Jackson County Opinions...

MAY 15, 2002

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
May 15, 2002

High School Graduation:
Free At Last. Sort Of
Believe it or not, I can remember the day I graduated from high school. I couldn't tell you who spoke, have no idea if the city council was there (except I would have not known a single one of their names) and cannot remember being handed my diploma.
I do remember that we didn't actually get our diplomas; we got diploma covers during the ceremony and the real thing later when we'd turned in our caps and gowns and had done nothing to disgrace the Class of 68.
The outstanding memory I had was the sense of relief of getting out of high school and the sure knowledge that I would never revisit that place. Some classmates were hugging and crying, lamenting the end of something wonderful. My view was, "Free at last, free at last."
I wasn't of course. I enrolled the next two years at what was then called a "junior college," but it was different enough from high school that I enjoyed it. Then I took a year off before coming to the University of Georgia to earn my degree.
The above would suggest that my high school experience was miserable. It wasn't. But nor was it memorable. I made decent grades, had some friends, but somehow high school seemed so damn juvenile. My own level of maturity was a quart or two below the full mark, but I did have the sense to know that I was immature. I listened with awe as classmates announced plans to marry at the ripe old age of 18 and concluded that I would flee from any girl foolish enough to wed me at that age.
College was a foregone conclusion. There wasn't any other option, a notion certainly strengthened by the draft for the Vietnam Conflict.
I never went back to my high school, never stepped on the campus since the night of graduation and never been tempted to attend one of the many class reunions.
My children had similar emotions when they graduated from high school. Both were anxious to move on, meet new people and have new experiences. Laura grew up at North Georgia College and Georgia State; Steven is thriving at UGA. Neither speaks of high school with nostalgia.
Some of Friday's graduates will feel similarly, while others will look back on their four years of high school with tears in their eyes. And while there may be a few students anxious about what the future holds, most high school graduates feel ready to tackle college or career.
More power to them. Most will indeed experience more freedom in the years between high school and marriage than they've ever had or ever will have. Most will make a few bad decisions along the way but will do just fine and one or two will make really horrible choices that will mark them for life.
Phase 1 of education is over. Students should be equipped to read, write, figure and reason, skills they will draw heavily upon and build upon for the rest of their lives. Phase 1 of the social experience is also over. College, vocational school or work will replace the acquaintances and many of the friends of high school days. Some will discover to their surprise that life exists outside of Commerce.
Free at last, free at last. Sort of.

The Jackson Herald
May 15, 2002

BOC politics may have backfired
The impending creation of a municipal planning commission to serve the towns of Jefferson, Arcade, Pendergrass and Talmo is a sign of just how divisive Jackson County politics has become.
In December, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners abolished the former joint city-county planning commission and created a new board with new rules. One of those rules was to restrict the voting powers of municipal members.
The action was intended to be a slap at the City of Jefferson, the largest town remaining in the commission. Commerce had earlier created its own city planning board.
We’re not sure exactly why the BOC started this fight with the county’s towns, other than for ego and power.
But the trend is not a healthy one for the citizens in Jackson County. Rather than working at odds, the county government and local municipal governments should be working together.
Under the current BOC administration, that won’t be possible, so we can’t fault the four towns for creating their own planning board. Indeed, the same concept should be adopted by Hoschton and Braselton where growth issues often overlap the twin town area.
In politics, there are always unforeseen consequences to public policy actions. Last year’s action by the BOC to neuter the municipalities on the county planning board may have been a momentary political coup, coming as it did with no warning to the towns involved. But the unintended consequence has been to force these municipalities closer together and to create an alliance that would not have been possible otherwise.
That may be good or bad, depending on the leadership involved. But one thing is for certain, the BOC has begun a process that it can no longer control and it may have created a rival to its own power by forcing the cities into this new alliance. Rather than conquering by dividing, the BOC hardened dissenting voices and forced many otherwise fractured entities into joining hands as the “opposition.”
All of which is evidence that in its quest for power and control, the BOC forgot one of the first maxims of politics: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
May 15, 2002

