News from Jackson County...

JUNE 25, 2003

Jackson County

Jackson County
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15-17-Year-Old Team Denied Trip To State
The Commerce 15-17-year-old summer baseball team will be staying at home for July after their bid for a state tournament appearance fell short Monday night in a double header loss to Lumpkin County at home.
The team, essentially made up of Commerce High School baseball players, dropped the district series championship opener 11-3 and the night cap 6-2 to lower its record to 10-8 on the year.

District tournaments up for grabs
After a week to prepare, the Jefferson and Jackson County recreation department all-star teams will take the field this week in the first step of state tournament play on the diamond.

Neighborhood News...
Hands of the potter

The third annual Potters Festival held last Saturday in Homer was called a “huge success” by organizer and well-known potter Steve Turpin.
“This was a great show,” Turpin said. “We had people from all over the country here.”

Gillsville council works to meet restoration grant deadline
The Gillsville City Council is working hard to meet a deadline for a grant that could help restore the historic buildings downtown.
Council member Ronnie Whiting said at last week’s work session the grant application was due on July 11. The grants are awarded for $20,000 to $40,000.

BOC to buy new ambulance with SPLOST
Banks County EMS will soon have a new ambulance on the road.
The commissioners agreed Thursday to chief Perry Dalton’s request to buy a new med unit to replace one of the county’s aging vehicles.

Developers, come to Baldwin
In an effort to stir development, the Baldwin City Council has unanimously agreed to reduce impact fees from $2,500 to $1,150 per new residence or new business.

Homer fireworks planned July 4
The Homer Volunteer Fire Department will be sponsoring the annual July 4 fireworks display.

Neighborhood News...
Schools back on solid fiscal footing
While other school systems around the state are struggling financially, the Madison County schools’ dark days of severe fiscal frustrations now appear more a remembrance than reality.

BOC agrees to hire six new jailers
Madison County’s jail staff will increase from 12 to 18 when the new jail opens this summer.
Sheriff Clayton Lowe told commissioners Monday that a larger jail will require more personnel and the BOC voted to add six jailers and a part-time cook.

Colbert preparing for July 4 celebration
The city of Colbert is preparing for its 34th annual Fourth of July celebration next Friday.
The day will begin with Colbert’s Canna Run, a five K and one-mile race. Registration will be at 6:30 a.m. at Colbert Elementary School. The five K run will be at 7:30 a.m. and the one mile race begins at 8:30 a.m.

Madison County Journal wins 10 state awards
The Madison County Journal won 10 awards in the Georgia Press Association’s annual Better Newspaper Contest, including a second place award for general excellence.
The Jackson Herald
Jefferson, Georgia
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Attorney Wycliffe Orr Jr. spoke about the concerns of a group of area citizens at a press conference Tuesday on the courthouse lawn in Jefferson. Just before the meeting, Orr had papers delivered to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners outlining why the group believes the board’s financing plan for the facility is unconstitutional.

Citizens plan BOC suit
Five Jackson County citizens announced plans this week to sue the board of commissioners unless it allows citizens to vote on the financing of the proposed new courthouse.
Attorney Wycliffe Orr Jr., Gainesville, sent an ante-litem pre-suit notice to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners Tuesday on behalf of Tim Venable, Sandy Beem, Tom Bryan, Charlotte Mealor and Jean Bauerband. The citizens allege that the county’s plan to finance the courthouse via a lease-purchase is not legal and violates the Georgia Constitution. The notice called on the BOC to stop its actions, or face a lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the group has set a public rally for Thursday, July 3, at 7:30 p.m. at Jackson Electric Membership Corporation auditorium in Jefferson. Orr and others involved in the suit will speak about the effort. The public is invited, leaders said.
That meeting comes just before one scheduled by the BOC on July 11 at 9 a.m. in the E-911 complex in Jefferson. Before completing the lease-purchase financing, the BOC is required to hold a public meeting on the matter.
Although behind-the-scenes work toward the litigation has been going on for many weeks, the suit itself was announced at a press conference Tuesday held on the lawn of the courthouse. Surrounded by some 35 supporters, Orr, who is a former member of the Georgia General Assembly from Hall County, declared that the suit would be a “historic event” for Jackson County.
“Nothing is more important than grassroots democracy and citizens who care,” he said.
But BOC chairman Harold Fletcher vowed that the county would defend its actions.
“It would be inappropriate for me to make any comments since this is pending litigation,” Fletcher said Tuesday afternoon. “I would say that throughout this process we have hired the best, professional assistance in every aspect of it from the architectural, civil engineering and the legal. We feel that we have done what is consistent with the law. This is an issue that would be best addressed by our legal advisors. We have turned this over to them...We do intend to defend this very vigorously because we feel that everything has been consistent with the law.”
But Orr said during the press conference that the county’s plans to finance the courthouse with a lease-purchase through the Association County Commissioners of Georgia was “unconstitutional.”
“Hopefully, the board will recognize the right of Jackson County voters to pass upon this important issue which has such profound implications and consequences for the pocketbooks and future of Jackson County and its citizens,” Orr said at the press conference. “Should the board refuse to do so, however, these citizens are prepared to seek a court order to force this constitutional compliance by the board of commissioners.”
Orr also said the BOC has shown “contemptuous condescension” during the entire courthouse effort.
“The commission chairman even referred to those seeking to use the Georgia Open Records Act as ‘grandstanding,’” he said. “What is grandstanding to him is commonly referred to as democracy by most right-minded, public-spirited citizens. “
In his six-page notice to the county, Orr called the financing plan a “sham” and a “masquerade.” (See excerpts from that document in a related article beginning on this page.)

