Jackson County Opinions...

FEBRUARY 25, 2004

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
February 25, 2004

The Day Georgia Amended The 10 Commandments
After the 2004 session of the General Assembly lurched to a close, no one was quite sure how it had happened – or if it was a bad thing.
“Well, y’all got to remember, we were there all night,” explained Sen. Casey Cagle. “Stuff was going to and from the House, the Senate and the special interest office, I mean the governor’s office. It just sorta happened.”
“Personally, I lost track after the visit from the Café Risqué Lobbyin’ Lap Dancers, but it seemed like a pretty good idea at the time,” declared Rep. Chris Elrod.
The move caught the Bush Administration, ACLU, Christian Coalition, Gays and Lesbians for Marital Rights, Major League Baseball and the NRA equally by surprise.
In the last-minute rush to complete important legislation, the Senate passed House bills declaring the ivory-billed woodpecker as Georgia’s official extinct species and by a close vote named Green Giant niblets as the state’s official trout bait.
Sen. Ralph Hudgens put on a game face. “It was intense. We had people yelling about the critical need to protect the institution of marriage with a Constitutional amendment, then we had another group conducting a last-minute blitz about the need for an amendment requiring the posting of the Ten ommandments in all public buildings, and it just happened.”
That’s how it came to pass that the Georgia General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to amend the Ten Commandments. Not since Moses came off Mt. Sinai, has anyone challenged the 10 original laws of God, although mankind has been interpolating them with the full power of religion, bureaucracy and politics ever since.
In the early confusion, everyone agreed that the first addition corrected an important oversight: “Thou shalt marry someone of the same gender.” And once that was agreed upon, the flood gates opened and God’s holy laws were improved to suit the needs of Georgia residents.
“Honor thy president and thy vice president that thy might enjoy tax cuts in perpetuity,” passed on the strength of a Republican majority in the Senate and confusion in the House, where Democrats thought they were supporting UGA president Michael Adams.
“If you want my gun, you’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hand,” generated discussion because it didn’t meet the technical requirements of a commandment, but in the end, the National Rifle Association’s lobbyist got it added with little difficulty.
“Don’t eat yellow snow,” was the addition of a Rabun County legislator, whose enthusiasm went unexplained but caught on.
By the time the sun rose over the gold dome, the Ten Commandments had swelled to the Ten Thousand, Nine Hundred Forty-Three Commandments.
“Well, it had been 3,000 years since the original,” noted Rep. Brian Kemp. “I guess it was due for an update.”
As for the posting of the new version in the Barrow County Courthouse, that became a moot point. None of the walls were big enough to list the entire document in type large enough to read.

The Commerce News
February 25, 2004

Authority’s Capacity Sale Policy Is Disturbing
That the Jackson County Board of Commissioners and the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority are bickering again is no surprise, but certainly they could find something of more merit about which to debate.
Here’s an idea: let the commissioners challenge the authority over its decision to “advance sell” sewage treatment capacity to finance future sewage plant construction.
Granted, the commissioners have a big interest in whether or not the authority can make the $146,000 monthly payments on the Bear Creek Reservoir debt, but since the authority made the payments last year, there is reason to be confident it will again this year.
The sale of sewerage capacity is more troubling and has much greater potential ramifications. Basically, the authority is selling off capacity to generate cash flow. The result will be the greater proliferation of residential development that will place a huge burden on the county school system and other services. Sewerage service is by nature a losing proposition; it pays only by attracting business and industry to enhance the tax base – to offset the residential growth that does not generate sufficient taxes to cover the costs it creates.
The water and sewerage authority faces a huge challenge of developing both water and sewerage systems and staying solvent. Its water system should, with good management, make a little money, but its sewerage system never will. Selling capacity to derive revenue to build more capacity is a pyramid scheme bound for financial disaster. That sold-in-advance capacity will one day result in thousands of gallons of wastes to be treated, driving up operational costs in the money-losing business of waste treatment.
What should concern the commissioners is not the 2004 prospect for meeting the debt service, but the return in tax revenue the county can expect in the future from its sewerage system. The sale of capacity to the developer of a 200-unit apartment project may generate much-needed cash for the authority, but the 200 families that occupy those apartments will demand services whose annual costs far outstrips the revenue Jackson County will derive from property taxes.
A major reason the authority voted to promote the sale of sewage treatment capacity is because the commissioners are obsessed with the authority’s ability to operate in the black. The authority is desperate to get cash to cover operations and sewer-related debt service and is mortgaging its future to finance the present. Together, the authority and the commissioners are turning a service that should be an asset into a liability. It’s not too late to correct the problem, but without cooperation between two groups now pulling in opposite directions, we will continue to see Jackson County waste treatment capacity used to speed the residential growth of Jackson County.

To Laugh Or To Cry?
It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the Georgia General Assembly’s debate over same-sex marriage.
One might be tempted to laugh at the silliness of spending so much time debating an issue that has zero effect on the lives of most Georgians and which will do nothing to protect the institution of marriage. But laughter would be short-sighted – much like legislators who expend their energy and intellect on this issue instead of on the ongoing state budget crisis, funding Medicaid or on doing something to keep Georgia school systems from going broke.
Taxpayers and voters should weep with indignation over politicians who ignore crucial problems in favor of made-for-politics issues of little merit.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
February 25, 2004

