Jackson County Opinions...

JANUARY 7, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
January 7, 2004

January: The‘Spring Training’ Of A New Year
Spring training for Major League Baseball is a time of universal optimism; no one is in last place and all the athletes possess the potential for great seasons. Even the Mets look promising in March before the realities of May and June expose the flaws.
The early weeks of each year are the same for us. We can have high expectations that things will fall as they should, and people will react as hoped. The first couple of weeks of January may be cold, wet and dreary, but they can also be a time of great, if unfounded, expectations for people who seek improvement for the upcoming months.
For those of us who use the beginning of each year to conduct a status check with the idea of adjusting course, it does not seem inconceivable in early January that we may exhibit self-discipline heretofore lacked, which is what change is all about.
If I could have had Santa deliver one gift this past Christmas, it would have been that of absolute self-discipline. That is all that stands between most of us and the fulfilling of our dreams and goals. There are many factors in life about which we can do nothing, but more are controlled by the combination of our abilities, desire, determination and self-discipline. Therein, we succeed or we fail.
Most often we fail. Mention “New Year’s Resolution” and the word “break” follows shortly. It is anticipated that virtually all New Year’s resolutions we make will be broken – most of them by the end of the month. The fact is, we lack the self-discipline to do that which we know needs to be done.
That’s why there are so many unhealthy people, so many alcoholics, drug addicts, smokers, homeless people, bankruptcies, marital problems, domestic disputes, unemployed, ineffective workers ... List any human failing and my money says the lack of self-discipline is a major contributor. Of course, greed, envy and lust also contribute, but we’ll save that for another day.
On my computer desktop sit my goals – resolutions if you will – for 2004. Many are rehashes of those from 2003 on which I made a little progress, having dropped those upon which no advances were made. I salted them with a few easily-achievable items or things for which I am motivated enough that some success is likely. None are out of reach, but lacking in self-discipline, odds are the failings will greatly outnumber the successes. I don’t care. At this early juncture they all seem achievable; I have yet to record the first failure.
Given a dose of sodium pentethol, we’d all admit to character flaws, bad habits and other personal shortcomings, the correction of which would make us better – or make life better for those who must co-exist with us. With my annual staff meeting for self, I am trying to be more productive, healthier, kinder and gentler, smarter or more creative, depending on the issue, and if I achieve even partial success, then I should have more to show for 2004 than for 2003. Any progress will be welcome, and when I look back on 2004 at this time next year, I will bask in any successes and forget about the failures.
As the Mets are wont to say, there’s always next year.


Editorial
The Commerce News
January 7, 2004

Budget Debate: Slicing Up A Much Smaller Pie
Facing a $1 billion shortfall, Georgia’s state legislators and Gov. Sonny Perdue can look forward to a monumental challenge as they try to trim the Georgia spending appetite to meet its income.
Perdue has pledged that there will be no tax increases of any kind, so balancing the budget (which is required by the state constitution) will require the allocation of funds based on some kind of priority system. The problem is, one person’s high-priority item is another’s target for elimination. Expect a political free-for-all with both exaggerated claims of damages to be attributed to budget slashing and of removable “fat” in department budgets.
Perdue has yet to reveal his priorities, but early speculation is that he proposes to tighten regulations related to health care programs and the HOPE scholarship, among other initiatives. Whatever he proposes and whatever the General Assembly ultimately approves will affect services or programs and will be to the detriment of some people. The degree to which people will suffer, however, will be a subject of lively debate.
The fact is, Georgia cannot meet all of the perceived needs of its citizens any more than the federal government can provide every benefit to its constituents. Thankfully, state government is under the constitutional prohibition against deficit spending, and while issuing bonds dodges that to some degree, Georgia’s leaders must be more fiscally responsible than their federal brethren. What will make the debate more acrimonious than usual is that there are always individuals who fall short of qualifying for some program or payment they believe is crucial to their well-being. And if there is emotion connected to someone not receiving a needed state benefit, it is nothing compared to the emotion surrounding cases where someone who received it one year is denied it the next.
The upcoming weeks will provide much discussion over how the fiscal pie should be apportioned, but keep in mind that none of the talk will increase the size of the pie. There’s only so much to go around.


Don’t Blame The Police
Seven North Carolina teenagers died in a one-car wreck when they crashed trying to outrun a police officer who attempted to pull them over last week for weaving on the roadway.
Some parents and others tried to shift part of the blame on the police officer. None of the seven had a driver’s license. They were teens who borrowed a car to go joyriding. None wore seat belts. They fled when an officer noticed the erratic driving.
Unlicensed teens driving without supervision – it’s hard to imagine a more perfect scenario for disaster. Some of the parents knew what the kids were up to, as did the owner of the vehicle. There is plenty of blame to be apportioned for the seven deaths, but none of it belongs to the police officer.
Weaving on the roadway is a sign of drunk driving and will cause any law enforcement officer to make a traffic stop. When a subject flees, it is an indication that more serious offenses are taking place. The officer, from all accounts, followed department protocol; the “chase” was about 500 yards, but the young driver continued at a high rate of speed, ultimately leaving the road, where the vehicle struck a tree, slid down an embankment and into a creek. Seven young lives ended needlessly.
The cause of death is gross negligence, first, by the teenagers who broke numerous laws and ignored common-sense safety procedures, and secondly, by those adults who knew what the teens were doing and failed to stop them. They may try to blame police for the tragedy, but they’ll have to live with the guilt of knowing they could have prevented it.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
January 7, 2004

