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SEPTEMBER 3, 2003


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A complete history of Jackson County, Georgia from 1796 to the present. Written in narrative style for easy reading. Includes material not found in other books about Jackson County.

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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS

The Wait Is Over
Tigers Looking For Fast Start, Lions Looking To Get Back On Track Friday

Headed for the mountains
Dragons to face Union Co. on Fri.
With their first-game jitters and question marks now behind them the Jefferson football team heads north to Union County this Friday night to face a Panther squad that will have to deal with many of the season-opening issues that the Dragons have already seen.

Lady Panthers prowling rival Winder on Thursday
TWO OF the top teams in Region 8-AAAA North, Jackson County and Winder-Barrow, will square off Thursday in Winder in what has become one of the area’s fiercest rivalries.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
‘The people’s decision’
Cain explains need for new county administrator government
When Rickey Cain ran for county commission last year, his platform had only one issue — changing the county’s form of government. And Cain was elected.

Gillsville setting up new regulations to curb problems at city park
The first draft of a new ordinance setting regulations, fee structures and deposits for use of the town park were discussed at the town council meeting in Gillsville Tuesday night.


Neighborhood News...
MADISON COUNTY
Used motor oil recycling center opens
The Madison County Solid Waste Transfer Station on Colbert-Danielsville Road opened a Used Motor Oil Recycling Center on Saturday, Aug. 30. The center was funded by a Georgia Environmental Facilities Agency (GEFA) grant.

Qualifying set for local elections
Qualifying for local municipal council posts will be held next week in several Madison County cities.

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LARGE CROWD AT HEARING

The Jackson County courtroom was filled almost to capacity Tuesday afternoon for a hearing on the lawsuit filed by a group of county citizens against the board of commissioners. Bailiff Larry Sailors is shown standing.

