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APRIL 28, 2004


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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS
Girls win region, boys place third
The Commerce girls’ golf team will move on to state while the boys squad came one spot away from qualifying for the Class A tournament, finishing third at Monday’s rainy region tournament at Hard Labor Creek.

JHS student-athlete involved in serious wreck over the weekend
Donation fund set up locally to assist family
A Jefferson High School student-athlete was involved in a serious car accident that resulted in one fatality and left three people injured Saturday in Hall County.

Lady Panthers state bound for first time ever
For the first time in school history, a Jackson County girls’ golf team will be headed to the state tournament next month.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
Sheriff asks for $1.9 million at BOC budget hearing
Budget hearings come to a close
The Banks County Board of Commissioners wrapped up budget hearings Thursday after hearing from 17 departments on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Planners to meet Tuesday
The Banks County Planning Commission will meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the courthouse in Homer.


News from
MADISON COUNTY
The tangled web
Bitter county conflict includes computer controversy
Board of tax assessors chairman John Bellew filed the necessary paperwork this week to challenge Wesley Nash for the county commission chairman’s seat in November.

Preventing child abuse
Local DFACS workers are on the ‘front lines’
Kathy Seymour, Child Protective Services (CPS) supervisor for the Danielsville Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFACS) office, has seen it all since coming to work there in 1987.

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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REFUSES ACCESS TO DOCUMENTS

Jackson County Republican party chairman David Oppenheimer refused to allow reporter Angela Gary to review qualifying documents submitted by candidates in the July 20 election.

Republican chair refuses to give candidate names
Oppenheimer cites anger at Herald editor
Jackson County Republican Party chairman David Oppenheimer refused Tuesday to release the names of local candidates who have qualified to run in the July 20 primary.
Candidates for local office qualify through their local party officials. However, the qualifying documents are considered open records under Georgia Law. It is the first time in the history of local elections that a party official has refused to release the names.
Oppenheimer first refused a telephone request for the documents made by reporter Angela Gary. Editor Mike Buffington then called and asked why the request had been denied.
“If you were a serious journalist, we would have this conversation,” Oppenheimer told Buffington. “You can see them on Friday like everyone else.”
Gary then went to Oppenheimer’s house, where the qualifying takes place, and again asked to see the public records. She was asked by Oppenheimer to leave the property. A second trip to Oppenheimer’s house with a written request was also refused.
When asked why he was not releasing the list, Oppenheimer said the first reason is so that the opposition will not know who is running in each race.
“The second reason is your editor,” he said, referring to Buffington, editor of The Jackson Herald. “We don’t care what he writes.”
According to David Hudson, attorney for the Georgia Press Association, Oppenheimer’s refusal to allow access to the documents was a clear violation of state law.
“The local party is carrying out a public function, and as such, all documents received, prepared or maintained in connection with that public function are public records,” he said.
Oppenheimer has been a vocal defender of the incumbent county commissioners, especially Republican chairman Harold Fletcher and Republican commissioners Stacey Britt and Emil Beshara. Buffington has written a number of columns and editorials critical of the BOC’s actions.
“I don’t believe Mr. Oppenheimer’s actions reflect the feelings of those Republican candidates who gave him their qualifying checks this week, nor does it reflect the majority of local Republicans,” said Buffington. “He’s apparently angry because I have disagreed with the actions of his BOC allies, but withholding those names won’t hurt me. It’s just pettiness.”
Buffington also said the action is breaking the law.
“The Georgia Open Records Law is very clear that these are indeed open, public records and that anyone has the right to see them,” he said. “Mr. Oppenheimer is violating state law, but he believes he’s above the law.”