A time to forgive BOC?
The advent of a new year always brings renewed hope. It’s as if we close the book on whatever bad has happened in the past year and look to the new year as a fresh beginning. We will set right all our wrongs; forgive and hopefully, be forgiven; enrich our minds; and force our bodies to lose weight (well, maybe).
And so it is in the political arena as well. We have a renewed hope that our political leaders will do better in 2004 than in the previous year.
But that won’t happen by magic. Indeed, 2004 is an election year and it promises a loud, rancorous debate at all levels of government.
That may be particularly true in Jackson County where three members of the controversial board of commissioners will be up for re-election. A number of potential candidate names have been circulating in the “rumor mill” and while no one has officially announced, it’s likely that those three incumbents will have some opposition.
No government official has ever been perfect. To expect perfection of any human endeavor is to always be disappointed.
Indeed, many people in this community have been disappointed with county government during the last couple of years. Some of that is simply because of policy disagreements. When we believe a bad decision has been made by government, we’re upset.
So maybe it’s time for us to forgive the BOC for its past actions?
Alas, the world isn’t that simple, even at the dawn of a new year.
The current situation in Jackson County goes much further than simple disagreements over policy decisions. What makes these issues more than just disagreements over details is not just what the BOC has done, but the way that board did it.
I’ve often said that in politics, the way something is done is often more important than what is done.
That is, I believe, the thread that knits all the BOC controversies together. Citizens can forgive and overlook policy disagreements if they believe a government official has acted in good faith. But citizens revolt when they believe a public official (or in this case, a group of officials) acts in bad faith, with arrogance, or with overtly self-serving motives.
We can forgive the BOC for tossing municipal members off the “joint” county-city zoning board in 2001, but we cannot forgive the high-handed way they did it without even discussing the matter with the towns.
We can forgive the BOC for attempting to take over the county water and sewerage authority, but we cannot forgive the mean-spirited and personal way they have pursued that.
We can forgive the BOC for building a new $25 million courthouse in a questionable location, but we cannot forgive the arrogant manner in which they pursued that goal and their incessant refusal to allow taxpayers to vote on such a large debt.
We can forgive the BOC for allowing the county budget to explode during the last three years, but we cannot forgive how those funds have been used to further political agendas at the expense of more pressing public needs.
In short, we can forgive the BOC for what it has done wrong, but we cannot forgive its members for what was in their hearts and minds as they did it.
And that is why in 2004, qualified individuals need to step forward and offer voters a chance to make a change in BOC leadership.
Just think of it as forgiveness with a message.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
January 7, 2004

More county fluff with tax money
You’ve got to be kidding. That was our reaction to news that the Jackson County Board of Commissioners had, for a second time in two months, hired a former intern for a fluffy high-paying job. And it did that without advertising the positions so that others in the community could apply.
Now, we don’t know the two interns involved in the hirings. We’re sure they’re bright young graduates who are glad to find employment. We harbor them no ill-will.
But let’s face some facts here: Those two positions, both of which have a starting pay over $36,000 per year, are little more than just dressed-up clerk jobs. They are non-essential administrative positions that will do little for the citizens of Jackson County.
For evidence of that, one only need read the words of county finance director John Hulsey who said he really needed another staffer to help him count all that money and that the person would be a “PR person for the finance department.”
Gosh, we didn’t realize the finance department needed its own PR person. What next, someone to drive him around?
The other position, a Clean and Beautiful director, is another fluffy PR job, a fancy title for what amounts to a clerk’s position to shuffles a pile of paper from one desk to another desk. How citizens will benefit from that escapes us.
What is really amazing, however, is that the BOC agreed to create, hire and pay for these positions while at the same time turning a deaf ear to legitimate personnel requests from other county departments. We’re especially amazed that the BOC only belatedly helped Sheriff Stan Evans hire additional deputies last month, in spite of the fact that he’d been asking for the last three years for more staff.
Compounding the action is the fact that the BOC agreed to pay these new administrative PR positions over $36,000 when other clerks in county government make much less than that. The poor clerks over in the tax commissioner’s office, for example, have to face hostile taxpayers day after day, but start at only half of what the two new PR jobs pay.
We will agree with one thing Hulsey said Monday night — that the county government has grown over the last three years. Indeed, it has exploded, and the reason for that is because under the current administration, the county added a bunch of high-paying PR-type fluff jobs.
Three years ago, Hulsey could do the county finance job by himself. Now he needs a staff of five.
The only thing different is the administration in charge.
‘Nuff said.


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