Jackson County Opinions...

NOVEMBER 19, 2003

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
November 19, 2003

Keep The Holiday Decorations Tasteful And PC
Welcome to the Christmas season, which this year officially began Nov. 1 and in 2004 will start after Labor Day. The idea is to advance it systematically to the point where it will be Christmas all year round, which will save millions of man-hours a year in decorating costs.
As the season expands, there need to be some basic rules to ensure good taste and political correctness. Since other columnists are too tied up critiquing the war in Iraq, the medical malpractice crisis or the drug addiction of Rush Limbaugh to take up this important matter, here is Mark’s Provisional Guide to Christmas Decorating.
Indoor Residential:
•All Christmas trees must have a star on top. Placing an angel there looks, well, uncomfortable.
•Live trees should take up no more than 50 percent of the room in which they are placed. Îf a fat tree is placed in a corner, two sides should be squared off for a better fit.
•Nativity scenes must stick to a reasonable adaptation of the account of Jesus’ birth, which means the addition of figurines depicting Santa Claus, soldiers and comic book or cartoon series characters are expressly prohibited.
•There is no limit to the number of decorated trees placed in any one residence, but no tree, real or artificial, is allowed in a bathroom.
Outdoor Residential:
•There is a limit of 250,000 lights/house in incorporated areas and 1.5 million in unincorporated areas. See the Jackson County Unified Code relating to lot sizes and “usable space.”
•Santa, reindeer and other non-religious figures must not be placed within 10 yards of a nativity scene.
•Themes tied to secular characters (“A Peanuts Christmas”) must be protected from public view by leyland cypress trees or a similar vegetative screen.
•Broadcasting to the public of Christmas music by The Chipmunks, barking dogs or Kenny Gee is punishable with a fine not to exceed $5,000.
•The use of musical tree ornaments is considered a violation of the noise ordinance.
•Broadcasting to the public indoors or outdoors of Christmas music by The Chipmunks, barking dogs or Kenny Gee is punishable with a fine not to exceed $5,000.
Public Property:
•All reference to Jesus is prohibited.
•Displays relating to Christmas must be balanced with holiday displays from Judaism, Islam and an empty space dedicated to atheism or, alternatively, displays may be generic, non-religious, such as “Seasons Greetings.”
Parades On Public Streets:
•All reference to Jesus is prohibited.
•The number of people on a float shall be established on a square foot basis. See the Jackson County Unified Code relating to vehicle sizes and “usable space.”
•Floats or vehicles carrying pageant winners must follow the horses.
•”Antique car” is defined as a vehicle manufactured before 1970 and refurbished to original appearance and operating condition.
Have a happy holiday season.

The Commerce News
November 19, 2003

Defining ‘Greenspace’
Critical To City’s Future
It is often said that the devil is in the details and Commerce’s requirement of a set-aside of 20 percent of the land for “greenspace” is a classic example. Just what qualifies as greenspace and how can it be used for the best benefit of Commerce residents.
In Jackson County, the preservation of greenspace was an attempt to retain some of the rural characteristics – woods and open fields – that are in danger of being gobbled up by new subdivisions of a hundred, 200 acres or 1,000 acres.
In Commerce, most subdivisions are much smaller so that a 20-percent set-aside is a couple of acres or a couple of lots. The question is what to do with the land to minimize the city’s maintenance costs and to provide amenities for the citizens. Should it be used as a buffer zone, a playground or left untouched? That is the issue being pondered by the Commerce Planning Commission and, later, by the Commerce City Council.
The answer is going to be some of each, depending upon the size of the development and the lay of the land. Thus the allocation of the set-aside will be very subjective and open to many interpretations, which presents a challenge for developers and for city planners not just in enforcing the regulation, but in writing it as well. Like land use regulations in general, the preservation of greenspace is a learn-as-you-go activity requiring patience from all parties involved.
But there is no better time than the present to tackle this issue. There will be more subdivisions proposed for Commerce and some of them will be large. If the city is to preserve some of its rural charm and prevent every acre from being developed, this is the time to establish the means by which that may be accomplished. The planning commission is already studying the issue and when it has a recommendation to make, the Commerce City Council will do the same. What they come up with will have a lot to do with what Commerce looks like – and feels like – for years to come.

More Likely To Be Heard Of Alabama’s Roy Moore
Roy Moore was stripped of his status as Alabama's chief justice Thursday over his refusal to obey a court order to remove the 2.5-ton granite monument to the Ten Commandments. Don't worry, Moore will be back.
Moore is riding the Ten Commandments issue for all it is worth. It was on the platform of placing the Mosaic Law in the Supreme Court building that Moore won election in the first place, Rest assured, he will try to parlay his refusal to obey the law and the "persecution" levied against him into a job as governor or senator or who knows what.
It is the shallowest platform upon which to seek office, but one that may work. Moore seeks to lift his reputation by narrowing the question of suitability to office to the single standard of Christian religious conservatism. Thousands of Alabama voters have rallied to him and his cause and officials are scurrying to place copies of the Ten Commandments in public buildings in places as diverse as Jackson County. Politicians know a bandwagon when they see one.
The only glitch in the scenario is that in refusing to obey the order of a higher court, Moore might have alienated some of his core followers. Conservative Alabama voters may want the Ten Commandments prominently displayed, but they also expect the chief justice to respect and obey the law. Still, we may find out whether voters will elect a candidate based solely on religious convictions who has proven willing to violate his oath of office to uphold the law.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
November 19, 2003

