Jackson County Opinions...

April 17, 2002



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
April 17, 2002

Jackson Needs More Than A Spring Cleaning
The azaleas and dogwoods are blooming, the Masters is over and the Atlanta Braves' bats are struggling. With a preponderance of evidence that spring is well under way, surely the time of another spring tradition is ripe: spring cleaning.
Time was when every household underwent the annual removal of excess items followed by a thorough cleaning to make way for the freshness of spring, an era when pollen was not part of the weather report and windows opened to allow fresh air to circulate. Spring cleaning removed clutter from daily lives, much like New Year's resolutions were designed to clear up spiritual and emotional clutter.
Like New Year's, spring is a time right for new beginnings. With the beauty of nature to inspire, we are moved to brighten up our personal environments.
Some of us, anyway.
While a drive through the town or countryside will expose you to nature's beauty, it will also make you more aware of man's slovenly nature. For every beautiful Jackson County vista, there are two ruined by rusting automobiles, half collapsed farm buildings, household garbage, abandoned tires and other discards scattered about recklessly. For each yard carefully mowed and for every flower bed in full bloom, one can find two yards where the grass is worn away by parked cars and the only thing blooming in the flower bed are empty two-liter drink containers.
It is this environment that led Commerce to hold annual clean-up weeks. Those are deemed successful based on the volume of refuse removed but may actually contribute to the problem because people hoard their trash for the one day annually when the city will haul it off for free. The clean-up encourages residents to dump old furniture, bedding and other material out on the roadsides, where it sits for months.
If cleanliness is next to godliness, Commerce, Jackson County and the South are clearly ungodly. On the other hand, if clutter is ever deemed a virtue, we stand to become paragons of virtue.
Into this challenging situation comes the new county beautification effort, seeking to educate us – and maybe improve us.
"So great is the effect of cleanliness upon man, that it extends even to his moral character. Virtue never dwelt long with filth," noted Benjamin Thompson Rumford, a 19th century physicist.
If cleanliness is key to moral character, attaining virtue will be a formidable challenge (any thought of my own dies with a glance at my desk top, which resembles a portable landfill). But we need not set the bar so high; "less nasty" would be desirable and possibly achievable.
There are other aspects of stewardship we need to stress, including recycling, composting and the proper disposal of hazardous household materials, from paint cans to AA batteries. But until a much higher percentage of the population learns that junk, debris and garbage are neither valuable commodities nor acceptable yard art, those efforts are wasted.
We will be extraordinarily successful if we can just convince people to responsibly dispose of trash elsewhere than yards and roadways.


Editorial
The Jackson Herald
April 17, 2002

Where is line in government control?
Everyone complains about too much government, especially this week as citizens file their annual tax returns.
But while there’s plenty to gripe about with both the federal and state governments, we wonder if the real problem isn’t mostly in our local governments.
There’s a disturbing trend in government at the local level to more and more attempt to control its citizens in ways that go far beyond what we find acceptable. That’s especially true in zoning and land use issues where local governments are abusing their power.
Here are two recent examples:
In Hoschton, the town council recently decided to enforce ordinances related to aesthetics in the community. One particular issue revolved around whether or not to allow someone to park a school bus in their yard.
It’s common in many subdivisions for there to be such detailed aesthetics regulations. Some developments have covenants to regulate the color of a homeowner’s front door, where cars are parked and other purely visual considerations.
That’s fine because homeowners buy knowing what the rules are. If it gives comfort to a homeowner to know his neighbor can’t have a red front door, then let’em buy in a subdivision with those type regulations.
But for a government to impose community aesthetic standards is a different matter. Where subdivision regulations are voluntary, that is a homeowner chooses to live there under a set of rules, no such choice is given homeowners when a government imposes overreaching aesthetic standards community-wide.
If the action doesn’t affect surrounding property values or public health, why should government interfere? I may not like looking at a neighbor’s school bus, but is that the kind of thing we want our governments to spend time regulating?
The other recent examples are the “hardship” cases being heard by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners on the splitting of property into family subdivisions. While there are some legitimate concerns about how such splits are made, should government consider medical or other family hardship matters in its rezonings?
We think not. Zoning is a system designed to protect the interest of property owners in a manner that which tries to balance competing demands. The consideration of those issues should be on the merits of the rezoning request itself and how it might affect the surrounding property, not on the level of “hardship” a property owner may face because of medical, family or other concerns.
This is a disturbing trend where local governments have begun using the power of zoning to impose standards that cross the line between public interest and private property rights.
That’s not what zoning was intended to do and by expanding its reach, local governments are undercutting the legal and moral basis on which all zoning regulations should rest.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
April 17, 2002

