Jackson County Opinions...

MARCH 26, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
March 26, 2003

Give The Troops Raises, Double
Their Rations
In many ways, it's hard to tell that there is a war going on – until you see a newspaper or turn on a radio or TV. And there it is – until you turn it off.
Veterans of armed conflicts know that the war doesn't end when we quit paying attention. Yet while men and women are engaged in life or death activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, life appears to be normal on Main Street America.
Most of us are fighting this war by proxy. We've hired men and women to defend us, and if you've paid any attention at all to the news, you have to be impressed. Granted, Iraq isn't exactly the Soviet Union, but the combination of America's power, technology and the competency of individual soldiers is elevating warfare to a new level. "Shock and awe" are legitimate words to describe what the Armed forces can do and "professional" is an apt description of our warriors.
If only we were as proficient at making peace as we are at making war. There has never been any doubt that the military would quash Iraq; the questions relate to whether we can do it without making things worse and whether the leadership that excels at making war can be equally efficient at rebuilding and healing. We'll win the war. Will we win the peace?
But let's win the war before we worry about the peace. Things are going well enough as of this writing to allow a little confidence that the worst-case scenarios may not come to pass. Among them:
•an attack on Israel to spread the war across the Middle East.
•the use of weapons of mass destruction
•terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Certainly our military and intelligence professionals know that the possibility of any of those still exists. The casualty rate that is low today could spike for any number of reasons tomorrow. Anything can happen, but so far, so good.
I have been impressed with the news coverage made possible by "embedding" journalists with the troops. This has a secondary benefit I'd not foreseen – as Keith Massey pointed out, families of soldiers can get a much better understanding of what their loved ones are experiencing by logging on to the websites of news organizations embedded in their soldiers' units. I expect it sometimes heightens anxiety and there will be times when it is traumatic, but the families troops will appreciate being better informed.
That coverage also demonstrates the professionalism and competency of the American military, a benefit to the Pentagon and to Americans. Kudos to the Pentagon for allowing it to happen and to the journalists willing to take risks like those of the troops they cover – for our benefit.
It seems strange that we go to work, watch ball games, shop and go to sleep and awaken on time while halfway across the world our men and women are dropping bombs, firing missiles and artillery shells – and trying their best to avoid getting killed. Our lives are barely changed as they endure the hell of war.
But that is the point, isn't it? They put their lives on the line so we can maintain peace and security.
We should give them our praise, a pay raise and double rations of rum!


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
March 26, 2003

Communication breakdown an internal BOC problem
Just where is the communications problem in Jackson County government?
Over and over, members of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners complain that they haven’t been told about important issues.
The lack of communication was one of the reasons given by the BOC in its ill-fated attempt to take over the county water authority.
Now that same lack of communication is being trotted out by some on the BOC intent on taking over the county’s economic development efforts.
We can’t say for sure what the BOC has missed in the way of communication. We believe some members just like “gossip” and to feel they are “in the know.” Perhaps some of it is also due to inattention on the part of BOC members.
But the main problem seems to come from within the BOC’s administrative structure. Packages of information are delivered to the county administrative building, but never get put in the hands of the commissioners. Information is shared with the county manager, but it never gets passed along to the entire board.
So what’s the real problem?
We believe there is a coordinated attempt being made by someone in the county administration, perhaps involving county manager Al Crace, to manipulate the flow of information to certain BOC members.
Of course, the scope of county government is vast and it is perhaps impossible to keep all board members informed about every detail. County agency heads, for example, should not have to call all five county commissioners about every detail.
But there appears to be a concerted and centralized effort being made to manage and control the flow of information within the county government, both in what is presented for public consumption and in what is released to some of the county commissioners.
This kind of manipulation of information has the fingerprints of Crace and BOC chairman Harold Fletcher all over it. It is their style of doing business.
It is also one reason the public has so little trust in its county government.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
March 26, 2003

Taxpayers should have say in county debt
Here, in the middle of an economic recession, our county leaders are trying to commit the citizens of Jackson County to the largest long-term debt in the county’s history.
And they are trying to do that without any public input or say-so.
There is no doubt that Jackson County needs a new courthouse. It also needs a new jail and new administrative offices.
But the way the Jackson County Board of Commissioners has gone about this process is the worst example of government I’ve ever seen.
And we as taxpayers are about to pay a huge price for that lack of leadership.
Already the BOC has spent nearly $3 million for 160 acres on the fringe of Jefferson for a courthouse complex. It has no roads or other infrastructure in place. It is a remote area of the county away from the major growth corridors. It’s far, far more land than the county will ever need.
But it is there, in the middle of nowhere, county leaders propose to build a $25-$35 million judicial center.
There is no new jail in the plans.
There are no new administrative offices in the plans.
All of that will cost additional money, if the BOC ever decides to seriously look at those needs.
Just look at the plans for this judicial center — a huge, grand structure that is designed to impress citizens.
Great. I’m all for building an impressive building.
But for goodness sake, put it where it will be seen! Why are we planning to hide a $30-$35 million building?
But what is really bad about this issue isn’t just the lousy location. What’s really infuriating is that county leaders plan to obligate taxpayers to a huge debt with no public approval.
The citizens had no say in the location of this building. Now citizens are being bypassed in having a say about paying for it.
If local legislators approve, the BOC will create a “building authority” that would have an open checkbook. By doing a complex lease-buy deal, the county plans to borrow the funds for their courthouse and obligate taxpayers for the debt.
And we as taxpayers will have no say in the matter.
Of course, if the BOC’s plans were sound, all that group would have to do is call for a vote on a bond referendum. The citizens could then decide the fate of the project at the ballot box.
But by creating a building authority, the BOC is attempting to bypass the citizens. That group knows that it does not have the standing to carry a bond referendum because of the way it has mismanaged the courthouse issue.
It isn’t right. Taxpayers should have the right to vote on such a huge debt. Indeed, the lease-buy deal in the works is just a way to bypass the Georgia Constitution, which says local governments cannot obligate taxpayers to debt without voter approval.
Taxpayers should not be obligated to this grand scheme without a voice.
But the BOC doesn’t want to hear from you. They don’t care what you think. They don’t care how much their plans will increase your taxes.
Let’s hope that our legislative delegation will do the right thing here and stop this madness.
Yes, we need a new courthouse. No one has disputed that.
But we don’t need one rammed down our throats without a vote.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
March 26, 2003

It’s About Control
Give the Jackson County Commissioners credit for one thing: they’re consistent. At least in the area of consolidating their authority.
Last week they made public what we’ve known for some time, that they want to control the economic development activity by “taking lead role in negotiations.” The commissioners are at the table taking the lead already, because only they may offer concessions. In spite of claims to the contrary, this board of commissioners was at the table from Day 1 in talks with MACI. They have controlled all negotiations and if individuals on the board were uninformed, that is yet one more in a string of many examples of the poor communications in the County Administrative Building.
Interestingly, during the MACI “negotiations” two county commissioners proposed abating some school taxes – something the county has never done, and for good reason.
No, this isn’t about fiscal responsibility, nor accountability to the voters. It’s another attempt by the board of commissioners to gain total control of every aspect of county government.


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