Jackson County Opinions...

MARCH 12, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
March 12, 2003

Still No Good Reason For
War With Iraq
Let's assume that the United States, with or without the United Nations, goes to war. If we're going to put our young men and women into war, let's not hide under the term "police action" as in Korea and Vietnam. If we're going to have a war, let's do it right, declare war and list for the record those politicians who vote yea and those who vote nay.
You have surmised that I oppose this war. I'm with the commander in chief on pursuing al-Qaeda, and I do not disagree that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the Middle East and the United States.
Those factors do not constitute an excuse to go to war. After all, a lot of the rest of the world fits into that category and I am not enthusiastic about the idea that because someone wishes us ill we should destroy them because they might destroy us. With that kind of reasoning, we'll be busy, what with Libya, Iran, China, Cuba and North Korea in queue and, with a coup or two, Pakistan, Russia, Egypt, half the nations of Africa and a third of those in South America.
Imagine trying to defend yourself in court from an assault or murder on the grounds that the other party had the ability, the motive and the desire to hurt you, so you opted for a preemptive attack. Lots of luck.
What is the alternative? Intelligence, vigilance and diplomacy, for which there is absolutely no guarantee – not a pleasant concept, I agree. For one thing, it leaves us going to war only in the event we are attacked first, and in an era where an attack isn't going to be a few airplanes bombing a military target but more likely some kind of weapon capable of killing thousands, tens of thousands or even more civilians, it is not a great alternative.
Do we not lower ourselves to the level we expect of Iraq if we initiate war? In taking out an aggressor, we become one ourselves. In the eyes of the world, we have found our adversary guilty and pronounced judgment without so much as a pretense of trial and we rationalize that the rest of the world is ignorant and its opinion does not matter.
By attacking first, we surrender any moral high ground. The greatest casualties of war are not the combatants, but the innocents. When we inadvertently kill Iraqi children, as most certainly we will, our claim that we initiated war in self-defense will ring hollow abroad and in the U.S. Better Iraqi children than American children, you say? I say, let's not be the first to kill.
A world without Saddam Hussein will be no safer – and arguably may be much more dangerous – if the means of his removal is a war that creates more terrorists.
Today’s adversaries are not nations, but shadowy groups that may have the support of nations. Iraq may support terrorist groups, but so do Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Somalia, India and organizations in hosts of other nations. The race of the world’s powers to develop weapons of mass destruction provided the means for others with money to acquire those weapons. To attack Iraq, rather than settling anything, will convince other nations and radical groups that America is a fair target.
We can win a war with Iraq and still lose peace, security and everything else we’d hoped to preserve.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
March 12, 2003

Pray for peace, prepare for war
In the fog of war, reality is difficult to see. That is true on a battlefield, but it is also true in the current war of words being exchanged over President Bush’s plans to invade Iraq and oust that country’s dangerous dictator.
If the president is “beating the drums of war,” as his critics contend, then certainly those same critics are themselves clanging away with brass cymbals. By far, the critics of the President’s plans have gotten the lion’s share of media attention.
But is that because of the “rightness” of their anti-war cause, or because that effort has highlighted Hollywood “celebrities” and the media-friendly image of marchers in the street?
Critics of President Bush have been successful in not only garnering media attention, but also in driving the debate. They have, in fact, framed the issue as one of “the President hasn’t made the case for war.”
But let’s turn that around for a moment: Have the critics of the President’s plans “made the case to not have a war?”
Let’s examine some of the key points being raised by anti-war voices:
1. War is not necessary because Iraq isn’t a threat to the U.S.
Anything that de-stabilizes the Middle East is a threat to the U.S. If Iraq develops weapons of mass destruction, the entire region is in danger. That, in turn, endangers the global interests of the U.S.
2. Iraq should be contained, not invaded.
For the last decade, since the end of the Gulf War, the U.S. has attempted to “contain” Iraq. But in 1998, weapons inspectors were thrown out and several other nations, including France and Russia, have established almost normal relations with Iraq. Containment has been undermined and is impossible to enforce.
3. There is no evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.
We have not read all of the secret memos from national intelligence sources, so we cannot say for certain what President Bush does or does not know. But then, his critics haven’t read those memos either.
4. This is just a war for oil.
There have been many conflicts in the Middle East that revolve around access to that area’s oil. But in this case, it is not simply a matter of oil or peace. Would critics of the President be willing to guarantee that keeping Saddam in power will guarantee peace?
5. We should listen to our allies in Europe and not be the aggressive nation.
So we should wait until Iraq has dropped a few weapons of mass destruction before we act?
6. Going to war will only encourage anti-American sentiment and bring more acts of terror into the U.S.
We cannot cower on the world stage just because we fear retaliation. We did nothing to bring about 9-11, yet that event is a historical fact. We cannot appease those who would do us harm.

