Jackson County Opinions...

July 23, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
July 23, 2003

Lightning Hits:
Act Of God
Has An Upside
After years of having the oldest and sorriest equipment in the MainStreet News organization, my office has become adorned with state-of-the-art (this week, anyway) computer equipment. Also, new phones, a new police scanner and other materials are headed my way.
Lest you think I was rewarded for my productivity, for award-winning editorial pages or am being encouraged to be more productive, the reason for my new wealth of technology is none of the above.
It took an act of God: lightning.
Had I known before leaving work Wednesday afternoon for two days off that a fierce lightning storm would hit and a bolt would find its way into our office, I’d have plugged up a lot of other electronic items and let nature take a greater toll, but I don’t want to sound overly greedy.
It was Monday morning before the scope of the damage became clear. We knew the air conditioner was out and my computer was fried. But the hard drive survived and we put it in another unit of similar vintage (about eight years old, ancient in electronics). That was crucial because it contained all of my files – personal photos, recipes, lists of web sites to try when not distracted by work – and also my 5-megabyte file of naughty actions by county commissioners.
We began piling the dead carcasses of equipment in my doorway. An AM-FM CD-tape player, two police scanners, all of the extensions (two scanners, an external modem, a card reader and Zip drive) of the computer, the time clock and a set of electronic scales useful for weighing cocaine but used here to weigh newspapers for postal reports all went into the pile. So did the answering machine, three power strip/surge protectors and an old adding machine. The water heater is still suspect, but may have survived.
The total fair market value of the damaged items, about $50; the replacement value (as provided by our insurance), in excess of $4,000; the improved morale, priceless.
But most means of communications were out. We had one phone line, a fax machine that we wish had been fried, but no way to transfer calls. No email, no Internet access.
Monday afternoon, the MSN computer wizard arrived to install the new equipment, and he seemed as excited about making the sale as I was about getting into the 21st century. New hardware meant upgraded software. PhotoShop 1 was replaced with version 6.0; Quark 1.1 advanced to version 4.0.
The new equipment means new capabilities. I can now download my entire CD collection onto my office computer. I can watch DVDs, surf the web at 50 times the speed and listen to any radio station in the world.
There may even be some new applications for work, which I assume I’ll stumble across sooner or later. If some things don’t seem right in this week’s paper, it’s not my fault.
Is that engagement announcement wrong? Act of God. Did a county commissioner's first name come out "Evil"? Not my fault. Do the editorial make no sense? Heat stroke for sure. Did I miss the new company policy about not using petty cash for tropical beverages? Didn't get the memo - we had lightning, you know.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
July 23, 2003

It’s the people’s money
It is clear that county leaders don’t care one whit about being fiscally responsible.
The first evidence of that came with the county audit which showed the Jackson County Board of Commissioners spent $3 million more in 2002 than in 2001.
Readers will remember that 2002 was supposed to have been a “lean” year in the budget with “no new programs.”
But under this county administration, the spending of taxpayer money exploded during the year.
Now comes further evidence of this administration’s fiscal irresponsibility in how it wants to finance a proposed new courthouse.
First, the BOC did not do a comprehensive financial analysis to compare the various methods of finance in dollars and cents. It is the first time we can remember that a large project in this county has been approached without such a document.
Second, the BOC is pursuing the most expensive means possible to finance a courthouse.
It is clear to us that this board chose that option simply to avoid having to hold a public vote on the project. Because of its own arrogance, this board has created a firestorm of opposition to its courthouse proposals.
That is why it does not want a vote and why it is pursuing the most expensive method available to finance the deal.
But the money this board is wasting doesn’t belong to the five men who make up the county commission. That money belongs to us, the taxpayers who work hard and write the checks to pay our taxes each year.
By far, this BOC is the most fiscally irresponsible local government in the history of Jackson County.
Never before have so few wasted so much with so little to show in return.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
July 23, 2003