Water board asks for GBI probe of Britt
Illegal water meter found at commissioner’s property
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is being asked to investigate circumstances surrounding an illegal water meter discovered on a county water line that was feeding water into a barn on the property of county commissioner Stacey Britt.
The board of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority agreed Thursday night to ask District Attorney Tim Madison to seek a GBI probe of the matter. Officials believe some 66,000 gallons of water, about $330 worth, has flowed through the line without county approval.
Britt, a developer with extensive ties to contractors and builders in Northeast Georgia, declined to comment on the matter last week.
“This is ridiculous,” he said. “I ain’t getting into this mess.”
DISCOVERED BY ACCIDENT
According to Jerry Waddell, the authority’s manager, an authority crew was walking the new water line along Ethridge Road last Wednesday to make sure a sub-contractor had set a meter box at every house, as was required by the contract and in preparation for installing meters the following day. One of the workers noticed water running out of the box that was to hold a meter to service Britt’s barn. He opened the box and found a leaking meter installed, Waddell said.
“We hadn’t installed any meters on the line yet. It still has to be disinfected and approved by the EPD (Environmental Protection Division),” Waddell explained.
The serial number on the meter indicated that it was not a Jackson County meter and the style is different from anything the county uses, Waddell told the authority.
The crew turned the meter off and installed a copper seal.
But the matter did not end there, according to Waddell.
“Stacey came by here (the authority office) at about 7:30 this (Thursday) morning raising Cain because we cut off his water,” Waddell told the authority. “He said he cut it back on. He broke the seal.”
Britt had paid the authority in advance for a one-inch meter for the barn, authority records show. But no meters had yet been installed along the line because it was still being tested. Although water was in the line, no water service was available until the sub-contractor turned the line over to the authority last week.
According to Waddell, Britt told authority workers that the meter belonged to the county and “said it was our fault for not billing him.” The serial number revealed otherwise and the authority has asked the manufacturer to find out to whom the meter was sold.”
Britt would not comment when asked whether he had hired someone to put the meter in or had installed it himself.
Normally, Waddell said, the workers would have called 911 and summoned a deputy to take a report at the scene. But because of the political controversies between the commissioners and the authority, Waddell did not take any action until he’d reviewed the matter with the authority board Thursday night.
If an investigation reveals that the matter is a case of theft, it would be a misdemeanor, based on the value of water stolen. But authority attorney Julius Hulsey pointed out that Britt’s alleged actions appear to constitute several violations: the state theft by taking law, two Jackson County ordinances and the board of commissioners’ code of ethics.
The authority summoned Sheriff Stan Evans to the meeting for advice on handling the matter. Evans said it is the policy of the sheriff’s office not to investigate other county offices and recommended going through Madison to request a GBI investigation.
“We could investigate it, but we’d rather not,” Evans said.
POLITICAL BACKDROP
This latest situation between Britt and the authority comes amid a huge controversy between the BOC and the authority. For over a year, Britt and other BOC members have been critical of the authority and Waddell. On a number of occasions, the BOC has attempted to get control of the authority and fire Waddell, but so far has been unsuccessful.


Bluegreen denies Beshara’s comment
The division president of the firm building the largest residential project in the county’s history said in a letter this week that the company was never pressured to use a particular bank for a letter of credit.
The letter, dated April 22, is a direct contradiction of allegations made earlier last week by Jackson County commissioner Emil Beshara, who accused the county water authority of attempting to force the firm to use authority member Elton Collins’ bank for the transaction.
“The purpose of this letter is to assure the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority and other interested parties that the use of Community Bank and Trust for our Letters of Credit to the Authority only appeared in the rough draft of our preliminary Agreement,” wrote R. Thomas Powers, division president of Bluegreen. “When I requested that we be allowed to use Wachovia Bank and Trust, Mr. Waddell agreed and put no undue pressure on me or the company to use Community Bank and Trust.”
Beshara made a 15-minute presentation at last week’s board of commissioners’ meeting outlining his allegations against Collins. He passed out copies of a draft document between the authority and Bluegreen that initially had Community Bank and Trust securing the lines of credit. That was changed before the final documents were signed.
Collins said last week that he didn’t know his bank was in the original document until after it had been drafted by the authority’s attorney and that when he learned about the language, had also asked that his bank be removed from the document.
Beshara has been a frequent critic of the authority and Collins, having called for the ouster of Waddell and supported various BOC efforts to take over the authority.
Beshara was also critical last week of media coverage of his information, saying that Mike Buffington, editor of The Jackson Herald, had refused to print his allegations.
Responding to an editorial in The Herald last week that defended Collins and the authority’s actions, Beshara emailed editor Buffington, offering to “resign” if the document he circulated had been a draft.
“Draft. HA HA HA. I’ll resign tomorrow if you can show me the word ‘Draft’ anywhere on that document,” wrote Beshara.


One Democrat qualifies for sheriff
With two days of qualifying left, only one Democrat candidate had qualified in Jackson County.
Eugene Brogan qualified to run in the sheriff’s race. He qualified in the office of Walter Harvey, chairman of the county Democratic party.
Republican party chairman David Oppenheimer refused to release the names of candidates who had qualified with him (see separate story). However, seven Republican candidates submitted an announcement to MainStreet Newspapers prior to qualifying.
Those candidates are: incumbent Harold Fletcher and Pat Bell, chairman of the county board of commissioners; Tom Crow, BOC, District 1; incumbent Sammy Thomason, BOC District 2; Camie Wilkes Thomas and Michael Carroll, clerk of courts; and incumbent Billy Chandler, magistrate judge.
Other positions to be on the ballot, along with the current person in office, include: Tax commissioner, Don Elrod; probate court judge, Margaret Deadwyler; district attorney, Tim Madison; Superior Court judges, David Motes, Joe Booth and Robert Adamson; State Court judge, Jerry Gray; coroner, Keith Whitfield; State Court solicitor, Don Moore; surveyor, Al Venable; District 1, county board of education, Stephanie Kitchens; and District 4, county board of education, Ed Tolbert.
STATE RACES
In the state Senate races, incumbent Ralph Hudgens, District 47, and incumbent Casey Cagle, District 49, had qualified as of Tuesday. Both are Republican candidates.
Senate District 47 includes the majority of Jackson County and portions of Madison, Barrow and Elbert counties. Senate District 49 includes the northern and western parts of Jackson County and all of Hall County.
As for the House of Representatives, Tom McCall, a Republican from Elberton, qualified for the District 30 seat. House District 30 includes the eastern portion of Jackson County and part of both Madison and Elbert counties. Tommy Benton, a Jefferson Republican, qualified for the House District 31, which includes the majority of Jackson County and a small portion of Barrow County.
Qualifying will be end at noon on Friday.
The election schedule for the year is as follows: July 20, primary election; Aug. 10, primary run-off; Nov. 2, general election; and Nov. 23, general run-off.


