Jackson County Opinions...

MAY 19, 2004

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
May 19, 2004

High Expectations For Kids In The Class Of 2004
Wow, it’s graduation time again.
Things have changed a lot since the day long ago when I finally got out of high school. In addition to the discovery of fire and gravity, the whole world has been computerized, kids have become smarter and more sophisticated and education has become critical to one’s success.
Back in the Dark Ages (1968), a high school diploma would suffice for most students. A few went on to college, fewer still to technical schools. A lot of kids got married the following week and a fair portion opted for careers in the military.
Now, the high school diploma is just the beginning; further education is crucial to getting a decent job, to starting a rewarding career, so while the vast majority of kids who graduate Friday night from Commerce High School and the following Friday from Jackson County Comprehensive High School will celebrate an important milestone, they’ve a ways to go yet.
In theory, they have mastered the basic skills of reading, writing, math and critical thinking, while gaining a general knowledge of history, science and other subjects. In short, they’re prepared to receive the training for the careers of their choice.
The question is, how many of them have the faintest idea of their capabilities?
I happened to commend Jackson County Comprehensive High School choral director Todd Chandler on the wonderful performance of “The Mikado,” and he remarked that people don’t give teenagers enough credit for their capabilities.
I hold a different belief. I think we give them too much credit – for the wrong things. We tend to recognize and honor kids for doing what we expect them to do, for doing the ordinary, and in doing so, we lower our expectations of what they can accomplish. Chandler’s students repeatedly demonstrate capabilities beyond what we expect of high school kids because he knows what is possible and he expects them to be high achievers.
Not every graduate has been challenged and expected to excel, so some of them get out of high school without really understanding just how much they have the ability to accomplish. The teacher who holds high expectations for all students may cause grumbling in the classroom but those high expectations are a gift students will appreciate later.
If I could give advice to graduates, it would be to continually push the envelope of your expectations. If you don’t fail occasionally, you’re not pushing hard enough. Failure may be disheartening, but it’s part of the scheme of things and knowledge gained through failure helps turn the next challenge into a success. History is full of people who did great things after failing in earlier pursuits. Don’t fear failure.
It’s bad if we sell our young people short, but worse if they sell themselves short. Hundreds of local young people will graduate from high school in the next couple of weeks and they will all hear about the “challenges” in the commencement speeches. Yes, the challenges are significant, but the graduates are up to them. These kids can accomplish, with a little encouragement, almost anything. Just watch ‘em.

The Commerce News
May 19, 2004

Yes: Commerce Schools Staffs Need Minorities
A group of African Americans that came before the Commerce Board of Education last week was right about one thing: the city school system desperately needs to hire some minority teachers.
But that’s about all the group got right. It made the assumption that the school board does not seek or want minority staff. That is not true. Superintendent Larry White has worked to attract minority applicants, but there aren’t that many available and it’s hard to convince them to come to Commerce because of the low local supplement and the small minority population. Other contributing factors are the low number of minority students in education and the low turnover rate in the Commerce School System.
So, how can that situation be remedied?
One long-term approach suggested by board Chairman Steve Perry is to provide African-American mentors through existing school programs. Children of all races benefit from having role models whose presence in the schools demonstrates the importance of serving the community as well as the potential for success, but few black adults have volunteered. Black and Latino children must learn to envision a future in which they might be teachers and understand the importance of academic success as a means to realizing their dreams – starting with going to college. The more local minority students who enter college, the greater the pool of minority graduates who might be interested in serving their community as educators.
The short-term approach is more difficult. The very lack of black administrators and teachers is itself an impediment to recruiting minorities, and then there are the issues of salary differential and the community. The Commerce area is changing; the black middle class is growing and neighborhoods are becoming integrated, but as of the 2000 census, while Commerce’s black population represented 12.3 percent of the total, its proportionate share of community involvement is much lower.
Other organizations face the same need – and the same challenge. There are no black members of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors – largely because there are few black chamber members. The Commerce Kiwanis Club, Commerce Lions Club and Pilot Club of Commerce have no active black members, (although the Pilot Club and Lions Club have each had one in the past); the Commerce Police Department has one black officer, the Commerce Fire Department one black fireman. This suggests a broader approach is needed to recruit minority adults into leadership groups, all of which will welcome minority members.
Race relations are good in Commerce, so the framework exists upon which to build solutions to the lack of minority representation in all leadership roles. The group that approached the Commerce Board of Education needs to understand, however, that roles, whether in civic groups or as school teachers, are filled by the applicants deemed best qualified. In hiring teachers, the principal and school superintendent must walk the fine line between judging applicants on their qualifications and the huge need to bring racial diversity to the school staff. Still, if all other things are equal an applicant who can bring racial diversity to the school system should be given preference.
Minority students definitely need to see minority faces on the school staff. They need to see minority faces in the civic organizations, service groups, volunteer panels, business associations and every other segment of community service. Non-minority children also need to observe minority participation at all levels of their community so they will know that everyone has an equal obligation and opportunity to give something back to the community.
Stronger minority participation at the community level will make Commerce more attractive to minority professionals, businessmen, entrepreneurs and educators.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
May 19, 2004

