Jackson County Opinions...

FEBRUARY 4, 2004

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
February 4, 2004

What Are Odds Of Terrorists Hitting Reservoir?
The promise of a trophy fishing lake in southwest Jackson County is held hostage to concerns over a terrorist attack that is about as likely as my winning the Georgia lottery. And I don’t buy lottery tickets.
Sept. 11, 2001, created a national paranoia about vulnerability that has amazing repercussions ranging from public acceptance of reduced Constitutional rights to a growing trade on insecurity by both the public and private sectors.
You build the Bear Creek Reservoir for $72 million. After Sept. 11, you must ask “What if?”
“What if someone hijacks the Fuji blimp at a Georgia football game, loads it with explosives and crashes into the dam?”
“What could someone do to the water treatment plant with a shoulder-fired missile?”
“What if someone poured poison at the base of the raw water intake?”
It’s easy to conjure up scenarios of death and devastation; after terrorists used commercial airplanes as weapons, no scheme seems beyond the realm of possibility.
One result is to license law enforcement agencies to “prepare” for just about anything. That means creating more bureaucracy, buying exotic equipment and spending more money. It has also created a new network of security consultants who become the first line of defense.
The result is “hypervigilance,” which is described as the “sense of threat that exceeds the likelihood of threat.” We have become vigilant against attacks whose likelihood is so minute as to be unmeasurable.
That’s why you can’t launch a boat at the new Bear Creek Reservoir and why even bank fishing is banned whenever the federal government declares an “Orange Alert.”
The people responsible for these decisions worry about the “what if’s,” and their exposure to blame if things go wrong, so it’s safer for them to be paranoid than to expose themselves to second-guessing if someone actually attacks the dam or water plant. The probability of terrorists attacking it is less than that of Bill Clinton being named Pope, but “what if?”
There is an undeniable element of truth that fuels the paranoia: everything in America is vulnerable, and there is little local officials can do in defense, other than improve their response capabilities, keep their eyes open and realize that there are a million “targets” elsewhere that are more attractive to terrorists.
New and more elaborate security plans will be developed as site managers, law enforcement heads and attorneys attend seminars and work sessions and learn that a john boat could carry 200 pounds of explosives or chemical agents and are told about more diabolical possibilities for wreaking havoc.
Crying “wolf” is big business. Appealing to fear is profitable and, in government, builds power. When in 15 years Bear Creek has not been attacked, the politicians can pat themselves on the back for their success as they fund defenses against the next incredibly unlikely possibility.
Not to discount the threat of terror against America, but it appears that considerable “collateral damage” is being done to our lifestyles in the name of vigilance. I wonder if the terrorists foresaw that?

The Commerce News
February 4, 2004
Residents Should Weigh Zoning Options Carefully
Residents of Commerce who live near the 8.2-acre tract proposed for rezoning from R-2 to R-3 should be very careful about what they ask for as the Commerce Planning Commission and (later) the Commerce City Council consider the matter.
The neighbors oppose the creation of an R-3 subdivision that could place 18-21 new houses in their midst. Like those opposed to other developments, they brought up concerns ranging from traffic to drainage, all of them valid.
The problem is that the development proposed by Barry Lord and Billy Vandiver might well be better than what would be put on the property if it remains R-2.
The would-be developers, both city residents, propose houses of 1,750 square feet on one scenario and of 2,000 square feet on the other. If the rezoning is turned down and the property is developed as an R-2 subdivision, someone could build 17 1,600-square foot houses. All of the square footage numbers include 400 square feet for garages. In addition, Lord and Vandiver propose fronts that are better (masonry accents on the smaller houses and masonry-type fronts on the larger) plus sod front yards, none of which are required in an R-2 development.
In opposing the rezoning, the neighbors run the risk of ending up with fewer but smaller and more-cheaply built houses if the neighborhood stays R-2. On the other hand, there is always a chance that the property will not be developed or that the next would-be developer would opt for even fewer but larger houses. Given the nature and economics of the site, don’t count on the latter scenario unfolding.
It’s a tough position for the neighbors, many of whom have lived in the area for years and are not looking forward to any new houses where there was once vacant land. They would rather see the site remain undeveloped. Since that is not likely to happen, they should look at the possibility of a standard R-2 development, compare it to what Lord and Vandiver are willing to do and then try to convince the planning commission and city council to go along.