County awaits judge’s decision
Courtroom full as arguments over BOC’s plans heard Tues.
The future of the high-profile case between a group of Jackson County citizens and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners is now in the hands of a judge.
Following a two-hour hearing Tuesday in Jackson County Superior Court, visiting Judge Carlisle Overstreet asked for follow-up briefs from the lawyers, but did not issue a ruling.
Although there were no major surprises presented at the hearing, both sides outlined their positions in oral presentations before the judge. In addition, the state attorney general’s office had a representative at the hearing in support of the BOC’s position. Since the legal action could at some point challenge the constitutionality of a Georgia code, the attorney general’s office is permitted to help defend that law.
At issue in the case is a plan by the BOC to finance a $25 million courthouse through the Association County Commissioners of Georgia with a “lease-purchase” plan. Through that plan, the ACCG would hold title to the courthouse and the BOC would lease it for 30 years, at which time it would take title to the property.
But a citizens’ group contends that plan is just a financial scheme to allow the BOC to borrow construction funds and thus bypass voters. The Georgia Constitution says that local governments cannot issue long-term debt without voter approval.
The BOC’s position is that since their plan is a “lease-purchase,” it is not long-term debt. To defend its position, the BOC’s lawyers pointed to a 1989 case, Barkley vs. City of Rome, in which the lease-purchase of personal property was upheld as being permissible.
BOTH SIDES OPTIMISTIC
Both sides of the case were optimistic about the outcome following Tuesday’s hearing. Tim Venable, chairman of Concerned Citizens of Jackson County, the group leading the lawsuit effort, said he was pleased with the turnout at the hearing.
“First of all, I was pleased to see that the courtroom was essentially full,” he said. “Jackson Countians are very interested in this case. I thought our attorney, Wyc Orr, did a fine job of advocating our position. That position, of course, is that the BOC’s proposed lease purchase deal is actually a debt, not a lease, and as such is subject to voter approval under the Georgia Constitution. We look forward to the judge’s decision.”
BOC chairman Harold Fletcher said: “One thing I learned a long time ago is not to try and guess how a judge or jury is going to go. I think our attorneys presented a well organized and factual case. We are optimistic of the outcome.”
Lawyers for the BOC are hoping for a quick ruling in their favor so that the board can proceed with its plans to build a new courthouse.
KEY POINTS
At Tuesday’s hearing, Orr, representing the citizens’ group, argued a three-prong attack on the BOC’s plan.
• Orr attacked the 1989 Barkley case, saying it was a setup case designed to elicit a favorable court ruling. During a deposition by Orr, Larry Barkley said he filed the suit in 1988 at the behest of the Rome city attorney and that he believes it was done on behalf of the Georgia Municipal Association. Barkley said he recalled getting a payment after the suit from a “group,” believed to be the GMA.
Orr argued Tuesday that because that case was set up by the GMA, and that Barkley was not just an “interested taxpayer,” it was not a valid test of the law. Orr said the Georgia Supreme Court did not have all the facts about that case when it made its ruling in 1989.
The county’s attorney, Nolan C. Leake of King and Spalding, said that it being a test case is irrelevant. He said the Supreme Court knew what the issues were when it ruled.
“This clearly shows that the lease purchase is constitutional, as is the statute with which it is drawn up,” Leake said of the Rome ruling.
• Orr attacked the details of the lease, saying that it was just “hocus pocus.” According to Orr, the county transferred title to the ACCG of the courthouse property, but the ACCG immediately transferred it back to the BOC. In a recent deposition of BOC chairman Harold Fletcher, Fletcher claimed the ACCG currently had title to the land.
“It’s a great deal of hocus pocus,” said Orr. “It’s a great deal of smoke and mirrors...You can’t acquire what you already have.”
• Orr also said the deal would, in effect, leave the county with “debt.” He pointed to an email sent by Emil Beshara to The Jackson Herald editor Mike Buffington in which Beshara stated that walking away from the new courthouse in the future would harm the county’s credit rating. Orr argued that if the county cannot walk away from the lease, then it isn’t really a lease, but a debt.
“The real fundamental issue is whether the Jackson County taxpayers will be saddled with $25 million in debt over 30 years,” he said. “You can’t dress up $25 million worth of debt over 30 years and slide it past the courts.”
COUNTY’S CASE
In its defense of the proposed lease, county lawyers defended the Barkley decision; said the practice of doing lease-purchase deals in Georgia had been done for a long time in Georgia; and that Jackson County needs a new courthouse.
Leake spoke for 20 minutes in presenting the county’s case and said that lease-purchase agreements with the ACCG have been done for 15 years in 45 counties for 78 capital improvement projects.
“It’s clear that this falls under the lease purchase statute,” he said of the county’s financing plan.
Leake also said the statute allowing ACCG lease-purchase agreements has many restrictions, including that the county can walk away from it at the end of each year. He said the county would have no obligation beyond the current year.
“It’s clear that this (the BOC’s plans) falls under the lease purchase statute,” he said.
Leake also spoke on the need for a new courthouse.
“Something needs to be done,” Leake said. “I don’t think there’s a whole lot of dispute about that.”
But Orr said that need was not relevant to the case.
“The need of a new courthouse facility is not the issue here...All of the evidence and reference in my opponent’s filings about the need is irrelevant,” he said.


Old Pendergrass Rd. residents fight new subdivision plans
Just a few months after battling plans for a new subdivision, neighbors along Old Pendergrass Road are once again fighting plans for a second subdivision — only 2,000 feet from the first.
Ray Banks is seeking to rezone 31.51 acres on Old Pendergrass Road from A-2 to R-1 for a 31-home subdivision. The Jackson County Planning Commission approved Banks’ request on Thursday.
“Our main concern is the number of lots,” said Denis Coté, who spoke in opposition to the request. Unlike lots in the city limits of Jefferson along Old Pendergrass Road, lots past the Middle Oconee River in unincorporated Jackson County average seven acres, he added.
Coté was one of several nearby residents who spoke in opposition to a rezoning request by John Bell that called for a 69-home subdivision several months ago. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners approved that request in May with a tie-breaking vote for a 58 to 64-lot subdivision. About 125 people attended the meeting when Bell’s request was heard by the commissioners.
At Thursday’s planning commission meeting, Coté said it took neighbors about 10 months to reach a compromise with county leaders for Bell’s rezoning request.
“So, whatever we said last time, we want to say this time,” Coté said.
And keeping the same conditions approved for Bell’s property, the planning and development office recommended that Banks’ proposed subdivision have larger homes and lots.
The first condition states the lot sizes must be at least one acre; Banks is proposing three-quarter acre lots. Planners also recommended the minimum heated square-footage for the homes be 1,700 for single-story homes and 2,100 for two-story homes; Banks wanted homes at the minimum of 1,400 square-feet.
“Fourteen-hundred (square feet) is not going to get it,” said Harvey Lance, a nearby resident. “I’ve got that much for my garage.”
But, Steve Sappington, who represented Banks’ request, told the county planners his client didn’t agree with two of the recommendations by the planning and development office to increase the lot size and require larger homes.
County planning commission member Don Segraves said the conditions were similar to those approved for Bell’s property.
“The commissioners said that’s it,” Segraves said of the recommended conditions.
Banks’ request for the property, which backs up to I-85, also doesn’t meet the current or future land use plan. Those plans show the property for potential industrial or medium-density residential uses.
The Jackson County Planning Commission recommended approval of Banks’ request, including the conditions.
The BOC will vote on the request on Monday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m.
OTHER REQUESTS
In other business, the planning commission recommended approval of the following requests that will be voted on by the BOC on Monday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m.
• Mike Malerba’s request to withdraw his request to change a zoning amendment for a turn lane on Hoods Mill Road. Malerba will still construct a 100-home subdivision on 133.22 acres.
• T.W Funderburk’s request to rezone two acres on Old State Road in Pendergrass from A-2 to B-1 for the purpose of a small used car lot. The planners recommended removing a provision to require cars to have current tags from their conditions.
• Brian Kemp’s request to rezone seven acres on New Kings Bridge Road from A-2 to A-R for three homes. Kemp explained that a home for his business partner, Mike Phillips, will be constructed on one of the three lots.
• Piedmont Development Corporation’s request to rezone 10.39 acres on Savage Road and Bear Creek Lane from A-2 to R-1 for the purpose of a seven-home subdivision, for Phase III of Bear Creek Estates. The planners amended a recommended condition that states all new utilities must be placed underground at the expense of the developer.
• Christy Austin’s request to rezone four acres on Jefferson River Road from A-2 to R-1 to subdivide the property into four one-acre lots. The planners removed a recommended condition requiring sod.

