Jackson County Opinions...

MAY 5, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
May 5, 2004

GOP Proves To Be Good For (Our) Business
I asked Mike Buffington, editor of The Jackson Herald and the evil man for whom I toil, if he’d sent a thank-you note to David Oppenheimer last week.
Oppenheimer chairs the Jackson County Republican Party and he demonstrated that the P in GOP stands for pettiness by refusing to release to a reporter the names of candidates who’d qualified for office through last Tuesday.
That decision, which made incredibly more interesting newspaper copy than reporting that Harold Fletcher had qualified for re-election, was a gift to anyone who writes opinion pieces relevant to Jackson County (not to mention to those of us who write irrelevant opinions). It also gave Stacey Britt someone with whom to share the week’s front page in The Herald and pushed him to Page 5A in The News.
The GOP’s men of influence in Jackson County seem determined to put their worst feet forward. Emil Beshara appears mentally unbalanced in his attacks on Mike, on Jerry Waddell and on Elton Collins; an unauthorized water meter is found on Britt’s property and he refuses to answer a did-you-do-it question; and then Mr. Oppenheimer decides to keep secret for a few days the public information about who has qualified for what offices. By keeping Mainstreet Newspapers in the dark, he kept most of Jackson County uninformed as well – a GOP political policy perhaps.
The strategy seems to be to silence MainStreet News by giving us so much to write about that we deplete our supply of newspaper ink and have to stop. It isn’t working; They buy the stuff in 55-gallon drums and the corporate budget was amended recently to increase spending for editorial page ink. The only real challenge for last week was which of the issues to expend our ink and energies upon, Mike having procrastinated until all of the idiocies were in hand. I, on the other hand, responding to an earlier deadline with my accustomed discipline, had already written my column and, limited to the controversy of the moment, offered my heartfelt support for the grossly-misunderstood Mr. Britt.
As for Mr. Oppenheimer, let me offer my thanks for his action. A party chairman interested in the good of the organization would have provided the names of those who had qualified. With my earlier deadline, that would have left the April 28 edition of The Commerce News with a list outdated by 18 hours, compared to The Herald, which would have checked back with Mr. Oppenheimer at noon April 28 and made any additions. I spent all of last Wednesday morning hoping that Mr. Oppenheimer would not acquire some sanity in order that this paper’s Page 1 story would not be outdated.
My prayers were answered.
At least as far as newspapers are concerned, the Republicans are indeed good for business. Bill Clinton was an amateur in creating controversy and dissent compared to George Bush, and the current local GOP regime has caused more controversy over more subjects with diverse groups than any of the old Democratic office holders of past years. We who must write opinion pieces are grateful indeed.


Editorial
The Commerce News
May 5, 2004

Kudos To Those Honored By Chamber
The Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce singled out a few of its members for honors Thursday night, reminding approximately 360 people in attendance that it is an organization of volunteers. It is the quality of those volunteers that largely determines the effectiveness of the chamber.
So it was that Keith Johnson of Randstad Staffing Services was named “Volunteer of the Year,” Elton Collins earned “Citizen of the Year” honors, Keith Hayes Construction was declared “Small Business of the Year,” nBank won “Large Business of the Year,” and Randall Pugh, CEO of Jackson EMC was named the William H. Booth Citizen of the Year.”
In selecting the winners, the chamber took into consideration the service to both the community and the chamber of the business or individual. Those people named were just a few of the key people and businesses that make up the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce. What makes them stand out is their tireless dedication to both.
The chamber of commerce is the big tent under which hundreds of people of varying interest gather to serve their community. Some focus their efforts on economic development, others on education, some on membership and many serve in multiple capacities to help an organization trying to improve the quality of life throughout the county. They are all volunteers, people dedicated enough to one or more aspects of the cause to invest their time and talent or the resources of their companies.
Many of them, both the companies and individuals, are also part of the huge force of volunteers that make local civic clubs, government agencies, Scout troops, churches and a wide array of non-profit community groups successful. They work with or sponsor recreation teams, support the local schools, labor in the garden clubs, minister to people through Habitat for Humanity, the food bank and the battered women’s shelter. Wherever some community need is met, these volunteers can be found.
Congratulations to the chamber and its individual and corporate members. They make a huge difference in countless large and small ways.


GBI Should Take Up
Water Meter Investigation
There’s no word yet on whether the Georgia Bureau of Investigation will accept a request from the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority to investigate the circumstances surrounding the unauthorized water meter found on Commissioner Stacey Britt’s property.
They should.
First, the nature of the political squabbles that have been ongoing between the authority and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners requires that an outside agency take up the investigation. Whether there is a theft or not a theft, only a GBI report will have any credibility.
Second, voters and the public in general need to know what is going on, and the only way they’re likely to get specific answers is if the GBI makes an inquiry. It does not suffice for the situation to be left hanging so that the commissioners and the authority have radically different explanations for what happened. If the GBI finds evidence sufficient to warrant a theft charge, that charge should be made and decided in the courts.
A GBI investigation will not change the facts; at best, it will clarify them for all to consider. This seemingly simple matter is not so simple, given the politics and personalities involved, and a distilling of the facts by a professional, apolitical law enforcement agency is the only way to proceed.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
May 5, 2004

