Jackson County Opinions...

JANUARY 15, 2003

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
January 15, 2003

How Does War With Iraq Make America Safer?
Asked to give a preview of the potential for attracting more industry to Georgia next year, the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast speaker said the prospects looked good.
Then he hedged his bet.
"It all depends on Iraq," he said.
A whole lot depends upon Iraq, or, more accurately, on President George W. Bush's desire to invade Iraq.
Actually, nobody really knows what will happen if we undertake another Gulf War. Certainly I don't, not that I would expect to be privy to enough hard data to make an enlightened guess. But the president doesn't know what the results will be either. Nor the secretaries of state and defense, the generals nor anyone in the media.
Ignorance of the ramifications of another war has done nothing to quell America’s lust for war, enthusiasm that exists in spite of the fact that Bush has made no strong case yet why we should go to war. As Jimmy Carter observed, war for any reason is evil, but there are times when it is unavoidable and necessary. Our president has told us that America has proof Iraq has terrible weapons, but so far he has neither delivered the proof nor evidence that Saddam Hussein plans to use them against America. Neither he nor anyone in the government has demonstrated that America needs this war.
I suspect Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and would love to see them deployed against us. As in court, however, I would like to believe beyond a reasonable doubt not only that he has those weapons, but that he has attempted or plotted to use them against us. Then we can talk about war.
Considering that a conflict could kill thousands of Iraqis and Americans, I'd like more evidence. Given all of the disastrous results war could bring, the concept that Iraq may have weapons of mass destruction and may wish to use them against America is not enough. In fact, war would seem like the best way to entice Iraq to use such weapons if it has them.
The Gulf War of 1991 was a war of low casualties for us, with fewer than 200 American lives lost, a level that stunned even the most optimistic generals. A second war might be just as "easy." Then again, it might claim tens of thousands of lives, which would make people ask the question not yet answered. What is this war about?
It is not about weapons of mass destruction in the hands of unfriendly regimes, because if it were, the focus would be on North Korea.
The war won't end in Iraq. Fighting could spread throughout the Middle East, but even if it does not, an American attack will create thousands more extremists bent on harming America. It will inspire terrorists to new heights, turn radicals into terrorists and moderates into radicals. Those aren't reasons not to go to war if war is truly in the interest of national security and world peace. They’re just part of the price to be paid.
My opinion will matter not a whit in the great debate, which is fine. Just let there be a real debate, not a rubber stamp approval of the president’s agenda. Show us how invading Iraq will make the world or even just America safer.

