Jackson County Opinions...

OCTOBER 30, 2002



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
October 30, 2002

Mark’s Top Ten Reasons
To Vote
TuesdayUnless you're really into partisan politics, it's hard to get motivated to vote next Tuesday, when we select a governor, lieutenant governor, a state representative, three state senators, a U.S. congressman and several other unindicted (so far) co-conspirators.
But we're Americans. That's what we're supposed to do. In Iraq (soon to be our 51st state), they also get to vote. They must like their government more than we like ours, because Saddam Hussein got 100 percent of the vote. I wonder if George Bush would let all of our prisoners go if he got all the votes? Or even most of them?
I digress.
My research staff was too busy surfing the web to calculate what percentage of eligible Americans actually vote, but my guess is that the number of eligible Georgians who will cast a ballot next week will be below 20 percent. Half of Georgians over 18 probably aren't registered, and of those who are, 30 percent turnout would be better than expected.
I don't begrudge the unregistered their apathy, because I figure if they're too sorry to register, we don't really want them having much to say about who serves in government. But those who are registered ought to go to the polls on Tuesday.
As faithful readers of this space know, I try to be motivational, so I will steal a page from David Letterman and provide "Mark's 10 Reasons To Vote On Tuesday:"
10. They give you a cool little sticker when you vote. You can put it on your lapel to shame non-voters.
9. It is your chance to get a small measure of revenge on Roy Barnes and Sonny Perdue for insulting your intelligence for the past two months with their TV commercials.
8. Because I said you should.
7. If you get off work to go vote, you can vote, take a long lunch and go home for a nap. No one will question you because you’re obviously a good citizen.
6. It’s good for the economy. Think of all the dollars spent paying poll workers, attorneys to challenge election results, media types to cover the elections, consultants to advise media and candidates why voters did what they did and makers of champagne for bubbly used in the victory celebrations.
5. You can get revenge on both major parties by voting Libertarian without any fear that the people you vote for will actually get elected.
4. You get to use the slick new computerized voting machines like those that worked so successfully in Florida.
3. Voting is a lot more patriotic than putting a couple of American flags and a bumper sticker that reads “You won’t get my gun ‘till you pry it from my cold, dead hand” on your pickup truck.
2. If you don't vote, the Democrats may take control of the U.S. House or the Republicans may gain a majority in the Senate. If you do vote, it might help the Democrats take control of the House and Republicans control of the Senate.
And the number one reason to go to the polls next Tuesday is (imagine the sound of a drum roll here): that we need to guarantee the free flow of oil from Iraq.
Be a good American. Vote early, vote often and vote right.


Editorial
The Jackson Herald
October 30, 2002

Re-elect Pat Bell
There are several state elections of interest that will be on the ballot next Tuesday. But one race is of particular importance to Jackson County and that is for state representative from the 25th District.
We believe incumbent Rep. Pat Bell has earned the right to return to the position for another term.
A long-time leader in Jackson County, Rep. Bell has well represented the interest of her community as a state legislator. She has been a tireless worker and fought hard to keep Jackson County’s representation in Atlanta intact through the redistricting process. And she has reflected the conservative values of Jackson County in her legislative voting record.
Many will remember Rep. Bell as the county’s extension director and her leadership with the 4-H program here in the 1970s and 1980s. Others will remember her decades of work in helping to preserve Hurricane Shoals as a public park. Still others will remember her work as a county commissioner and the tough stand she took in protecting Jackson County’s sewer system from being taken over by corrupt private interests.
Now she has taken the leadership lesson learned in all those arenas to Atlanta and is working to represent the citizens of Jackson County with the same commitment and energy.
We encourage voters to continue this record of leadership by re-electing Rep. Pat Bell for the District 25 seat in the Georgia Legislature.

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Column
By Kerri Graffius
The Jackson Herald
October 30, 2002