Stage is set for 2004 political season
So now the stage is set. Qualifying has ended and we know who will be running for local offices in the 2004 elections.
It could be the most interesting election year since the early 1990s in Jackson County. Several races have the potential to be hard-fought contests.
Here’s a few thoughts on some of the key races:
• I don’t know if magistrate judge Billy Chandler has ever had opposition for his position in the many years he’s held that post, but this year he’s facing Jefferson attorney Barry King. King was a candidate for sheriff many years ago, but has stayed out of the political fray since that time. This is a rather low-profile position, but the fact that it’s being contested at all should prove interesting.
• Perennial candidate Sammy Qualls is again making a run for public office, this time for coroner, a position held by Keith Whitfield. What’s interesting is that Qualls is one of only three candidates in this election to qualify as a Democrat.
• Incumbent Republican Sheriff Stan Evans will face county marshal Eugene Brogan in the November General Election after Brogan qualified as a Democrat. Evans has been sheriff since 1985 and appears safe for another term in this race given the strong Republican following in Jackson County. But the race has other overtones beyond party politics since there has been tension between the sheriff’s department and the county marshal’s office over the last couple of years.
• Incumbent Rep. Chris Elrod is facing opposition in the Republican Primary from Tommy Benton. Benton has a lot of ties across Jackson County and could mount a serious challenge to the incumbent. On the other hand, Elrod has the power of the incumbent label in his favor. This looks to be a close race.
• In a last-minute surprise, a candidate qualified to challenge incumbent county commissioner Sammy Thomason in the Commerce area. Jody Thompson, a political newcomer, qualified for the post Friday morning. Given all the controversy surrounding Thomason and the BOC, Thompson starts this race with a strong hand — he’s new and “unwashed” in the political mud bath that has become the BOC. Question is, can he build on that?
• Four candidates qualified to replace Stacey Britt on the BOC, just about assuring that race will go into a runoff. Long-time civic leader Tom Crow had announced two weeks ago and political newcomer Rick Braham had also announced for the post. Last week, those two were joined by two other political newcomers, Phillis Holland and Chris Chapman. While Chapman may be new to politics, he isn’t new to the BOC or Britt. Chapman was one of the key property owners who sold land to the BOC for a new courthouse. Indeed, some believe Chapman and BOC chairman Harold Fletcher had agreed on the site long before it ever became a public issue. Chapman is also a business associate of Britt’s. Question is, can he overcome the shadow of Britt’s baggage to get into a runoff?
• In what may be the most hotly-contested race of the season, three people qualified to become BOC chairman. Incumbent Fletcher qualified as a Republican, as did former county commissioner and state representative Pat Bell. But in an interesting twist, Roy Grubbs qualified as a Democrat for the seat. In the last BOC election, Grubbs ran as a Republican for the chairman’s seat. Will putting a (D) by his name in November increase his odds? In the contest between Bell and Fletcher, it promises to be a slugfest. Both have political experience and have run previous campaigns. Fletcher is in a position of having to defend his controversial record against an aggressive opponent who knows how to campaign and has many decades of ties to the community. It’s THE race to watch this season.

***

All the annual award recipients from the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce last week were deserving, but perhaps none more than Elton Collins, a Commerce banker and member of the county water authority, who received the Citizen of the Year award.
As readers of this column know, Collins has been at the center of unfounded allegations coming from BOC member Emil Beshara.
In being named the chamber’s Citizen of the Year, Collins received the accolades he deserves for his many years of public service and a strong show of community support.
I just wish we had more leaders like Collins in public office.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
May 5, 2004

Qualifying names — finally
Jackson County is now noted for another dubious distinction — it is apparently the only county in Georgia where the names of candidates who qualified for public office last week were kept secret by a local Republican leader.
Following last week’s refusal by county Republican chairman David Oppenheimer to release the names of local candidates, we polled 155 other newspapers in Georgia to see if that was being done elsewhere.
No where did we find that any local official, Republican or Democrat, had refused to release the names of candidates who qualified for public office.
Indeed, in several newspapers there were photographs of people qualifying for office:
— There was a list of candidates and a page one photograph in Bainbridge last Wednesday.
— There was a photograph of a candidate with local Republican officials and a long story of qualifying candidates in the Pierce County newspaper.
— And in the surrounding counties, names of candidates for both parties were released without incident.
But not in Jackson County, if you were a Republican. That list was secret, a hush-hush document that Oppenheimer kept under wraps because, he said, he doesn’t like the editor of this newspaper.
Kinda reminds us of how a two-year-old acts.
Perhaps it’s time for a little more maturity at the helm of our local Republican Party.

Help with Baskett fund
This Saturday, a community effort to raise funds to help the family of Marc Baskett will be held in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church of Jefferson.
Baskett, a Jefferson High School senior, was seriously injured two weeks ago in a car crash and remains in a coma. He has been an outstanding athlete in several sports at the high school and was honored last weekend by his classmates as the JHS Prom King as he lay in the hospital.
On Saturday, cases of Pepsi will be sold to raise money for the Baskett family. We encourage everyone to lend a hand with this effort and to show support for Marc and his family in their time of need.


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