Jackson County Opinions...

AUGUST 13, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
August 13, 2003

Don’t Worry:
The Police Have You Covered
It is widely known that the Commerce Police Department has a sniper rifle and a qualified marksman. What is not known is how this individual works to protect the citizens of Commerce.
You probably noticed the lack of terrorist incidents the past two years at the City Lights Festival. Our marksman was on the scene and in a position where he could take out anyone on the field, had the occasion arisen. If an attacker had broken through the line of cops between Aaron Tippin and the crowd, a single bullet would have restored order.
“We have it covered,” remarked a confident Police Chief John Gaissert when, at the concert, I asked him if the sniper was present.
Having a sniper is the small-town equivalent of a country possessing nuclear weapons. The main deterrent is that other folks know you are equipped with a weapon, know how to deploy it and are willing to use it.
Since the sniper is a matter related to city security and I have only Level 1 security clearance (permission to use public rest rooms), I am not privy to the strategy for deploying the sniper or his whereabouts at high-profile events like the Commerce-Jefferson football game or public hearings on the city budget.
Still, I do have sources in the police department, and you’d be surprised how talkative cops can be, especially when they’re searching your car after finding the tag decal missing or affixed at an inappropriate angle.
Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, public officials have had to worry about terrorist threats on their infrastructure. And while Commerce has no tall buildings suitable for knocking down with airplanes (except the Gold Kist Feed Mill), the biggest security concern is the water plant. (Don’t you wonder about about why the city’s water supply suddenly went muddy for two weeks this spring?)
The next person who drifts near the water intake may be in for a surprise. It’s a long but easy shot for a marksman to take out an intruder near the intake from the big rock on the northeast side of the lake. That lone “fisherman” you often see on the rock? Who knows? It would be wise for people with Banks County plates to not linger in the vicinity of the lake’s dam.
The sniper is also in a position to defend the water system if al Qaeda and its sympathizers try to compromise our water supply by watering their yards on Fridays in violations of state restrictions. Not all terrorist actions involve explosives and FOX camera crews.
Future security acquisitions may include a Predator drone from Army surplus and webcams to be placed in strategic locations, including most pay telephone booths in the city limits. All of this may seem extreme, but we live in a new world.
To quote our commander in chief: “We have irrefutable evidence that Saddam possesses weapons of mass destruction,” “We do not intend to occupy Iraq,” “Dick Cheney is a compassionate conservative” and “This tax cut is about creating jobs.”
In other words, trust me on this.
You should feel safe on the streets of Commerce, drinking city water and attending budget hearings. The police have you covered.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
August 13, 2003

Cut county taxes now!
Here’s an odd headline for you: “Commission votes to cut millage rate.”
No, that’s not a headline from this newspaper. But it was the headline last week in Cherokee County.
But here’s the real kicker: Even before the tax cut in Cherokee, that county’s tax rate was already 40 percent lower than the tax rate in unincorporated Jackson County.
Both Jackson and Cherokee counties are in growth areas near Metro Atlanta and both face the same kind of pressures on public services.
The biggest difference is the tax rate: Citizens in Cherokee County pay 40 percent less in county taxes than those living in Jackson County.
The truth is, Jackson County has one of the highest county government property tax rates in the state.
We’re higher than Barrow County.
We’re higher than Gwinnett County.
We’re higher than Hall County.
We’re higher than Forsyth County.
We’re higher than Cobb County.
The list goes on and on.
So why are taxes here so high?
Because our county leadership is wasteful and irresponsible. It is taking your money and throwing it away on frivolous items and a bloated bureaucracy. And it is sinking millions of dollars into a new courthouse site simply out of arrogance.
It is time the citizens in Jackson County put a stop to this.
In the coming weeks, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners will set the millage rate for the coming year. Citizens should demand that the rate be lowered by 30-40 percent.
In 2002, the unincorporated tax rate in Jackson County, not including school, fire, state or other taxes, was 8.75 mills. In Cherokee County, it was only 5.25 mills.
If Cherokee County can lower its tax rate by a small amount, then Jackson County should be able to lower its tax rate by a huge amount.
The citizens of Jackson County are having their pockets picked by our board of commissioners. It’s time to fight back and demand that those leaders cut taxes now!

