By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
January 30, 2002
Jackson Co. Now At Center Of
It is a small world when it turns out that the two terrorists who piloted airplanes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center used Jackson County's airport while training.
You can read more about that elsewhere. The questions to be posed to the Airport Authority are how to keep Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld from declaring the airport a "terrorist training camp" and sending in the cruise missiles, and who knew what when.
Imagine, an Al Qaida team practicing its cross-wind landings at our airport. That's what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicated Sunday in a story about the Gwinnett County Airport flight instructor who gave Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi a checkout flight that landed at Lyle Field.
Atta was at the controls as the plane landed here Jan. 31. On Sept. 11, he was the pilot who landed a hijacked jet into the north tower of the World Trade Center. In the back seat on the training flight was Al-Shehhi, who piloted the other hijacked jet into the south tower.
The FBI has not indicated the extent to which Jackson County officials were involved, but Harold Fletcher has not been in a good mood recently and the county manager at the time is no longer employed here.
Fletcher is referring all inquiries to Al Crace. Commissioner Emil Beshara is said to have an iron-clad alibi involving consulting with Enron officials on accounting matters. I've heard nothing about the whereabouts of commissioners Sammy Thomason, Tony Beatty and Stacy Britt that day.
Ever since the AJC story came out, local officials have scrambled to (a) figure out where they were Jan. 31 or (b) make up something.
Since the allied coalition has left no stone un-bombed in Afghanistan in the mission to destroy all Al Qaida training camps, it is reasonable to speculate that one day soon the National Guard unit in Winder will be issued orders to take out the Jackson County Airport. According to a president of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the effect on economic development, the tax digest and community pride could be devastating.
"There are a multiplicity of ramifications relating to the presence in a sector of our transportation infrastructure of two individuals who are suspected, but not proven, terrorists," he began. "This could cast in a suspicious light all of the improvements planned at the airport, plans created to enhance the quality of lifestyle for the hard-working men and women who, I am sure, join with each and every member of the board of directors of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce in echoing the comments of our commander in chief that this sort of activity is not what America is all about and who are fully committed to both the war on terrorism and the war on teenage pregnancy, which, if not curtailed, could help create an environment in which young people are more interested in destroying industry than in building the airplanes to crash into them."
If you hear a rumor that Skip Nalley is incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay, disregard it.
The Jackson Herald
January 30, 2002
Time to discuss JCCI issues
Itıs good that the management of the Jackson County Correctional Institute seems to be settling down after several years of problems.
But thereıs still an underlying issue that merits some serious public debate: Does Jackson County still need to operate a correctional facility and does it benefit the county as a whole?
For those whoıve lived in Jackson County a long time, that question will seem age-worn. At various times over the years, the issue has come up when politicians and citizens want to know what weıre getting for our money.
For those new to Jackson County, hereıs the background: The county government operates a prison facility under contract with the state. This is not the county jail, which is a temporary holding facility, but rather a place for long-term state inmates who have been sentenced by a court. The inmates come from all over the state. In an earlier era, such facilities were the home of Georgiaıs ³chain-gangs.²
The problem is, however, it costs the county more to run the facility than it gets from the state. This year, for example, the county budget projects inmate income from the state at $1.22 million, but it will cost around $1.86 million to operate the prison, a difference of $640,000.
To offset that expense, the county uses inmate labor to perform various public duties. Inmates work for the road department, for example, and they sort the garbage brought in to be hauled to a nearby landfill.
All of that, of course, is dependent on the skills of the inmates and on the management of the facility itself.
In the coming weeks, the county government is scheduled to receive a report done by the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center about the JCCI. County manager Al Crace said this week the preliminary results of the study shows the facility can be a ³valuable asset² if managed correctly. Losing the facility would require an additional 80-100 county employees, Crace said.
We have not yet seen the report, but when it is released we hope county leaders will hold a public discussion that will allow public input on the merits and demerits of the JCCI facility.
The RDC study should be just the beginning of the debate, not the end. There are a lot of complex issues involved and all the options should be discussed before any final action is taken.
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
January 30, 2002
Public comment issue has a glimmer of merit
When county commissioner Emil Beshara commented that members of the public shouldnıt contact board of commissioners members individually about pending rezonings, he probably expected thereıd be a public reaction. When a politician says he doesnıt want to hear from the public about an issue, he usually gets twice as many phone calls.
But while Besharaıs stand is unenforceable, and therefore dead before it floats, there is a glimmer of substance to his thesis on the subject.
Beshara views the BOCıs role in rezonings as being similar to that of a jury in a court case. It would not be in the public interest, for example, for individual parties in court proceedings to contact jury members on the side. In fact, doing that will quickly get you a ticket for a free room and board at the local jail.
In the same manner, Beshara believes information about rezoning proposals should all be stated in public before the entire BOC, not given individually to board members. Since the BOC will make a final decision on a rezoning, he believes it is acting as a quasi-jury in those rezonings.
I doubt that there is a real legal basis for Besharaıs position as one person pointed out, the rules of evidence are vastly different than at real court proceedings but there is merit to making sure information given to a public official about a public decision does not involve some secret deal. Itıs easy to see how rezonings, especially, could involve side deals and secret promises that would have nothing to do with the merits of the zoning issue itself.
