Jackson County Opinions...

MAY 01, 2002

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
May 01, 2002

Traffic Horrible? Learn To Take It Like A Man
If there is anyone who is not aware of this state's rapid growth, a drive from north to south on Interstate highways 85 and 75 should convince the strongest cynic that this ain't your grandfather's Georgia.
Either that, or it will convince him that the Department of Transportation is out of its mind, what with all of the construction of new lanes, new overpasses and widening of overpasses.
There are those who, upon spending 45 minutes parked along a two-lane section of interstate within sight of signs that say "Speed Limit 70" and "Minimum speed 40," would argue that the congestion is evidence that the state needs a rapid rail system, mandatory car pooling or odd-even driving days. The rest of us just glare at the lines of non-moving vehicles and wish the DOT would hurry up and widen I-75 or I-85 by three lanes in each direction.
It's not just the intestates, of course. From the Hardee's intersection in Commerce, to the square in Jefferson; from U.S. 441 to U.S. 129, the refrain is the same: traffic is horrible and getting more so.
Don't even mention Atlanta traffic which, by comparison, is to traffic elsewhere as tidal waves are to a ripple on a pond. Nor need we discuss the havoc created when there is a wreck on any major thoroughfare.
The truth is, there are more cars and trucks than the state's major roads can handle and, in spite of all of the widening projects on the drawing boards, Georgia may never reach a point where it has a highway system that can handle the traffic. If you're looking for a field with job security, get into road building.
Of course, the major highways not only take Georgians to and fro, but they also must carry travelers for whom Georgia is just four rest stops en route to the Gulf beaches, Disney World or Ron Jon's Surf Shop. The combination of domestic and tourist traffic can overwhelm the interstate system even in the middle of nowhere and at off-peak times for no apparent reason.
We sat in traffic 30 minutes near Tifton Saturday afternoon, assuming that the holdup was either an accident or some sort of construction activity. But when the (mostly) stop-and-(seldom) go traffic finally ended and breakneck speeding resumed, there was no evidence as to any cause for the delay. The road just could not carry the volume of traffic.
The traffic is evidence of more than growth and congestion. It is also evidence of the wealth of this state and nation. The value of all of the vehicles, the content of the big trucks, the cost of the construction contracts all testify to the incredible economic vitality of this nation. The scene is repeated all over America, often with less congestion, but sometimes with a great deal more, as Americans go about their business and pleasure.
This is not to say that the economic colossus does not have its downside: air pollution, accidents, stress, a disproportionate and even wasteful use of the world's energy supplies, but it is impressive nonetheless. Nor will it ease your angst as you’re mired in traffic to marvel at the nation’s economic vitality.
Put in a CD or tape, check your blood pressure medicine and take it like a man.

The Jackson Herald
May 01, 2002

Time for rec expansion
We’ve long had ambivalent feelings about government-sponsored recreation programs. All to often, such programs can become a black hole that sucks money with little to show in return.
But there’s no doubt that community recreation programs are increasingly popular. The demand for these programs is growing as young families move into the area from communities that have much larger offerings. Good recreation programs can greatly enhance the quality of life in a community.
While local recreation programs are better today than they were a decade ago, they still have a long way to go. A recent study of Jackson County’s recreation needs shows just how far behind the county is in providing recreation resources. The National Recreation and Parks Association recommends that a ratio of recreation land to population be between 6.25 acres to 10.5 acres per 1,000 residents. Jackson County’s ratio is a mere 1.1 acres per 1,000 residents.
That is somewhat skewed since both Jefferson and Commerce have city recreation departments and facilities, but it is clear that the demand for facilities far exceeds the supply.
That study, which offers a master plan for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to debate, calls for the addition of around 300 acres in new facilities over the next 10 years at an estimated cost of $39 million. To pay that cost, the report recommends that the portion of SPLOST funds dedicated to recreation grow from the current 5.5 percent to 25 percent when the issue comes back to voters in 2004.
So what is being recommended? The plan calls for the county to expand from five ball fields to 17 by 2011; to build two football fields by 2006; to grow from two to eight soccer fields; to go from zero to 13 tennis courts; to go from zero to two swimming pools; and to add a variety of other facilities, such as walking and bike trails.
We believe the county should pursue implementing some kind of growth program for local recreation offerings. While it doesn’t have to follow the details of the proposed master plan, any recreation plan should include:
• a soccer complex with lighted fields and convenient parking.
• a tennis complex with lighted courts and instruction programs.
• an aquatic center with indoor and outdoor pools and diving platforms.
• additional baseball/softball fields with adequate parking.
• walking and biking trails.
The time to start planning for these facilities is now. When the next SPLOST rolls around, a greater portion of that tax should be used to build the necessary facilities.
In the meantime, the county should begin acquiring the necessary land on which to build these recreation parks.
It won’t be cheap, but we believe voters will approve using the SPLOST to help pay the costs in 2004.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
May 01, 2002

