Jackson County Opinions...

MARCH 24, 2004

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
March 24, 2004

Bill Won’t Make Children Any Safer
The fact that Georgia’s “child endangerment act” passed both houses of the Georgia General Assembly made the front page of The Atlanta-Journal Saturday. It creates a new felony defined as recklessly putting a child in a situation where injury is likely.
Thus, people who leave babies locked in hot cars can be imprisoned and people who attempt drive-by shootings in the presence of children have another statute under which they can be prosecuted, as will those convicted of cooking up methamphetamine in the presence of minor children.
You can bet that politicians of both parties will go back to their constituents and brag about this important piece of legislation that will make Georgia safer for children.
And it’s all BS, not to be confused with bachelor of science.
The legislation isn’t bad; people should be held accountable for harming children. It’s just that no child will go unharmed because of this bill. To the effect that those who commit these new crimes will get more jail time, yeah, it may make a difference, but the legislation has done nothing that will keep our children safer.
Remember the Atlanta area woman who left her child in a car while she worked, and the child died from the heat? If that woman could not figure out that her child would likely die in the heat, do you think she’d be aware of the Child Endangerment Act?
Similarly, given that it is already a felony to make methamphetamine, that getting caught just possessing it can get you put in prison, do you believe the threat of additional jail time for making it in the presence of children will be a deterrent? Maybe in a free market, the additional risk will drive the street price up.
The only deterrent will be from a possible second offense, assuming that the additional jail time gets served.It would be somewhat beneficial if the law can be applied to drunk driving, but there is already a “DUI with children” law on the books.
So, when your legislator rhapsodizes about the General Assembly making Georgia safer for children, if he or she mentions the child endangerment act, it’s time to tune out.
If you follow the General Assembly, you’ll recall that legislators of both parties supported this bill. Not to be cynical, but that should have been a tip-off that its value was more symbolic than actual. What legislator could afford to be caught voting against a bill that punishes people whose behavior hurts children, even if enactment of the legislation will have no significant effect? That’s politics.
It’s a little like the enthusiasm that greeted the Quality Basic Education Act years ago. This new education act was going to improve Georgia’s schools, but the enthusiasm was short-lived, the act was never fully funded and Georgia schools are now 50th best among the 50 states and closing quickly on Washington, DC.
The purpose of the child endangerment act was to give legislators a chance to appear to be taking a stand. Its chief benefit is to give the state a means of punishing people whose acts harm children, but it won’t make children any safer.
If only it were that easy.

The Commerce News
March 24, 2004

Simple Improvements Can Make City Better
The Commerce City Council held its biannual “retreat” last weekend, where, among other things, the council took up the subject of what it hopes to accomplish in the next couple of years. Major projects in all of the utility departments, including the new building at the Homer Road complex, were doubtlessly mentioned.
In the spirit of that improvement, here are a few more ideas, mostly little things, that, if implemented, would make the community look better and/or improve the quality of life.
They include:
•more curbs and gutters. This space has addressed this issue in the past and even the city council has apparently discussed it at some point. Fine and good – now do it. Curbs and gutters improve drainage, reduce ditch and road maintenance and make streets look a whole lot better.
•better litter control on primary streets. This means the regular picking up of litter, whether by prisoners, city employees or volunteers along high-traffic roads like the city entrances and the streets around the schools.
•better site control in construction areas. Anyone who lives near a construction project knows the need to control debris and litter. Every project should be required to have a dumpster in which to dispose of everything from scrap building materials to paper packaging to food and beverage containers, and those projects should be policed regularly and the contractors made to keep it reasonably clean. Subdivisions under construction should also have a designated point at which concrete trucks wash down so as to avoid the yard-wide piles of dried concrete left like the petrified spoor of some huge prehistoric animal. In addition, contractors should be required to regularly hose off the mud tracked onto city streets from construction sites.
•less intrusive construction hours. Commerce residents should not have to suffer through the sounds of construction in pre-dawn hours or after dark. The city put reasonable limits on construction hours.
•a comprehensive recycling program. The city government has assiduously avoided entering a recycling program for years. It’s time to be more environmentally responsible. Jefferson charges $11 per household per month for garbage service that includes recycling. Surely Commerce can afford to offer the same service.
•a community mulching/recycling center. Related to the above, Commerce needs to provide a better means of recycling its yard wastes. The mulch now produced by the city contains so much shredded plastic that it is a contributor to the city’s litter problem. This may best be a cooperative effort with Jackson County, possibly through its new Clean and Beautiful program, but wastes can be ground into a variety of mulches not contaminated with millions of bits of black plastic that take decades to break down. It is also possible to have a centralized manned recycling center where homeowners could bring old appliances or scrap metal, other recyclables and could pick up mulch. Such a center could likewise be a drop-off point for tires, batteries, paint cans and other hazardous but common household wastes that should not go into a landfill and which often are dumped illegally.
These are quality of life issues rather than crucial improvements necessary to public health and safety, but while we expect the government to take care of the basic needs of citizens, we also ask that it address issues that will make Commerce more attractive and a better place to live.
The aesthetics of a town affect community pride. If Commerce is perceived as a place where ugliness is accepted, it will remain unattractive. But if the city makes an effort to improve the appearance, citizens will follow its lead. It happened in the downtown with the Streetscape. It’s time to press for similar improvements in the rest of the city.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
March 24, 2004

