By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
June 19, 2002
Tower Of Babble
No, that wasn't a mistake, that incomprehensible quote from county manager Al Crace in the front-page story last week. That was what Harold Fletcher's dopplegänger actually said when asked to explain just why he sent memos to the county commissioners regarding Mike Buffington's property assessments and those of MainStreet Newspapers.
Crace, when put in awkward situations, often resorts to the bureaucratic equivalent of speaking in tongues. But whereas the Biblical tongue-speaking is a gift of the Holy Spirit and is to be accompanied by someone who can interpret what is said, Crace babble consists of words in English, but they are strung together such that no one has yet been found who can figure out what he's talking about.
On two occasions when I was present, Crace faced a relatively hostile Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority and when he was done saying whatever it was he had come to say, he couldn't stop. He continued speaking Crace babble for several minutes without completing a single coherent thought. When he left, an authority member who shall remain anonymous, looked at me and asked: "Do you have any idea what in the hell he was talking about?"
I could only shake my head in admiration.
Many people who deal with county government have their own Crace babble stories. Ask around.
But the incoherence, it appears, is a well-refined defense tactic that, while making the speaker appear mentally challenged or under the influence of something, actually protects him from self-incrimination and critical analysis.
What explanation might be plausible for delving into the Buffington family's tax matters? Was Crace hoping to get the assessments increased because of Buffington's criticism of the board of commissioners? Did he seek to make a connection between Buffington's property and the county assessment of the Darnell Road courthouse site? Did he propose to condemn each site to convert it to greenspace? Was it done at Fletcher's request?
Inquiring minds want to know, but a cornered Crace isn't going to go with the truth, so he launched into his signature defense: spouting nonsense. And while such statements may befuddle the average taxpayer, nonsense exists in abundance in politics in general and Jackson County government in particular so such talk seems normal.
Why did Crace send to the county tax assessor, county attorney and county commissioners information concerning Buffington's property? Heres that quote:
Emil gave that out. I just give them background info. If the commission tends to believe that is the general business, I would just like to give them some background. It was not prepared for the public. It just becomes a topic of public conversation and if we can provide some additional facts to the commission."
Enjoy it while you can. In an election year, some insiders say it's just a matter of time until Crace goes the way of Skip Nalley. Ive been told that a majority of the commissioners have seen the handwriting on the wall (and its in plain English).
The Jackson Herald
June 19, 2002
Rethinking district voting
Any good idea can get screwed up by bad politics. Look at the redistricting done last year in Georgia. No longer does it matter where you live; what matters is how you and your neighbors vote.
Both state House and Senate districts are a mess, splitting communities in ways that are not good for citizens. The only thing those divisions are good for is keeping Georgia a one-party state dominated by Democrats.
Politics, not public service, governed that redistricting process.
In the same manner, it was politics that determined how districts would be created and elected when Jackson County moved from a three-member to a five-member board of commissioners. There was much discussion about whether the four BOC districts should be elected county-wide, or from just within that district. In the end, the latter proposal won the day.
But now Jackson County is paying a high price for that decision. While we are all for representative politics, the worst fears of those wanting county-wide BOC voting has come true. District politics dominates the BOC. For the most part, we believe that has worked against good government rather than in favor of it.
It is, of course, too late to change that system for the upcoming election cycle. Jackson County voters approved the current system and now we will have to live with it, at least for a few years.
But somehow, we must find a way to send a message to the BOC that every member represents the entire county, not just one small district.
One way to do that would be to in the future change the balance on the board via legislation and voter approval. We believe that having three districts and two at-large seats would serve the interest of Jackson County better than the current system. By having two at-large seats, the balance of power would shift such that a county-wide view would probably hold sway in the final voting.
Over the last 18 months, we have been greatly disappointed by our five-member BOC. Some of that is due to political egos running amuck, but it is also due to a structure that is fundamentally flawed.
We, Jackson County voters, approved the current system. We cannot blame anyone but ourselves for what has transpired in the months since.
But we should be having second thoughts about it and if the opportunity arises, find a way to fix it.
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
June 19, 2002
Getting drunk at Rotary
I have a confession. At last weeks Jefferson Rotary Club meeting, I got drunk. Well, not exactly drunk, but a close second.
And it was all in good fun for a good cause.
