Jackson County Opinions...

SEPTEMBER 17, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
September 17, 2003

Mac Barber The Last Person We Need As Mayor
Mayor Mac Barber? Doesn’t that have a familiar, if unpleasant, ring?
The 86-year-old eccentric Barber has decided to make another foray into politics in his home town, and the scary thing is he could win.
No, it isn’t likely, but Barber has a long history of winning political contests. He may be old, frail, out of touch with city government and virtually homeless, but never count out Mac Barber until all the votes have been tallied.
His last attempt was in 1992 when he claimed he lived in Banks County as he qualified to challenge Bubba McDonald for the PSC seat Barber once held. The boundaries of the district had changed, leaving his Shankle Heights residence in another district. The judge of an administrative hearing found that there was no evidence to conclude that Barber lived in Banks County.
There’s none to conclude he lives in Commerce, either. His residence is unkempt and run down, probably not fit for human habitation, but Barber is seldom seen there, and when he is, he’s sleeping outside the house in his car. Over the years, the city has repeatedly had to write him threatening action under its cleanliness of premises ordinance in order to get the grass cut.
The last thing Commerce needs is Mac Barber as mayor. The last time he was mayor he left Commerce just shy of bankruptcy, though it is true the city was not exactly in stellar financial condition when he came into office. But if you want to get an idea of what a Barber administration could do for Commerce, just drive by his house and see what he’s done for the structure that used to be his residence.
So why does he want to be mayor? Public service is in his blood. He developed a reputation as a Lester Maddox type “little man’s friend,” by performing favors whenever he could. He was legendary at BJC Hospital for advising people with medical bills that they need not pay them. Barber is not good with the big picture; he’s more comfortable and often charming in one-on-one dealings with citizens, particularly the elderly, where he comes off as a kindly grandfather type and old-fashioned country gentleman.
But he can be very shrewd as well. He’s a smooth talker whose words require careful scrutiny. More than once he’s made a statement that appeared to say something definite, but a careful analysis of what he said obscured the intent. He was fond of making what appeared to be a definitive statement, followed by “I say that without fear of successful contradiction.” He was not saying he could not be proven wrong, just that he did not fear being proven wrong. It used to be said that “Pinning Mac Barber down on an issue is as difficult as nailing a custard pie to the wall.”
Somebody should write a book about Barber. Everyone who knows him has a Mac Barber story, from the former PSC public relations staffer who told of Barber leaving via the back window instead of the door, to stories of Barber, prior to city council meetings when he was mayor, circling the block several times to see who was present.
It would be a good book, but I pray that the final chapter doesn’t include a second term as mayor.


 Editorials
The Jackson Herald
September 17, 2003

Time to lower taxes
The nine percent growth in the Jackson County tax digest this year means that our taxes should be lowered.
But we don’t look for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to be responsible and give taxpayers a break. Instead, the BOC will likely keep its millage rate extremely high to pay for a huge growth in county expenses.
We know the three local school systems will be raising taxes this year. Federal mandates and state cutbacks has shifted a tremendous burden onto local schools all across the state. Indeed, unless there is a dramatic change in how we fund education in Georgia, many school systems will be at their maximum tax rate of 20 mills within the next few years.
But while most school boards have little control over their own budgets, the BOC does have a large degree of control over its budget. But this BOC has increasingly taxed Jackson County citizens to pay for a bloated bureaucracy.
It’s time for that board to lower the tax rate by 3-4 mills to get back in line with other counties of a similar size.


BOC ‘study’ just another takeover ploy
The so-called water authority “needs assessment study” approved by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners this week is nothing more than another move in taking over the authority.
The BOC has been attempting to get control of the authority for months, first by trying to maneuver a legislative takeover in February and when that failed, the BOC appointed two people who it believed could pave the way for a coup.
Not surprisingly, the takeover attempt is being led by commissioner Stacy Britt, a real estate developer who would like nothing more than to control the location of public water and sewer lines in Jackson County. His real estate investments, and those of his friends, could be enhanced with his finger on the water button.
We have said it many times before and we restate it again now: The county water and sewerage authority should remain independent of political control and manipulation.
The only thing the BOC wants to study is how to increase its own power.