The pending lawsuit grew out of discussions by a group of citizens who have become concerned about the direction of the county government. From those informal meetings, a core group of about 35 people formed the Concerned Citizens of Jackson County and named Venable as its chairman and Beem as its vice-chairman.
“We simply felt that if somebody didn’t speak up, the county was going to go down a path that really wasn’t for the best,” Venable said. “We’re trying to be an influence for better government, for open government and to try and make a difference for the county and its future. At the heart of this is our constitutional right to vote. This project truly is a debt. It’s not a lease purchase agreement in truth. As required by the constitution, it is subject to a fair vote of the people. Up until now, the BOC has not seen fit to grant the people the vote.”
A resident of South Jackson, Venable grew up in Jackson County and now travels around the world writing magazine articles on economic development issues.
Until this year, he has not been involved in local political issues. But at the large meeting in February where citizens protested an effort by the BOC to take over the county water authority, Venable blasted the BOC, saying it has lost the trust of its citizens.
“We’re not here to talk about the courthouse, but everybody here knows what’s happened....” he said at that meeting. “Has it been done right? No, it hasn’t been done right... Right now, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners has a serious credibility problem.”
Beem, a resident of central Jackson between Jefferson and Maysville, led a successful citizens’ protest movement in the early 1990s to stop efforts by the City of Atlanta to site a 10,000 acre airport in Jackson County.
Although given much acclaim for leading the anti-airport fight, Beem did not become deeply involved in local political issues following that success, until now.
Mealor, a resident of East Jackson near Nicholson, is retired from the University of Georgia and was a member of the original courthouse committee that studied the issue of a new facility in the late 1990s.
Bauerband, a resident of central Jackson near the proposed site for the new courthouse, is retired from the State of Georgia.
Bryan, a resident of Jefferson, is a former owner of Jefferson Mills and has long been involved in local political issues. Like Mealor, he was also a member of the original courthouse study committee. He has been an outspoken opponent of the current proposed courthouse plans and attended several BOC hearings last year to voice opposition to the effort.

Low Bid For New Commerce Sewer Plant
20% Over EstimateAfter years of preparation, the bids for Commerce's new sewer plant came in last Thursday.
They were high. More than 20 percent over the engineer's estimate for the 2.1 million-gallon-per-day treatment plant.
Given that the economy is in a recession, city officials had hoped for bids in the $6.6 million or lower range.
"That's what I thought too," said Bryan Harbin, director of water and sewer operations. "I really don't know what happened. We were all pretty shocked that the price came out the way it did."
The city got five bids. Winter Construction Company of Atlanta had the apparent low bid at $8.184 million. The second bid was a mere $70,000 more.
"The top three bids were within $170,000 or two percent," Harbin noted.
The higher-than-expected bids will not deter the city from building the plant, but Harbin said officials are "looking at some of the alternative bids and seeing if anything can be cut."
Commerce plans to sink $2.5 million in cash into the plant and had planned to borrow $4.8 million from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA). Now it'll have to go back and ask for about $6.2 million, Harbin said.
The inflated cost is "likely" to affect the city's water and sewer rates and its sewer tap fees, which are based on replacement of capacity used by the sewer customer. The current tap fees are based on a $3 per gallon capacity cost; the bid suggests $4 per gallon is appropriate.
"We've got to pay for this monster some way," said Harbin, though he pointed out that any rate or fee changes will be made by the Commerce City Council.
As soon as the bid is certified by the engineer, the city council will hold a called meeting to award the contract, according to Harbin.
"We are hoping for an August starting date with substantial completion (in operation and meeting all EPD permit requirements) by Dec. 31, 2004. The contract calls for 510 working days," Harbin said.
The new plant will replace the current treatment system and double its capacity. The existing aeration basin will be used as an "equalization basin" during times of heavy rainfall when infiltration tends to overwhelm the treatment capacity.