On county pay
and land use
Hold onto your seats, I’m actually going to say something nice about a Jackson County commissioner.
It wasn’t in last week’s news article, but commissioner Stacey Britt led the charge to straighten out the county’s public safety employees pay scales. (It wasn’t in last week’s story because that part of the commission meeting was closed to the public, but that’s another column.)
The action was prompted by the ill tempers generated when a county marshal staffer was hired at a higher pay rate than most existing county public safety employees. Not surprisingly, deputy sheriffs, EMTs and other county employees were more than a little upset by the difference in pay. A lawsuit was threatened and that eventually got the attention of the BOC, including Britt who was reportedly piqued at finding out late in the game about the rift.
The action will, of course, cost the county a large bucket of dollars. But if there is one function of county government that is essential, it is public safety. Recreation programs are nice, newly-paved roads are great, and zoning and land use are good tools to have. But they don’t compare to public safety demands.
If there is nothing else a government does, it should provide for law enforcement, fire protection and emergency response needs.
Now that doesn’t mean Jackson County has to become a speed trap, as some commissioners apparently want. The county could generate a lot of money by using radar along I-85. Yet public safety isn’t a quid pro quo deal — pay scales should not be tied to fines generated.
But hiring and keeping good law enforcement and other public safety employees is essential for the community. All of those jobs require a lot of investment in training and to lose that investment to other areas only costs the county more money, not to mention the loss of quality.
While Britt did a good thing in carrying the banner to get the pay mess fixed, one has to wonder why he had to get involved at all. I thought the BOC hired a county manager to deal with those kind of details.
But then, that’s another story for another day.....
All the discussion over the county’s zoning, land use plan and design standards make me nervous. It appears that we are on the threshold of mandating some things that are better left to the marketplace. In the process, we may force up the cost of housing with requirements that have nothing to do with improving the county.
I didn’t attend last week’s public hearings on the land use issues, so for the record, here’s my two cents worth of thoughts:
• Creating “design ordinances” for housing is a slippery slope. It creates another layer of local government bureaucracy with a “design board” to decide if someone’s house “looks” a certain way. But aesthetic standards are an intrusion of government into the marketplace. If someone wants a blue door and a 3:12 roof pitch, so what?
• It appears that some government leaders want to drive up the cost of housing in the local marketplace via the intrusion of more government regulations. One official said he’d rather see a $300,000 house built than a $125,000 house. OK, but when you do that, you will no longer have blue-collar labor available in the local economy. Nor will you see people moving from mobile homes, the bane of local government officials, into traditional housing because you will have done away with the starter homes market. For taxing purposes, expensive homes are great. But all viable communities need a range of housing, including low-cost starter homes. Government should never seek to intentionally distort the marketplace by creating regulations and burdens that favor one economic class at the expense of another. Let the marketplace decide pricing, not regulations.
• All building codes and land use issues should be rooted in one of two basic concerns: 1. Public safety or, 2. Protection of surrounding property. Any rules, regulations or ordinances that go beyond those two items are intrusive and should be illegal. Government-mandated design standards that can’t be defended on one of those two principals should not be adopted.
• Where is the discussion about commercial district zonings? We’re all hung up on talking about housing rules when it is the concentration of poorly-planned commercial districts that can really cause the quality of life in a community to suffer. Less talk about controlling a neighbor’s roof pitch and more discussion about commercial districts and the impact on traffic would be welcomed.
• Remember the old saying, “Governments that rule best, rule least.” That ought to be the motto of the current land use plan efforts.
Governments do not have all the answers to life’s problems, no matter what they claim. Frankly, I trust the marketplace to settle most of these problems far more than I trust local government.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
May 15, 2002

Police Effort To Curb
Crime Has Real Potential
Residents of Commerce should be interested and pleased to see the Commerce Police Department attempting to confront head-on some of the city’s high-crime areas.
Calling it “Operation Safe Streets,” the department hopes to better mobilize its own forces and to get public support for cleaning up long-standing problems. The department plans to target areas where crime appears most prolific, having a stronger police presence, using road checks, enforcing laws against loitering, using zoning or other city ordinances to support their efforts and, in general, forcing the criminals to lay low.
In reality, this amounts to a new way of policing Commerce. Where in the past shifts have been the focus of deploying manpower, the new process will allocate manpower dependent upon the need. In addition, city of Commerce employees will find themselves helping out, perhaps by installing more street lights in high-crime areas, by adding new signage or by enforcing the cleanliness of premises or minimum housing code ordinances.
Much of the activity will begin in the black community, where citizens have asked for help because of high rates of drug sales, loitering and property theft. Those who engage in the sale of drugs will find more police, more road checks and a less friendly environment. Those who venture into the area seeking drugs will find themselves under greater scrutiny.
The concept is designed to give police the flexibility to take the same tactics elsewhere. If a particular stretch of road attracts speeders, police will respond by putting more manpower there until the problem is stopped. Wherever there is a particular problem, we are told, the police will respond.
Hopefully, citizens will understand the efforts of the police, be patient and even appreciative in traffic stops and assisting in police-sponsored activities from clean-up days to Neighborhood Watch Programs. There’s work for all of us.

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