Jackson County Opinions...

SEPTEMBER 4, 2002



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
September 4, 2002

What Would A Woman Want At Augusta National?
It is no doubt another mark of my insensitivity that I feel no editorial indignation against the Augusta National Golf Club for not allowing women as members. The National Organization of Women has targeted the Augusta National and CBS for the next forced lesson in gender equity as home of and broadcaster of The Masters Golf Tournament and I can’t muster up a lot of interest in the issue.
Maybe it’s because I’m male. Or because I am not a member of this most exclusive of golf clubs. Or because I don’t play a lot of golf or watch The Masters on TV or because I voted in the Republican Primary.
Women fought their way into the Jaycees and the Boy Scouts. The “No Girls Allowed” signs in tree houses are banned, the military has been successfully opened to women and we have the Women’s National Basketball Association. Wherever it says “men only,” women have campaigned, generally successfully, to gain entrance, not because they necessarily wanted what was inside, but because they were tired of being excluded.
On the other hand, men have sat back bewildered as women have asserted their rights, defending themselves only with gross behavior and juvenile humor about bodily functions in the hope that no woman would want to be around them.
Which brings me to what point there is to this. Why would any woman want to hob-nob with a bunch of Neanderthals like the members of the Augusta National anyway?
The answer is, they really don’t, but they can’t stand the idea that there is something men can do and women cannot. (No doubt somebody out there in Readerland is already thinking that men should be allowed in the Miss America Pageant if the Augusta National is integrated by gender. That’s fine. I can’t imagine participation by men making the Miss America Pageant any sillier than it already is, any more than opening the Augusta National to a woman would make the golf club any less relevant.)
Still, I cling to the notion that a private organization ought to be able to determine who its members are. If they want to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, nationality or anything else, it may speak poorly of them, but they should have that right. And, they do. But NOW has the right to harass them into conformity, which it proposes to do through pressure on CBS and The Masters’ sponsors, and I think its odds are good of succeeding.
Will the world be better off because Augusta National has one or two female members? It will still cater to money and connections, but perhaps NOW will be happy if a few women get to assist with the process of excluding others.
Opening membership to women is as much about stopping something men are doing as about creating opportunities for women. I would like to think NOW loves men so much it can’t stand the idea of there being a place where they cannot join us, but I suspect it really just wants to remind us that we can run but we can’t hide.
At least if women join the Augusta National, maybe they’ll get rid of those ugly green jackets.


Editorial
The Jackson Herald
September 4, 2002

Ruling on NWA sends
strong message
We applaud last week’s ruling by Judge Penn McWhorter on the lawsuit filed by the Nicholson Water Association against the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority.
Not only did Judge McWhorter deny the NWA’s efforts to stop the county water authority from providing service in the Nicholson area, he went further to rule on three very important points:
1. The judge ruled that the NWA had not followed the law in having its board members appointed by the grand jury.
2. The judge ruled that the NWA’s system is “inadequate” to meet the needs of its area of service.
3. The judge ruled that the 1972 law that created the NWA does not give it an exclusive territory to provide service to the exclusion of other water suppliers, including the county water authority.
All three are important rulings that, at long last, clarify some deep problems with the NWA.
What the judge did not rule on, but which had been pointed out in briefs related to the lawsuit, is the “insider” nature of how the NWA is operated. Its manager employs himself, his wife and his son as employees. On top of that, the manger contracts with himself to lay pipe for the NWA, a serious conflict-of-interest. In addition, there are no annual audits of the NWA.
We believe the next grand jury should appoint some strong members to the NWA board who will address all of these problems. The NWA is a public agency and as such should answer to the public. It should not be allowed to operate as a private kingdom under the guise of a public entity.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
September 4, 2002

