Jackson County Opinions...

JUNE 2, 2004

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
June 2, 2004

Honor The Dead,But Also The Rest Who Serve(d)
Its a rainy Memorial Day as I type, and a fitting time to consider the relevance of this holiday, even though publication comes two days later.
I read online Memorial Day tributes, watched part of the World War II memorial dedications and heard interviews from World War II veterans.
But, in my opinion, something is lacking. Every public speaker pays tribute to the “heroes” who “gave their lives” to “protect our freedom.” That doesn’t tell the entire story.
Not all of those who died were heroes. Many were. Most were average Joes doing their duty. A few were probably even cowards.
It doesn’t matter.
Very few willingly sacrificed their lives for their country. Some did; the others had their lives taken by force, even by friendly fire. Some died by accident; most were just doing their duty of putting their lives on the line when they were killed.
How they died does not matter.
We like to believe our soldiers are fighting to protect America’s freedom, but we have to admit that the military is used to implement foreign policy and not always for a good cause.
It doesn’t matter.
Some of the men and women who died in the Armed Services did so in accidents on U.S. soil when there was no hostile action anywhere. They perished in training accidents, vehicle mishaps or from medical problems.
It doesn’t matter.
Memorial Day pays tribute to those who died, but the suffering didn’t end with the soldiers who perished. Their families paid a terrible price as well. Parents, spouses, children, brothers and sisters and friends had their lives changed forever.
Those who served in war and came home made sacrifices too. Some had bodies or minds ruined forever. At the very least, the men and women who saw the horrors of combat have to live with what they experienced. For some, war brought out the best; for others, it brought out the worst.
What mattered on Memorial Day should have been that this country gave thanks for all those who stood (and stand) ready in the Armed Services to put themselves at risk for the good of the country, whether in Germany or Iwo Jima, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, San Antonio, Fort Benning or Parris Island, whether in war or during peace.
The soldier doesn’t get to pick his battle or decide if he’s going to war. He (or she) is a pawn in a great chess match waged by those above. The soldier may be called to intervene in a crisis abroad with little significance to the United States – as in Somalia. He may be asked to hunt down those bent on harming America – as in Afghanistan – or he may be sent to an ill-advised conflict.
Where he is sent or why does not matter on Memorial Day. What is important is that there have been and still are people willing to fight for their country. Today there are American soldiers who will be on next Memorial Day’s roster of those who “paid that ultimate price.” We owe more than gratitude to those men and women who are willing to do their country’s bidding, asking no questions. We owe them our respect, whether they’re soldiers of the past who were killed in action or men and women just getting off the bus at boot camp.
Honor the dead, but never forget we are indebted to all who served – and those willing to serve tomorrow.

The Commerce News
June 2, 2004

Time To Work On Conservation Of Water
First we had five years of drought, then one year of “normal” rainfall and here we are back in a drought situation again, Tuesday’s showers notwithstanding. The Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority had implemented the first level of its drought contingency plan, which requires member counties to reduce consumption by 2.5 percent over the past two months, and the Environment Protection Division has established what appear to be permanent outdoor watering restrictions (Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday watering for odd-numbered addresses and Monday, Wednesday and Saturday watering for even-numbered addresses).
Weather patterns are cyclical in nature, so drought alone is not a major long-term worry. The problem is that Georgia’s growth – and Northeast Georgia’s in particular – is stretching the limited supply of water among a growing number of users. Of particular concern is the metropolitan Atlanta area’s thirst, the limited resources of the Chattahoochee River and the state’s declaration that it owns (and can theoretically apportion) all of the water in Georgia.
The state’s water consumption habits must change, and the Jackson County area is not exempt, in spite of a relative abundance of resources, including the Bear Creek regional reservoir. Governments are aware of the need to lower consumption of water, but most citizens are not. The outdoor watering regulations are not enforceable, there is no emphasis on curtailing the use of water-hungry non-native plants in landscaping and the only incentive for people to conserve water is in water rate structures. Today, governments have an incentive to sell more water rather than less as most have debts from water construction projects to be repaid. Jackson County faces the Bear Creek debt, Commerce its water and sewer plant upgrades.
Without education as to the need, the only proven way of promoting water conservation is increased rates; if gasoline prices remain high, citizens will phase out their gas-hungry SUVs and pickup trucks in favor of vehicles that get better mileage; higher water prices will cause people to look at their water usage similarly.
There is time for water providers, from the regional reservoir management to the county water authority and city governments, to get ahead of the curve. They can do that by promoting the use of gray water and re-use water for irrigation, the installation of efficient irrigation systems (including systems that capture rainwater for later use), by promoting the use of native or drought-tolerant plants and trees and by offering sources of information about all of those and other conservation options on their web sites, in their offices, through their billing and with programs before civic clubs and at public functions. If that fails, increased rates are the last resort.
Inefficient use of water is an ingrained habit that must be broken. Before the more drastic methods are imposed, those who manage water should try to educate citizens as to both the need and the means of cutting per capita water consumption. Without a change in the way we use this resource, Georgia will run out of water.

