Jackson County Opinions...

JANUARY 8, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
January 8, 2003

Resolution: Give Blood Six Times During The Year
It's probably just another confirmation that I'm out of touch with reality, but I still believe in making New Year's resolutions. Or, at least I get some sort of desire near the end of one year or beginning of the next to re-evaluate and set a course for improvement.
I don't think I did that last year. Not in the mood, as I recall, but this year I developed some goals relating to work and other areas. One thing I learned quite early is that there is always, regretfully, lots of room for improvement. Part of that is because the goals that sound so good in early January tend not to be so convenient to actually fulfill. The gap between real and ideal ever broadens.
But I made one "resolution" that I have a fair shot at actually achieving: I resolved to try to give blood six times this year.
Doubtlessly, there are people who would like to see me bleed more often and at a greater volume, but my goal is to serve the Red Cross, not my detractors.
The first opportunity, if my timing works out, will be Tuesday at the First Baptist Church of Commerce, when the church and the Red Cross hold their first of three blood drives for the year. Actually, Commerce Presbyterian Church is a partner in those "community" drives and, last I heard, three other blood drives will be held at the Presbyterian Church. The total of six is not coincidental to my goal.
Giving blood more frequently is not the most important goal I've set; it's just the one I choose to make public because I think I can meet it and because the need for blood donors is always severe.
I've donated 48 pints dating back to 1974, but the most I've given in a year is four. Since one can donate every 56 days, six times a year is a possibility.
What makes giving blood a big deal?
Because blood is a critical commodity in hospitals all over Georgia and it is perpetually in short supply. In fact, each year the ability of the Red Cross to supply whole blood or blood components seems to get worse as new restrictions on blood donations take affect and the apathy of the general public, except in times of disaster like Sept. 11, continues.
Blood is life. Science cannot manufacture human blood, nor can it use blood from other mammals. The only source doctors have for blood for emergency and scheduled surgery and for treatment of disease is from donors. That means the health of millions of Americans every year depends on donations of blood from you and me. I plan to do my part this year.
Americans are the most generous people in the world when it comes to supporting good and noble causes with their money. They’re not so good at donating their blood, maybe because they’re squeamish about the idea, possibly because it is inconvenient, or perhaps due to ignorance about the need. People came through in a huge way after Sept. 11, 2001, but the terrorists’ attacks did not create the huge expected need for blood, so for a few weeks the Red Cross had all the blood it needed. Then the shortfall resumed, and it continues.
Donating six pints doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility for '03.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
January 8, 2003

Courthouse ‘deal’ just blackmail
When anyone connected with the Jackson County government proposes a “deal,” it’s time to watch your backside. The only kind of “deal” our county leaders know is one that assures their own control.
Sadly, such is the case with a proposed “deal” on the courthouse site. County commissioners Emil Beshara and Stacey Britt have proposed to the Jefferson City Council the following “deal:”
The county would allow its architect to “study” an alternative courthouse site near the Jefferson by-pass if Jefferson leaders agree to: pay $10,000 of the cost; support the outcome no matter what it is; and support a 2005 SPLOST with 50-55 percent of the money used to pay the debt of building a new courthouse.
But why, we ask, should Jefferson leaders go along with such a proposal?
They shouldn’t. The proposal is just another political ploy by the BOC.
The truth is, the BOC has no intention of doing a serious study of any other site for a courthouse except on Darnell Road.
For one thing, it is not the City of Jefferson’s responsibility to do a site selection study for a courthouse. The BOC failed to do a site study last year before it purchased the Darnell Road land. It cannot now cover that ineptitude by using Jefferson in a pseudo-study.
Any “study” done now by the county’s architect would be tainted. That architect is hardly an independent voice in the process since he is beholden to the BOC for his paycheck.
The real motive behind Beshara and Britt’s approach to Jefferson is to neutralize the city for an upcoming SPLOST vote. They want to be able to say later that the county did a “study” of more than one site and they want to muddy the political water in Jefferson so that the city’s leadership won’t oppose the SPLOST move in 2005.
But what the BOC really wants is not a SPLOST, but blackmail. They intend to build the courthouse now by borrowing money through a county building authority. Then in 2005, the BOC plans to tell taxpayers that the debt is due. The choice will be to approve a SPLOST, or face a property tax hike.
That’s blackmail, pure and simple. It is a maneuver to avoid having to go to the public in advance for a bond referendum or wait for a SPLOST vote before construction begins.
If the BOC were sincere about doing an independent site selection study, it would have done that before it purchased 155 acres on Darnell Road.
Now a year later, the BOC cannot attempt to cover up that failure by using Jefferson leaders to give a veneer of legitimacy to the process by participating in a study after the fact.
Jefferson should decline to participate in this farce and in 2005, should use its political influence to help kill any SPLOST vote that includes paying a huge courthouse debt that voters did not get a chance to approve beforehand.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
January 8, 2003

