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APRIL 21, 2004


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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS
Track Coach Optimistic About Upcoming Region Track Meets
This past weekend’s Cedar Shoals Invitational closed the door on the regular season. Now the Tiger track teams will see what the post season holds.

Making a statement
Dragons show they’re for real with Relays win
With a tough, deep field in town the Jefferson boys put to rest any doubts about whether they had the talent and determination to vie for the Class A state crown on Saturday.

Where are they now?
Plenty of former local prep
standouts are now excelling in college athletics: a look at where they’ve been and how they’re doing
In the last few years a number of local athletes have taken their talents to the next level and continued to excel in their respective sports in college.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
Dedication held for Baldwin fire tower
When firefighters respond to a call, they need to be able to size up the situation in a matter of seconds. Experience and training lead them to take command and deal with it.

Residents protest more speed bumps
Several residents of Narramore Way appeared at Monday’s Lula City Council meeting to protest the planned installation of another speed bump on the road and the video taping of drivers done by resident Tony Whitfield.


News from
MADISON COUNTY
Third grade retention policy to hit home
New state mandate says all third graders must pass reading test
Madison County third graders who fail the reading portion of a standardized test this week could be forced to repeat third grade.

Share and share alike
A Madison County organ donor story
Like most couples with long marriages, George and Linda Kaye Holloman have shared a lot of living in their 32 years together — in some ways more than most.

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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HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE AT AG DAY

Nick Smith, a student at Maysville Elementary School, got to pet a baby chick at Ag Day presented Thursday morning by Jackson County Farm Bureau. Sherman Bennett (R) brought the chicks from Wayne Farms to be part of the hands-on program, which was held at Jackson County Comprehensive High School livestock barn for second graders from across the county. See this weeks Jackson Herald for a story and more photos.

Fletcher, Thomason to make re-election bid
Britt bows out in District 1 as Crow announces plans
In what is expected to be the most closely-watched political contest of the season, Jackson County Board of Commission chairman Harold Fletcher announced during Monday night’s BOC meeting that he would be running for re-election.
With qualifying set for next week, Fletcher’s bid for re-election pits him against former BOC member Pat Bell, who announced last week that she is running for the chairman’s seat.
Also Monday night, District 1 commissioner Stacey Britt announced that he would not seek re-election. Tom Crow of Jefferson announced this week that he would be running for the District 1 seat.
In District 2, Sammy Thomason also announced Monday night that he would seek re-election in his Commerce-area district.
The three BOC seats are expected to bring a lot of interest to this year’s elections following over three years of heated controversy involving the board.
FLETCHER
In making his announcement, Fletcher spoke on the successes during his four years in office.
“It has been a pleasure and it has been a privilege to serve you over the last four years,” he said. “We have accomplished a lot. Over the next four years we are going to experience a lot of challenges that we have never seen before. The last four have been a revealing experience for all of us.”
A native of Jackson County and a graduate of Jefferson High School, he holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in finance from the University of Georgia. He retired from Bell South with 30 years of service. He is currently self employed as a real estate appraiser.
He is a life-long member of Cave Springs Baptist Church where he serves as chairman of the deacon board and has served as an adult Sunday School teacher for over 30 years. Fletcher is active in the Jefferson Lions Club where he is a past president. He is also active in the Commerce Kiwanis Club. He is a past president of the Jackson County Jaycees and the Banks-Jackson Board of Realtors (now known as the I-85 Board of Realtors).
For 12 years, 1977-1988, he served as a member of the board of commissioners when it was a three-person board. He is serving the fourth year of a four-year term as chairman. He serves as vice chairman of the Upper Oconee Water Basin Authority and as a member of the Board of North East Georgia RDC. Fletcher is a member and serves on the executive board of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce. Fletcher is an active member of the Jackson County Republican party.
Fletcher has been married to the former Guynelle Gaines for 35 years. They have four children, Robin, Jan, Ray and Jon. They also have five grandchildren. Guynelle is a second grade teacher at North Jackson School.
In making his announcement, Fletcher emphasized the tremendous challenges facing Jackson County as a result of the tremendous residential growth being experienced and the need for qualified leadership to make the tough decisions that come with it.
THOMASON
When making his announcement Monday night, Thomason thanked those who have supported him during his first term in office.
“I look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of Jackson County through Jackson County government,” he said. “I appreciate the support and help I’ve received from citizens throughout Jackson County.”
Thomason will also be on the Republican ballot.
His district is primarily comprised of the eastern portion of Jackson County bounded on the west by the Oconee River. The cities of Commerce and Maysville are in District 2.
Commissioner Thomason has practiced dentistry in Commerce for over 30 years. He serves his community through various religious, civic and professional organizations. He is married to the former Kathy Strickland and has four children. Prior to being elected to the BOC, he was a member of the Jackson County Industrial Development Authority.
Commenting on the last three years as commissioner, Thomason said: “It has truly been a learning experience. I’m proud of what we have accomplished. As a commissioner, I want to continue to do the things that provide for a better quality of life for our citizens, whether it is through more and better jobs, responsible zoning decisions or by making government more responsive to the needs of our citizens. Government’s purpose is to serve its citizens.”
CROW
Crow, Jefferson, is running as a Republican.
He is manager of Crow’s Lake Inc., a second generation family farm. Crow and his wife, the former Nadine Morgan, have been married for 34 years. They have two children, Brian and Jennifer. Mrs. Crow is a teacher at Benton Elementary School.
Crow has served on the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority, the Jackson County Board of Equalization, the Jackson County Recreation Board and the county greenspace committee. He has also served as president of the Jackson County Farm Bureau and is a charter member of the Jackson County Volunteer Fire Association.
Crow is scoutmaster of Troop 158 and is a charter member of the Georgia Aquaculture Association, where he is a past president and is currently legislative chairman. He is active in the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce and received the “Fireman of the Year” award from the group. He retired from the Jefferson Volunteer Fire Department after 25 years of service.
“I feel like the citizens of the community need a choice in the operation of the county,” he said.
District 2 includes the Jefferson area.
QUALIFYING
Qualifying will be held from 9 a.m. on Monday through noon on Friday of next week. The election will be held Tuesday, July 20.