But even if Beshara could find some legal basis for his stand, it will be impossible to enforce. I donıt think our local law enforcement officials will want to arrest private citizens because they had the gall to make a phone call to a county commissioner.
In addition to the issue of enforcement, one could make the argument that all decisions by the board of commissioners are important and therefore, citizens should never contact their elected board member in private about a public issue. That would, of course, be impossible.
What is a little odd about his stand, however, is that Beshara made the proposal to a board that has been notorious for its secrecy. There is a belief among these board members that they were elected to do a job and if the public didnıt like their decisions, then theyıll have a chance at election time to make a change.
The problem with that idea, however, is that by doing so much behind closed doors, the public has no way of knowing if the decisions made by this board are valid, or the result of some internal power struggle.
That situation isnıt unique to the Jackson County BOC. Just about every public agency wants to shield itself from zealous public scrutiny and unwelcome public input. Pesky news reporters asking questions isnıt a public officialıs idea of fun. Angry folks at a public meeting make public service a major headache for those who have put themselves on the front lines.
There are, of course, neat ways to skate around the stateıs open meetings laws. When thatıs impossible, public agencies have begun to tightly grip their meeting agendas. In Toccoa, for example, the city commission has a controversial new rule that limits public input at their meetings.
While public officials have the right to make sure their meetings arenıt free-for-alls, there also has to be some allowance for the forum of public debate. It isnıt enough to just say, ³Well, if the public doesnıt like what we do, they can vote us out of office.² That may be the ultimate arbitrator of change, but such a position does not cultivate the necessary level of public input into the routine decisions made by elected officials.
A public board is only a tool for self-governance. It cannot put itself apart from the messy input of public debate or public scrutiny. To do so violates the unspoken compact between elected officials and those they represent to represent isnıt just to speak and vote, but it also means a willingness to listen. Even to the wacky.
While itıs not a public agency, the problems at Enron are a textbook example of what happens when there is a lack of independent oversight.
Perhaps at something of a stretch, Besharaıs idea isnıt too different. Allow for public input, but do it in a setting where there are others to oversee what is said and done.
Iım not sure secret deals on local zonings are currently a problem. And anyway, he canıt enforce it except as an individual board member.
Still, thereıs merit in the concept of doing the publicıs business in the open with fewer closed-door deals.
I just wish Beshara and his colleagues felt the same way on other issues as well.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
Responding To Stop Sign Concerns
This letter is in regards to the recent letter published titled ³Drivers Never Stop At 4-Way Stop Sign² by Shannon Cummings of Orchard Circle in Commerce. You are correct to say that the Commerce Police Department has a lot of matters that it tends to. You are also correct that it is a state law saying you are to stop at all stop signs. But what you may not know is that running a stop sign is a minor offense. In case you havenıt realized or havenıt searched the facts during your off time during the day, the Commerce Police Department has an excellent response time to calls.
I have driven this intersection for the last ten years, which I might add, is longer than you have lived in this neighborhood. I have never been in close calls with anyone running the 4-way stop. Yes, I agree that there are people that do not stop at this intersection, including several of the residents in this subdivision. You have no right to single out one person that does not stop. Maybe if the rest of us were not at work during the day and could sit at home like you and watch the stop sign we may see that you too roll through the intersection. Might I add, that if you do not come to a complete stop (this does not include barely rolling) it is still as illegal as not stopping at all.
You said in your letter that you have lived in this neighborhood for six years and have observed accidents at this intersection. To clarify things, I would like to tell you that there have only been two accidents in the last 31 years that my family has lived in the neighborhood, and one of them was not because of the 4-way stop sign. The other accident recorded was because of this intersection but it was before the 4-way stop was put into action; it was a 2-way stop at the time. You also say that many vehicles use this roadway as a cut through. I would like for you to tell me where in the Georgia State Law Book does it say you cannot enter a roadway in an effort to get to another location. How many times have you used roadways to get to another location? Did you ask that neighborhood if you could go through while on your way to Wal-Mart? I think not, because it is a city or county road you travel like everyone else.
I would also like to add in case you didnıt know, there is a city ordinance that your and many other residentsı children cannot play in the roadway. I have observed many children talking with other children sitting on the roadway. Now which is safer, your kids in the middle of the road or someone slowing and rolling through an intersection? If you want to know, the charge would be disorderly conduct under our city ordinance. If I recall, the neighborhood sent flyers around stating that all children should be in their homes by dark and not wandering up and down the streets. Are your children in the house by dark every night? If so, that is good, maybe you can write a piece in the paper trying to get others to do the same.
I have witnessed several Commerce Police units in this neighborhood, even some that live in the neighborhood, one of which stopped a vehicle not too long ago for running the stop sign. Needless to say, his address returned to Orchard Circle and it wasnıt the driver of the wrecker service vehicle that you spoke of in your letter.
In closing, I would like to say thanks to all of the officers at the Commerce Police Department for patrolling the city and my neighborhood, and doing the job that you do. Even though others do not know how hard your job is and how little appreciation you get from the people you risk your lives to save, I know. And there are many others that do also. Keep up the good work.