Where have all the leaders gone?
Walking the streets of Philadelphia, one is surrounded by the very essence of American history. It was here that the Declaration of Independence was written and signed; that the US Constitution was adopted; and that the first peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next took place.
All of that was not as neat and clean as perhaps it is portrayed in history books, but despite some serious differences, leaders of that era rose above the fray to build what has since become the most powerful nation in history.
So where are such leaders today? At all levels of government, we see a serious decline in leadership.
Partisan politics is THE driving force in Washington D.C.
In the state legislature, the rift between parties and the last gasp of the Democratic Party in Georgia is creating a huge folly at a time when serious problems face the state.
And locally, some of our leaders are focused more on their own egos and petty agendas than on public service.
Where have all the leaders gone?
The truth is, leadership is a rare commodity. Our society spends little time developing leadership skills. While some youth programs exist which help develop leadership skills, they have become marginal in a world where athletics trumps academics.
And while there are a number of leadership programs for adults, the truth is, many of those focus more on networking and second-tier, non-elected leadership roles.
So where will the future elected leaders of this nation come from? I fear they will increasingly come from narrow special interest groups which have the money to get particular candidates elected.
I wonder if that will be good for democracy.


Last week’s Oconee River Literary Festival in Jefferson appeared to be a huge success. Several noted authors held readings for large local audiences during the festival, which as far as I know, was the first event of its kind in the community.
Like leadership, good writing is a rare commodity in today’s society. But there is a special place in the world of literature for works of Southern authors. Despite the influence of a mobile society and the increased diversity of demographics, literature rooted deep in the Southern culture survives and even thrives.
I don’t know what kind of literature our local high schools teach these days, but it wouldn’t hurt for them to offer a class that focuses on Southern literature, especially today’s authors and how they carry on the traditions of Flannery O’Conner and other famous Southern writers.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
March 24, 2004

Wayward memo proves takeover a bad idea
In the final analysis, the controversy between the developers of Jackson County’s largest residential venture, Traditions of Braselton, and the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority was apparently little more than a misunderstanding. The technical details over water line approval and letters of credit somehow got garbled in communication between the two groups.
One result of that miscommunication was the wayward memo written by an executive of the development firm that landed on the desk of the water authority.
Boom. The memo is explosive and underscores what this newspaper has been saying for over a year — that the water authority should remain independent of the county board of commissioners and its political undercurrents.
So what does that memo say? In essence, the developers had found a political “ally” on the BOC, commissioner/developer Stacey Britt, who they believed could help them “through the political side of this thing.”
The memo goes on to hint that if the two groups couldn’t work out the problem, that the BOC would be taking over the water authority in the summer anyway.
The implication is clear: With an “ally” in place and the BOC planning to take over the water authority, the developers would use political connections to get what they wanted.
Now, there’s no indication that Britt has done anything amiss in all this. He wasn’t even in office when the mega-project was approved several years ago.
Still, the perception outlined in that memo is unmistakable: That the county’s elected officials would be easier to manipulate than the quasi-independent water authority.
And that’s exactly why the water authority should remain independent of elected county politicians. Decisions on water and sewerage infrastructure should be made on the basis of good business, not closed-door politics. Putting the commissioners in charge of water and sewer decisions is, to borrow a cliché, like putting the fox in the hen house. Decisions will be made on the basis of politics and backroom deals, not public service.
Yes, the BOC will indeed takeover the water authority this summer by kicking off two members and appointing two of its puppets to that board.
And it will be a sad day for Jackson County citizens when decisions on water and sewerage fall under the control of politicians.
That wayward memo is just more proof of that.

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