BJC Authority Considers Hiring Management
Firm; Decision To Be Made Monday Night
Nine members of the BJC Medical Center Authority will decide Monday night whether to enter a five-year management contract with Quorum Health Resources.
The authority will meet at 6:00 p.m. in the board room of BJC Medical Center to act on a presentation pitched by three QHR officials at the board's regular June meeting this Monday.
QHR officials projected revenue improvement of $4.3 million over the first three years of the contract by enhancing productivity, cutting costs and building market share.
For that service, the medical center would pay $227,000 the first year, a figure that would climb by at least five percent annually.
Jeff Griffin, vice president; Robert L. Green, president of the Eastern Division; and Kevin A. Rovito, associate vice president, made the proposal Monday night.
What QHR brings to the table, according to Rovito, is a combination of consulting expertise, leadership, education and a purchasing network to enable the facility to operate efficiently.
Yet Quorum promises more than efficiency. Its goal is to improve BJC's market share through the offering of new services and the attraction of additional doctors, both long-term efforts.
"What's going to make this hospital successful is not some suits from Nashville, TN," Green advised. "It's the people you've got over there in the hospital."
Later he noted, "You can only manage on the expense side so long. It really takes some leadership to manage the other side. That's the revenue side."
Should the authority negotiate a contract with QHR, the company and authority would adopt a "management action plan" probably similar to a 45-point list of activities aimed at addressing all issues identified as warranting action.
The quick fixes would come from greater efficiencies, ranging from cutting staff to group purchasing to better management of billing, bad debt and materials. For example, QHR's officials say that BJC spends almost 15 percent of its patient revenue on supplies, a percentage it believes can be reduced to 12.76 percent at a savings of $435,000 or more.
Similar statistics were used relating to staffing, days' revenue in accounts receivable and bad debt. However, the consultants admitted that the statistics did not take into account how the nursing facility affects the hospital in terms of supply cost, staffing and other areas.
Increasing the number of people using BJC – market share – is a long-term issue, which Green declared to be an "inside job," that begins an enhancement of the image of the hospital. It includes getting employees feeling good about themselves, their co-workers and about the doctors; getting the doctors more confident in the hospital employees and services and in each other, he added.
"Each of your employees has a positive or negative impact on 50 people in the community," declared Green. "... It starts with positive leadership."
Chairman Charles Blair seemed to be leaning toward signing on with QHR, calling them "our eyes and ears within the operation to keep us up to speed. The events of the past two or three months have shown me I didn't know as much as I thought I did about what was going on."
Blair opposed making a decision at the meeting because three members – Don Brown, Rick Massey and Jackie Whitfield – were unable to attend. All nine are expected to be at next Monday's meeting.

Herald wins 9 state press awards
The Jackson Herald won nine awards in the Georgia Press Association’s annual Better Newspaper Contest, including first place for the best editorial page among large weekly newspapers in the state.
“Great, hard-hitting local editorials and attractive layout,” the judges wrote. “Solid local columns. The editorials are what put this newspaper at the top of the class.”
Other first place awards were for best sports section, written and put together by Allen Luton, and for best photo essay by Yve Assad.
The Herald also won a second place award for best lifestyle coverage, which is the “friends and family” section of the paper.
The Herald won third place awards for best business coverage for articles written by Angela Gary, best feature photograph by Assad, best sports writing by Luton, best special issues for the Year in Review section and best overall local news coverage.
MainStreet Newspapers, which includes The Banks County News, The Jackson Herald, The Commerce News and The Madison County Journal, won a total of 35 awards in the state newspaper contest.

Weekend festival set
Pony rides, a mechanical bull, a folk art exhibit, bluegrass music and numerous other activities will be featured at the Freedom Festival coming up Saturday in Jefferson.
“The fun will begin at 2 p.m. with ‘Our Heroes! Discovery Day’ at the Crawford Long Museum and continue in the museum’s Pendergrass Store building with bluegrass music and storytelling from 4 to 6 p.m.,” said museum and Better Hometown Jefferson director Donna Butler.
The event will be capped by the annual fireworks display downtown that night.
In the morning before the Freedom Festival begins, Better Hometown Jefferson will sponsor “Hometown Market” from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. on the square in front of the Crawford Long Museum.
“We have several vendors who have promised crafts, homemade barbeque sauce, baked goods and maybe fresh eggs, but we still need produce of all kinds,” said Butler.
The children’s area, food vendors and other activities will open on the square at 6:30 p.m.
There will also be a folk art exhibit and silent auction by regional artist Bob Hart.
The Jefferson Area Business Association will sell tickets for a number of food vendors and children’s activities on the square during the activities, and a band is slated to begin playing at 7:30 p.m.
The annual fireworks celebration will be featured at dark and will be coordinated by the Jefferson Fire Department.
Parking will not be available on the Square during Festival set-up and activities, so visitors should park in the public lots behind the Jackson County Courthouse, the Jefferson Civic Center, and other parking areas.