What’s the fuss about pop star’s death?
I know I’m getting old and not “with it” as much as I used to be. But as a professional observer of society, government and business, I do try to keep up with some of the latest “in” trends.
But I must have been sleeping in the 1990s because I apparently missed out on the cultural underpinnings of hip-hop and rap music.
So will someone please explain to me who was Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and why did her death in a car crash last week put the Atlanta media into a frenzy of hero-worshipping news coverage? Not since the deaths of John Lennon and Elvis have I seen such media coverage of a pop singer’s untimely death.
As far as I can determine, Miss Lopes was not a musical revolutionary.
The Beatles were a music revolution.
Elvis’ music was revolutionary.
Michael Jackson’s music was (maybe still is) revolutionary.
But what did Miss Lopes do in her music that caused her death to earn several pages of news coverage? Not even the death of a head of state generates that much ink.
That is not to say that her death should be ignored, or that it wasn’t tragic. Any death is tragic, especially if it is of someone so young.
But there’s something going on here that I just can’t grasp.
For one thing, Miss Lopes’s comments about the 1994 arson of her boyfriend’s mansion were loony. (They had a fight, she set his house on fire.)
“We need that kind of attention. Even though the fire was a terrible thing, we needed that. That helped us sell a couple of million records. And that’s good. We like the hype that controversy and drama generate.”
Burn a house, sell a record. Some philosophy for life.
Of course, Lisa Lopez isn’t the first pop star to get more attention for her private life than for her talent. Both Elvis and Lennon had their off-stage battles with drugs, booze and women. Michael Jackson defines the word “loony” given all his personal antics.
The difference between those three and Miss Lopes, however, is that the former’s talent changed the music world and their work will live on, while Miss Lopes was simply a pop icon of the moment.
That our society so willingly elevates that which is mediocre to the level of virtual martyrdom says something sad about the state of our cultural values.


There was a good column by Jim Wooten in Tuesday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Jay’s Department Store in Commerce. If you missed it in print, you can probably read it on the AJC web site.


Here’s an education observation: If the real questions on this week’s state CRCT tests are as stupid as the questions from the on-line practice tests, our kids are in trouble. But because the CRCT questions are labeled “Top Secret,” no one really knows what’s on those tests except for a few eggheads inside the Georgia Department of Education.
It’s an election year and I’ll vote for any candidate who promises to release a copy of those tests for the public to see.


Jackson County’s Mike Bowers, the state’s former attorney general and one-time gubentorial candidate, has taken the case of the anti-Northern Arc people as their lawyer.
While I disagree with that cause, a lawsuit filed this week by Bowers over an open records request may eventually help clear up some of the questions surrounding this newspaper’s request for documents related to the county’s potential purchase of land for a new courthouse.
At issue is the question of whether or not the county’s action to take an option on land is the same as having purchased the land, thus forcing open the related documents. It’s a legal gray area and while the Bowers suit isn’t directly on that point, it’s close enough such that either through court opinions or subsequent legislative actions that issue might be resolved.
Of course, the Jackson County BOC will have long since completed the land deal by the time the courts get finished, but the matter still needs to be settled.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
May 01, 2002

School Art Show Offers Encouragement
It may have been the first one ever, no one seems to know, but the fact that the Commerce School System had an art show featuring student work is most encouraging. Commerce has a long history of athletic achievement, but interest in art has seldom been stressed in school. Until now.
The Commerce School System now has a full-time art teacher, and anyone who visited the high school lunchroom Saturday for the art show had to be surprised and encouraged by both the quality of the art and the obvious enthusiasm exhibited by the students. The new art curriculum clearly fills a need, encouraging student expression visually in paintings, drawings, ceramics and two and three dimensional objects while, hopefully, building an interest in arts that may grow throughout students' lives.
The arts tend to take a back seat in school funding, particularly in a state where achievement in academic studies is lackluster. Research strongly suggests that the teaching of art and music enhances achievement in academic areas. Students who are exposed to the arts are more well-rounded, and giving kids freedom to express themselves through art enriches them immeasurably. The quality of the work the students produce is of far less importance than the exercising of their creativity that the experience provides, yet the art show clearly demonstrated that the community has some young people whose talents go beyond the athletic field and the classroom.
Hopefully, the school system will soon be able to improve its performing arts opportunities as well. Voice, drama, dance, orchestral music and other instruction would likely uncover previously hidden talents and interests and stimulate more of each. The school system proposes to spend $1 million to $2 million to build a performing arts center. It is only logical that it should offer performing arts instruction and appreciation to its students.
Having art available in Commerce High School and Commerce Middle School strengthens the curriculum and the first art show has proven that there is keen student interest in the arts. That's encouraging, and it can be built upon.

Burning Ban Imposed
Residents of 45 north and middle Georgia counties should take note that they are under a summer burning ban imposed for air quality purposes by the Environmental Protection Division. Essentially, that means that a Commerce resident is prohibited from burning leaves for fear of the effect on the air quality in Atlanta.
That will strike many as absurd, but the EPD, Georgia Forestry Commission are serious about it. There are a few exceptions relating to agriculture camping and prescribed burning for timber stands, but the basic message is that you can be fined for burning trash, leaves, scrap wood or just about anything else through Sept. 30.
Call the Georgia Forestry Commission for information. But don’t make plans for a fire until after Sept. 30 – and then be sure to call for a permit.

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