The Jackson Herald
January 15, 2003

Why a BOC takeover of water authority is a bad idea
Why does the Jackson County Board of Commissioners want to take over the county’s water authority? That’s a good question, one that the BOC has yet to answer.
In presenting the takeover plan to the full board last week, commissioners Emil Beshara and Stacey Britt failed to say exactly why the BOC needs to do the takeover.
Perhaps that’s because it’s not a good idea. The real reason the board wants to take over the water authority is political. It’s a move to oust former commission chairman Jerry Waddell as water superintendent and to consolidate the board’s power over development and infrastructure in the county.
Although the BOC cannot give the public any reason why it needs to take over the water authority, we can give a list of nine reasons why it’s a bad idea, to wit:
1. A takeover would destroy checks-and-balances in county government. Currently, the decisions on where, how and when water and sewer services are delivered are arms-length from politics by having those decisions made by the appointed water authority. If the BOC itself makes those decisions, the process becomes political and much more open to abuse.
2. A takeover would go against the public’s wishes as defined in the last SPLOST vote. When 67 percent of the voters approved the last SPLOST in 1999, it was with the understanding that the water projects built with those funds would be managed by the water authority, not the BOC. To yank the reigns away from the authority in the middle of the SPLOST projects is a slap at voters.
3. A takeover could endanger the huge Toyota project north of Jefferson. Sewerage is an important part of the package that the county offered to lure Toyota, but making sewerage available at the site won’t be easy. At best, it’s a complicated ordeal that may require a joint venture between the City of Jefferson and the water authority. We doubt, however, that Jefferson would be a willing partner in a situation where the authority has been emasculated by the BOC. This is an important project for the county and the BOC’s takeover could stall or kill it.
4. A takeover is not needed. The water authority has a track record of doing a good job in Jackson County. It has good people on its board and it has been making what we believe to be sound decisions about the development of water and sewerage in the county. The BOC has not and cannot refute that.
5. A takeover comes before the system is “mature.” There may be a day in the future when the county government should create a county department to manage an in-place system. But as long as decisions are being made over the placement of major water and sewer lines, those decisions should be done by an independent authority, not a political BOC.
6. A takeover is not needed because the BOC already has a great deal of input into the authority’s decision-making process. Both county manager Al Crace and BOC chairman Harold Fletcher have been part of the authority’s decision-making process on key issues. Indeed, right now three of the five authority members were appointed by the current BOC and the other two will have their terms end this year. Thus, the authority is dominated by appointees of the current BOC. The only reason for wanting to go to one-year terms on the authority is to give the BOC a hatchet to hang over the authority members who don’t do the BOC’s political bidding.
7. A takeover would put the future of the county’s development into too few hands. The BOC has already taken over the county planning and zoning commission. If it is successful in taking over the water authority, the only independent voice left on development will be the chamber of commerce and business community. We have no doubt that if the BOC is successful now, it will seek total control over development by establishing an economic development department. It would be bad for the citizens of the county if the BOC had total control over zoning, water/sewer and economic development. There would be no voice left to restrain their power.
8. A takeover would violate the wishes of the community. The BOC is our elected county leadership, but in this vital matter, that board does not speak for the community. In fact, the water authority was created as a political subdivision of the state government, not county government, and as such is responsible to all the citizens in Jackson County, not just those five men. That’s why it’s important for our legislative delegation to listen not only to what the BOC may want to do, but also to the community at-large.
9. A takeover could bankrupt the water authority and force property taxpayers to cover the debt. If water and sewer lines are placed based on political favors and not financial considerations, the system will go broke. Taxpayers will then be saddled with paying off the debt.
We believe a vast majority of the citizens in Jackson County are opposed to this proposed BOC takeover of the water authority. Most citizens see it for what it is, a grab for more power so that a handful of men can control the destiny of Jackson County and perhaps enrich themselves in the process.
It shouldn’t be allowed to happen. We call on our state representatives and senators to investigate this issue fully before acting on the BOC’s misguided and self-serving efforts.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
January 15, 2003

