Jackson County Opinions...

July 2, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
July 2, 2003

Suit Threat
Moves Jackson To
‘Orange’ Alert
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners raised the county's terrorism alert to "Orange" early last week after intelligence sources detected a lot of legal "chatter" that seemed to indicate an imminent attack is possible on the proposed new county courthouse.
In an Orange alert, all public input is prohibited. Under the Yellow alert, which has been in effect for two years until last Monday, public input was just ignored.
"The Georgia Department of Homeland Security warns all local governments that any important infrastructure facilities could be targeted by terrorists," said a statement issued by Al Crace who, as county manager, also chairs the board of commissioners' Anti-Terrorism Task Force and Home Security Shopping Network. "We are merely taking the precautions to protect this important Jackson County facility."
Crace points out that, unlike a facility that already exists, a proposed facility is a softer target for terrorists.
"Once we get it built, it's safe," Crace said. "But until then, it's a tempting target for the forces of evil."
The county commissioners have been particularly concerned about the courthouse following an unsuccessful attack in 2002 of the Darnell Road site. Although the county fended off the first attempt with credibility as its only casualty, purchased the property and began land preparations, security has been kept tight in anticipation of further attacks.
"We have known for some time that elements of the press have been creating weapons of mass confusion (WMC) with which to attack us," noted Harold Fletcher, commander in chief of the county's defenses. Fletcher has publicly demonized the leading terrorist, code-named "Shorty" for reasons known only to Fletcher, at virtually every opportunity for months in an attempt to silence him. Yet "Shorty" continues to issue weekly public statements rallying the opposition.
Terrorist "chatter" published in last week's local newspapers was deciphered by assistant county manager Andy Newton, equipped with a dictionary and working out of the county's bunker in the basement of the 911 building. His report says a new group, "Concerned Citizens of Jackson County," hopes to shoot down the new courthouse in a most un-American fashion – in the courts.
"We intend to defend this very vigorously," said Fletcher in a statement that was most notable for failing to condemn the use of suicide bombers.
In addition to having the full county bureaucracy at its call, the county has a "coalition of the willing," consisting mainly of consultants and Commerce elected officials who are dedicated to the premise that the best courthouse is a courthouse located as far away from Jefferson as possible.
In a related move, the commissioners reportedly plan to issue property tax rebates to stimulate the local economy so citizens will accept property tax increases this fall to pay for the courthouse if the legal terrorism proves successful.
Also, the City of Commerce has closed its reservoir to all fishing until the Orange alert is over.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
July 2, 2003

Maddox, Jackson had impact on Jackson County
The passing last week of former Gov. Lester Maddox and former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson brings back two key moments in Jackson County’s history.
Both men played a role in Jackson County during their tenure of public office, Maddox in 1967 and Jackson in 1990. And whatever their individual political shortcomings, it is worth remembering here that each man, on two different issues, helped Jackson County.
In the aftermath of the 1967 bombing death of district attorney Floyd Hoard, Gov. Maddox played a key role in getting the local community some much-needed state help. At the time, crime was a huge problem in Jackson County as various criminal kingpins held sway over much of the community. It was only with outside help from the state that it was possible to clean up that rotten core of problems.
Gov. Maddox knew that and reacted quickly to send into Jackson County a swarm of state law enforcement officials. As a symbol of his commitment, he even added $1,000 of his personal money to the reward fund.
About three weeks after the Hoard murder, Maddox came to Jackson County where he held a series of meetings with state and local officials in Room Number 6 of the old Crawford Long Hotel in downtown Jefferson. He went to the jail to see the car Hoard had been murdered in and visited Mrs. Hoard in town as well.
After eating at the old Marlow’s Cafe, Maddox told the press that he didn’t mind “stepping on toes” to get to the bottom of the Hoard murder. For weeks after that visit, Maddox continued to be involved in the investigation and participated in planning the strategy for solving the case.
But Maddox’s real contribution to the Hoard murder case wasn’t in strategy, it was psychological. The murder of Floyd Hoard left the citizens of Jackson County in shock and in fear. The quick response by Gov. Maddox to the crisis and his leadership in putting state resources into solving the crime reassured local citizens that criminal kingpins would no longer hold sway here.

Twenty-three years after Gov. Maddox helped Jackson County, Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson likewise stepped forward at a critical moment.
In 1990, Jackson County was identified as the number one potential site for a second Atlanta airport. Local citizens opposed the idea, which would have covered some 10,000 acres in the middle of the county near Jefferson.
At a key meeting of the Atlanta Regional Commission at Stone Mountain in December 1990, Mayor Jackson stood up and said, “If you don’t want it, we don’t want it.”
Since the City of Atlanta owns the existing airport and any new airport would have come about from the city’s leadership, Mayor Jackson’s leadership was critical. At the time, Atlanta had the power to condemn land for an airport anywhere in the state and could have forced the facility on Jackson County.
But Mayor Jackson wanted the proposed new airport to be located south of Atlanta and his opposition to Jackson County played a major role in defeating the ARC recommendation which favored our community.

