in a while.
It really is a good sign that a murder in Commerce is considered major news. We certainly would not want to be so accustomed to such crimes as to become blasé about the taking of a citizen's life; likewise, we prefer that they be so infrequent as to appear out of the ordinary to outside media.
So, the shock we feel at such a senseless crime is a positive thing. Jackson County has its share of homicides, but generally they come out of domestic incidents. As one who reads 15-30 police incident reports a week, I can assure you that there are hundreds of people in Commerce alone whose family relationships demonstrate considerable disfunction. Some people just can't get along.
But Saturday night was different. An armed robbery and abduction attempt turned into a murder. A stranger murdered a Commerce citizen. It appears that the motive was to get money to buy drugs, but there was no reason, even from a criminal's perverted logic, why Laynette Fincher should be killed. All murders are senseless, but some are more so than others, and this was one of the latter.
Maybe the story is more compelling because Mrs. Fincher's death came as she tried to aid a friend and co-worker, a noble self-sacrifice that we can all appreciate. She was killed coming to the rescue of a friend, and the feeling among law enforcement officials is that the armed robber would have killed the friend had he managed to abduct her.
It makes good copy; most sad stories do, but a sad and heroic story is compelling, partly because we like to think we'd have been as brave and unselfish as Laynette Fincher in similar circumstances. Mostly, though, such stories are viewed and read with interest because the events are so shocking and unexplainable. We want to know why when there is no good reason why. We search for answers where there are none.
Surely the Fincher family struggles to understand; the clerk she saved wonders "what if" and second-guesses herself in search of answers, also very much a victim of this crime. Clerks in every other store that is open at night are just a little more scared.
A brave Commerce woman is dead, her family and friends traumatized, all in the pursuit of methamphetamine. What rationale is that for the taking of a life?
Unfortunately, the desire for drugs is the reason for much of the crime in America, let alone Commerce. Thieves steal to finance their habits; robbers rob for the same reason, and all too often someone dies. No one plans on trading of a life for a few moments of narcotic-induced “high,” but we are reminded that it still happens.
That evil hit Commerce again Saturday. It made no sense and it will make none when it happens again, hopefully no time soon.

The Jackson Herald
January 16, 2002

Fix video poker problem
Now that a Fulton County Superior Court judge has declared the state’s ban on video poker machines invalid, two choices are left to state leaders: Appeal the decision and hope for a favorable Supreme Court ruling, or address the problem legislatively.
It isn’t clear at this point how the Georgia Supreme Court might rule on the law, which was passed last summer by the General Assembly. If a quick appeal is possible, it should be pursued so that this year’s legislative session can rectify any legal problems.
While we support the outlawing of video poker in Georgia, the issue does raise some troubling questions. For one, how does the state argue that private video poker is illegal, yet at the same time sponsor a state lottery?
Another issue was raised by the judge in striking down the new law; that is, how far should government go to regulate the habits of private individuals?
In his ruling, Judge John Groger had this to say:

“The law criminalizes a game when it is being played and operated as a game. This is the sort of law-making which poses a real threat to liberty.”

Indeed, if betting games are played for fun, such as a fund-raising “casino” night, should that conduct be considered illegal?
In spite of these reservations, however, it is clear that video poker is an addictive form of gambling which could grow into a cancer in Georgia. It should be stopped.
But that action should be done without overstepping the bounds of common sense.
One judge has said the new law is too vague and went too far. If the state’s Supreme Court agrees, then a new law should be drafted that would better balance the uncomfortable competing interests in this issue.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
January 16, 2002

