Jackson County Opinions...

APRIL 28, 2004

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
April 28, 2004

The First Trial In New Courthouse: State Vs. Britt
If it were a perfect world, the first trial in the new Jackson County Courthouse would be the State vs. Stacey Britt, theft by taking, in the State Court of Jackson County.
If it were a perfect world, however, the commissioners and the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority would be allies instead of enemies, the courthouse would be built in Jefferson and Britt would have announced that he will not run for re-election.
One out of three ain’t perfect.
As the details of this latest soap opera, “As the County Government Turns (Our Stomachs),” unfolded, it was hard to tell whether members of the water and sewerage authority were more amused because they believed they’d caught a county commissioner stealing, or more surprised that a county commissioner could be so stupid. In that environment, of course, the presumption of innocence does not exist.
The reality, however, is that nothing is likely to come of this since the alleged theft is a misdemeanor and the atmosphere is politically charged. I’ll be surprised if the district attorney or the GBI will touch the case. If you or I were found to have an illicit water meter on our property, there would be no investigation. We’d be cited immediately and our only recourse would be to show up at the courthouse and try to convince a judge or jury that either the water meter fairy installed it without our knowledge, or it was a conspiracy involving about six people at the water authority to damage our impeccable reputations. But you and I are not county commissioners.
“That’s ridiculous,” Britt told me when I solicited a comment in an attempt to tell the “both sides of the story” that Emil Beshara complains is lacking. “I ain’t gonna talk to you.”
He’s right. It is ridiculous. It’s preposterous. Both are adjectives one might use to describe the tenure of Britt and his fellow commissioners. Both could be deployed to illustrate the fervor with which the board of commissioners has attacked the authority and its level of animosity toward Jerry Waddell, the authority’s manager. When it comes to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, the ridiculous and the preposterous not only happen, but do so with great frequency.
Since Britt would not comment on the matter, in the spirit of being even-handed, let me offer some possible defenses on his behalf:
•It’s a conspiracy. Jerry Waddell, Elton Collins and Osama bin Laden sneaked the meter in, ran the line to my barn and turned on the water.
•There is no meter at my farm. MainStreet News (Mike Buffington) made it all up.
•A subcontractor from Traditions of Braselton inadvertently installed a meter at the wrong address.
•The water authority is corrupt, incompetent and we need to take it over and fire Jerry Waddell.
•I didn’t know I had running water to my barn. Why didn’t someone tell me?
•What, me worry?
•The Sergeant Schultz defense: I saw nuuuttthhhiiinnngggg.
•I’d like to thank my fellow commissioners for their foresight and courage in building this beautiful courthouse.

The Commerce News
April 28, 2004

A Wise Decision
The Commerce Planning Commission’s decision to reject a request to cram houses onto 6,000-square-foot lots was well made. While the developer promised that the plan would work because of restrictive covenants, in most cases covenants do not work.
The Commerce City Council should back the planning commission; otherwise, the city will be swamped with proposals to build more tiny houses on tiny lots. Ward 4 Councilman Bob Sosebee – who makes a living selling real estate – has been lobbying his fellow council members on behalf of the developer, so there is some sentiment for reversing the planning commission’s action. Residents concerned about the proliferation of such houses and lots are well advised to continue to watch how the city council handles the issue.

Stripping Authority Of Territory A Big Mistake
Too impatient to wait until this summer when it will be able to replace two water authority members with people to do its bidding, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners continues its quest to render the county water and sewerage authority powerless.
Its most recent cut-off-its-nose-to-spite-itself move was to grant Arcade water and sewerage service territories by shaving the authority’s territory. The move will make the authority less financially strong at a time when the commissioners have been publicly questioning the fiscal management of the authority.
The move, in effect, grants all of the county water authority’s lines and meters in Arcade to the city. Recall that in 1998 Arcade came begging the authority for water. It could not even qualify for a Georgia Environmental Finance Authority loan of $173,000 because GEFA did not think the town could repay the money. The authority spent $440,000 on the project, $64,000 of it from a state grant. Arcade put up only $50,000 and needed a $20,000 gift from Gov. Roy Barnes to manage that.
The move suggests that the authority will collect payment from Arcade based on wholesale rates. Arcade will suddenly have an additional revenue stream to supplement its cops-for-cash revenue program. The value of lines and meters inside Arcade will come off of the water authority’s books and its revenue from Arcade will decrease – which will no doubt be brought up at some later point as evidence of poor authority management.
Given Arcade’s shaky financial background, it is not inconceivable that the authority will have difficulty collecting its money from Arcade. While the authority can currently cut service to delinquent accounts, it will not be able to terminate service to all of Arcade if the city fails to pay its bill. Further, the authority will be expected to provide treatment of Arcade’s wastes so Arcade can annex more land so more houses and mobile homes can be brought into the county.
Carving up the authority’s territory for Arcade today (and Talmo and Pendergrass tomorrow?) may provide the slap in the face the board of commissioners seeks to deliver, but it reduces the ability of the important public enterprise to operate effectively. That tells us that the commissioners’ interest in fiscal accountability for the authority is a sham to cover its political vendetta, hardly a surprise, given the commissioners’ two-year assault on the authority.
In July, the commissioners will appoint two more lackeys to do their will, and the authority will be in their hands. When voters select three county commissioners in the July primaries and November election, the incumbents’ relentless effort to discredit and take over the water and sewerage authority will be one of the issues voters will consider. Unfortunately, by then, the damage will be done.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
April 28, 2004