Beshara blasts editor on authority coverage
Jackson County Commis-sioner Emil Beshara again attacked The Jackson Herald editor Mike Buffington Monday night over news coverage of the county water authority.
Beshara, who has been at odds with the authority since taking office in 2001, said Buffington refused to cover what he claims was an effort by the authority to force a large residential developer to use Community Bank & Trust for a performance bond. President of Community Bank & Trust is Elton Collins, a member and former chairman of the authority and a frequent target of Beshara.
To make his point, Beshara played a video tape of a television story about his allegations.
“The Jackson Herald does not completely cover some issues,” he said. “It has politicized its reporting of the issues. I’m here tonight to show you examples of this.”
Beshara said the information was not presented by The Herald because it “goes against the concept” that members of the water authority are “not able to be corrupted.”
“This is an issue that has obviously been on Mike Buffington’s desk since January and he has yet to report on it,” Beshara said.
Beshara, along with other members of the BOC, have been frequent critics of the newspaper during the last three years and of Buffington’s editorial and columns which have questioned parts of the BOC’s agenda.
‘JUST POLITICS’
Buffington said Beshara’s allegations were “just politics as usual for this board.”
“When we heard about the allegations coming from commissioner Emil Beshara and commissioner Stacey Britt, we did look into those,” Buffington said. “But what we found was a non-issue. The water authority attorney had indeed put in the name of Community Bank on an early draft of the document, but Collins had instructed that it be taken out, which was done. End of story. Wachovia Bank was used by the developer, but Mr. Beshara has been passing around a copy of that early draft and trying to pass it off as evidence of some kind of corruption. It’s not, it’s just politics.”
The BOC, often led by Beshara, has been highly critical of the water authority and its manager, Jerry Waddell. The BOC attempted to get legislation passed in 2003 which would have allowed the board to take over the authority, but that effort failed. The BOC has since put two new members on the authority’s board, including the former girlfriend of Waddell in an effort to force his departure.
In addition, the BOC has sparred with the authority over the Bear Creek debt and recently, over giving away service areas of the authority to Arcade.
BRITT MEMO
Several weeks ago, the BOC and the water authority were at odds over a wayward memo from the developer of Traditions of Braselton, a memo which embarrassed the BOC because it revealed that commissioner Britt was a partner in part of the huge subdivision development and was considered an “ally” of the developer.
Beshara blasted The Herald’s publishing of that memo Monday night, saying that the bottom paragraph of the wayward email stated that “dissemination of it is prohibited.”
“I think Emil wants it both ways,” Buffington said about publishing the Britt memo. “On the one hand, he accuses us of a ‘cover-up’ regarding his political enemies, but on the other hand, he says we should have covered-up that memo about his colleague, who was a secret partner in the largest residential development in the history of Jackson County. I’m happy to let the citizens decide which one of us is right about publishing that.”
Buffington has also been a frequent target of BOC members, having come under verbal attack in numerous meetings from Beshara and chairman Harold Fletcher. At one point, staff members of the BOC pulled copies of Buffington’s tax records to discuss at a BOC meeting.
“I don’t take it personally,” Buffington said of the BOC’s verbal attacks. “Those guys are just frustrated because they can’t find a way to control what we print. They’ve got their job to do and we’ve got our job to do. If we disagree, then that’s just part of the process. They might want to make it a personal thing, but I don’t take it that way. In fact, I take it as a compliment that this board spends so much time at its meetings attempting to refute or re-spin what we report. It must mean we’re hitting a little too close to the truth and doing our job well.”