The contributions to Jackson County made by both Gov. Maddox and Mayor Jackson had a big impact on our destiny. And in the shadow of their deaths, those efforts are worth noting.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
July 2, 2003

BOC plan like Enron accounting
Members of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners are running scared. That’s why the letter from their Atlanta law firm slamming five local citizens last week was so threatening in tone.
For those who haven’t followed the issue, five local citizens have vowed to sue the BOC if the county pursues an Enron-like $25 million lease-purchase deal to finance a new courthouse. The citizens argue that the deal is nothing but a sham to side-step the Georgia Constitution, which requires that local governments hold a public vote before committing citizens to a long-term debt.
The county argues that their actions are legal and that the $25 million isn’t a “debt,” just a “lease.”
It is a complicated legal issue and the only way to settle it is in court.
But that idea frightens the BOC and its partners in this effort. For all its bluster, the county doesn’t want to face a lawsuit. County leaders know they will have a difficult time explaining to a judge how this $25 million courthouse deal isn’t a “debt.”
Remember, this wasn’t the county’s first attempt at doing something like this. Back in February, county officials attempted to create a building authority whose sole purpose was to finance a new courthouse. A revolt by citizens killed that effort.
So now the county wants to partner with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, Knox Wall and Wachovia Bank to do a “lease-purchase”deal as an end-run to citizens. On paper, the ACCG would hold title to the courthouse while Jackson County made “lease” payments to Wachovia Bank for 29 years.
The entire scheme is reminiscent of how Enron did its accounting — it created debt, but called it something else for accounting purposes.
Jackson County wants to do the same thing — create a debt, but call it a lease and thus avoid having to face taxpayers with a bond referendum.
That’s why five local citizens have stepped forward to sue the county.
No one knows how the courts will eventually rule, but I think these citizens have a good case. Here’s why:
—The county BOC purchased the land for a new courthouse.
—The county BOC hired a local man to oversee construction of a new courthouse.
—The county BOC hired architects to design a new courthouse.
—The county BOC hired a contractor to build a new courthouse.
—The county BOC spent taxpayer money to grade the site for a new courthouse.
—The county BOC plans to spend taxpayer money to build a road to the new courthouse.
Now the BOC wants to pretend that it really won’t “own” the courthouse, but just “lease” it from the ACCG for 29 years. And the BOC also wants us to believe the county will have the right to “walk away” from the lease each year, as Georgia law mandates.
But how do you walk away from a courthouse? If a future county BOC did that, it would ruin the county’s credit rating, not to mention waste millions of dollars.
So in truth, the county does not have the right to just walk away from this deal at the end of each year.
That, I believe, will be the crux of the impending lawsuit. If the county can’t walk away from the deal, it isn’t a real lease. If it isn’t a lease, it’s a debt. And if it’s a debt, the BOC has to let citizens vote on the matter.
Not all lease-purchase deals are bad. There are some types of lease-purchase financing which are legal, such as for cars and computers. But this project does not, in my mind, fit the narrow criteria established by the courts and Georgia law.
There’s an old rule in legal circles — the weaker your case, the louder you shout in an effort to intimidate and distract from the real issue.
That’s what the BOC is attempting to do now — shout loudly and try to intimidate those who question its Enron-like plans, even if that means attacking its own citizens who just want their day in court.
This board of commissioners has a clear record of attempting to crush those who dissent from its political agenda. Last week’s letter was just another example of that prevailing attitude.
But consider this: Another government tried to crush dissent from its citizens 227 years ago.
And in this July 4th week, it’s worth remembering how that little debate turned out.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
July 2, 2003

Citizens Can Get First-
Hand View Of Situation
It is always said that there are two sides to every story, and Jackson County residents following the quest of their county commissioners to build a new courthouse are subjected to two radically-opposing viewpoints on its financing.
The commissioners want to pay for the courthouse with a lease/purchase arrangement through the Association Georgia County Commissioners (AGCC). Essentially, AGCC would own the building, lease it to Jackson County in 30 one-year leases, at the end of which Jackson County would own it.
A group called Concerned Citizens of Jackson County is threatening to sue over this arrangement. Last week’s newspaper detailed its allegation that the lease/purchase proposal violates the Georgia Constitution. This week, the county commissioners have counter-filed, and their position is that the proposed suit is without merit, indeed, frivolous, the financing method has been ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court of Georgia and the commissioners threaten to countersue the five plaintiffs.
Much has been written over the past two years about the courthouse, but citizens who would like to hear the varying viewpoints on this aspect of the controversy have the opportunity to do it in person. The Concerned Citizens of Jackson County will hold a public hearing and pep rally Thursday night at 7:00 at Jackson EMC to present their view. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the financing plan at a somewhat less convenient time, 9:00 a.m. Friday, July 11, at the 911 center.
One fact is not in dispute: The commissioners do not want the ultimate public input on the courthouse – a referendum. They characterize the proposed lawsuit as frivolous and clearly hope to intimidate the potential plaintiffs into dropping the issue. No doubt their attorney will repeat the assertion at the BOC hearing July 11, just as the plaintiffs’ attorney will rebut the King & Spalding threat this Thursday night.
This newspaper and The Jackson Herald will report on both meetings, but citizens who want to hear the latest version of this controversy unfiltered by the press should attend one or both hearings. With $25 million in public funds and a courthouse that will be here forever at stake, the taxpayers can’t afford not to attend.


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