Arcade turning the clock backwards
Hell hath no fury like a government bureaucrat scorned — at least in Arcade. For the last few weeks, this newspaper has written about Arcade’s budget woes and about problems in its police department. In those writings, we have said several times that the town operates a speed trap.
City officials have taken offense to that and again this week, a city council member writes in defense of the town’s police department and its practice of fining motorists (see the following page.) He denies that the town operates a speed trap, based on state law definitions.
In a technical sense, he may be correct (a state investigation is on-going). But we’re not concerned about the technical definition of “speed trap.” There are many clever ways to get around the letter of the law and still operate a speed trap.
That’s what has happened in Arcade. Of course, it didn’t start out that way. A decade ago, Arcade was in debt because of a controversial landfill and resulting lawsuits. The old administration was swept from office and a new administration brought in to clean up the mess.
Faced with that debt, the city began to use fine money from speeders to pay the bills. Over time, it became addicted to that fine income. Maybe that wasn’t on purpose, but the result is still the same.
In the process, the expense of the town’s police department skyrocketed and is far out of proportion to the size of the community.
Let’s say this clearly: It is unethical, for any government to use its law enforcement to generate revenue as is being done in Arcade. To do this is akin to the Middle Ages when sheriffs were tax collectors and went into the English countryside to demand payment to the King. The peasants who did not pay were beaten, stolen from, or jailed.
Police departments should be for public safety, not public fund-raisers. Arcade isn’t the first town to go down this road (no pun intended), but it is the worst example in Jackson County of the practice. Law enforcement officials should always be divorced from financial considerations in local government.
Of course, Arcade officials wrap their excuses in the veneer of “public safety.” But their words ring hollow in light of what is really happening. Some 69 percent of the town’s overall budget goes to the police department. That department is projected to cost Arcade $590,000 next year, a huge amount for such a small town.
But there are apparently other problems within the Arcade police department as well. Since we began publishing articles about the situation, a number of people have come forward to echo our concerns and to bring new information to the table.
On Monday, this newspaper filed an open records request with Arcade for documents we hope will shed some light on the situation taking place within that department. We will be pursuing that information and hopefully, a clearer picture will begin to emerge of that department’s operations.
There are some good citizens in Arcade and some good public officials. Deep down, those people do want to get to the bottom of this situation, even if they don’t feel free to speak out right now.
But getting to the bottom of this Arcade turmoil is important. Historically, Arcade has had to carry a heavy burden as a community where “anything goes.” The town was created as a haven for cheap booze and for many years, was infamous for UGA students who poured out of Athens for their weekend refreshments. Back before alcohol became widely available in North Georgia, the town also had a reputation for supporting various bootleggers in the area. And some Arcade leaders were trailed with accusations of using booze and money to soften up the local voting process. It was all a dark stain on the community.
In the early 1990s, the town was again tainted when leaders attempted to locate a huge landfill in the community. A lot of money was at stake and implications of dirty-deals were thick (sometimes voiced by current council members who were at that time in the role of opposition.) One landfill developer during that era called me at home late one night, literally scared for his life. Such was the atmosphere in Arcade for a long time.
Those things are now, for the most part, history. The town needs to move forward. But it will never be able to put to rest its “Wild West” reputation as long as it operates a police department whose main objective is to collect fine money from passing motorists. Nor will it be able to move forward as long as its police department continues to be a revolving door with a tainted reputation among North Georgia law enforcement circles.
Arcade leaders can bury their heads in the sand about this if they wish. They can rationalize their actions as just “public safety.” And they are free to attack this newspaper for shining a light into places where they prefer darkness.
None of that, however, will make their basic problems disappear.
Arcade leaders want their small town to move forward. But that will never happen so long as their actions, and more importantly their inaction, continues to turn the clock backwards.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
November 19, 2003

School ‘anti-’ programs are no magic bullet
After a decade of being a part of local school curriculums, the anti-drug D.A.R.E. program will soon cease. The Jackson County School System will no longer offer the program after this school year. Funding for the program was cut when state legislators decided D.A.R.E. wasn’t producing results.
The school system is now considering adopting an anti-violence program called “Second Step” as a replacement for D.A.R.E. Like D.A.R.E., Second Step is a curriculum-based program designed to fix social problems that impact classrooms.
But we believe school leaders should carefully weigh this idea before moving forward.
There are dozens of programs available to schools that promise to fix a wide variety of social problems among students. There are anti-drug abuse programs, anti-sex abuse programs, anti-smoking programs, anti-suicide programs, anti-steroid use programs, anti-hate programs and the list goes on and on.
But many of those programs are nothing more than feel-good fluff being marketed to schools to make money for private firms.
Like many aspects of modern education, the focus on social fads in schools come and go. For a while, improving “self-esteem” was all the rage in schools. Then came anti-drug abuse programs, such as D.A.R.E. The current fad is anti-bullying and anti-violence programs.
But are those programs really effective? Are they worth the time, money and effort expended in the classroom?
We believe not. While there are certainly problems in public schools from kids with aggressive behavior, setting up a “do-right” curriculum won’t solve the problem. Some of those kids have serious emotional or psychological problems that need much more attention than can be provided by a classroom setting. Frankly, using teachers to do group therapy in class strikes us as nonsense, if not dangerous.
The appeal of programs like D.A.R.E. and Second Step is understandable. We are all looking for the “silver bullet” that will solve social problems faced by our children.
But there are no silver bullets. The developers of these type programs exploit our fears to market their curriculum products. Schools buy into those programs in part so they can say they are “doing something” about the problem-of-the-day.
Today the fad is anti-violence and anti-bullying. Next year, it will be another “anti-something” program that is the fad-of-the-moment.
We believe schools should focus on academic learning, not on pseudo-psychological behavior modification curriculums.

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