History of water authority tells real story
The attempt by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to take over the county water authority is one of the most serious issues to face this community in several years.
But there are a lot of new people to the community who may not fully understand why it’s so important. In fact, two of the commissioners who want so badly to take control, Emil Beshara and Stacey Britt, weren’t living in the county when the water authority was created and so perhaps their misguided efforts stem from a lack of background.
To set the record straight, and to put this issue into a proper perspective, here’s a little history about when and why the county water authority was created.
The need for a county water system had been discussed informally in Jackson County since the 1960s when federal revenue sharing became available for such local projects. But at the time, there were no subdivisions in the county and outside the towns, no real density of population to support such a system.
But the idea lingered and in 1980, the county’s fire departments got together and made a push for a county water system to serve the unincorporated areas of the county. The idea went public with the joint backing of the firemen and county chamber of commerce, but died for a lack of coordination and leadership.
In 1985, however, the idea again came to the fore. That effort was by the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and involved the county industrial development authority and the board of commissioners. The county was in the middle of a serious drought at the time and water resources were a key concern to the community.
In the fall of 1985, those three groups went together and funded a formal study by a consultant of a county water system. In February 1986, the consultant issued his report and shortly after that, legislation was introduced to create the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority.
There are several key aspects about that which are important in today’s debate.
First, the creation of the water authority was a joint effort, not just a unilateral move by the BOC.
Second, the consultant and those three organizations studied the issue of whether or not a countywide water system should be done as a department under the BOC, or as an independent authority — they chose an independent authority model.
And third, the legislation that set up the water authority created it as a political subdivision of the state, not the county government. Thus the water authority does not answer to the BOC, but rather carries out duties delegated to it by the state for the citizens of the county.
All of that begs the question: How can the BOC act now to unilaterally abandon the water authority without the support of those other groups which were key to its creation? Why didn’t it consult with the IDA and chamber of commerce before seeking to change the structure?
Following 1986, the water authority got off to a slow start. But it later decided to ask for a SPLOST vote to finance the building of a county water system. In the meantime, the Bear Creek regional group was created to build a watershed for source water and Jefferson expanded its municipal water systems to I-85. Both of those actions had an impact on the direction the county water authority would take over the next decade.
In 1999, the Water Wise issue hit the county. That later led the water authority into buying the old Texfi waste water plant from Water Wise and opened the door for the authority to get into the sewerage business.
The other important thing about that was that the BOC, the City of Jefferson and the authority all worked together to stop the Water Wise deal. In fact, the BOC funded the purchase of the sewerage plant for the authority.
But that relationship began to break down in 2001 after the current group of commissioners took office. Several BOC members didn’t like the fact that the authority had hired Jerry Waddell, the former commission chairman, as water superintendent. The BOC made it clear that it expected the water authority to do its bidding and follow its direction. In short, the BOC didn’t (and doesn’t now) view the water authority as being an independent agency, but rather just an extension of itself to carry out BOC orders.
That, of course, is wrong. The water authority was set up to be quasi-independent from the BOC so that political pressures wouldn’t determine where water and sewer services were offered in the county.
Everything the BOC is now attempting to do flys in the face of that. Members of the BOC can complain all they want about an independent water authority, but in light of the real history, what they are doing is nothing but an effort to consolidate power and control over development in the county.
They must not be allowed to do that. We need an independent water authority to keep some checks-and-balances in county government.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
January 15, 2003

Commissioners’ Power Play Is Appalling
Voters and taxpayers of Jackson County should be appalled at the relentless attempt by the county commissioners to consolidate all decision making to themselves.
The latest effort, but certainly not their first, is their vote last week to seek local legislation to emasculate the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority. Under the guise of relieving volunteers of the responsibility of day-to-day operations, the commissioners seek control over when, where and for whom water and sewer lines are laid. The current authority members, who serve five-year terms, would be replaced by yes men appointed to serve one-year terms so as to give the board of commissioners more leverage over appointees.
Last year, the commissioners did much the same thing with the Jackson County Planning Commission. This year it is the water and sewerage authority (and the airport authority). If they get their way, the commissioners will remove decisions about virtually every public facility or service from citizens and place them into the hands of politicians. That is the Jackson County Board of Commissioners' idea of checks and balances.
The theory of putting operations into a county department has merit, but the motives behind the change are purely political. First, the commissioners, whatever they claim, want the power to control where lines are built and who gets contracts; second, they want to remove Jerry Waddell, former chairman of the board of commissioners, from his job as superintendent of the water and sewerage authority. Both motives are purely self-serving. The latter is an exercise of petty political vindictiveness but the former has devastating implications for the development of the county and the credibility of its government.
To date, the authority's citizen makeup has served it well. Decisions on where water and sewer lines are run have been based on meeting the most critical needs, getting the most customers for the money spent and satisfying the hydrology requirements of the system. The volunteers have directed the building of a water system from scratch. They are now building a sewerage system, and they have managed to avoid the kind of political machinations which the commissioners appear to actively pursue. Once the authority is gutted, the authority members will be on the short leash of one-year terms, subject to replacement if they fail to do their masters' bidding.
The commissioners' lust for total control is disappointing and shameful but not surprising. These men have repeatedly shown disdain for the opinions and service of citizen groups, from the authorities appointed by the commissioners to the citizens' committee charged with selecting a courthouse site. They have consistently picked at the water and sewerage authority about line locations, suggested that tax revenues were spent illegally (in spite of the fact that their attorney, finance director and auditor disagreed) and complained about not being informed.
The only citizens this group wants to hear from are those they see when they look in the mirror; to them, a balance of power means absolute power – and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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