Jackson County Opinions...

MAY 7, 2003

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
May 7, 2003

Support Your Friends, Honor
Your Convictions
The American public has rejected all things French following France's opposition to the war in Iraq.
This has led to an interest among Americans in expressing patriotism through giving up anything that comes from France. In fact, the keynote speaker at the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting last month wrote a booklet, "Patriotic Economics: How to Thrive While Helping America," which touched on that subject.
You can express an opinion on any number of subjects through economic sanctions. I'm not talking about limiting trade with Cuba or Iraq, but of making personal purchasing or lifestyle decisions that coincide with one's religious, political or any other beliefs.
For example, some veterans of World War II refused to purchase a car manufactured in Germany or Japan (based on their theater of operations). Today, many people purchase shade-grown coffee to show support for environmental-friendly agricultural practices in Colombia.
So, if you're a wine drinker and want to get back at the French for their anti-American sentiments, buy wine made in America or produced in Argentina or Australia.
Individually, such actions do very little. Collectively, they can make a difference. More importantly they empower each of us with the opportunity to reward businesses or countries we believe in and to punish those we feel have not acted in the best interest of our country or of us as individual consumers.
That's little different from moving your business from one bank to another because of poor customer service. We "reward" those who treat us well by giving them our business. In this case, we're choosing to do business with our friends and removing it from those we no longer consider friends.
One of the reasons our family buys groceries at Quality Foods is because Verlin Reece closes the store Sunday and refuses to sell beer and wine – decisions he made on principle. We appreciate people of principle – even though we use beer and wine and sometimes go to a store on Sundays.
When we make purchasing choices in support of our professed beliefs, we are being consistent. If we ignore principle, we're hypocritical – as when we import massive amounts of oil from Saudi Arabia, a country we know finances terrorists with the proceeds of our purchases.
Our convictions should make a difference in how we act, what we say and how we spend our money. It is not necessary to make an issue of why we choose one product over another; we can let our dollars speak quietly on our behalf.
Purchasing power is just another way to exercise our convictions and to reward those of like mind. The satisfaction isn't in trying to force a company to change its views or to make a country's balance sheet slip into the red. It's in finding a way to live up to personal convictions, or to support others who do the same.
Using your dollars to express your views is as American as the Bill of Rights and making a purchase involves more than getting the best price.
It’s your money; support your friends and honor your convictions.

The Jackson Herald
May 7, 2003

Gloss won’t cover other mistakes
We’ve got to admit, the design plans for a proposed new courthouse are impressive. While we can’t speak to the merits of its internal layout, the exterior does present a pretty architectural design.
But even a glossy exterior can’t cover a rotten foundation underneath, in this case that foundation being the decision-making process used by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to site and fund the proposed facility.
It astounds us that county leaders want to build such a high-profile building away from the county’s main traffic corridors — in effect, hiding it in the woods along Darnell Road.
The decision last year to buy 160 acres in a remote area for a new courthouse was flawed from the start, as we have said here many times. The location was picked for political purposes, not public accommodation.
The lack of any objective site search process led to that bad decision and anything that now stems from that decision carries the same flaw. The proposed design may be pretty, but it is still a poison fruit, tainted by the soil which covers the roots of the vine.
But the location is just one problem. A much larger issue is the fact that county leaders intend to obligate county citizens to a huge debt without first getting voter approval of such a debt. By using a backdoor lease-purchase scheme, leaders intend to obligate taxpayers to $25 million in debt without any vote.
That goes against the Georgia Constitution, which clearly states that: “no such county, municipality, or other political subdivision shall incur any new debt without the assent of a majority of the qualified voters of such county, municipality, or political subdivision voting in an election held for that purpose as provided by law.”
Defenders of that action say that in the past, the county has incurred debt without a vote, such as with the Bear Creek debt, so what’s wrong with it being done now for a courthouse?
The difference is obvious: The Bear Creek debt has been funded from revenue generated by the project. A new courthouse will not generate any new revenue and is totally a taxpayer-funded project. As such, voters have the right to decide whether or not they wish to be obligated to this huge debt.
Yes, the design of the proposed courthouse is nice, but that gloss can’t hide the stench which comes from the political process used to get that drawing.

