Jackson County Opinions...

DECEMBER 17, 2003

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
December 17, 2003

JCCHS Advanced Chorus Shows Us The Possibilities
When art students in Timothy Mitchell’s classes at Commerce Middle School and Commerce High School held their first art show last year, I remember being surprised by the amount of artistic talent among kids in the city school system. Even teachers expressed amazement at the previously unrealized talent of the students.
What brought that experience to mind is the Jackson County Comprehensive High School’s choral ensemble that departed today (Wednesday) to participate in the 2003 Advent Sing sponsored by the Vienna (that’s Austria, not South Georgia) Department of Cultural Affairs.
For months we’ve published notices of the ensemble’s plans to attend the event and its various activities to raise the $30,000 for the trip. During that time, many of us have heard the group perform multiple times, and it never fails to amaze me the level of musical talent these high school students possess.
I’m slowly catching on to what our best educators have been saying all along, that there is a wealth of native ability and talent amongst our kids, if only we can discover it, tap it and help the students develop it. Gifted students, whether their skills be athletic, academic or somewhere in the arts, must not only have an outlet, but also have someone who can inspire the kids to nurture and develop their skills.
Timothy Mitchell is mining the artistic skills of Commerce students. Todd Chandler is doing the same with vocal skills at JCCHS and the results have been so fantastic that 21 kids from Jackson County will sing in what one so aptly called the “music center of the universe,” Vienna, Austria.
The interesting thing about this group is that they’re blue-collar kids, many from struggling single-parent homes where one would not expect to find interest in classical music. Only one of the students has been out of the country before; some have probably never traveled beyond Georgia. Yet, they possess enormous talent and I promise you they will leave their audiences in Austria with exaggerated appreciation of the fine arts programs in American schools.
They won an invitation to sing by virtue of their talents; they’ve earned the right to attend through commitment and work ethic demonstrated as they sacrificed hundreds of evening and weekend hours in practice and attending over 30 fund-raising performances. Everyone in this county should be proud of them and thrilled for them.
The architect of this achievement is Chandler, whose combination of musical talent, enthusiasm and love for his students has inspired them to attain such distinction. His positive influence on these students is demonstrated not only as they sing, but also by the fact that most of them plan to continue their education after high school in music-related areas. He is also the music director at the First Baptist Church of Commerce where he spends a huge amount of time and effort getting a number of his students to Sunday school, church and youth activities.
We hear about the failures of our schools. Chandler and these students demonstrate the successes and remind us of the possibilities.

The Commerce News
December 17, 2003

Impact Fees Worth Considering In City
Jefferson officials announced last week that they will look at impact fees; Commerce officials have from time to time had similar thoughts. The issue is worth considering for both cities – and Jackson County.
Such fees are charged to new developments and are aimed at recovering some of the costs government incurs as new businesses, industries or houses are built. They can be used to pay for libraries, water, sewer and wastewater facilities, roads, parks, recreation areas and public safety facilities. They are legally complex because government must demonstrate that the fees are not arbitrary and they are controversial because they single out new development.
The theory is that existing taxpayers should not have to share the burden created by rapid growth; that new business, industry and individuals should have to pay to provide the infrastructure that their presence demands.That is reasonable, although most of us already in Commerce or Jefferson did not have to pay similarly. In the past, a community could absorb the slow trickle of growth without difficulty, but that is not the case as the rate of growth increases.
Impact fees are no cure, but properly administered can be a tool for managing growth.

Saddam’s Capture A Cause For Celebration
Certainly the capture of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is a cause for celebration throughout most of the world – especially in Iraq and in America. For whatever one might think of the validity of the U.S. war on Iraq, Hussein was a brutal, repressive dictator without whom the world is better off.
It is expected and fervently hoped that Hussein’s capture will demoralize much of the Iraqi resistance, make easier the rebuilding of Iraq and hasten the arrival of a stable government that will allow U.S. and other foreign troops to go home. At this early stage, however, it is impossible to determine what, if any, role Hussein played in the resistance and what affect his capture will have regarding the attacks on coalition troops.
For most Iraqi citizens, though, his capture should bring a sense of relief and hope. The jubilation around the toppling of his regime when American troops rolled into Baghdad last spring may have been short-lived, but it was genuine. Iraqis were thrilled to see him go; they just weren’t happy to see a foreign army. Iraqis will be even more jubilant to see Hussein captured – and maybe more anxious to see American troops leave now that their brutal ex-dictator is imprisoned.
There are risks involved in his capture, not the least of which is a public trial that will enable him to mount a defense likely to be given credibility by much of the Arab world. Those are risks well worth the taking.
No one expects that Hussein’s capture is the final victory over Iraq. Americans are still perceived with animosity by most of the Middle East; attacks, hopefully with declining frequency, are expected to continue, some by die-hard Hussein loyalists who have nothing to lose and others by religious fanatics from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran or most anywhere in the troubled region. America’s presence in Iraq may require many more months or years, but the capture of Hussein is crucial to any hope of success. Let us pray that it will be a catalyst for reduced hostilities, a motivator of Iraqis to support their provisional government and the U.S. efforts and that it will speed the return of U.S. troops to America.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
December 17, 2003