No one in this nation wants a war with Iraq, or any other nation. Yet there are times in this nation’s history when it has had to stand and fight, even if it meant we had to stand alone.
We do not know everything the President knows about the Iraq situation. But then, those men and women in our armed forces prepared to fight don’t know all the details either. Yet they stand ready to obey the orders of the nation’s Commander-in-Chief, giving their own lives if necessary to carry out this mission.
The time for second-guessing the path toward war has, we believe, come and gone. It is time for this nation to pull together, even if we have personal misgivings about some aspects of this decision.
We do not doubt the idealism that fuels the anti-war voices. But we find many of those voices lacking in logic and, at times, driven by the lure of media attention.
For our part, we will trust in the leadership of President Bush on Iraq until such time as it is proven, beyond any doubt, to not be in our national interest.
Hollywood may have its say, but we prefer the leadership of a real president in this matter to that of actor and leading anti-war activist Martin Sheen, who just plays one on TV.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
March 12, 2003

Local tax revolt of 1974
echos in county today
Taxpayers are angry and upset with county commission spending habits. No, I’m not talking about just today, but about a time nearly three decades ago, 1974-76.
Those three years saw a massive uprising by Jackson County citizens which eventually led to a major overhaul of the county’s board of commissioners. And while that was a long time ago, an interesting thread from that era continues today.
Here’s the history and how the events of those years connect to today’s political atmosphere.
In the fall of 1974, taxpayers all across Jackson County were angered by higher property taxes and the actions of the board of commissioners. A petition calling for the resignation of the three county commissioners was widely circulated and some 800 people met in a protest meeting at North Jackson Elementary School.
The taxpayers were upset by both the spending of the BOC, higher property assessments and higher taxes. In addition, the board had a bad habit of meeting in secret and making decisions in secret, moves which angered many citizens.
In 1975, the group of taxpayers formed a standing committee to pursue its anti-BOC position. That committee continued to hammer the BOC’s practices for weeks to come. The group also called for a new form of county government with five board members and a county manager. It was the first serious effort toward changing the county’s form of government.
Later in 1975, the committee hired a lawyer and sued the county over “arbitrary and capricious tax assessments.” In that effort, the committee had this to say:
“We now have a local government that conducts our business illegally, with impunity. We have a local government that hides behind closed doors in fear of the public. We have a local government, in short, that functions and acts as though its members were ordained rather than elected.”
I promise, I didn’t write those words last week — that was from the taxpayers’ revolt 28 years ago.
The committee didn’t get very far with the lawsuit and the effort to change the county government also stalled.
But the revolt was not for naught. In 1976, anger over the BOC’s actions led to a new group of men taking power. Two incumbent commissioners decided not to run again and the third was defeated at the ballot box.
It was the year that saw the late Henry Robinson become BOC chairman, a position he would occupy for the next decade and a half.
So what has all that got to do with today’s county politics?
Here’s the thread: One of the leading members of the taxpayer revolt committee was none other than Harold Fletcher, the current BOC chairman. Indeed, that taxpayer revolt launched his career in public office.
Fletcher made his first run for public office in 1976, defeating the embattled incumbent commissioner who stood for re-election that year. Fletcher ran on a platform calling for an “open administration” and for the BOC to “meet at a convenient time to more people.” He also said he would “afford to the public the courteous treatment they are due.” On taxation, he said: “Remember our tax money — shouldn’t it be spent wisely?”
That was Harold Fletcher in 1976.
But now, nearly 30 years later, the current Fletcher administration is the most closed and inaccessible county government since that BOC of the 1970s. The Fletcher board hates to meet under the glare of the public. Case in point: This coming weekend, the Fletcher board is holding a two-day BOC meeting in the mountains of North Georgia so local citizens can’t attend, witness or participate in those discussions. In 1976, he called for an “open” county government — today he leads one that is closed.
And when it comes to spending tax money, the Fletcher administration has been the most wasteful and inefficient custodian of taxpayer dollars in the history of Jackson County. This administration has created a huge county bureaucracy and is soaking up every tax dollar it can. Despite getting a $1 million tax windfall this year, the county didn’t give most of its employees a raise because of the inability to control costs. And that is not to even mention the waste associated with this administration’s courthouse efforts, or its refusal to even discuss how that project will be financed and paid for.
The Fletcher administration has sought to shut out public input at every level of county government. It has not given the public the “courteous treatment they are due.” Rather, this administration has sought to centralize power and to shut out other groups, governments and individual citizens from the governing process. Even worse, the Fletcher administration has destroyed public trust in county government.
Three decades ago, Fletcher stood shoulder-to-shoulder with citizens outraged at the wastefulness of their county leaders.
Three decades ago, he was the one standing on the outside of the BOC’s glass house, throwing bricks at the inane way county government was operated, demanding that the doors be open to the public. Back then, he was the rebel.
What happened to the “old” Harold Fletcher of 1976, the one that stood for honest government, the one that wanted to throw open the doors of county government to the public, the one that wanted fiscal accountability in county government spending, the one that championed public trust?
Alas, having tasted the heady wine of power and the intoxication of authority, Harold Fletcher was transformed from rebel to ruler and became what he once fought against.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
March 12, 2003

