Madison County Opinion...

AUGUST 7, 2002

By Frank Gillespie
The Madison County Journal
August 7, 2002

Frankly Speaking

Judge’s poor ruling
led to tragedy
A few days ago a reader greeted me with “I like your articles because you don’t care whose toes you step on.” Well, today I have a new set of toes to stomp. The toes belong to a federal judge.
Last week, a massive road sign collapsed in Snellville collapsed, killing three young men and injuring another. This was one of the signs that the mayor and council of Snellville has attempted to stop because they considered them dangerous. The sign companies filed a federal lawsuit charging the city of violating their constitutional right to free speech. A federal judge agreed and ordered the city to allow the signs to be constructed.
One of the companies building these signs, not the one that fell, is co-owned by Republican state senate candidate Ralph Hudgens.
We all saw the results last week. The city was right. The signs were dangerous. One of them killed three young men.
I have several problems with this story. First, anyone seeing those massive steel structures standing on a single, often off-center pole, standing above busy buildings or parking areas, is clearly dangerous. Building these structures along a highway where nothing but a few trees can be harmed if the fall is one thing. Building them in a crowded city is something else.
One of the primary responsibilities of local government is the safety of the citizens. The mayor and council of Snellville have every right and responsibility to prohibit any activity or structure that threatens public safety. Clearly, they acted properly by voting to prohibit the signs from the city.
I reject the judge’s ruling that the company’s right of free speech was violated. The right of free speech has limits. The classic example is that you do not have the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre. In this case, clearly the right of the sign companies to sell advertising should be subject to the safety of the public.
Finally, as a strong states rights advocate, I do not think the federal judge had jurisdiction over this case. The dispute between the city and the sign companies was a local problem and should have been decided by state judges.
To summarize, a federal judge overstepped his authority and made a bad ruling. As a result, three men died and another was injured. As I write this, the companies have agreed with the city to take down the signs, inspect and repair them, and reinstall them with care to make sure they are safe. The city has agreed to allow them to remain with proper maintenance and inspections. That is the best agreement they could come up with, I suppose. But I wouldn’t want to live or work under one of them.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His web page can be accessed at His e-mail address is

By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
August 7, 2002

From the Editor's Desk

A view
on simplicity
“The wife who keeps saying, ‘Isn’t that just like a man?’ and the husband who keeps saying, ‘Oh, well, you know how women are,’ are likely to grow farther and farther apart through the years.”
— James Thurber, from “rule four” in his essay, “My own ten rules for a happy marriage.”

The simple answer may or may not be true, said Senator Phil Graham before a partially-filled Sanford Stadium at the UGA commencement ceremony this past spring.
“But the complicated answer is always wrong,” he said.
I looked at my dad and he smiled his disapproval, obviously ready to sling Graham’s nugget of wisdom back at the podium. Because the statement sounds nice but doesn’t hold true.
Yes, there’s beauty in simplicity. But I’ve followed my father’s way in insisting that there’s most always a world underneath the simplicity that takes considerable effort to understand.
For instance, think of that simple, sweet sound of a wooden bat striking a baseball at Turner Field.
What makes the sound? Of course, ball on wood.
But look beyond the obvious and you must consider the complex mind game between hitter and pitcher, and all the subtleties therein — the tendency of the batter to miss low and away, etc.
Behind the crack of the bat are the many evenings the hitter spent in a batting cage trying to mimic the grace of a great. Behind the crack of a bat there is the father or coach who showed the hitter how the wrists should move, how the weight should shift. Behind ball on bat comes the nostalgic effect, how we recall past experiences at the ball field, remembering how our lives were the last time we sat in those stands.
So the sound of ball on bat is not so simple if you really think about what comes with it.
And when I really put the effort in looking past the simple tag I’ve assigned to a person or an issue or whatever, I’m generally rewarded, recognizing that there’s much more than I allowed.
Too often, however, I’m too lazy, too disinterested, or too overwhelmed with information to really grasp what I’m confronted with. Instead, I give it a tag that suits me. I may see someone who has offended me. And instead of hearing what they’re now saying, I may simply think, “idiot.” I may think of a nation and laugh to myself, “all thieving illiterates.”
I know I’m not alone in this type of thinking.
Omniscience is an impossibility for people. Thus, we reduce things, quantify, generalize. We do so both with and without judgment and with good and bad intentions. We can’t help but form our own conclusions about the world around us.
But we too often fail to recognize what James Thurber said in his essay quoted at the top of this column: that “...generalizations have the effect of reducing an individual to the anonymous status of a mere unit in a mass.”
So if we choose to avoid complexities, then we can say women are this, men are that; or blacks are this, whites are that; or Americans are this, foreigners are that.
That’s why we can look at politicians and judge based on party affiliation alone. Because Democrats, naturally, are this way. Republicans are that.
In doing so, we take partial truths — because stereotypes are often supported with a fraction of truth — and make them concrete walls that can’t be moved, failing to recognize the failure in our assessments.
So often, the simple answer, the easy answer, is a face wiped of all definition.
That’s why I argue against Graham’s “words of wisdom.”
Because there’s so much that lies beneath the surface of every face.
And I’d be a fool to say I have it all figured out.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

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