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Excerpts from notice given to BOC Tues.
“This letter shall serve as an ante-litem notice to Jackson County, Georgia and to you as its governing body in compliance with O.C.G.A. 36-11-1 and all other applicable law, of my clients’ intention to bring suit against Jackson County should you fail to cease and desist from proceeding further with your illegal and unconstitutional plan to deprive the voters of Jackson County, Georgia of their constitutional right to vote on the new debt which you are planning to incur and assume in order to construct a new proposed Jackson County Courthouse....”

“The entire history of your approach to this proposed new courthouse, and to the financing thereof, demonstrates your intentional deprivation of the rights of the citizens of Jackson County to vote upon this issue. From earliest discussions of this courthouse, you have resisted the right of Jackson County citizens to participate meaningfully in the decision of whether and where to construct the proposed courthouse and the means of financing the project. You have ridiculed citizens making honest and lawful efforts to obtain information and have input regarding your course of conduct. Those who filed a request under the Georgia Open Records Act ... have been referred to as ‘grandstanding.’ What you refer to as ‘grandstanding,’ the law and right-minded citizens call ‘democracy.’”

“...In any event, what has been produced by you includes a proposed purported ‘lease agreement’ between Jackson County and Association County Commissioners of Georgia (‘ACCG’). A review of the purported lease, and of documents pertinent thereto, including the Indenture of Trust and Assignment of Lease Agreement (‘the Indenture’), reveal that the purported lease is indeed a ‘sham’ that is neither a true lease nor a legitimate utilization of the prerogatives set forth in O.C.G.A. 36-60-13. Rather, the purported lease and the course of dealings which you have followed and which you obviously intend to pursue hereafter, including your dealings with ACCG, Knox Wall, Wachovia, and others, illustrates a calculated effort to circumvent and violate the right of Jackson County voters under Article IX, Section V, Paragraph I of the Constitution of the State of Georgia to vote on this issue — that is, the incurring of new debt by Jackson County by use of a sham “lease” to finance this courthouse construction.”

“...Article IX, Section V, Paragraph I of the Constitution of the State of Georgia clearly provides that no county in Georgia ‘shall incur any new debt without the assent of a majority of the qualified voters of such county, in an election held for that purpose as provided by law.’ The Georgia Legislature enacted O.C.G.A. 36-60-13 to provide for counties to enter into lease-purchase agreements in certain specified instances. The unmistakable history of your conduct concerning this project and your planned course of action with ACCG and other entities, including but not limited to the documents produced by you as of this time, clearly illustrate that your plans and intentions do not comply with O.C.G.A. 36-60-13, and do not constitute a true lease-purchase, but rather exhibit an intentional evasion of voters’ rights under the above-cited constitutional provision....

“...Although the purported lease engages in all manner of contorted language and legal fiction to attempt to ‘juggle with words’ to make debt appear to be something else, that effort fails wholly in its masquerade. Indeed, on very first page of the document, after the table of contents, the document states that real estate shall be owned by ACCG as Lessor, i.e. real estate which is now owned by Jackson County and will be leased by ACCG to Jackson. In another words, Jackson County is going to purportedly lease its own real estate. Moreover, the document reflects that this purported lease is to be of a courthouse not yet in existence, but rather ‘to be acquired, constructed and installed by Lessor on the Site.’ On page 2 of the purported lease, the rental payments are noted as beginning September 15, 2003, when Jackson County becomes obligated to commence payment of the ‘Base Rentals.’ That is, Jackson County will begin ‘lease’ payments upon a non-existing building long before the building is even completed, much less occupied. Anyone who has ever rented an apartment is fully aware that one does not ‘lease’ something years before he or she has the right to occupy it....”

“...In fact, Section 4.11 makes evident what is otherwise obvious, that the so-called lease is not a ‘true’ lease for federal income tax purposes, and that it is ‘the intention of the parties hereto that the Lessor [Jackson County] to be considered owner of the Project for federal income tax purposes, but not for Georgia law purposes relating to title and other matters as herein provided....”

“...Despite the subject property being purportedly owned by ACCG, Section 8.01 declares the property to be ‘free and exempt from all taxation,’ showing that it is in reality still owned by Jackson County. This provision is obviously nothing more than a straw attempt by the parties to this transaction to allow private parties to enjoy the benefit of Jackson County’s exemption from property tax. My clients will attack this contractual provision by invoking federal income tax laws and other law to expose it for the sham that it is....”