‘A view from the end of the road...’
The death this week of Dwain R. Smith leaves a void for readers of this newspaper. He was columnist of the “Brockton News,” a weekly feature enjoyed by many, many loyal readers.
Dwain died Sunday of a heart attack while writing his column for this week’s paper. That final column appears on page 3C of this edition.
Perhaps ironically, Dwain’s opening sentence for this week’s column was, “A view from the end of the road....”
I think he must be looking down today and chuckling at that. He always appreciated a good line.
Indeed, Dwain was an unusual columnist in several respects and his passing marks the end of an era for this newspaper. He was the last of what those of us in the newspaper business call “country correspondents.”
For decades, rural weekly newspapers across America employed an army of writers whose job was to report on small, niche communities within their circulation area. The goings-on in these rural hamlets were fodder for the weekly “correspondent.” If you had dinner with a neighbor, it might well be written about, including details of the meal served. If you were sick, a correspondent would write about it, putting you on something akin to a community “prayer list.”
But Dwain took that style to a higher level. Not only did he report on the doings in the Brockton community, but he also provided commentary on a variety of subjects of general interest to local readers. You didn’t have to live in Brockton to appreciate what he had to say.
Dwain took his commentaries seriously and set high standards for himself. A couple weeks ago, he called me to discuss a situation he considered a professional ethical dilemma. Dwain was asked to serve on a county-wide citizens committee to study the need for a new county jail. It was a subject which interested him greatly.
But he was conflicted about serving on that committee. He felt that if he served, it could create a conflict with his writing. He wanted to have the freedom to comment on the jail issue in his column and didn’t want that voice to be compromised by his serving on the committee.
Not all correspondents held their duties to such a high standard. Many years ago, we once unknowingly published a piece in another correspondent’s column about a man and woman who spent a day at the lake together — only the woman wasn’t the man’s wife.
It’s funny today, but it wasn’t too humorous at the time.
Over the decades, the use of correspondents such as Dwain has dwindled in most newspapers. As transportation improved and as rural communities moved from an agricultural-based society to a more diverse economy, the demand for rural community news softened.
In addition, a more mobile society and changing expectations has upended many traditional communities. A lot of people came to view correspondent writings as “gossip” and an invasion of their privacy. How we define neighbors and “being a neighbor” changed.
Finally, the demands on newspapers changed. Each edition has a finite amount of space and as weekly newspapers increased staff coverage in other areas, such as school news and sports, it has left less space for traditional correspondent columns.
At one time, this newspaper had 10-15 country correspondents. The death of Dwain R. Smith marks the end of that unique part of our history.
And as both a writer and a friend, he will be missed.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
February 25, 2004

New 2003 flag the best choice
Next Tuesday, Georgia voters will go to the polls for the Presidential Primary elections. In addition, voters will get a chance to decide officially on a new Georgia flag.
We believe the 2003, “new-new” flag is the best choice for Georgia.
The debate over the state flag goes back a decade or more. Indeed, the roots of this controversy go back to 1956 when the controversial Confederate battle flag design was adopted as a dominate part of Georgia’s flag.
Prior to 1956, Georgia had a state flag that looked very much like the current design adopted in 2003. The basis of that flag harks back to the original Confederate national flag of the Civil War era.
In 1956, the flag was changed to incorporate the design of the Confederate battle flag. Some believe that the 1956 move was an act of defiance by the Georgia Legislature to the issue of desegregation and various desegregation court decisions of that era.
Whatever the motive, the battle flag design was adopted in 1956 and was used without much controversy until the 1980s. By that time, the old Confederate battle flag had become one of the symbols of various hate groups around the nation.
In the early 1990s, an effort to change the state flag and remove the battle flag design failed. But that effort brought together a lot of heritage groups who believe the effort to change the flag was tantamount to an attempt to change history and was designed to disparage those Southerners who participated in the Civil War. Those groups vowed to defend the 1956 flag.
While those forces held sway in the early 1990s, by 2000, business and political pressure mounted on state leaders. National organizations threatened to pull conventions from the state if the controversial flag wasn’t changed. Economic development officials began to believe the controversy would hurt growth efforts in the state.
In 2001, Gov. Roy Barnes secretly negotiated a deal with legislative leaders to adopt a new flag to settle the controversy. Within a few hours, a new flag was adopted by the state, known today as the “blue flag” for its dominate blue color.
But there were two problems with the 2001 flag: First, the secret deal and lack of public input into the process didn’t set will with many citizens. Indeed, it was one of the reasons Barnes was subsequently defeated in a 2002 reelection bid.
Second, and perhaps more important, the 2001 flag design was ugly. Indeed, it was voted the worst flag in North America by a group of flag experts.
In 2003, the Legislature again jumped into the flag issue by adopting yet another new flag, the one we see flying today. It is similar to the state flag of pre-1956 and is considered a much better design than the 2001 Barnes blue flag.
But there was one other provision to that 2003 effort: State voters would get a chance to vote in March 2004 and choose between the 2001 “blue flag” and the new-new 2003 flag. Hence, next week’s balloting.
In the background of all this, however, are the heritage groups who are livid about both the 2001 and 2003 flags. Those groups wanted voters to also have the choice of the 1956 flag on the ballot. Because the 1956 flag isn’t on the ballot next week, most of the heritage groups have called for a boycott of the voting, or have chosen to promote the 2001 flag under the theory that it is so ugly, the issue would be kept alive for another vote sometime in the future.
But we believe that strategy is misguided. Indeed, it is time to put this issue to rest by adopting the 2003 flag as a compromise between the controversial 1956 flag and the 2001 blue flag.
Georgia should have a flag it can be proud of and that a majority of citizens can support. That will never happen with the 1956 flag because of the battle flag’s link with hate groups, and it will never be possible with the 2001 blue flag which most of us abhor for its tasteless design.
The only choice, then, is to rally around a flag that is both attractive and that echoes some of the state important heritage.
The 2003 flag fulfills both of those needs, first by being clean and attractive and second by echoing the Confederate national flag used in pre-1956 Georgia.
It is the flag we will support on next week’s ballot.

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