‘Don’t fling me into that briar patch!’
When you’ve sat in an editor’s chair for as long as I have, you become accustomed to the slings and arrows of angry public officials. It’s part of the territory. If a newspaper is doing it’s job, it won’t always be popular with those in political power. And since the buck stops on the editor’s desk, we get the flak.
So it was no surprise last week when county commissioner Emil Beshara again verbally attacked this newspaper, and me personally, over what he considers unfavorable news coverage. Nor was it any surprise that local Republican Party chairman David Oppenheimer also spewed his disdain for me in refusing to release the names of local candidates who have qualified to run in the July primary.
If you don’t like the message, then kill the messenger. At least, that’s what Beshara, Oppen-heimer and a few others in county political circles believe.
Alas, all they’ve done is help to sell more newspapers and made themselves look petty and foolish in the process.
To quote Ber’ Rabbit, “Please, Ber’ Fox, don’t fling me in that briar patch!”
Indeed, the fact that Oppenheimer refused to release the list of candidate names is a far bigger story than if he had released them. Had he released the names, it would have just been a dry listing of those who paid their fees to run for office, a routine story we do every two years around election time.
But in refusing to release the names to the public, and saying his reason was because he doesn’t like me, Oppenheimer has created much more interesting news. He is probably the only local Republican Party chairman in Georgia to refuse to release the names of those who will be on the ballot in July. And because he did that out of pettiness, he made it an even bigger story.
There’s an old newspaper saying that defines news: “If a dog bites a man, it ain’t news — if a man bites a dog, it is news.”
By that standard, Mr. Oppenheimer just bit a dog. He made news by acting petty and in the process, will probably increase newspaper sales this week by about 20 percent.
“Please, Ber’ Fox, don’t fling me in that briar patch!”
Beshara is also usually good for a few colorful quotes. His diatribe against the county water authority and its former chairman, Elton Collins, was par for the course. He makes no secret of his disdain for the authority, or his personal hatred of water manager Jerry Waddell and those, like Collins, who support Waddell.
But where Beshara went wrong last week was in making allegations against Collins that he couldn’t back up. Now he has to eat those allegations after a letter from a development firm involved refuted his charges.
Indeed, Beshara emailed me last week to say he would resign if I could prove the document he touted as evidence against Collins was just a “draft.”
Well, the letter from the development firm that signed the final document said it was a “rough draft.”
End of story.
Now, where is Beshara’s resignation?
No, don’t worry, Beshara won’t resign. His ego is too big for him to ever admit he was wrong.
Must be Waddell’s fault.
Or maybe the newspaper’s fault.
And in truth, if he resigned, we might have a much less colorful person elected to his position, someone who didn’t make wild accusations and who wouldn’t generate nearly as much news copy.
Please, Emil, don’t resign. You’re much too colorful to exit the public stage. Heck, newspaper sales would decline 20 percent without you to quote.
Of course, Beshara and Oppenheimer aren’t alone in their dislike of a newspaper that they can’t control. BOC chairman Harold Fletcher has fired a few arrows our way over the last three years, something about me being “short?”
And commissioner Stacey Britt has tried to launch a few slings this way as well, telling some folks the only way to “stop Mike” was to somehow hurt me in the pocketbook.
Well, since I’m not a big-wheel land developer, my pocketbook is rather low on funds. The only thing that would hurt my wallet would be for Britt and company to stop making news.
But hey, I could use a little of that free water Britt discovered near his house recently.
“Please, Ber’ Fox, don’t fling me in that briar patch!”
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
April 28, 2004

Arrogance underlies public officials’ actions
When we first heard last week that county commissioner Stacey Britt had an illegal water meter on a county water line serving his barn, our reaction was one of bewilderment.
Why would anyone, especially a public official, do such a self-defeating stunt?
And on Tuesday, when Jackson County Republican Party Chairman David Oppenheimer refused to release the names of people who’ve qualified for local office, we were again stunned.
Why would he, like Britt, take such a self-defeating action?
None of this makes sense unless you consider the poisoned tone of the county’s political atmosphere. It has been poisoned by the stench of arrogance coming from a handful of local public officials — officials who have come to believe that they are above the law.
This acrimonious tone was set early by the current board of commissioners. Even before taking office, that group was holding secret meetings to plan their agenda. Note that we say THEIR agenda, not the public’s agenda.
In those meetings, BOC chairman Harold Fletcher reportedly made it clear that his administration was to keep as much secret as possible, and certainly not let the local media know about anything.
In any organization, the chairman or president sets the tone. With the Fletcher administration, that tone has been one of arrogance.
The situation last week with commissioner Britt is a classic case of what happens when arrogance rules. The extreme disrespect Britt, Fletcher and other members of the BOC have for the county water authority is self-evident.
Thus, the only reasonable explanation for Britt’s action is his arrogance. Like the rest of the BOC, he has no respect for the water authority, so he did what he wanted to do, the consequences be damned.
And this week’s refusal by Oppenheimer, a close ally of Fletcher and Britt, to release the names of candidates, was another display of public arrogance. Oppenheimer’s reason for not releasing those names was that he doesn’t like the editor of this newspaper.
But those names are a public record and in refusing to make them available, Oppenheimer, like Britt, put himself above the law.
His attitude, like that of Britt’s, has been shaped by the tone of the Fletcher administration, a tone that is decidedly against the public’s interest.
So it is not Oppenheimer’s pettiness that is a problem, or the water that flowed through Britt’s meter to his barn that really matters.
Those are just the results of the arrogance flowing through our county government at its highest levels.

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