Council gives OK to $12,900 cost
Ready to get some more specific costs on a new recreation complex, the Jefferson City Council has agreed to an engineering company’s $12,900 cost proposal for a site engineering plan for phase one of the project. The recreation complex will be located on 100 acres on Old Pendergrass and Old Swimming Pool roads.
City manager David Clabo explained Monday night that the plan from the HDR firm will give engineering information, such as site layout, grading plans, utilities plans and erosion control, not architectural information or landscaping details.
As approved at its April 12 meeting, the city will seek a $7 million bond referendum from voters on July 20 for the project, the total cost of which is expected to cost between $10 and $12 million.
The first phase includes a community building with two gymnasiums, multi-purpose fields that can be used for football, soccer and other sports, baseball/softball fields and trails and walkways. The first phase would also include the roads, parking lots, lights, batting cages, fences and bleachers.
“Do we need to do this now, before the bond referendum is approved?” asked council member Steve Kinney about the vote to OK the HDR’s request for $12,900.
“Yes, because we have to have the cost,” responded Mayor Jim Joiner.
Clabo told the council that the engineer’s plans will “give us a much more specific figure” for the cost of phase one work.
“We have a rough figure now,” he said.


Tour de Georgia to travel through county Sat.
Lance Armstrong among cyclists in race that includes local route
Lance Armstrong, one of the most well-known athletes in the world, will be among those riding through downtown Jefferson Saturday morning as part of the Tour de Georgia.
The cyclists will travel from Athens through Arcade and on to downtown Jefferson along the old Hwy. 129. The race will then go to Hwy. 82 into Maysville and Gillsville. The cyclists are expected to go through the downtown Jefferson area around 10:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday.
Jefferson Police Chief Darren Glenn said the Georgia Department of Transportation, Georgia State Patrol and other state officials would be coordinating the race. His department will assist them during the portion of the race through Jefferson.
“We will assist them to make sure the race comes off without any incidents,” he said. “We will have 10 extra officers on duty to handle security.”
There won’t be any roads closed, but officers will stop traffic at the intersections as the cyclists pass through the area.
The Tour de Georgia is the longest and highest ranked stage race in America. More than 100 professional cyclists will be competing for $100,000 in cash and prizes and cycling more than 641 miles of Georgia roads and mountains. The race benefits the Georgia Cancer Coalition.
It is a six-day journey that will begin in Macon and end in Alpharetta, traveling through Columbus, Rome, Dahlonega and Brasstown Bald Mountain. The race will cover 653 miles over the six days.
Athletes from over 15 countries will compete and close to one million spectators are expected to watch the races and participate in activities in host communities across the state.
“I’m excited about racing in the Dodge Tour de Georgia,” said Lance Armstrong, a champion cyclist, cancer survivor and founder of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. “It’s benefiting a great cause and it’s the first time I’m doing a race in the United States before the Tour de France. The Lance Armstrong Foundation provides information and support to cancer survivors and their families so they can live strong. The work that the Georgia Cancer Coalition does is such a compliment to the work we do, and we’re thrilled that this race will support their efforts.”
Also participating in the race will be Mario Cipollini of Italy, one of the most decorated riders in cycling history. He has over 150 career victories to his credit. The last time he competed in the United States was in Georgia at the 1996 Olympic Games.