No, the Rotarians have not opened up a wet bar in the back of Bruces Restaurant, but they did have Jefferson Police Chief Darren Glenn as the meetings speaker.
Its not that getting drunk to listen to Glenn was a good idea, no matter what anyone else may say.
Rather, Glenn brought in a new piece of police equipment to demonstrate Fatal Vision goggles. Wearing these goggles gives one the sensation that they had more than a couple of drinks. The goggles approximate what you see and feel like at .17 blood alcohol content.
Im a terrible drunk. Wearing the goggles, I couldnt stand up straight. Tables and chairs just kept jumping out in front of me.
County manager Al Crace was a better candidate. While he couldnt walk a straight line toe-to-toe, at least he didnt stumble over tables.
But the real test came when the Rotary Club assembled behind the Jefferson Fire Department to do a little drunk driving.
The JPD set up a driving course of red cones in the parking lot and using a golf cart, we took turns attempting to maneuver the course without hitting too many cones.
I set the record for the slowest driver. Darn goggles had my head spinning.
A couple of regular golfers, however, drove the course without a hitch, even with the goggles in place.
Must be due to a lot of experience on the golf course.
But for all the fun, the goggles had a more serious purpose. Glenn said the JPD plans to use the goggles and golf cart for anti-DUI education efforts, especially with teenagers.
Weve all heard the statistics about how many people are killed each year from DUI wrecks. Sadly, many involve deaths to innocent people hit by a DUI driver.
And that isnt funny.
While people of all ages are to blame, setting better habits as teenagers could go a long way to slow the slaughter on our roads.
And if you think you can drive while DUI, call Chief Glenn and put on his goggles.
Just make sure youre driving a golf cart and not a car.
Qualifying for the upcoming election cycle will be this week. If you are a glutton for punishment, self-inflicted and otherwise, run for public office.
Although a major part of my job as editor is to critique and sometimes skewer public officials, I do have a healthy respect for those who put themselves out front in public service.
If youve never worried about Big Brother government, just take a look at the explosion of land use planning and zoning positions in Jackson County. From cities and the county, theres a huge growth in people associated with regulating land use in the community.
All those people will have to justify their jobs somehow, and you can bet that means more regulations and hoops for property owners.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
June 19, 2002
'City Lights A Labor Of Love By Many
Commerce will play host to thousands this weekend as it stages the sixth annual City Lights Festival. The highlight is the concert Friday night featuring Vince Gill, Ray Price and Bill Anderson, a lineup expected to make this the best-attended (and most profitable) City Lights Concert yet.
The festival includes other events as well. There will be a golf tournament and a mini-concert Thursday and an arts, crafts, food, etc. festival downtown Friday and Saturday. All events are designed to raise money for the eventual construction of a performing arts auditorium on the campus that will one day also hold a new middle school and a new high school.
This is Commerce's annual opportunity to put itself on the map for something other than high school athletics and proximity to outlet stores. The concert seems to be growing and the downtown festival, in its third year, stands to be the largest yet. In addition to generating money toward an important cultural facility, the weekend also brings together a large and diverse group of citizens whose common goal is to do something for their community.
It takes literally hundreds of everyday citizens working in behind-the-scenes jobs to pull this event off. They do the grunt work in the golf tournament, meal and the concert, to make sure things go well for both the musicians and the paying public. It also takes extra work from public service personnel and city employees to provide the security, arrange the parking, put a shine on the town and, in general, to make sure Commerce puts its best foot forward. In a small town like this, the result is that a sizable portion of its population and public employees are involved in hosting the festival.
That is the supporting cast for the stars, starting with favorite son Bill Anderson, who every year goes to great lengths to provide this opportunity for Commerce. This year, Anderson has outdone himself by bringing in Vince Gill, one of the top names in country music, which is testimony to Anderson's clout and his circle of friends in the business. Ray Price, George ("Goober") Lindsey and Anderson himself, plus our local group, The Jordans, will round out another great concert lineup. That these professionals are coming to Commerce for a benefit concert is quite a coup for a small town.
We are grateful for the generosity of country music for the professional talent this year, to Anderson for his untiring efforts on our behalf, and to the countless volunteers whose efforts will make it all come together. Not only are they all laboring to make this an exciting weekend, but the end result will be a facility to encourage performing arts in Commerce that will benefit this community for years.