Jackson County Opinions...

JUNE 30, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
June 30, 2004

‘City Lights’ Must Keep Evolving To Be A Success
It will be weeks before the numbers are tallied and we know how much money the 2004 City Lights Festival made – or whether it made any at all – toward the construction of the Bill Anderson Center for the Performing Arts.
The organizers of the festival face some significant obstacles, but none are greater than hosting an outdoor concert (and festival) in late June when the heat is a certainty and rain is likely. Every year, Anderson brings top-notch talent from Nashville to Commerce for a low-cost concert. This year, perhaps 5,000 people came out on a sultry summer evening with the threat of rain to see Anderson, Darryl Worley, Mel Tillis, Jan Howard and Candi Carpenter, not to mention The Jordans. They saw a great concert, but it’s going to be difficult to build an auditorium costing $1.5 million or more when only 5,000 people turn out.
One wonders how many more people might have turned out if the concert had been held on a Friday night in October. That would be an ideal but probably not feasible time, given that it is in the middle of the high school football season when the stadium is otherwise occupied. Also, my guess is that country music stars would be less likely to be able to donate a night in October than one in June.
Early in the history of the City Lights Festival, it was decided that the proceeds could be used to build an auditorium, something Commerce has lacked since its old middle school was torched by unknown arsonists. That might have been a little ambitious. The festival is a fun event, but it doesn’t always make big money. When Vince Gill was the headline act at the concert, the total festival made $70,000; last year, it actually lost money.
Unless something drastic happens, the festival and concert will not fund the construction of an auditorium. For that reason, the Commerce Board of Education is considering putting the auditorium on its next SPLOST roster of projects. If the sales tax builds the performing arts center, that puts the City Lights Festival in a much different position.
No longer would we be disappointed to reap $20,000 or $30,000 in profit. That money could be spent to promote the performing arts in Commerce, whether to help hire a teacher for the high school or to fund scholarships for area kids who have extraordinary talents in music.
Having a performing arts center raises the possibility of holding a smaller concert inside where without the cost of renting a stage and sound system it might still generate $20,000 to $30,000 a year. The concert could remain the centerpiece of a multi-day festival moved to a time of year more conducive to bringing people downtown (or wherever) to the other events.
The turnout is sometimes a disappointment, but the City Lights festival is a great event bringing nationally-known artists to Commerce and inspiring local residents to volunteer countless hours. To succeed, the festival must continue to evolve, taking advantage of those assets. In the end, the point is not to make money, but to help improve the community. As long as we have the Nashville talent and the enthusiasm, the City Lights Festival will be successful.


Editorials
The Commerce News
June 30
, 2004

City Council Should Repair Commerce Pool
Commerce City Councilman Donald Wilson would like to see the city delay repairs needed at the city pool, a means of saving $60,000 or more out of the city’s $34 million budget. Trying to project himself to a larger-than-usual crowd at the June 14 city council meeting as a good steward of the public’s funds, Mr. Wilson proposed that the repairs be put off.
That, in turn, led City Manager Clarence Bryant to warn the city council that it needs to decide whether it should keep the pool open, given its high cost of operation.
Let there be no doubt that the pool should remain open and the repairs should be made – this year.
The city pool is a vital part of the summer recreational infrastructure in a town that doesn’t offer a lot to children. Probably no other summer recreation program attracts as many children when the open swimming, swimming lessons and competitive swimming activities are included. For many children, particularly those in the neighborhood around the pool, it is the primary summer recreational outlet.
The money to pay for the pool repairs is already in hand. Commerce gets a share of the portion of the county’s special purpose local option sales tax dedicated to recreation. Those funds must be spent on recreation capital projects and there are few recreational activities more important during the summer than the city pool, which is one of the few recreational opportunities not totally dedicated to competitive sports. The pool is a place where kids can swim competitively if they wish, but also where they can splash and play and have a good time in a relatively unstructured activity.
The pool is a tremendous asset. The Commerce City Council should make it known that it intends to keep a pool open in Commerce and, having cleared that up, should ignore Mr. Wilson and keep the pool in good repair this year and every year.