Wanted: Toadies to takeover water authority
The clock is ticking on an independent water authority in Jackson County. In just a matter of a few weeks, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners will take over the authority and fire its manager, Jerry Waddell.
That action is looming because two members on the authority are up for reappointment this year, Dean Stringer from South Jackson and Elton Collins from Commerce. But both men are slated to be kicked off the authority by the BOC because they have refused BOC demands that Waddell be fired.
The BOC already has one secure vote on the board to effect a takeover, that of Wanda David, an embittered ex-girlfriend of Waddell who was put on the authority last summer in a low-class move led by commissioner Emil Beshara. The BOC also put another new member on the authority last summer, Clay Dale, but his vote on this issue is uncertain. He reportedly would like to resign and has not attended recent authority meetings.
But in removing Stringer and Collins, the BOC will finally get control of the authority. Along with David, the two new BOC puppets will vote to fire Waddell, a move long sought by BOC chairman Harold Fletcher who views Waddell as a rival for political power in the county.
But the firing of Waddell is not the worst problem to come following a BOC takeover. The biggest problem is that the BOC, which is dominated by people involved in real estate, will have total control over the county’s growth. With the water authority under its thumb, the BOC will control both zoning and infrastructure.
That’s a dangerous combination for the taxpayers of Jackson County. The only winners will be BOC members Fletcher and Stacey Britt, both of whom have extensive real estate dealings in the county. (And Britt has his own problems of having allegedly stolen water from the authority for his personal use. That an alleged water thief will have control over the county water authority must be some kind of weird cosmic joke on the taxpayers of Jackson County.)
But that isn’t the worst problem. The worst problem is that Britt and Fletcher will no doubt encourage the new puppet water authority to put water and sewer lines in locations that will help them or their friends.
One situation that may develop is a push for the authority, perhaps along with the City of Arcade, to put speculative sewerage lines down to the old 4-W farm on Hwy. 129 South. That property is owned by Gwinnett County friends of Britt and already has county water access. The placement of sewerage lines to that property would increase its value substantially.
We may never know exactly how or when local public officials might benefit from this water authority takeover. Hiding real estate deals isn’t difficult.
But you can be sure that the public’s interest won’t be served by this takeover. For the past 18 months, the good and decent citizens of Jackson County have fought to keep their water authority independent of political manipulation. At one point, over 200 citizens turned out for a public meeting to oppose the BOC’s efforts to get control of this water authority.
Now, all the tax money we’ve paid to build the county water and sewerage authority is about to be hijacked by county politics and personal motives. The system we as citizens built will be open to be exploited by a powerful few whose motive isn’t to help Jackson County, but rather to help themselves and their friends.
So if you are willing to be a toady for this ethically-challenged BOC, give Mr. Fletcher or Mr. Britt a call. They’re looking for a couple of sycophants who will do their dirty work for them.
If you’re a good puppet, Fletcher and Britt are want to pull your strings.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
May 19
, 2004

Tired of the blame game
Everywhere you look in politics these days, public officials are playing the “blame game.”
In Iraq, the finger-pointing over the prisoner abuse scandal has begun with earnest. And in Washington, the second-guessing over the response to the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks now seeks to shame the police and fire departments which responded to that disaster.
There’s nothing wrong with any agency doing an analysis of these events to learn what problems happened and how to respond better in the future. But the current hysteria goes beyond such analysis and one gets the feeling it is being driven not by those who seek to learn, but by those who seek to blame.
But we should not apply blame for the events of 9-11 to the New York fire and police departments. Under difficult, indeed unprecedented circumstances, those departments responded to the best of their ability.
Could it have been better?
Perhaps. But it is not Americans who are to blame for the deaths of over 3,000 people on 9-11, it is the terrorists who are to blame. We should not lose sight of that even as we explore ways to improve emergency response techniques.
And in Iraq, the prisoner abuse scandal is something that certainly should be investigated. But we should not let that overshadow the much more serious abuse and murders that took place in that prison under former dictator Saddam Hussain. No one can equate the two, although American liberals and Middle Eastern terror apologist are attempting to do so.
War is a terrible thing. It brings out the best, and sometimes the worst, of our human instincts. A quick look to history will show that every military action had its share of abuse and deprivations.
Still, one cannot equate the current military abuse scandal with the level of violence and abuse that continues to go on under official sanction in the other nations around Iraq. Nor can it be equated with the goal of Middle East terrorists to murder Americans across the globe.
It’s time for this blame-America-first rhetoric to cool and for some common sense to return to our political dialogue.

Beshara’s silence on Britt, Fletcher
make him irrelevant
Jackson County commissioner Emil Beshara again railed against this newspaper at Monday night’s BOC meeting. He went into his usual anti-water authority, anti-Jerry Waddell, anti-Elton Collins, anti-newspaper rhetoric.
Funny thing is, he had nothing to say about his two fellow county commissioners who are under serious investigations.
He said nothing about fellow commissioner Stacey Britt’s alleged theft of county water via an illegal water meter on a county water line.
He said nothing about fellow commissioner Harold Fletcher, who faces 74 counts of alleged ethics violations by the state ethics commission.
Apparently, having a water thief as a commissioner and an ethically-challenged commission chairman are acceptable in Beshara’s narrow view.
And no amount of anti-Waddell rhetoric will redeem his tarnished reputation. Beshara’s obsession over firing Waddell, and his willlingness to ignore the misdeeds of his fellow commissioners, renders him irrelevant to any further thoughtful debate.

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