Jackson County Opinions...

July 30, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
July 30, 2003

Recreation Plan Doesn’t Suffice For Bear Creek
It’s being billed as a “first step,” but the Jackson County Recreation Department’s proposal for a fishing area at the Bear Creek Reservoir is a waste of money.
For $5,500, some 100 yards of shoreline of a 505-acre reservoir will be open to bank fishermen. The county plans to charge adults $5 a day and children and senior citizens $3 per day under the assumption that the revenue will cover the cost of staffing the “park” 35 hours a week most of the year and 17 hours a week in the winter.
Not likely.
First, a mere 100 yards (or even 500) is totally insufficient. Second, how many people will pay $5 to fish a soon-to-be-fished-out section of shoreline?
The DNR can market Bear Creek as a trophy bass reservoir, but shore fishermen fish mostly for food. A bank fisherman who lands a six-pound bass wants it in the frying pan, not on the wall. These people hope to get a combination of low-cost recreation and a meal or two out of their $2 investment of worms or crickets and they’re not likely to fish very often if the cost of a family outing approaches the cost of a meal at Captain D’s.
The management plan for trophy bass requires that approximately 10 pounds of undersize largemouth bass per acre be removed each year. The anglers most likely to keep small bass are the for-food fishermen, particularly people from low-income households – people for whom a $5 fee for limited access will seem steep.
When security became an issue after the 2001 terrorist attacks, local fishermen became part of the collateral damage. In theory, the owners of the lake still plan to eventually offer some kind of boat access, but that could be months in coming and will likely be subject to elimination if the war on terror ever comes to a single water plant or reservoir in America. Without access by boat or by a whole lot more shoreline, Bear Creek will never be known as a fishing venue.
We need to keep in mind that Bear Creek was built for drinking water. We just assumed that it would also be able to accommodate fishermen, and when DNR stocked it with Florida hybrid bass, every angler in Northeast Georgia became interested.
Dan Gunnells, who chairs the Upper Oconee Basin Authority’s Recreation Committee, is pushing hard to open the lake to fishing. Ricky Sanders, county recreation director, wants to help and he wants the venture to be self-supporting. But if the Bear Creek Reservoir is going to be a viable recreation opportunity, much less a trophy bass lake, it needs wide open, low-cost fishing access.
In the meantime, if the best we can do is to open a few yards of shoreline, instead of charging poor folks to fish, eliminate the charge and the staff person and send the prison crew by twice a week to empty trash containers, pick up the inevitable litter and cut the grass.
The other county park, Hurricane Shoals, has no entry fee. What do you suppose would happen to the park’s attendance if the county charged $5 per adult and $3 per child? And why should people who fish be charged an entry fee and those who picnic pay none?


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
July 30, 2003

Did BOC mix water and alcohol?
It appears as if the Jackson County Board of Commissioners may have fixed themselves a “mixed drink.’
Next week, the BOC will vote on a proposed alcohol beverages ordinance for unincorporated Jackson County.
But did the BOC mix that issue into the controversy over the county water authority? Did some BOC members agree to “swap” their votes between the two issues in a secret deal?
Here’s the setup: Two weeks ago, the BOC named Wanda David and Clay Dale to the county water authority. That move was a clear effort by the BOC to disrupt water authority operations and to pressure water superintendent Jerry Waddell to leave. The BOC is still angry that it failed earlier this year in a bid to take over the water authority.
The naming of David was also a clear message from commissioner Emil Beshara. As the angry ex-girlfriend of Waddell, David is ripe to do Waddell harm. Beshara knew that and is using David’s personal vendetta to get back at the water authority and his nemesis, Waddell.
All of that is clear to anyone who has followed this issue.
But what about the naming of Dale? Why was he put on the water board?
That move only makes sense if you consider that Dale has been the most vocal person in the county pushing Beshara and the BOC to adopt an alcohol beverage ordinance.
Understandably, Dale wants to sell beer and wine at his Hwy. 124 convenience store.
But was Dale’s being named to the water authority one half of a secret deal involving the beer and wine ordinance? Did he agree to do the BOC’s dirty work in helping take over the water authority in return for members of the BOC agreeing to pass an alcohol beverage ordinance for him?
We can’t answer that for certain, but it appears that commissioners Beshara, Stacey Britt and Tony Beatty may have some kind of secret deal with Dale along those lines.
If so, it’s just another example of how this BOC serves its own political intrigue at the expense of the public interest.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
July 30, 2003