Grand Jury should probe county spending
If you are a taxpayer in Jackson County, this column is going to make you angry. If you have a heart condition, put your paper down now and go take your pills before proceeding.
It is no secret that the Jackson County government is throwing around money like it is confetti. Fancy new furniture adorns the administrative building. The county payroll has to be climbing because of all the new staff being hired — assistants and assistants for assistants.
And land purchases are being made by the county at prices far above fair market values, purchases which have some wondering if the county is attempting to manipulate property values upward and thus artificially inflate the county’s tax digest.
But last week, I came across a story that shows just how foolish county leaders are in spending taxpayer money.
As one part of the deal to bring the new Toyota plant to Jackson County, a connecting road off I-85 has to be built. That’s a good thing because the road, named Concord Road, is needed to open up access to a lot of potential industrial land along I-85. In fact, talks about the road have been going on at least since 1996.
On August 5, a recommendation came before the Jackson County BOC to authorize spending a lump sum $350,000 to design and engineer that road. Some county officials must have been confident of getting BOC approval because on July 26, Moreland Altobelli Associates, the proposed engineering firm, drew up an authorization document for the county to sign.
But when the matter hit the board Aug. 5, a warning bell rang in the head of commissioner Stacey Britt. He persuaded the board to delay authorizing that large expenditure and volunteered to meet with the engineers and county manager Al Crace to discuss the issue further.
The reason Britt’s warning bells rang was that he recalled that some 18 months ago, a meeting had been held to discuss engineering plans for Concord Road.
After digging around some, Britt discovered the truth — Concord Road had already been designed and engineered between 1999 and 2001. In fact, those plans were paid for by private money from landowners in the area, not public tax dollars.
Not only that, but the private landowners had arranged for the purchase or donation of rights-of-way for the road and one land owner even put up $140,000 for the county to pay condemnation expenses.
The project was strongly supported by state DOT officials and had gotten DOT approval to move forward in early 2001.
But it sat. And sat. And sat.
Why?
Because BOC chairman Harold Fletcher said it was a “Waddell” road and he wouldn’t support it. The road, you see, was engineered during the term of Fletcher’s predecessor, Jerry Waddell. Because of that, Fletcher trashed the project and it didn’t move forward.
That, of course, angered the private property owners who paid several hundred thousand dollars to have the project engineered in the first place. Now some of those property owners have reportedly backed off earlier plans to donate right-of-way for the project because of Fletcher’s reaction.
None of this was secret to a majority of the BOC. In addition to Britt and Fletcher, commissioner Sammy Thomason also knew of the earlier plans.
But only Britt stepped forward to put the brakes on spending $350,000 in taxpayer funds to re-do something that had already been done.
On top of all that, the county had already paid Moreland Altobelli Associates around $20,000 to draw a road plan during the Toyota discussions earlier this year. But that road had one major flaw that left some local officials laughing in the aisle — it ran through the City of Jefferson’s sewerage spray field, a route that would be impossible to do.
Something stinks in all this. The taxpayers are being taken for a ride by county leaders whose agenda has more to do with petty politics than public policy. Why else would the county want to spend $350,000 for a plan when one already exists? And if that older plan needs updating, why pay a new engineering firm to do it when the firm that did the first plan could do the updates for far less money?
It’s all a foolish waste of tax money caused by the ever-expanding ego of chairman Fletcher.
But this incident goes beyond ego. The Concord Road matter, and other recent spending habits, should be investigated by the Jackson County Grand Jury to see what lurks beneath the surface.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
September 4, 2002

Long Meetings Indicate
Problems With BOCJackson County's commissioners are trying to figure out how to shorten their meetings, which frequently last five hours. One proposal is to meet more often, but no one has suggested that maybe the board is trying to do too much or is just inefficient.
With a professional manager now in place, not to mention a newly-hired assistant manager and other new staff members, the commissioners should have less to do, not more. Long meetings, therefore, suggest that the board of commissioners is trying to micromanage the county government.
If the growing county staff cannot provide some relief to the commissioners, then either the staff is ineffective or the commissioners lack confidence in the staff. An example of this can be seen in the selection process for an architect for the proposed new courthouse. Staff narrowed the applicants from 28 to six, which the commissioners were to interview, but the commissioners decided to go over the other applicants just the same.
In addition, much of what the commissioners insist on doing could be done administratively. The commissioners might argue reasonably that as representatives of the people, they should make those decisions, but if that's the case why do we need a county manager and an assistant county manager?
To be sure, each commissioner has one or two pet projects or issues and none of them miss an opportunity to lengthen a meeting by discussing them. One result is that by the time a meeting ends, any citizen who attended in the hopes of watching government at work has given up and gone home.
Jackson County voters expect their commissioners to work hard, but they also expect them to work effectively. It could be that the long meetings just represent their dedication and work ethic – but more likely it indicates micromanagement and lack of direction.


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