Act Deserved ‘R’ Rating
It took two days after the halftime indecent exposure snafu in the Super Bowl halftime for performers Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake to admit that, yeah, the incident was indeed concocted and not the “wardrobe malfunction” Timberlake first called it.
MTV and CBS ran for cover from the beginning, claiming no prior knowledge, and there is no reason to doubt their claim. The incident certainly matched the sexual nature of the song, “Rock Your Body,” however, and opens everyone involved to criticism of an event aired as families and even church groups met to view the game.
And while CBS declined to run one TV commercial because it was political, the network accepted low-brow commercials featuring flatulence, toilet paper “for your endzone” and for three different medications to treat erectile dysfunction, one of which promised to “keep you in the game.” It is hardly in a position to criticize poor taste produced by its corporate cousin, MTV.
The Super Bowl is a testing ground where corporate marketers push the envelope to sell beer, automobiles and soft drinks. It is the only televised event where viewers actually look forward to the commercials. At the same time, halftime shows have morphed from marching bands to Hollywood glitz.
Neither Madison Avenue nor Hollywood is noted as a guardian of the public interest. If the trend continues, future Super Bowls may need to carry ratings like those assigned to movies.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
February 4, 2004

Supreme Court hearing to test judicial ethics
Next week’s hearing before the Georgia Supreme Court may prove to be a key moment in the history of Georgia’s local government financing. At issue will be the appeal of a local lawsuit brought by Jackson County citizens against the Jackson County Board of Commissioners over the lease-purchase financing for a new courthouse.
The nexus of that lawsuit is whether lease-purchase financing of a major building project is tantamount to debt. The citizens argue, and I concur, that the county’s lease-purchase deal is just debt dressed up and called something else.
Why? Because according to the Georgia Constitution, local governments cannot create new debt without voter approval. To get around that, local governments created the lease-purchase deal as a way to dodge voters and bond referendums.
But why is lease-purchase debt bad for the public and why does the state constitution call for voter approval of long-term debt?
In a nutshell, governments can do a lot of damage to the public if they have the power to create debt that does not muster public approval. If a government has the power to create an unlimited amount of debt, it will have the power to bind taxpayers to pay for that debt for several decades, long after those officials are out of office.
Currently in Gwinnett County, there is a large debate over the potential use of lease-purchase financing to build new schools. If the Jackson County citizens lose this lawsuit before the Supreme Court, the doors will swing wide open for every local government in the state to issue debt through lease-purchase deals. The Georgia Constitution will be rendered useless and there will likely never be another bond referendum in the state. All long-term debt will be created by this scheme to bypass the voters.
But whether or not the Georgia Supreme Court has the courage to face this issue remains to be seen. One Jackson County commissioner told me over a year ago that the courts in the state will never strike down lease-purchase financing because so many governments are using it. So far, he’s been right.
What he didn’t say, however, is that there is also a major relationship between court judges and the bond community in the state. Powerful law firms get their bread-and-butter from doing government bond deals and they don’t want that endangered by voters. Those same law firms contribute heavily to judicial elections and often, judges are picked from those firms.
So there is a degree of incest between the courts and bond lawyers and the political system. It’s enough to make a cynic out of even the most politically astute.
One can hope, however, that the Supreme Court will rise to the occasion and do the right thing; that is, to strike down Jackson County’s financing scheme and declare it in violation of the Georgia Constitution. Even proponents of lease-purchase will often admit that those deals do violate the letter of the law, but they are hopeful that the courts will turn a blind eye to that and allow them to proceed anyway.
No matter what happens in this court case, it will not stop the controversial new Jackson County courthouse. That boondoggle is a done deal. The only impact it would have is in the financing.
Still, this case, more than most cases, will test the real values of our judicial system. In effect, our judicial system itself is on trial next week. The ethics of our judicial process are at stake.
The Supreme Court has a clear choice to make: Protect the taxpayers of Georgia and enforce the constitution, or protect powerful bond law firms and local governments by ignoring the constitution.
Let’s hope they will chose the former and not the latter.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
February 4, 2004

Curriculum efforts just another example of reform failure
The flap over Georgia’s curriculum proposal that refuses to use the word “evolution” in biology standards is getting a lot of national attention, but is only a glittery, surface failure of this round of school reform.
Of much deeper concern is the fact that standardized testing is now driving school curriculums, forcing schools to adopt radical curriculums in an effort to have kids score higher on those tests.
While we do believe in accountability in public education, that effort has been perverted by those who have hijacked the movement as a way to force local school systems to “teach to the test.”
One example: In many elementary school grades, teaching math problem solving is now secondary to teaching math theory. That’s because the CRCT standardized test focuses on theory more than actual computation ability.
That might be fine for high-achieving kids who can do the basic computations, but it’s a disaster for average or below average kids who can’t compute basic math problems. Those kids are being left in the dust as classroom time has been hijacked by the movement toward “theoretical math” rather than fundamental math, thanks to the CRCT mandate.
Other aspects of the curriculum have also been hijacked by various special interest groups who seek to use classrooms to push social agendas and absurd political correctness. An example of that is the effort to elevate minor historical figures to positions of prominence so as to create a more “diverse” constellation of historical characters. The problem is, the most important historical figures are being pulled down or glossed over while the secondary figures are elevated far beyond their importance.
Standardized testing began as a good idea. But it has become the mechanism through which special interest groups have found a way to take over the curriculum to serve their own agendas.
The “evolution” debate may be getting all the talk, but our problems go much deeper. And those problems won’t go away until local school systems are given back control of their curriculums.

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