CRCT looms for local students
In a couple of weeks, students in grades 1-8 in Jackson County will gather their No. 2 pencils and take the dreaded CRCT test. In theory, the test is supposed to measure how well a student is performing as compared to Georgia standards as defined in the state’s curriculum.
But for many parents, the battery of spring testing is beginning to wear thin. In some states, a backlash against standardized tests has begun where parents keep their children home during the annual testing ritual.
That trend is likely to spread as Georgia begins to use the CRCT as a gateway exam to pass a child to the next grade.
Proponents of the gateway process say it’s need to stop social promotions where struggling students are simply passed along grade-to-grade. But critics of gateway testing say the promotion of a student should depend on more factors than just one exam.
It’s difficult to get to the truth of this issue because both sides of the debate have become wrapped in outside political interests. Other groups, from the extreme liberal to the extreme conservative, are using the standardized testing controversy as a stepping stone to promote their own agendas. In the process, a lot of bad research is taking place and those in turn are being used by politicians aligned with various political causes.
But most of us shouldn’t worry too much about the future of gateway testing in Georgia. Based on last year’s results, about one-third of Georgia students would fail at least one part of the test. There’s no way state leaders are going to mandate that one-third of Georgia’s students repeat a grade, unless they want to end their political careers.
That means that the final passing level on the CRCT is likely to be lowered, in part to avoid the political fallout and also to avoid what is likely to be dozens of legal challenges.
There are several aspects to this issue that merit further discussion. First, just what are the state’s standards?
About five years ago, Georgia set its curriculum standards and the details of those grade-by-grade can be found on the Georgia Department of Education web site. In general, it’s my observation that some of these standards far exceed what was expected of my generation’s elementary and middle school-age students. My third-grader is doing some math that I didn’t have until high school. And where my generation learned to read in the first grade, children are now expected to know the reading basics before entering first grade.
In short, school is harder today than ever before and the level of expectation is greater than it was a generation ago.
On the other side, years of social change has created problems among a large percentage of Georgia’s students. Too many kids come from broken homes, or from homes where there is rampant substance abuse. The social demographics are fractured more today than ever before as our once classless society become more and more splintered along socioeconomic fault lines.
The result of these trends is that academic expectations have risen at the same time social expectations have fallen. No wonder over one-third of our students don’t meet the standards.
That isn’t to say standards should be lowered, but rather that schools have limited means to address the problems. No amount of additional funding will cure all the social problems schools face. Indeed, we shouldn’t expect schools to cure those problems in the first place.
While standardized test scores may be a victim of these trends, there is still a valid place for these tests in public education — if they are evaluated correctly. There’s no reason, for example, for special education students or recent immigrant students to be held to the same standards as regular program students.
In addition, there should be more flexibility in how schools are created. Currently, we build cookie-cutter schools, not just in how they look, but also in how they teach. But why not create schools that specialize in teaching the various populations of students in our society? Why not create more magnet schools for high-achieving students and more special instruction schools for students that are struggling? Why do we insist on throwing all those kids in the same classroom and expect them all to perform at some the same level?
I’m all for increasing the accountability in public education, but to do that we should know what we want schools to be accountable for.
The current system, from state and federal funding formulas to the requirements of grade level curriculums, is so convoluted that no one, not even the most astute of education professionals, can understand it all.
And if educators can’t figure out what’s really expected, how can we expect our students to know what’s expected?
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
April 17, 2002

BOC Keeps Pressure On Water Authority
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners is doing its best to make the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority unnecessary. The commissioners have tried unsuccessfully to coax resignations from at least two members, they've second guessed and criticized the placement of water or sewer lines, and they've wasted no opportunity to undermine the men appointed to build the county water and sewer systems.
Most recently, the commissioners have urged the authority to assume more debt, first to borrow money against the special purpose local option sales tax and more lately to pay the county's obligation for debt service on the Bear Creek Reservoir. No doubt some of the commissioners will soon be critical of the authority for borrowing too much money and will assume that the public will forget that if the BOC had its way, the water authority would have borrowed even more money.
Given the overhaul of the Jackson County Planning Commission, the disregard for the citizen's courthouse committee and the constant criticism and pressure applied to the water and sewerage authority, one gets the impression that the commissioners have little regard for the people who donate their time to serve their county. These are people who spend a great deal of time conducting business on behalf of the county; many of them have years of expertise. The "we-know-better-than-everyone-else" attitude and the desire to micro-manage every aspect of government convey a sense of arrogance and disrespect unbecoming of so-called public servants. The commissioners need the support of public spirited people; the disdainful treatment of those who serve as volunteers threatens that support, without which the county government cannot govern.

Put Site Selection Before The Voters
Speaking of the courthouse or county government complex controversy, given that the Jackson County Board of Commissioners has gone on record seeking public input on the site, why don’t the commissioners accept the ultimate public input and put the matter up for a vote?
We’ve heard no pressing need to render a decision immediately, and with an election year upon us, the opportunity is right to hold a referendum. In addition to providing a means of measuring the public interest on this project, a referendum on the location of new government buildings might well spur voter interest in the election.
The referendum can be accomplished at virtually no cost simply by adding a question to the Aug. 20 primary ballots or at minimal cost by offering a separate ballot for the question.
A referendum allowing the voters to choose between the commissioners’ “campus approach” on Darnell Road and the Leo Daly site in downtown Jefferson would guarantee the commissioners that they were fulfilling their constituents’ desire in this important matter – assuming that doing what the public wants is an issue.


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