 

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
September 17, 2003

AG’s office not protecting citizens
Why has the Georgia Attorney General’s office so boldly stepped into the court case involving the Jackson County courthouse?
In a word, politics. And the message the AG’s office is sending the citizens of Georgia is terrible.
The AG’s office has taken that position that the controversial lease-purchase financing proposed by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners is legal. But in court papers filed by the AG’s office last week, there is little merit to their argument.
The truth is, the AG’s office is bending to pressure from Atlanta bond lawyers to take up this case on their behalf. Bond lawyers are making millions of dollars off government lease-purchase deals and they do not want that flow of cash disturbed.
The large bond law firms around Atlanta also make a lot of political donations to candidates. Just take a look at the long list of contributors to Attorney General Thurbert Baker’s re-election campaign, which includes lawyers from King & Spalding, the Atlanta bond firm defending the BOC.
In addition, other parties with an interest in doing these kind of “back door bonds” are also contributors to Baker’s campaign. The chairman of Wachovia, which is slated to do the Jackson County bonds for the courthouse, was a contributor to Baker’s campaign last year. The chairman lives in North Carolina, so his interest in Georgia is business only, not personal political conviction.
In short, it is obvious that the AG’s office is deep in the back pockets of lawyers and corporations which have a vested interest in keeping the lease-purchase system alive and well.
But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. In the best of worlds, the AG’s office would have as its mission the protection of Georgia’s citizens, not the protection of legal cohorts.
The one thing that neither the BOC lawyers nor the AG’s office has addressed in their legal briefs, however, is the fact that the Georgia Constitution forbids local governments from taking on long-term debt without a vote of citizens. In one of its court briefs, the AG’s office attempts to give a convoluted definition to “debt” such that this lease-purchase deal isn’t really “debt.”
But if this is not a debt, then what is debt in Georgia? If borrowing money for 30 years to build a courthouse isn’t long-term debt, then nothing can ever be considered debt in Georgia.
The BOC, its lawyers and the AG’s office pretend that the county can walk away from this deal at any time in the future. But of course, that’s just on paper, a legal fiction designed to hide the truth.
Because it would destroy the county’s credit rating to walk away from this huge $25 million deal, the county really doesn’t have that option. To pretend otherwise is to ignore the real world conditions of this deal.
I don’t know what the judge in this case will eventually rule. He has the reputation of not bowing to political pressures.
On the other hand, what judge from another county wants to become entangled in a controversy like this, one that steps on the toes of some of the most influential political powers in the state?
And one of the worst parts of it is that our state attorney general has defaulted his position as protector of the people and become a weapon for protecting the cash flow of bond lawyers.
It’s a hell’va mess.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
September 17, 2003

Lanier Tech Important Addition To Commerce
The opening of a Lanier Tech satellite campus in Commerce is an exciting event that could ultimately lead to a permanent campus of the vocational college in Commerce – or at least in Jackson County.
Officials will gather Friday morning to celebrate the event, but the real payoff comes as students begin enhancing their futures by taking courses. The opportunity to work toward a degree at a convenient location will result in more young people continuing their education after high school. That, in turn, means the individual is more likely to have a successful future and that the community has one more amenity to offer business and industry thinking of locating in the area.
The real long-term economic health of a community depends upon the quality of the workforce and the opportunities that are available for it. Jackson County has had a lot of success in attracting new jobs and its location suggests that success will continue. Lanier Tech will provide another resource for those desiring the new jobs as well as new employers needing trained workers and will complement our three school systems very well.
It is too early to tell, but the effort that the city of Commerce, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, BJC Medical Center and the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce may pay as big a dividend over the long run as the landing of a major industry.

Festival Committee Needs More Accountability
Thanks to the generosity of country music legend Bill Anderson and the spirit of hundreds of volunteers, Commerce has enjoyed seven City Lights concerts so far. And while the 2003 concert and festival appear to have lost money, they certainly produced a profit to the community in terms of exposure, public relations and community pride.
That being said, as the committee that puts on the festival prepares for the 2004 event, it needs to make one major change. The committee should insist on a full accounting of its revenues and expenditures under the auspices of an accountant.
It’s not that there is wrongdoing, allegations of wrongdoing or suspicion of wrongdoing. It’s just that with the amount of revenue involved, it is only prudent to have safeguards and systems in place so that when everything is tallied in the end, there will be a clear paper trail showing where every dollar came from and where it went. That information has a practical value as well; it will enable the organizers to recognize what events made money and which lost money or were not sufficiently profitable to be continued. It will enable the organizers to tweak the festival to maximize the amount of money raised for the Bill Anderson Center for Performing Arts.
In the end, to sustain the festival, the hundreds of volunteers need to be sure that every penny of the money they raise or contribute is properly accounted for and spent wisely. Every organization must be accountable to its members; this one is no exception.


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