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Planners Reject Request For
Small Lots In Highland Estates
Question Remains: Can City Council Override Decision?
With strong opposition from potential neighbors and after minimal discussion, the Commerce Planning Commis-sion voted Monday night to deny a request to allow houses on 6,000 square foot lots in Highland Estates subdivision.
Ken Gary sought the modification of the R-2 zoning in the subdivision, which he recently purchased, to increase the number of lots from 70 as currently platted to 106, a move he said would allow “a development we believe will improve and enhance the area.”
To accomplish that, Gary asked the planning commission for a change in zoning from R-2 to R-2 with conditions to allow 50-foot lots with 10-foot setbacks front and rear and five-foot setbacks on the sides. In exchange, the developer would provide curbs, storm sewers with drop inlets, a stone entrance monument, sidewalks and underground utilities, none of which are required as the subdivision is platted. He would also provide 10 to 15 acres of greenspace and restrictive covenants that would include a weekly yard maintenance requirement, fenced back yards and control of animals and inoperative vehicles, plus a common area maintained by the development.
“The thing that makes these developments work is you have covenants,” Gary said. “The people who move in will comply with them.”
“We build a nice development,” Gary added. “We’ll bring in a product we think is a value and will appreciate in value as time goes on.”
Most of the 16 people who attended the meeting opposed the development, and Dennis Kesler spoke for them.
“We are opposed to seeing extra houses built in the area, mainly due to high traffic and the road conditions,” he told the group.
Chairman Greg Perry also presented a petition signed by neighbors protesting the zoning change.
Nancy James, who lives on Land Way, expressed the concern that the “gated” community would lead to double standards in the treatment of Highland Estates residents, proposing that everyone should get any amenities offered to the new section.
She also opposed the high-density proposal with “postage stamp” lots, which she termed “ridiculous,” argued that the traffic would create safety problems and expressed concern over sewer and water issues.
Kenneth Suber made the motion to deny the request, which passed unanimously.
There is some discussion over whether the matter next goes before the Commerce City Council. Perry, an attorney, says that because the issue was technically not a zoning change, it does not go to the council as a recommendation, but City Manager Clarence Bryant said the opinion of the city attorney is that the request is for a zoning change, thus the planning commission only makes recommendations to the city council.
In that case, the council will vote on the matter at its May 10 meeting at 6:30 at the Commerce Civic Center.
In other business, the planning commission tabled acceptance of the conditions and covenants incorporated in the plat for Millstone Development, a proposed senior citizens’ project on Hospital Road, until members have time to digest the 50-page, single-spaced document to make sure it matches the agreement reached between the planning commission and the developer.


Chamber awards banquet set Thurs.
The Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce’s sixth annual awards banquet will be held Thursday, April 29, at the Commerce Civic Center,
The evening will begin with the “Chairman’s Reception and Silent Auction” at 6:00 p.m., followed by dinner and a keynote address by Commissioner Orson Swindle of the Federal Trade Commission. The chamber will present awards for the outstanding large business of the year, small business of the year, volunteer of the year, citizen of the year, and William H. Booth Citizenship Award recipient. The chamber’s Leadership Jackson Class of 2004 will graduate 19 members as part of the evening’s ceremonies.
Swindle was sworn in as a Republican commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission Dec. 18, 1997. He was appointed in December, 2001 as head of the United States Delegation to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Experts Group to review the 1992 OECD Guidelines for the Security of Information Systems.
Swindle served in the Reagan administration from 1981 to 1989 directing financial assistance programs to economically distressed rural and municipal areas of the country. As assistant secretary of commerce for development he managed the Department of Commerce’s national economic development efforts in seven offices across the country. Swindle was state director of the Farmers Home Administration for the U.S. Department of Agriculture financing rural housing, community infrastructure, businesses, and farming.
Tickets are $45 per person. Contact the Chamber at 335-1896 for ticket information.