Madison County Opinion...

Janaury 30, 2002


Column
By Frank Gillespie
The Madison County Journal
January 30, 2002

Frankly Speaking

'We the Peopleı have little say in Ga. politics
I was taught in school that government in America was based on the will of the people. Political decisions were supposed to come from the people and move up the various government levels. Well, that is not the way it works in Georgia!
Consider the problems the Madison County Board of Education is having dividing the county into new school districts. The board spent a great deal of time devising a plan that produces districts of their liking. The plan they adopted was suggested by one of our local legislators. When they submitted it, our other legislator refused to support it.
Why is that important? It points out the inability of ³We the People² to make our own decisions. Under the current Georgia constitution, cities and counties have almost no independent decision making powers. Almost any change they wish to make in the form of government must be approved by the Georgia legislature. ³We the People² seldom have any opportunity to vote on these changes.
In actual practice, the legislature automatically approves any measure submitted by the local delegation. In our case that is one State Senator and one State Representative. Two men who have almost total power over our county governments. Our county commission and board of education can suggest redistricting plans to these two men, but they are under no obligation to accept these plans. They can sit down together and draw up their own plan, submit it to the state legislature for passage without any local input whatsoever! The only control is that the two of them have to agree.
These powerful legislators do not even have to live in Madison County. One of them, Mike Beatty, is from Jackson County. Yet he can block any local legislation affecting Madison County, and we have no legal recourse to override his decision.
King Roy and the state Democrats have just made the problem worse. Next year, Madison County will be ³represented² by five legislators. The new legislative districts rip our county into shreds. We will be represented by three representatives and two senators. Any one of the five will have this veto power over local desires. It is entirely possible that none of these five will be from Madison County. Several of them will live so far away that the only way to reach them is by paying long distance charges.
When you hear someone say that they never vote because ³they will do whatever they want to anyway,² they are right. As long as we have no real voice in legislation affecting our county, our votes have little value.
Next week: how to correct this problem.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His web page can be accessed at www.mcga.net. His email address is frankg@mcga.net.

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Column
B y Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
January 30, 2002

From the Editor's desk

Jail project: A rocky road
First November.
Then Christmas was the scheduled completion date of the new jail.
But that was bumped back to February.
And now March.
Boatwright Construction, the company in charge of building the new 60-bed Madison County jail, has postponed the completion of the facility several times.
Itıs reasonable to say the construction project has not gone smoothly.
Apart from the delays, subcontracting for the project has been a nightmare. As both county leaders and the construction firm have pointed out, finding qualified laborers for the project has been difficult — for example, a mason was fired this summer for substandard work.
Commissioners have also publicly voiced displeasure with the quality of the construction. And local leaders have pushed the company to tear down and rebuild parts of the building that werenıt constructed up to snuff — such as an exterior wall in the security area.
While talk of the proposed industrial park off Hwy. 72 took center stage Monday night, the Madison County BOC took a significant action late in the meeting to ensure that the construction management firm holds up its end of the bargain and that the county gets what it pays for with the new jail.
The board agreed to hire an independent agency, de Oplossing Inc., to evaluate the construction of the jail. This move followed a 15-minute closed meeting by the commissioners to discuss ³litigation.²
Obviously, the BOC could be headed for a legal battle over the construction project.
Hiring an outside firm to objectively assess the building will only strengthen the countyıs case that obvious problems should be corrected by the construction company. Whether leaders are simply being nitpicky over the construction or whether there are real problems with the building will be determined by the outside firm.
Ultimately, extra costs incurred by correcting problems shouldnıt fall on county taxpayers, according to local leaders. Madison County budgeted $3.2 million for the jail and excess costs are the responsibility of Atlantic Mutual, the bonding agency for the project.
While legal wrangling may loom, county taxpayers surely feel disappointment that the county still lacks a new jail. Voters approved sales tax money for a jail in March of 1998. Nearly four years later, prisoners still sit in the same overcrowded, dirty jail, which consistently ranks as the stateıs most overcrowded county detainment facility.
The board was slow to get the ball rolling on the project, but the BOC is taking the right steps now. The easy thing politically would be for the commissioners to overlook problems and get the jail functioning as quickly as possible. Thereıs pressure on the board to eliminate the cost of housing out prisoners in surrounding counties — though increased operating costs of a new jail may eat up any expected housing-out savings. Also, thereıs nothing better for politicians than a big construction project finally done. Itıs a feather in their caps; itıs hard proof of progress.
But the BOC wants to make sure the work is done right. This is how it should be — quality over quickness.
In the meantime, the wait for a new jail continues with no clear end in sight.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.


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