Grand jury should weigh-in on courthouse
There should be no doubt now that the purchase of the Darnell Road property for a new county courthouse was manipulated from the beginning by county commission chairman Harold Fletcher.
Last week, Fletcher was the tie-breaking vote in a successful effort to block a study of a proposed alternative site north of Jefferson. Fletcher, his sidekick Sammy Thomason and commissioner Tony Beatty voted not to study a tract between Hwy. 129 and the Jefferson bypass as an alternative for the courthouse. That in spite of the fact the landowner was going to give the county 25 acres as a gift, a move that would save taxpayers around $375,000.
There was no reason to not study that site except for the fact that Fletcher and his followers know it is a better location than their Darnell Road site. If both sites got a serious, objective and unbiased study, I believe the Hwy. 129 site would win out.
But that would leave Fletcher, Thomason and Beatty with egg on their faces. How would they then explain why they spent $2.5 million to buy the Darnell Road property last spring if another site now proved to be better?
So rather than face that question, the three refused to let such a study go forward.
Jackson County taxpayers ought to be outraged, especially with Fletcher. The county commission chairman has misled the public for months about the Darnell Road site, saying at first that it wasn’t a done deal when he knew all along it was; and now he’s done it again by leading voters to believe he would be willing to study an alternative site, only to use his vote to kill just such an opportunity.
Despite what he has said for public consumption, Fletcher has bragged in private that no one would stop him from buying and building a courthouse on Danell Road. He has been willing to manipulate, distort and twist any idea toward that end.
Of course, he didn’t do it alone. He’s had help from Thomason and Beatty. It didn’t take long for Thomason to do the chairman’s bidding by running interference and carrying the deal for Fletcher last winter. As a reward, Thomason got to hand-pick a personal friend at a rate of $100 per hour to “manage” the courthouse project for the county.
Isn’t that convenient.
What I can’t understand, however, is why has Beatty agreed to help Fletcher block a study of an alternative site? Beatty is conservative and often questions county expenses. Yet he’s willing to spend millions and millions of county dollars to build roads to make the Darnell Road site accessible. His vote doesn’t make sense.
So how will the county pay for this courthouse? That’s a good question and one Fletcher and company refuse to answer in public.
But their plan is to borrow the money for construction next year, then go to voters in 2004 with a choice; either fund a SPLOST for the courthouse note payments, or face a huge property tax hike.
But SPLOST funds are not supposed to be used to back-end finance a project, but rather to front-end such proposals. If not illegal, what Fletcher plans to do certainly violates the intent of state law. Taxpayers should not be bound to pay for major capital improvement projects in which they had no voice and no choice before a final decison is made.
Of course, Fletcher will deny that he plans to do any of that.
Let me say this plainly: Jackson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Harold Fletcher cannot be trusted to tell the truth if a lie suits his purposes better.
Fletcher’s vote last week was an act of defiance to the citizens in Jackson County. He was, in essence, daring anyone to question his authority.
In response to that, the Jackson County Grand Jury should weigh-in on this mess. It has, in fact, done that over the years in its annual facilities recommendations. Grand jury after grand jury has said that something should be done to provide additional space for county operations.
But those grand juries did not envision that someday county leaders would buy remote land on a dirt road that needed millions of dollars in new roads to make it accessible.
They did not envision that county leaders would undertake a mega-million dollar courthouse without first getting taxpayer approval with a SPLOST vote or bond referendum.
They did not envision that the entire process of selecting a site for a courthouse would be done behind closed doors and that only one location, the one hand-picked by the BOC chairman, would be considered.
The grand jury is a county-wide body that reflects the broad diversity of this community. It is made up of community leaders, men and women who are no doubt concerned about doing what is right for the county’s future.
The building of a new Jackson County courthouse and government complex will be the largest single expenditure in the history of the Jackson County government. It will total $20-$30 million, money that taxpayers will have to fund.
That’s why the current grand jury should get involved. That group should take a bus out to the Darnell Road site. Then it should take that bus to the alternative site north of town that Fletcher killed studying last week. Walk around both sites; compare the road access at both. Compare the profile of those locations in relation to the entire county.
Once they’ve done that, the grand jury should quiz each county commissioner one at a time about what has happened over the last 11 months with this issue. Ask those board members why Darnell Road land was purchased without any other site being considered. Ask them why they refused to study the site north of town proposed by two of their own members. And ask them how they expect to finance and pay for this mega-million-dollar project.
After having done all of that, the county grand jury would be free to make any recommendations it wishes, or to remain silent on the subject if it chooses.
And if the grand jury comes back in support of the Darnell Road site, I won’t complain about it again.
You see, I trust the men and women on the Jackson County Grand Jury. They are a cross-section of our county and represent those who will have to pay for and live with this huge decision.
But I do not trust the chairman of our county commissioners, or his followers. He has lied to the public and they have been acquiescent in his deceit.
The citizens of Jackson County deserve an unbiased inquiry into this matter.
The grand jury should do that on our behalf.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
October 30, 2002

Pat Bell Deserves
To Be Re-Elected
Looking over the slate of candidates who want to stay on or get on the public payroll, it's hard to get excited about any of them. But there is one incumbent we can say without reservation deserves to be sent back to the Georgia House of Representatives for another term.
That's Rep. Pat Bell, who literally worked tirelessly during the past two years to provide the best government she could for citizens of Jackson County and the state. No legislator stayed busier nor worked harder on behalf of her constituents than Rep. Bell.
In the 2002 session alone, Bell worked with Commerce School Superintendent Larry White to preserve $3.57 million in school capital outlay spending in the state budget – which included $241,836 for the Commerce schools. She fought successfully to retain Jackson County's ability to elect a representative during the nasty and partisan bickering over reapportionment. She supported Sen. Mike Beatty's bill to increase the homestead exemption for senior citizens, sponsored a bill allowing Georgia teachers to return to classrooms after retiring without penalty and brought to the attention of the Board of Regents the need for a teachers' college in Georgia. She also promoted passage of a bill to increase the funding for the state LARP program, which is so crucial for local governments in getting roads and streets paved.
Rep. Bell, who worked hard for the creation of the Bear Creek Reservoir as a county commissioner, has worked just as diligently as a state legislator to make sure the state keeps its hands off the water paid for by residents of Jackson, Barrow, Oconee and Athens-Clarke counties. In her two years in office, she has also demonstrated her ability to work within the political system, yet she has been willing to stand against both the governor and the speaker of the house in the representation of her constituents.
Pat Bell deserves to be re-elected next Tuesday to a second term as the representative from District 25. A vote for Bell is a vote to put the hardest-working representative in the state back to work for the people of Jackson County two more years.


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