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
August 6, 2003

David, Waddell touch gloves in pre-fight circus
It’s said that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Wanda B. David, a new member of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority, ought to be the poster gal for that saying.
In a face-to-face meeting Tuesday, David began a personal quest to oust her former boyfriend, water superintendent Jerry Waddell, from his job.
But that was just the pre-fight weigh-in, the first phase in a series of circus-like events David and the board of commissioners set in motion a month ago.
Normally, the public doesn’t care about the private lives of public officials. It is only when the events in officials’ private lives affect their public duties that messy private details become news.
You might remember that David was put on the water authority last month by the BOC. The BOC tried, and failed, last winter to take over the authority. Putting David on that authority was the BOC’s way of giving “the finger” to the authority and the citizens of Jackson County who opposed that takeover effort.
But most of you know about all that. What you may not know is the rest of the story.
After the end of their personal relationship, David and Waddell entered into a bitter lawsuit. Claims and counter claims flew. It was ugly.
On July 10, David and Waddell ended their lawsuit with a settlement. Each signed off on the document. And while it’s hard to say that such situations have a clear “winner,” at first glance it would appear that Waddell walked away with most of what he wanted. David had to write him a check for $20,000, give back a camper and give back four tracts of land.
But what Waddell didn’t know on July 10 when he signed the settlement agreement was that David also had another plan. She had already agreed with BOC members Stacey Britt, Emil Beshara and Tony Beatty to be named to the water authority and become her ex-boyfriend’s boss.
Within hours of signing the suit settlement, the BOC appointed David to the water authority.
But here’s the punch line.
In the settlement document between Waddell and David, there was language which at first read: “David agrees not to come upon the premises of Waddell or his place of business, and both parties agree not to call or in any way come about the person of the other.”
At the last minute, however, David wanted some of that changed. She knew she was about to be appointed to the water authority and that she had to take out the language which would have prevented her from going to the water authority office where Waddell works. She also had to take out language which prevented her from coming “about the person” of Waddell.
So in a last-minute move, agreed to by Waddell who had no idea what David and the BOC were up to, David lined through most of those those words (she left in the no phone calls provision) and sent a message to Waddell that she would not settle unless that language was taken out.
It was a cunning move by David, one that she obviously planned so she could be appointed to the water authority and from that position of power, get revenge. Under the original language of their settlement, David would not have been able to serve on the water authority because she wouldn’t have been allowed to go into the authority building. Hence, the last-minute revision to her settlement with Waddell.
Of course, David won’t admit that she is motivated by revenge. A couple weeks ago, she came by my office and showed me a copy of some water authority financial statements. She claimed the numbers showed the authority was in the red and that the authority was in danger of going out of business.
Alas, Mrs. David apparently can’t read financial data. The statement really showed the authority is operating in the black and is financially sound.
But the facts don’t matter. Wanda David is on a mission, as was evidenced Tuesday when she confronted Waddell with a “consultant” at her side.
Unfortunately for the citizens of Jackson County, David’s mission has nothing to do with public service and everything to do with settling a score from a relationship turned sour.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
August 13, 2003

BOC Still Working On Dismantling Authority
Give the Jackson County Board of Commissioners credit for consistency. It’s still trying to take over the county water and sewerage authority.
New appointee Wanda David, as anxious as the BOC to get revenge on authority manager Jerry Waddell (who is her ex-lover), took it upon herself (and new member Clay Dale) to launch an analysis of the authority’s money management and practices. The idea is to find a hook upon which to hang Waddell’s firing.
That’s not the way the authority works. Without a majority vote, no such analysis will take place. One, two or even five members cannot contract to do business without a vote in a public meeting.
David is angry enough for personal reasons to do the BOC’s dirty work. The clear conflict of interest is obvious; David’s only interest in being on the water and sewerage authority is to get rid of Waddell. That’s an indication as to the depths to which government in Jackson County has fallen.
David serves because commissioners Emil Beshara, Stacey Britt and Tony Beatty elected her. They are co-conspirators with David and Dale in this nasty episode and likely many more to come.

State Budget Fiasco
This past spring, the Georgia General Assembly labored mightily, if ineffectively, to pass a budget for Fiscal Year 2004. Faced with declining revenue and growing budget needs, the General Assembly writhed in agony between the concepts of spending cuts and tax hikes.
The budget that resulted included spending cuts and increased taxes on cigarettes, plus a tax on smokeless tobacco. It was also based on an optimistic revenue projection of 6.5 percent growth.
No one but a legislator will be surprised to learn that for July, the first month in the new fiscal year, revenue is actually down 5.4 percent. Accordingly, Gov. Sonny Perdue has ordered every department to present a plan for cutting the 2004 budget by another 2.5 percent.
There is little evidence that Georgia’s economy will recover in time to salvage the 2004 budget, so it looks like boards of education will have to make up for the state’s budgeting ineptitude by increasing local funds or cutting local services. Unfortunately, while the state may order spending cuts, it will not reduce its expensive mandates on class sizes and special programs. Most school boards, like Commerce’s, will have to further deplete their reserves, since the only way to meet spending cuts is to terminate personnel already under contract.
This is the result of politicians unable to make difficult but necessary choices after prior years’ excessive cutting of taxes when the economy was growing. A government unwilling to increase taxes when it is necessary is as fiscally irresponsible as a government anxious to increase taxes when it is not. Members of the General Assembly and Governor Perdue know that more than 80 percent of every school system’s budget is in personnel, yet they passed a budget based on unrealistic revenue projections, leaving local school boards to fend for themselves when it came time to face the facts. With previous cuts already made, local school boards can do little except pony up additional local funds, but when re-election time comes, however, the same politicians will brag about how they managed to avoid state tax increases.
The General Assembly has yet to fully fund any of its education programs, but it has been willing to cut school funding even as it asks school boards to be “accountable” in the system it fails to fund. Georgia’s schools will continue to be ranked last in the United States because its legislators are among the most cowardly and irresponsible in the country.


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