BOC ‘courage’ is
really cowardice
Some county leaders are fond of telling me that those who oppose the board of commissioners actions regarding a new courthouse are in a minority. They claim that most people in the county support their actions.
Well, if that is the case, then where are those people? The opposition has meetings that gather over 200 people. Where are the mass gatherings of those who support the BOC?
The truth is, support for the BOC is very, very thin. Most citizens are tired of what is happening in their county government, not only with the courthouse controversy, but also with other events as well.
So when someone does speak out in support of the BOC, it’s a rare thing and deserves some attention.
Two weeks ago, one of those who spoke in favor of the BOC’s actions regarding the courthouse was Commerce attorney Greg Perry.
For those who don’t know Perry, he was a high school debate champion and loves to engage in verbal sparring. He’s good at it, which I suppose is one reason he’s been a successful lawyer.
So in the spirit of debate, some of Perry’s comments cry out for a rebuttal.
First, Perry decried the lawsuit filed by a group of county citizens, calling it a “ruse.”
“This is much ado about nothing,” he said. “There is no need for a vote on anything. Let’s build a courthouse. You’re going to take my money whether it’s out of the left pocket or the right pocket.”
But it seems a little odd to me for someone whose career revolves around honoring the rule of law to now say that following the law is unimportant. The Georgia constitution says that local governments cannot issue debt without a vote of their citizens. Either that law means what it says, or it doesn’t.
That, in a nutshell, is all the citizens’ lawsuit is about. If the BOC wants to build this courthouse, then why doesn’t that board call for a bond referendum and let the public vote on the $25 million debt.
Local governments demand that citizens follow their rules. If you don’t pay your property taxes on time, the BOC will foreclose on your property and take those dollars away from you.
So if citizens are expected to follow the law, then why shouldn’t local governments be expected to follow the rules which govern their conduct?
To dismiss the financing issue as being unimportant, as Perry clearly did, is to give local government a free pass to ignore the law. Coming from a lawyer, I find that attitude very strange.
Perry also praised the BOC for its “courage” and said that the board deserved a page in the next edition of “Profiles in Courage,” the famous John Kennedy book about political leaders who took unpopular stands.
“Profiles in Courage” is one of my favorite books and for Perry to equate the members of this BOC with the men in that book is to debase the entire concept of political courage.
Was it courageous for this BOC to meet in secret and select a new courthouse site? Was it courageous for them to then vote in secret to buy the land?
I call that cowardice.
Was it courageous for this BOC to dismiss a three-year-old courthouse committee which had been studying the need for a new facility? Was it courageous of this board to openly insult and belittle citizens who came to meetings in disagreement with the board’s plans?
I call that arrogance.
Was it courageous for this board to choose the most expensive method of financing possible to pay for a new courthouse?
I call that irresponsibility.
Was it courageous for the BOC to do everything in its power to avoid allowing public input on this project? Was it courageous for the board to openly seek ways to finance the project without a vote of the citizens who will pay that debt?
I call that obstructionist.
Was it courageous for the BOC to have its lawyers send a threatening letter to citizens who question the board’s actions, a letter in which it vowed to sue those same citizens if they did not go away?
I call that intimidation.
Where, pray tell, has this board exhibited one ounce of courage during this process? If the above actions are, by Perry’s definition, “courageous,” then the word “courage” has lost all its meaning.
I do agree with Mr. Perry that we need a new courthouse. Just about everyone agrees with that assessment.
But the means by which this county undertakes such a huge project are important.
For example, if Mr. Perry were defending a client in court and the judge decided to suspend the rules and just allow the prosecution to have a say, how would Mr. Perry react? Wouldn’t he be outraged that he wasn’t allowed to defend his client? Wouldn’t he be filing objections and making motions and appealing the case?
Mr. Perry argues, in effect, that the end (a new courthouse) justifies the means (an abusive BOC). The process, to him, does not matter.
But I doubt that he would make the same argument in a courtroom when he’s defending a client. If he faced an abusive judge, a judge that refused to follow the correct legal process, he would be every bit as outraged as are the citizens of Jackson County about their abusive BOC.
Mr. Perry’s political rhetoric is good. And he’s welcome to support the BOC and its courthouse plans. That’s his opinion and he’s entitled to it.
But in supporting those plans, let’s don’t deal in Orwellian doublespeak by redefining the real meaning of “courage.”
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
July 23, 2003

Commissioners Have
Sunk Into Debasement
So intent are the Jackson County Commissioners in getting revenge on what they considered a corrupt predecessor that they themselves have become much worse than the person they so disliked.
When he was a county commissioner, Jerry Waddell created enemies. He tried to dismantle the chamber of commerce, he put like-minded individuals on every board and he sought to reduce the influence of business-minded people in county government. That, in part, led to the election of the current board of commissioners that let it be known from the beginning that members hoped to undo most of what Waddell accomplished.
In the process, they have become petty, mean and arrogant. They have stooped to a new low in behavior by attacking Waddell, now manager of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority, through an ex-lover. Compared to this group, Waddell’s tenure is starting to look progressive.
How could that happen?
It happened because they got too caught up on their own plans, designs and schemes and when things didn’t go their way, they took it personally. While Waddell has moved on to a new job, one that his bosses say he is doing well, the commissioners have become obsessed with his removal to the point that they’ve embarrassed themselves and their county in the process. Nothing Waddell did in office quite compares to these commissioners using a former domestic partner to gain their revenge. In trying to take him down, they’ve got voters in all parts of the county shaking their heads.
The commissioners have been challenged on several fronts. They lost their initial bid to take over the water and sewerage authority (largely so they could fire Waddell), failed to get legislation passed to create a building authority so they could dodge a referendum on the courthouse and they’re facing a serious challenge to their plan to build a courthouse. They’ve lost any credibility they might have once had.
But they still have the authority to remake the water authority in their own image through appointments. With the addition of Wanda David and Clay Dale, these commissioners have chosen four of the five current members. Two of them, Dean Stringer and Warren Walker, haven’t turned into the puppets the commissioners need to remove Waddell, so in desperation, the commissioners named Dale and David.
The persecution of Waddell has become a farce obvious to everyone, but if and when it succeeds, Waddell will be able to make Jackson County pay for it in court. That is no deterrent to the commissioners; they have but one goal, and that is to remove Waddell from the public payroll, whatever the cost and however debased they must become.
The commissioners had hoped their legacy would be a new courthouse. Instead, it will be a legacy of pettiness and sleaze. They might get Jerry Waddell off the public payroll, but it will be at the cost of their reputations and of the public trust. Sadly, they probably think it’s a fair price.


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