Skandalakis: The moral of the story
The downfall of former Fulton County Commission Chairman Mitch Skandalakis is a lesson in the corrupting influence of power. It is a story which gets repeated thousands of times across the nation, indeed the world, when arrogance weds power.
Jackson County citizens are familiar with that problem, given the current status of local county government. While local leaders have not faced criminal corruption allegations, they have nevertheless corrupted the county’s political process in an ongoing bid to amass and centralize power in their own hands.
For Skandalakis, the heady feeling of power drew him and those around him into a web of payoffs and deceit. This week, he pled guilty to lying to an FBI agent, the lesser of possible charges he faced.
But listen to what his friend and chief of staff said regarding the Skandalakis affair: “When we started out, Mitch and I looked at every issue as whether it was morally, ethically and legally correct. Over time, we started looking at things as to whether we could get by with it.”
That is a powerful statement on how public officials get drawn into corruption, or if not corruption, then political gamesmanship that ultimately destroys credibility.
As it happens, I crossed paths with Skandalakis way back in the 1970s when we were both college students. Skandalakis had started a chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative group that was at the opposite end of the liberal movements so popular in that era. I had been a member of the YAF group at UGA and once attended a meeting of Skandalakis’ group at Emory, where he was a student.
That was an era of idealism. Although the downfall of President Nixon had tainted the political landscape in the early 1970s, many of us in college still held to the belief that great ideas, not mere men, ruled.
Alas, such idealism from both the political left and right was bound to get a cold dose of reality. Ideas may sometimes win the day, but more often than not, it was mere men who ruled. And while ideas could be isolated and debated, it was the strengths, or weaknesses of men that ultimately governed the decision-making process.
At that YAF meeting at Emory, Skandalakis unwittingly taught me that lesson in cynicism. Nationally, YAF claimed to have some 50,000 members. But Skandalakis, an insider with the organization, admitted that the group only had some 10,000 members across the nation, much smaller than its lofty claims.
Perhaps I was just naive or too idealistic, but the revelation that an organization I belonged to had fabricated such a lie for political ends was crushing. I dropped out of the group and never looked back.
Today, of course, that seems quaint. Nowadays, we expect political groups to lie for political gain. We expect politicians to dodge, fudge and lie to us as citizens. We are all more cynical about politics than we were 25 years ago.
Skandalakis, however, did not seem too concerned about that lie of the YAF’s real membership numbers. Perhaps he was just more politically savvy for the era than I was and understood the dynamics of using big claims for political advantage. He was straightforward about the lie, but he didn’t question its usage.
In looking back today, I wonder if that willingness to overlook the truth was a character flaw which ultimately brought Skandalakis down. Was the seed of corruption that tainted his public career planted many, many years ago when he willingly accepted that small lie for political gain?
I can’t answer that. But I do believe that once a public official begins to look at his position as nothing more than a political game rather than a public trust, it is not a far stretch to corruption.
There is a moral to the Mitch Skandalakis story. Some local public officials should heed it.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
December 17, 2003

Speed traps just highway robbery
Another town in Jackson County has presented a budget where the majority of its income and expenses revolve around a city police department.
This week, Pendergrass presented a $448,000 budget, with 59 percent of the total coming from city court fines.
If all this sounds familiar, it isn’t just de ja vue. The town of Arcade also recently presented a 2004 budget in which the vast majority of income and expenses revolved around the town’s police department.
We don’t think that is just coincidental. The sudden increase in those two towns’ fine budgets is due to the new bypasses which are now open around the two communities.
But what those two towns share in common goes deeper than just the highway that connects them. Along with the new bypasses is also the idea of misplaced entitlement that is found among their elected city leaders. In both towns, city leaders believe they are somehow entitled to collect fine money from passing motorists.
Because of that thinking, both towns have created what can only be labeled as speed traps designed to slap motorists with fines. The elected city leaders are, in fact and action, pressuring city police officers to become city fund-raisers.
Of course, city leaders cannot admit that. They couch their reasoning behind the veil of “public safety.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.
But the numbers in those city budgets show the real truth. Both Arcade and Pendergrass leaders want, in fact demand in their budgets, that their city police departments run speed traps. Without a speed trap, neither town could possibly meet its budget goals in fine income. Regular, reasonable policing just won’t produce that much money.
At its core, what is being done in Arcade and Pendergrass is little more than highway robbery — putting men with guns along the road to stop drivers and extort fine money, sometimes for petty reasons that have nothing to do with public safety concerns.
That the elected leaders in these two towns have chosen to abuse passing motorists, people who do not vote in those towns’ elections, for fine money is a black eye on all of Jackson County. And in the end, we will all pay a price for this abuse of the public’s trust.

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