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By Mike Buffington
The Commerce News
May 7, 2003

Gwinnett school scandal just the tip of many problems
When the superintendent of the Gwinnett County School System finally admitted his system had sent incorrect school discipline data to the state, it was just the tip of a flawed state education system.
For Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, the scandal is justice delivered in raw form. You might remember that it was Wilbanks who attempted to have teacher James Hope fired two years ago after Hope released some flawed questions on the Gwinnett County “Gateway” test, a test equivalent of the CRCT for the rest of the state. Using the Gwinnett School System’s private police force, Wilbanks threatened and intimidated Hope and other critics of the Gateway test.
Now Wilbanks’ neck is on the line for the vast under reporting of school discipline problems in Gwinnett County, a much worse act than the one he accused Hope of committing. (Although the Gwinnett County School System has historically had one of the “best” in the state, based on standardized test scores, many Gwinnett families have moved to Jackson County in recent years from to escape what they believe are dangerous or overcrowded schools.)
While Wilbanks may now get a taste of his own medicine, the forces at work in the state’s education system which underlie those issues are headed toward a “perfect storm” of controversy that is larger than just the Gwinnett County scandal.
Look at the history. Georgia has continued to be at the bottom of the ladder in SAT and other national testing scores. Public pressure to improve schools led politicians to make numerous changes in Georgia’s schools over the last 15 years.
But many of those changes were driven by political posturing and did not address the real problems. Indeed, Georgia political leaders have made the system worse, especially in the area of fair funding. No one today understands how public schools are funded in Georgia, but we do know that more of the burden has been shifted to local taxpayers.
The main impact of these political efforts has been to enlarge the state’s education bureaucracy. Central control from the state has been the main thrust of political efforts. Local control is all but gone from county and city boards of education. Those groups now exist mainly to build new schools, not to make critical decisions affecting the education of our children.
While the state has been busy taking away local control from schools, it has also been putting increasing mandates on these schools. Most of those mandates relate to test score numbers, curriculum and the collection of school data.
But as we’ve seen in Gwinnett County, that data is often flawed. Now we will hear a call for even more state control over local school systems.
It’s a vicious cycle. Gwinnett’s under reporting of school discipline problems was wrong, but it’s also wrong for the state to use that as an invitation to get even more control over local school systems.
But there are increasing forces opposing those efforts, and that’s why all of this is headed for a “perfect storm” of political controversy. Parents are increasingly tired of their children being used as pawns in this struggle for control over public schools. Many have already left, opting for private schools or home-schooling rather than deal with the public education bureaucracy.
The day is coming when those parents, and like-minded parents of public school children, will rebel against this trend toward total state control of local schools.
The result will be a system of vouchers to allow parents to use state funds to send their children to private schools.
That will further erode support for public schools, not to mention the movement of quality teachers from public to private schools to meet the demand.
It’s a downward spiral. But state education leaders won’t see that death spin coming until it’s too late.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
May 7, 2003

Courthouse Design OK,
Location Still Stinks
OK, we concede, the design of the proposed new Jackson County Courthouse appears to fulfill the board of commissioners' desire for a "grand" structure. If the finished product looks as good as the drawings presented in a series of meetings, most Jackson County residents should be able to walk into the building and feel a sense of pride.
The form of the courthouse is a subjective thing that should come second to its function, part of which is determined by its location. So, while the courthouse may or may not have a design appropriate to the needs of the citizens and the officials who will work there, the commissioners' proposal passes aesthetics muster even as it fails on location.
The appearance of the courthouse is important. It will be the signature building of Jackson County. Still, just how much "grandness" the county can afford will depend on who you talk to, on how it is financed and, to some, where it is located. Just the same, if there is an error to be made on form, we would prefer that the emphasis be on more "grandness," rather than less.
If all the controversy over location and method of financing were over, more attention could be focused on just how this building will look and how the design will serve the needs of Jackson County not just in 2005, but also in 2025. Taxpayers and voters should keep in mind that wherever it is built, the new county courthouse will be here for a long, long time. If we don't build something both beautiful and functional, the regret will last as long as the building.
That is all the more reason to place it in a reasonable location, which the commissioners to date have declined to consider. Perhaps it is better to have a beautiful building, even in a remote location, than an ugly one, but why can't we have a beautiful new courthouse in a more convenient and prominent location?
The answer is, we could, if our commissioners would listen to their constituents and use a little common sense. The design appears to be fine; the location is the problem.

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