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DECEMBER 31, 2003


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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS
2003 Brought Some Memorable Moments To Commerce
W hether it was Casha Daniels recording 21 tackles in the playoffs against Bremen or Ashley Evans singling home the biggest run of her team’s championship season, 2003 had some signature moments.

Total dominance
Host Jefferson crusies to Keen Classic crown
The Jefferson wrestling team gave former coach Jack Keen the perfect tribute Monday, running away from a solid field to easily claim the championship of the tournament named for him.

Panther hoopsters back Fri. against Johnson
A nearly two-week stretch without games will come to an end for the Jackson County basketball teams this weekend when they face off against Johnson at home on Friday, followed by a trip to West Hall the following evening.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
— 2003 Newsmaker of the Year —
New school superintendent brought right attitude to the table
When the school year ended last May, the Banks County School System sat in a volatile position.
It needed a new superintendent, assistant superintendent, special education director, two principals and nearly 30 teachers.

— Economic Story of the Year —
Home Depot announces plans to locate in Banks County; sets 2004 opening
The biggest economic news in Banks County in 2003 was an announcement that The Home Depot would be locating a store in the county. The store wasn’t in operation in 2003, but was under construction for much of the year with a January 2004 opening planned.


News from
MADISON COUNTY
New county jail finally completed
Voters approved $2.3 million in sales tax money for a new county jail in 1998. Five years and another sales tax vote later, the project was finally completed this year, with inmates moving in this past September.

Voters approve millions in sales tax projects
Madison County will receive approximately $19 million in sales tax revenue over the next five years, thanks to voters' overwhelming support of two sales tax renewals March 18.

Our Time and Place:
A History of
Jackson County, Ga

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.

Order this book online

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CITIZENS GROUP FORMS

A group of local citizens are shown with their attorney on the courthouse lawn following an announcement in June that they would file a lawsuit against the Jackson County Board of Commissioners unless citizens were given the right to vote on creating a $25 million debt to fund construction for a proposed new courthouse. Named on the suit are (L-R) Charlotte Mealor, Tom Bryan, Sandy Beem, Wycliffe Orr Jr., the Gainesville attorney who is representing the group, and Tim Venable, chairman of the group. Jean Bauerband, not shown, is also a member of the group.


— Newsmaker of the Year —
Concerned Citizens of Jackson County files lawsuit against BOC
Citizens’ group seeks more input on courthouse decision
A lot of people grumble about government. Only a few step forward to fight back against what they believe to be abusive government policies.
In 2003, however, a group of Jackson County citizens did fight back against a local government, in this case the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
Angered by what they saw as the BOC’s high-handed approach to locating a new county courthouse, the group, Concerned Citizens of Jackson County, waged a court battle in an effort to bring greater public input into the courthouse decision.
Because of its efforts and its courage for standing firm in the face of numerous threats from the BOC, the Concerned Citizens of Jackson County was selected as “Newsmaker of the Year” for 2003.
MONTHS OF CONTROVERSY
The debate over the location of a new county courthouse had been ongoing for months before the CCJC group got involved in the issue.
The BOC had, without any real public input, decided to build a new $25 million courthouse away from the downtown area along Darnell Road, near other county facilities. The move was widely seen as a political slap at the City of Jefferson, the county seat, and a political appeasement to political interests in the East Jackson area.
While the location of the facility was controversial, the financing of the facility was the key issue in the CCJC’s legal appeals. The BOC proposed, and eventually executed, a “lease” of $25 million for the facility, thereby avoiding a Georgia Constitutional mandate that long-term debt be voted on by citizens.
The CCJC’s legal argument was that the BOC was, in fact, creating a $25 million debt, but just calling it a lease to avoid a vote.
In June, Concerned Citizens of Jackson County held a press conference on the courthouse lawn in Jefferson to announce their intentions to file a lawsuit over the financing. Gainesville attorney Wycliffe Orr Jr. spoke on behalf of the five who planned to file the lawsuit, Charlotte Mealor, Tom Bryan, Sandy Beem, Tim Venable and Jean Bauerband. Several other county residents later joined in the lawsuit.
In July, the group made the headlines several times as the lawsuit was filed in Jackson County Superior Court.
Lawyers representing the BOC quickly sent a strongly-worded letter to the group and threatened to sue the citizens. But the group refused to be intimidated by the threat and continued forward.
The group held the first of several rallies to gain support for their effort in mid-summer. An estimated 200 people attended the first event to show support for the Concerned Citizens of Jackson County. The crowd wasn’t nearly as large for the later rallies.
The local judges recused themselves from hearing the case and Judge Carlisle Overstreet of Augusta was named to hear the lawsuit.
While the citizens group waited for its court date, the county commissioners moved forward with construction of the new courthouse. In August, the BOC agree to use $3 million of surplus funds to start foundation work on the new facility.
The first court hearing on the courthouse lawsuit was heard in Jackson County Superior Court in September. The BOC won the first round in the battle when the judge dismissed the concerned citizens’ lawsuit.
In October, the group lost another round when the Georgia Supreme Court denied an injunction request against the BOC. The BOC was then able to proceed with financing the new courthouse through a “lease-purchase” plan.
At year’s end, the citizens’ group was waiting for its appeal to be heard before the Georgia Supreme Court. Even if the group should win that appeal, it will likely be a hollow victory. Construction at the Darnell Road site moves forward with a completion date for the new facility projected for the fall of 2004.
But the principal of the issue continues to be important. And by fighting back, the CCJC has spoken loudly against abusive local government leaders.