Public education survives because of teachers
In the coming days, school will begin again for thousands of students across Jackson County. Amid hopes and dreams, we will send our children off to get an education in a system fraught with a multitude of problems.
State and federal laws have become too complex and too burdensome on public schools. The idea of “local control” of schools was lost long ago. Today, about all local school boards can do is decide where to build new schools and to raise taxes to pay for the ever-increasing state-federal mandates.
That’s a shame because public education has been a revolutionary force in America for over 100 years. It has opened doors for millions and advanced society in ways other nations envy.
And yet, for all that is good about public education in America, the fractures in the system are too large to ignore. Teachers are unhappy, communities are unhappy, students are unhappy and parents are unhappy.
The result is a growth in home schooling and private schools. Rather than being odd, those options are now part of the mainstream.
There is no one single problem that has created the fractures in public education. There are a multitude of issues that press and pull on that system. The wonder is that the system survives at all given all the competing pressures.
What are the problems? Here’s a partial list:
• Money — Because of a hodge-podge of mandates, public schools have become hugely expensive to operate. Society can only devote a certain amount of our public resources to education without damaging other important aspects of government. The demands are many, the resources limited. There will never be enough money to meet all the demands.
• Lazy Society — Let’s face it, too many kids today are raised hooked on Twinkies and video games. We are not doing a very good job of instilling a strong work ethic in our children and that shows in classroom performance. Teachers often blame bad parenting for this problem, but bad parenting is just the result of a lazy society.
• Educrat Theocracy — Too many education leaders have made “Education” a virtual state religion. But these educrats don’t like outsiders who don’t adhere to their current teaching fads. Public schools are, in essence, a theocracy run by a small group of elites at the top who continually push all kinds of inane teaching schemes onto public education.
• An Expect-All Mentality — Public schools are expected to fix all of society’s problems, including social problems such as drug abuse and teenage pregnancy. While schools may exert some positive social influences, that is not the core mission of public education. Attempts to make social concerns the main focus of public education is diluting the academic role that schools are supposed to play.
With all those problems, how is it that public education continues to survive?
Two reasons, I think, keep public education going. First, there is the inertia of parents and political leaders to change things. For all its flaws, public education is a deeply entrenched institution. We may not like some of what we see, but it is a known quantity and we accept it flaws and all.
Secondly, teachers and local school leaders often work hard to make a flawed system work in spite of itself. Since most parents’ view of public schools is through contact with their kids’ teachers, the system “interface” makes up for fundamental system flaws.
Yes, a growing number of people are opting out of public education. Private schools are growing and home schooling is a phenomena that is here to stay. It fits the needs of many families.
As an institution, public education may not be perfect. But as long as teachers continue to care and to make the system work in spite of inherent problems in the system itself, public education will continue to limp along.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
July 30, 2003

Commissioners Should OK Beer, Wine Sales
Once again, Jackson County Commissioner Emil Beshara wants the board of commissioners to vote to legalize the sale of beer and wine in the unincorporated areas of Jackson County. He has broached this subject in the past, but it never came to a vote.
It’s about time it did and about time the commissioners approved Behsara’s proposal, which would allow the package sale and by-the-drink sale of beer and wine. This is not a religious or moral situation. It is a practical one.
Beer and wine are widely available. Legalizing package sales means store and restaurant operators in unincorporated areas can be more competitive with those in the municipalities. The inability to sell a legal product desired by the public puts stores in Apple Valley, Dry Pond or just outside Jefferson and Commerce at an unfair disadvantage.
Opponents will cite alarming statistics about alcohol abuse – most of them true – but many other legal products are abused with disastrous results, from automobiles to fatty foods. The blame for all such abuse rests with the abusers, not those who manufacture or legally sell the products. Blaming legal alcohol sales for alcohol abuse makes as much sense as blaming McDonald’s for obesity.
Under Beshara’s proposal, by-the-drink license holders would have to generate 50 percent of their income from other sales. For all practical purposes, that would limit licenses to restaurants. Those selling by the package would have to show they earn 70 percent of their income through sales of other merchandise, which rules out package stores.
Not having beer and wine sales encourages businesses – such as convenience stores, grocery stores and chain restaurants – to avoid the unincorporated areas in favor of those municipalities that allow it. It may be that the county’s land use plan intends to direct most commercial development to those areas, in which case the argument for prohibiting by-the-drink sales in the unincorporated areas has merit. That is a zoning issue. Otherwise, the beer and wine prohibition makes it harder for businesses to survive in the unincorporated areas. That isn’t fair.
Beshara proposes to level the playing field. This is a time when the other commissioners should follow his lead.

Nonresidents Right About Rezoning Issue
It was interesting Monday night to have about 45 people petitioning the Commerce Planning Commission to reject a developer’s request to annex 176 acres. Very few of the citizens appealing to the government were city residents, and the planning commission’s job is to look after the best interest of the city of Commerce, not its nearby neighbors.
But the residents of Montgomery Shores, Oconee Heights, Jefferson Road and Traynham Road were absolutely right in pointing out that the addition of 400 houses in the area would be detrimental to Commerce (and to their interests). The planning commission concurred, and it is expected that the city council will turn down the rezoning request on Aug. 11.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, Commerce has nothing to gain by annexing land for new residential development. The same tract might develop outside the city, but Commerce will not be obligated to educate the children who live there, provide police protection or to offer municipal sewerage service.
The population of Commerce is already growing fast enough to strain our infrastructure. We’ve no need to solicit more residential growth.


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