New York will miss Giuliani
Amid the rubble of Sept. 11, 2001, one leader stood out — Mayor Rudy Giuliani. That has been a disconcerting surprise to many of his liberal critics who prior to 9-11 portrayed Giuliani as Gotham’s version of Hitler. (One anti-Giuliani website called him “Mussolini on the Hudson.”)
The administration of New York City is, of course, eons away from our local government institutions. If it were a nation, New York City would probably rank in the top tier of economic and political importance worldwide.
But there is a lesson here for local political leaders, one that in his waning hours Giuliani brought to the entire nation.
Before 9-11, the mayor was one of the most controversial public officials in the country. At home, he was reviled by civil libertarians for his crackdown on street people, subway turnstile-jumpers and graffiti. His attempt to withhold city funds from art museums that displayed sacrilegious “art” (elephant dung on a portrait of the Virgin Mary, for example) won him the wrath of the arty set that dominates New York’s upper crust society.
The mayor’s campaign to rid New York streets of the wandering homeless had liberals abuzz with indignation — how dare the mayor “dehumanize” these poor people!
But Giuliani had his own ideas.
“Streets do not exist in civilized societies for the purpose of people sleeping there,” he said. “Bedrooms are for sleeping. You do not have the right to sleep on the streets. The founding fathers never put that in the Constitution.”
Giuliani’s efforts to clean up New York and make the crime-ridden city livable began to have an impact. The crime rate dropped as Giuliani put in jail those who committed even petty crimes. The breakdown of social order was reversed and the city became a safer place to live. Tourism began to climb.
One magazine columnist explained Giuliani’s impact as a man who “spoke in middle-class language.” Rather than playing political games with all the various special interests groups that hover around New York’s city hall, Giuliani appealed to the average citizen who was tired of the city’s decline into a slum-like environment.
Rather than wring his hands over the “underlying conditions” of the problems, as liberals are accustomed to doing on every issue, Giuliani set into motion machinery to deal with the problems. He didn’t create a committee to study why the city was overrun with the homeless, he had the police round them up and get them off the street. Those who began to use city shelters had to work for the city in return, a move that made the entitlement crowd scream.
Of course, Giuliani had a series of personal problems in the middle of all this, announcing on television that he was divorcing his wife for his new girlfriend even before he told the ex-wife. His bid to run against Hillary Clinton for the Senate fell apart from that and his fight with prostate cancer.
Yet for all that, even his harshest critics have to acknowledge that the mayor’s handling of the 9-11 disaster was a textbook example of good leadership. Giuliani reflected the calm confidence needed at the time. Not only did that help keep his city together in a time of crisis, but along with President Bush, Giuliani helped to calm the nation.
The gains made by Giuliani during his term will likely be undone by those who follow him. The politics of appeasing all the special interest groups will no doubt seep back into the city’s administration without the strong will of Giuliani on board.
The political lesson that comes from Giuliani is this: Commonsense leadership by one man who eschews the game of appeasement can move mountains. He (or she) may not be as polished as some political leaders, but changes of substance won’t be made by those who thrive off the shallowness of appearance.
Long before 9-11, Giuliani had changed the very social fabric in New York, a city where any kind of change is like turning the Titanic.
Just think what could be accomplished by local leadership if they were to pay less attention to the politics of their actions and more to improving the lives of those they serve.
Rudy, where are you when we need you?

Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald. His email is: Editor@mainstreetnews.com


The Commerce News
January 16, 2002

City Council Should Reapportion In 2002
Maysville has decided to reapportion its voting districts. The Jackson County Board of Education is doing the same thing, and Jefferson is pondering it as well. The local government noticeably absent from that list is Commerce, and one could hardly find a government whose districts have greater deviation from the federal norm for equal population.
Interestingly, Commerce votes for city council members with a four-ward system, but votes for its board of education members with a five-district system. The districts, created more recently, are more evenly divided, though not perfect.
With a 2000 census count of 5,902, Commerce's four districts should have roughly 1,323 people apiece. Only Ward 2, with 1,251 voters, is close at all, and even it exceeds the five percent deviation allowed by federal law. Ward 1, which (perhaps not coincidentally) has the largest population of black voters, has 2,386 residents, an 80.35 percent deviation. Further, it is three and a half times the size of Ward 3, which has 654 residents and is 50 percent smaller than it should be. Ward 4, with 1,001 residents, is 24 percent smaller than the ideal district.
Commerce has no doubt gotten away with these massive deviations because it consistently has two black members on a six-member city council. But that doesn't make its ward system right, fair or equal and the deviation sets the city up to have any election ruled invalid by someone with the gumption to file a federal complaint.
With the legislative session about to begin, the city should seek local legislation to reapportion its voting districts. If the city also changed from four wards to five, it could reduce the confusion between council and school board districts by making them identical. Under that scenario, the voters could elect five council members by districts and one at large.
The bottom line is that the residents of current Ward 1 are underrepresented, while those of Ward 3 are over-represented. Every resident of Commerce should have equal representation on the city council. Other Jackson County governments are making sure their districts are equal and fair. Commerce must do the same.

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