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Historic Opera House To Be Open To Public Soon
If Robert and Ling House have their way, the old Commerce Opera House will again see live stage performances.
Owners of the three store fronts that comprise the Opera House, (once a single building known as the “Eladay Building,”) the Houses have been at work since last spring restoring a cultural treasure that has been used for little more than a home for pigeons since the 1950s.
The Houses operate Aikido of Commerce and own the two adjacent store fronts above which the opera house also sits (Opera House Antiques and Our Town Antiques). They acquired what was the Davidson-Nelson Insurance building on April 8, 2003, and bought the other two over the next five weeks. The purchase of the center building was complicated when the owner, realizing they had the other two, refused to sell it to them. Chris Bulls of CMC Consulting came to their rescue, bought the building and sold it to the Houses a day later.
Once they got the lower floors into usable condition, they began upstairs.
“I expect to open the doors for gymnastics and cheerleading to move upstairs within a month,” House, a former University of Georgia gymnast, said last week. “That’s how close we are.”
(Actually, cheerleading and gymnastics have been taking place on the old stage because of the high ceiling, but both programs will be moved entirely upstairs. The first public event in the opera house will be a gymnastics “Fun Meet” May 15 where the kids will go through their routines before parents and friends and be judged by Tim Wagner, one of House’s former UGA gymnastics teammates.)
Underneath the pigeon guano, the debris from fallen walls and the accumulation of junk put upstairs for storage but never claimed by previous owners and tenants, the Houses found some surprises.
Among that was the “olio,” a cloth painting used as the front drop between acts on the stage. Perhaps 30 feet by 16, the cloth shows a downtown scene and includes a couple of advertisements, one of which is for “The Commerce News, est. 1891 (The Commerce News was established in 1875 as The Northeast Georgia Progress) and “L.L. Davis, Coal Dealer.”
“It’s got a little water damage, but some people in Athens hope to restore it. We’ll put it on the back wall (of the stage),” House said. “I’ve talked to many of the former owners. Nobody knew it was there. It was rolled up under a pile of bird poop.”
Most of the front windows were also found and are being restored.
Just getting down to the point where they could see what needed to be done was a challenge. They hauled trailer loads of debris, including fallen walls and plaster, to the county transfer station over the months. “We’ve taken mountains of trash away,” House assured. Mrs. House noted that workers took more than five tons of plaster to the county transfer station, all of it in plastic garbage bags. A hundred compound buckets of gravel from the old roof were lowered by rope, one bucket at a time, and given a second life in a gravel walkway through a rose garden at the Houses’ South Broad Street home.
They also removed interior walls put up after the second floor was no longer used as a stage. Some of them delineated the upstairs divisions in what became three buildings instead of one. Others dated back to time when apartments or other re-uses were established, only to be abandoned in time.
The exterior brick walls are plastered inside, but much of the plaster had fallen off. Repairing it is a major part of the restoration, and Ling House, an artist specializing in detailed pencil reproduction of classical masterpieces, quickly became an expert at that chore and at applying dry wall mud.
The Houses have rebuilt a lot of the interior walls, using more than 200 dry wall boards so far. The windows are currently being renovated, as are the exterior walls. The pressed tin roof – some 600 2 by 2 squares – will be painted, and those in the back two rows will be used to fill in the missing squares around the stage.
The Houses have benefited from a lot of volunteer labor, most of it related to their students and parents in the gymnastics, cheerleading and martial arts programs they operate. Members of the local Mormon Church provide volunteer labor every Tuesday, House said.
“Some people like the idea of renovating the building,” House explains. “And some of them are contractors.”
The Houses consulted early on with Lane Greene, who provided architectural advice for the restoration of the Morton Theater in Athens.
“He loved it,” House said.
In addition to the volunteer labor, the Houses have received a lot of hands-on instruction. For example, J.C. Crocker showed them how to install the new roof and rented them the equipment they needed.
House estimates that the third floor is 8,000 square feet. The high opera house ceiling gives House plenty of room to teach gymnastics and cheerleading.
“The ultimate goal is to be able to have shows up here,” he stated.
Since the Opera House floor is level (or will be once it’s renovated), House envisions having tables and chairs – a dinner theater maybe – utilizing the space on weekdays for classes and weekends for performances.
Apparently, at one time a train would visit Commerce once a year offering citizens a chance to be in a play.
“They’d provide the props and train them,” House said. “I had an 80-year-old woman tell me she was on the stage here in one of those plays when she was 6 years old.”
The stage had its first live performance in decades last Christmas, when the martial arts studio hosted a Christmas party for members, featuring a rock and roll band, a bluegrass band and Father Christmas. If all goes as planned, the Commerce Opera House will get a second life as a venue for live performances in the near future.
In the meantime, the Houses are trying to learn everything they can about the history of the building and about what went on in the Opera House. Anyone willing to share an experience or memory should contact them at the Aikido of Commerce studio at 336-8334.