What Is Gained By
Letting BOE Levy Taxes?
It is widely expected that a major issue that the Commerce Board of Education wants to take up with the Commerce City Council at an out-of-town retreat later this month is that of taxation: More specifically, the empowering of the school board to levy and collect taxes independently of the city council.
The questions taxpayers should ask is, what's the good to the city school system and/or the city taxpayers in making this change?
Currently, the school board, once its budget is prepared, goes before the city council to get the council's approval of the budget. Since all local school funds are derived from property taxation, the approval of the school budget is tantamount to setting the tax rate – except the city adds a single mill of taxes to what the school system requests. The council can cut the school budget if it desires, but no one can remember the last time that was done. From the school board's point of view, since it is charged with the responsibility for educating children, it should be able to acquire the money necessary to fulfill that responsibility.
The city council does not object to turning taxing authority over to the school system, but it has warned that with the power of taxation come other responsibilities. Currently, the city advance funds the school board with monthly payments in the months before property taxes come in, and regardless of whether all taxes levied are collected, the school board gets every nickel requested to fund its budget. In addition, the city maintains the tax digest and is responsible for collections. The council has indicated that if the school board is granted taxing authority, the city will have no reason to provide the manpower to maintain the digest and collect the revenue.
Those changes are significant. The school system should have no problem managing its finances in normal years because it can borrow during the early months of the school year from its reserve fund, repaying it as tax money arrives during December and January. But frequently tax bills do not go out on time, so the board must be prepared for that eventuality. In addition, the city never collects the full levy. Property values can decline between the time the tax rate is set and when the bills are prepared, due to appeals on assessments. The levy also covers personal property on which, if the taxes are not paid in the first year or two, are likely to never be paid because the property is disposed of. And, of course, there are always at least four or five percent of the bills that are not paid.
The biggest change will come if the city council contracts with Jackson County to collect its one mill; the school system will either have to handle billing and collections itself or contract similarly. The county charges six percent for those services.
That makes a big difference. The school board would have to raise its tax rate six percent to cover collection costs now incurred by the city and build in four to five percent to cover uncollected taxes. Suddenly, the local cost of operating the schools has gone 10 to 11 percent up without making a single additional penny available for facilities or programs.
The BOE and city council may believe the cost of achieving independence from the city government is worthwhile, but taxpayers and parents are more interested in how much they pay and how it is used. Before the current system is changed, they will want to be assured that there are benefits equal to or greater than the cost and that consist of more than the ability of the board to satisfy its desire to be independent of the city government.
The idea is just one item – and maybe not the most important one – for discussion at the retreat. Before a change is enacted, the matter must be approved in open meetings of both groups and by the General Assembly. Somewhere in the process, the council and BOE will have to explain how the change will benefit tax rates and/or the education of children.


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