— Political Story of the Year —
Commissioners try to take over county water authority
In a year when the battle over a new courthouse dominated the headlines, another political story continued to stir controversy throughout the county.
In January, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners sought legislation to take over the day-to-day operations of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority. That effort failed, but the BOC continued throughout the year to get more control over the authority through other means.
These efforts by the BOC led to opposition from the water authority, as well as from the general public. Because of the deep political divide that this issue created and the importance of water and sewerage infrastructure to the county’s growth, the BOC’s takeover efforts were selected as the Political Story of the Year for 2003.
In February, area legislators said they wouldn’t support legislation proposed by the BOC to take over the county water and sewerage authority. This came after an estimated 250 people attended a public hearing in Jefferson to protest the BOC’s efforts.
The dispute between the BOC and water authority, led to a disagreement over who is responsible for the payment of the Bear Creek Reservoir. The water authority initially refused to make the payments, but then agreed to if the BOC would stop its “harassment” of the authority.
Mid-year, two members on the authority ended their initial terms in office and the BOC moved quickly to boot them off. In their places, the BOC put two new members who it believed would follow the BOC’s takeover plans.
The naming of one of those new members, however, sent shockwaves through the county. Wanda David, the former girlfriend of water superintendent Jerry Waddell, was appointed by the BOC. At the time, David and Waddell were involved in a messy court battle over assets related to their relationship.
The move to name David was seen as “dirty politics” by many in the community because it purposely injected a personal relationship into the public arena in a way that was clearly meant to create harm.
Since the naming of the two new members, the BOC and authority have been locked in a battle over David’s recommendation to do a “needs assessment” of the authority. The authority has said it would not do such an assessment, but the BOC has voted to do one anyway.


New Year’s Day program coming up
76th annual program ahead Thurs. at courthouse
The 76th annual New Year’s Day program will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 1, at the Jackson County courthouse in Jefferson.
The keynote speaker will be Jesse Mealor, pastor of Brockton Road Baptist Church. Jackson County Superior Court Judge David Motes will preside over the program. Jack Davidson of Jefferson will handle the election of next year’s presiding officer, or coordinator, of the annual event.


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Infrastructure, Improvements
Highlight Year For Commerce
A look back over major events in Commerce during 2003 provides a surprising litany of improvements and a whole lot of construction. Those amount to the Number 2 story reported during 2003 in The Commerce News.
During the year, the walls have gone up and the roof has been added to the new Commerce Middle School building, which will open in August, a move that will allow the overcrowded Commerce Elementary School to split into upper and lower elementary schools.
Also during 2003, the city awarded the bids and the work has all but been finished on 2.6 miles of new sidewalks. Children may now walk safely from Willoughby Homes to all three city schools; another section provides safe foot routes along Homer Road from Bi-Lo north to Cedar Drive.
Meanwhile, work is winding up on a community development block grant project that vastly improves the streets, drainage and utility services in the Bennett Street area.
After years of preparation, the city in August awarded the bids on its new wastewater treatment plant. Although the cost was 20 percent higher than expected and will require heavy increases in water and sewer rates, the new plant – due to be in operation this time next year – will provide for the city’s growth for many years and get it out from under an EPD consent order.
In April, the city announced that its ISO (fire insurance rating) fell from Class 5 to Class 4 in the city, and were also reduced in the East Jackson Fire District. This will result in reduced cost for fire insurance premiums.
“Those are things we’d been working on for years,” observed Mayor Charles L. Hardy Jr. in regard to the new wastewater treatment plant and ISO rating. “It was a great year for building infrastructure. Unfortunately, most folks don’t see that, but you can see the new sidewalks and the new curbs and gutters in the Homer Road area.”
There are other highlights as well.
The Commerce City Council and Commerce Board of Education went on retreat together, appeared to reach a consensus and may have healed years of bad blood between them. The council was even invited back on the field for the Commerce High School graduation ceremony.
The city used code enforcement to clean up Pardue’s Mobile Home Park, forced a number of condemned structures to be removed and is in the process of enforcing the code prohibiting junked vehicles in residential neighborhoods, all of which are making the city more attractive. The city (finally) got reapportioned into five equal voting districts, and its incumbents were re-elected in an election marred by the untimely death of long-time Ward 3 Councilman Sam Brown and the charade of an attempted Mac Barber candidacy for mayor.
The city’s biggest disappointment was its failure to land “Project Lincoln,” the $150 million (or more) Walgreens distribution center that ultimately opted for Anderson, SC, instead of a Maysville Road site. However, officials insist that the site still has the potential to make Commerce a player in the economic development of Jackson County.
The opening of the Commerce Lanier Tech campus in the old Bi-Lo shopping center on South Elm Street holds promise that one day a full satellite campus of the technical college will locate, if not in Commerce, then at least in Jackson County.
The city also continued improvements in its electrical, water and sewer and natural gas systems, Hardy noted, and acquired the old Oxford building for off-street parking that is currently being developed. The former increase the efficiency of the city’s utility systems while the latter will provide much-needed off-street parking for the State Street area, particularly the Commerce Civic Center.