Jackson County Opinion Index

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
June 2, 2004

Time to get going on July 20 bond referendum
One of the issues Jefferson voters will face on the July 20 ballot is a $7 million bond referendum to build a new city recreation complex on Old Pendergrass Road.
But while that is a major issue for the city, so far little work has been done to sell the plan.
That’s disappointing because there is little doubt that the city needs to be building recreation facilities for the future. Indeed, there is currently a serious lack of facilities to serve the various recreation programs being offered.
But no matter how worthy the cause, bond referendums don’t sell themselves. Voters are often reluctant to support bond referendums unless they have been given a clear picture of what’s needed, why it’s needed and how it will be paid for.
If you don’t believe that, ask anyone involved in the 1998 county water authority bond referendum. That referendum failed by a mere 66 votes countywide, mostly because the county’s leadership took support for the project for granted. Little effort was made ahead of time to tell voters why the project was important and to generate support for a vote.
That changed the next year when county leaders organized a massive push for the sales tax, holding meetings all across the county to explain what was being asked and to answer questions.
So far, no such effort has been launched in Jefferson to do the same thing for the recreation bond referendum. And time is quickly running out.
Indeed, the summer months are a terrible time to promote any kind of political issue. With school in recess, voters are scattered to vacations and other activities. Getting people to think about weighty political issues is a challenge, unless there is some major controversy.
The Jefferson recreation bond referendum hasn’t yet created such a controversy, but it isn’t without some lukewarm critics. For one thing, the city recreation department has not yet won much respect from many citizens. I hear a number of complaints about the department from parents who believe it needs stronger leadership.
In addition, there are those who wonder how the city will be able to afford to maintain the proposed new facilities. That’s especially true after the city closed its public swimming pool, saying it couldn’t afford to maintain that facility. But if the city can’t maintain a swimming pool, which was donated to the town at no cost, then some are asking how the town can afford to maintain and staff a large new recreation complex.
Finally, there are those who believe the city has bitten off too much in the way of expansion programs and are hesitant to support even more projects, no matter how worthwhile.
Those are all objections that someone, or some group, from within the city must address. Unless some effort is made to answer those concerns, the subtle negative “buzz” might kill the entire plan.
From my perspective, that would be a shame. Over the years, I’ve changed my thinking about government-sponsored recreation facilities. I used to think they were mostly overdone, but I’ve come to realize that community amenities, such as good recreation facilities and programs, can be a long-term asset to a town.
In the long run, strong recreation programs act as a magnet to lure higher quality residential growth into a community. People have a large choice of communities in which to live and what Jefferson wants, like all towns, is to lure high-quality families who will be good, responsible citizens. In a competitive marketplace, the community with weak recreation programs will lose out.
In addition, strong recreation programs create a critical mass of leadership, bringing people into community leadership roles who might otherwise have just stayed at home.
In suburban communities, which Jefferson and Jackson County are quickly becoming, there are few institutions which bring a diverse group of people together. Suburban towns are generally communities of shallow roots since a high percentage of residents are non-native and relatively new to the community.
One way to help establish deeper roots and to help knit this diverse population together is through organized recreation programs. Beyond any health or athletic benefits, the impact recreation programs have on a community’s social fabric, its leadership and its overall quality of life are by themselves worthwhile.
None of that may be overt selling points. But if Jefferson leaders expect to reap the tangible and intangible benefits of an expanded recreation complex, some group will have to step to the fore and promote the July 20 bond referendum.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
June 2
, 2004

IDA shows courage on Concord Road
Last week’s questions from members of the Jackson County Industrial Development Authority about the unbuilt road for the $60 million Toyota/MACI project is a strong voice of concern from the county’s business community.
The IDA, which was a key part of luring that major industry to Jackson County, wants to know why the Jackson County Board of Commissioners has failed to live up to its part of that deal, namely to build Concord Road by a June 1 deadline.
But the IDA’s comments also reverberate loudly because it has been so rare for local business leaders to speak out about the anti-business attitude of this BOC.
For the most part, local business leaders have been silent as the BOC has worked to take over the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority. That infrastructure is key in promoting good business development in the county.
In addition, local business leaders have been mostly silent as the BOC has worked to take over the lead in industrial development recruitment for the county. The unsuccessful Walgreen’s project near Commerce was a perfect example of where the BOC interfered with the process, which led to embarrassing results for the county.
And local business leaders have been mostly silent about the county’s high property tax rate, a rate driven by a huge expansion of county government during the last three years.
We understand that many business leaders have been reluctant to “rock the boat” in county politics. The nature of business is to operate on an even-keel, to avoid stormy controversies and to promote the idea of local unity.
But there can be no unity when a small number of elected officials seek to abuse their office for personal gain at the public’s expense.
Now, the business community cannot remain silent while this small number of county leaders endanger a $60 million industry. If Jackson County loses this industry because of BOC politics, it will hurt our industrial development efforts for years to come. Our credibility in the marketplace will be ruined.
Maybe that doesn’t matter to this BOC. Indeed, chairman Harold Fletcher has told several people that Concord Road, a road he derides as a “Waddell road,” would never be done.
It’s clear that it has been Fletcher’s opposition which has kept this road from being built. He admitted this week that the road project had been put on hold, then proceeded to blame Toyota for the delay.
But the truth is, Fletcher and the BOC are to blame for this delay, not Toyota. Fletcher’s playing with fire here. In stalling Concord Road, he has embarrassed Jackson County in front of the state’s economic development community. Future projects and grant funds are in jeopardy if the county fails to live up to its agreement with Toyota/MACI, an agreement Fletcher signed.
That is why it’s important for the IDA and other business leaders in the county to continue to speak out and demand that the county live up to its agreement with this major industry.
The members of the IDA are to be applauded for challenging the BOC on the Concord Road mess and for asking tough questions that needed to be asked.
And given today’s highly-charged political environment in Jackson County, it took courage for these leading members of our business community to step forward and take such a stand.

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