Time to stop BOC’s lust for power
If there was ever any doubt that the members of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners have an insatiable lust for power, that doubt was dispelled Monday night.
The board agreed Monday to a takeover of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority. It is a direct assault on the county’s business leadership and on the idea of checks-and-balances within your county government.
The action comes a little over a year after the BOC did a similar move to take over the county’s planning commission. Apparently, the BOC cannot stand to have its control diluted by outside agencies and commissions.
Several of the BOC members have told me they believe all the county’s power should rest with them; they are elected and therefore, appointed officials should do their bidding, not be independent of them.
But that is not the way local government is supposed to work. Just because some one is an elected official does not mean that person, or the board they serve on, should breathe all the air in local decision-making. There is a legitimate role for quasi-independent authorities to make decisions one-step removed from the political process. Sometimes, there is even a role for the public to play in making large decisions that will affect a community. (Read “courthouse.”)
The two commissioners who carried the ball on the water authority takeover, Emil Beshara and Stacey Britt, attempted to legitimize the effort by suggesting that the authority would continue to decide where water lines would be put.
But that’s just a cover. If water authority members are appointed for only one-year terms, they will be gone if they dare oppose the direction of their BOC “sponsor.” If you don’t believe that, look at the record. One-year terms for authorities are just a ploy to get submissive “yes” men in place.
The truth is, Britt and his cohorts want to personally control where water and sewerage lines are put. They want to do favors for political supporters and friends; they don’t want a real independent authority to make decisions based on technical or financial considerations. Britt and colleagues want to make decisions based on political and personal considerations. Reward friends, punish enemies and get rich in the process. That’s the real game going on here.
There’s another factor at play in this takeover as well. The BOC wants to get rid of former chairman Jerry Waddell as water superintendent. For some unexplained reason, the BOC members have a personal dislike of Waddell and have long sought his ouster.
The decision to seek legislation that would allow the BOC to take control of the water authority should be opposed by everyone who is concerned about the future direction of Jackson County. It should especially be opposed by the county’s business leadership, which has so far been deafeningly silent on the consolidation of power within the BOC.
Business leaders know that they are next on the agenda. If the board is successful in taking control of the water authority, it’s next target is economic development in the county. The BOC would like to create an economic development department within county government and banish the county’s chamber of commerce and any other group that might be independent of its direct control. Indeed, the BOC wanted to weaken the county industrial development authority, but to do that would require a vote of the public, an action the BOC knows it would never win. That idea was dropped Monday night.
But as soon as the fight with the water authority is over, the BOC will abolish its relationship with the chamber of commerce and create an in-house department to represent the county on economic development projects.
That would be a disaster for the community. Jackson County has been very successful in recent years in attracting new businesses and industries. That success is because of efforts from the private sector working with local government.
But this BOC cannot abide the private sector. They believe government should control all decision-making, the public be damned.
It’s time for this consolidation of power to be stopped. It’s time for the public and the business community to wake up to what is happening within their county government and draw a line.
Every effort should be made to derail the BOC’s plans at taking over the water authority. To allow politicians to control that board with one-year terms and less authority would be to politicize growth issues in Jackson County to an extent that will never be undone.
And you, the taxpayers, will pay dearly for that in the coming years. A small group of political insiders will get rich on the backs of county residents. They will control where water and sewerage lines go. If you aren’t politically connected, you will go thirsty while a developer with local political clout gets to water his sod next door.
And if you sit by silent now in the face of this water authority takeover, don’t complain in the future about how corrupt and politicized your county government has become. Don’t complain that wealthy developers from outside the county get water for their projects while your chicken houses and homes and small business go dry.
And don’t complain when this bunch puts the county water system in financial straits from its own incompetent management.
The water authority belongs to you, the people of Jackson County. It does not belong to five men who seek to use it for their own inside political deals.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.



Editorial
The Commerce News
January 8, 2003

Commerce Must Work To Attract Industry
With a new year under way, it is an opportune time for the city of Commerce to address a growing need that has largely been ignored. That is the need to balance its tax digest by attracting industry to Commerce.
The city's population continues to grow rapidly, the major result of which is that its school system enrollment is surging. More teachers, more classrooms and even a new school are required, which results in greater costs to maintain and operate the Commerce School System, which is funded by property taxes.
The houses occupied by the new residents contribute to the city's tax digest, but the cost of educating those new children is far greater than the revenue to be derived from taxing their residences. It takes a home valued at almost $400,000 to generate sufficient property taxes to provide the services required by the occupants of that house.
That is exactly why communities seek industry and any community whose tax base is too heavily weighted towards residences can expect to see its school taxes grow rapidly.
For Commerce, attracting industry will not be easy and is not likely to occur overnight. The city is already a decade behind in starting. Further delay borders on the irresponsible.
The first thing the Commerce City Council needs to do is to go to the table with Jackson County's industrial development team. The Industrial Development Authority and the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce (in particular its Economic Development Committee) would welcome regular participation by city officials. In the meantime, Commerce officials need to develop a game plan. What do they hope to accomplish? What local sites are best suited for industrial use? What kind of commitment is the city willing to give to make industrial growth more likely? How will the city enlist the aid and support of the owners of prime tracts?
Located on the east side of Jackson County, Commerce is somewhat at a disadvantage, compared to Braselton or Jefferson, just by proximity to Atlanta. But officials have to go with what they have and maximize whatever resources are available. In the competitive world of economic development, the city cannot stand by and wait for industry to suddenly arrive. Industries that might be interested in a Commerce location have a world of other opportunities to get the same proximity to Atlanta on Interstates 85, 75 and 20 and in locations where community leaders make it plain they want industrial growth. And while Jefferson and Braselton have sizable industrial parks that are privately owned, the governments of those communities have also long been part of the development effort while Commerce's officials have been inactive.
There is nothing more important Commerce can do for its children than assure the city's ability to maintain a quality school system. Commerce has only two sources of revenue to achieve that goal. One is property taxes; the other is its utility revenues. Unless the city council is willing to begin using utility profits to operate its schools, it had better begin working on expanding its industrial tax base. The Commerce City Council should make economic development its top priority for 2003 – and for years to come.


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