 

 


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See Galilee Preschool Flyer


Qualifying NextWeek For City Elections
Mayor, 3 City Councilmen, 3
On School Board To Be Elected
Commerce residents who think their government or school board needs some new faces or who just have a desire to get into local politics will have their chance next week.
Qualifying for the Nov. 4 city elections begins at 8:30 Monday and ends the following Friday, Sept. 12, at 4:30 p.m., according to City Clerk Shirley Willis.
The following city government positions are up for election this year: Mayor, currently held by Charles L. Hardy Jr.; Ward 3, currently held by Sam Brown; Ward 4, occupied by Bob Sosebee; and Ward 5, a new position replacing the at-large Post 2 seat now held by Richard Massey. Also to be filled this year are the following board of education posts: District 3, now held by Bill Davis; District 4, occupied by Steve Perry, who is also chairman; and District 5, held by Dr. Paul Sergent.
This will be the first election since the city reapportionment that created five wards to match the five school districts. The change also eliminated the at-large council posts and with this election, Archie D. Chaney Jr., the at-large Post 2 councilman, becomes mayor pro tem – a position he’s held in recent years by virtue of being elected by fellow council members. In two years, that position will be up for election.
Qualifying fees are set by state law at three percent of the office’s salary. That amounts to $126 for mayor, $81 for city councilmen and $66 for school board members, according to Mrs. Willis.
The reapportionment realigned all of the ward boundaries and most of the school district boundaries, although the changes to the latter were less significant. Maps will be posted at the polls.
The last day to register to vote in the city election is Oct. 6.


Local SAT scores mixed
Both Jefferson and Jackson County high schools’ SAT scores saw some shifts over last year, with JCCHS seeing an increase in college prep totals and a slight decrease in the total for all test takers; just the opposite, JHS saw an increase in the total for all test takers and a drop in college prep scores.
The JHS combined average for 2003, including results from 33 college prep and 8 tech prep students, was 1,032, above the state’s 984 total average and up from the school’s 2002 score of 996.
The JCCHS combined average, including results from 23 tech prep students and 68 college prep students was 963, below the state average, and down slightly from the school’s 2002 score of 966.
However, college prep student scores showed gains in 2003 at JCCHS, with college prep students scoring 1,031, up from the 2002 score of 991.
JHS college prep students showed a decrease in 2003, with a total score of 1,069, down from 1,082 in 2002.
In 2003, JHS saw a 31-point increase in math scores and a 5-point increase in verbal scores for all takers. JHS college prep scores showed a 4-point gain in math and a 17-point decrease in verbal.
In 2003, JCCHS saw a decrease in math scores of 4 points and a 1-point increase in verbal scores for all takers. College prep scores increased by 15 points in math and increased by 25 points in verbal.