Councilman Off Base In Criticizing City Police
Another one of Donald Wilson’s proposals at the June City Council meeting was that the Commerce Police Department should be more lax in the enforcement of certain traffic laws in the city.
The Ward 2 councilman faulted the police for ticketing someone for running a stop sign on the railroad tracks at Madison Street. The councilman noted that he doesn’t stop at that sign as if his own violation of a traffic law makes it right for the general public to ignore the law as well. The police should present Mr. Wilson with a ticket for running the stop sign and fine him for the violation.
The law requires motorists to stop at stop signs. The signs do not say “slow down, then proceed,” they say “STOP,” and that is the intent. If there is a criticism of the police in this case, it should be for not better enforcing stop sign violations, for Mr. Wilson is right about one thing: many motorists do not stop at stop signs, but because “everybody else is doing it” does not make running a stop sign legal.
Failure to obey traffic laws is a leading cause of automobile accidents, and Mr. Wilson at another point June 14 suggested that the police should provide more enforcement at the intersection of Georgia 98 and the bypass, where so many wrecks occur. The main reason so many accidents happen there is that people – like those who routinely fail to stop at stop signs – do not stop at the stop light.
The police department exists to promote public safety. A major part of that is to enforce traffic laws designed to make roads safer. It does not help the cause of public safety when a councilman berates the police for doing what they’re supposed to do or when he admits to routinely violating the law.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
June 30, 2004

News from weird politics
Geez.... I go out of town for a few days, and all kinds of weird stuff happens. I’m not sure if that’s a sign I should stay home more, or maybe I should get away more.
To recap, here’s a few of the most interesting recent weird events:

We all know that the Jackson County Board of Commissioners is going to take over the county water authority. Last week, the BOC began by kicking-off South Jackson authority member Dean Stringer and replacing him with an area school teacher. In doing that, BOC member Tony Beatty said she could help sell more county water because she has a degree in “economics and marketing.”
Turns out, however, she has a degree in “home economics and fashion marketing.”
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about that.
One thing’s for sure: Jackson County firemen aren’t laughing about the move. For many, many years, there had been a tacit understanding that at least one member of the water authority would be a county fireman, under the theory that the county’s fire departments need some input into water line development for fire protection. In kicking Stringer off, however, this BOC has broken with that unofficial practice.
Unless, of course, commissioner Beatty and his fellow BOC members want to argue that having a “home economics” degree includes having the ability to fight kitchen fires.

***

So now Jackson County has a Republican Party kingpin who is recruiting candidates for the Democrats?
Seems that way after comments last week by Democratic BOC chairman candidate Roy Grubbs.
Grubbs ran as a Republican four years ago for BOC chairman. At last Tuesday’s forum, Grubbs reported that he wanted to run again as a Republican this year, but was told by Jackson County GOP chairman David Oppenheimer that the local Republican Party was supporting controversial incumbent Harold Fletcher for re-election.
Grubbs, sensing that he wasn’t welcome into Oppenheimer’s fraternity, then qualified as a Democratic candidate.
You might remember that it was Oppenheimer who also refused to release the names of local GOP candidates during qualifying week, keeping secret the list until after qualifying had closed.
Now this.
Silly me. I thought the idea of having a local Republican Party was to bring in new members and recruit more Republican candidates, not push them into the arms of the competition.
Kind of a weird way to run a political party, if you ask me.

***

For the first time that I can remember in local politics, a minister has taken out a political ad supporting a local candidate and even uses a photo of the church in the ad.
Ministers have often taken a political stand on local issues, such as the sale of alcohol, but I don’t remember any previous political ad by a minister in a local candidate’s race.
Could it be because the candidate he endorses in this ad is CEO and agent of the church’s non-profit corporation which, according to the candidate, provides for the “financial needs of the church?” That corporation also owns the church and all the church’s real estate.
Hmmm. I wonder why this minister didn’t put all that info in his political ad, which he proclaims to be the “rest of the story?”
But what is said in this ad is even a little weirder. Toward the end, the minister says that he hopes “this truth (his ad) will be as powerful as the Word of God.”
Wow! I’ve seen a lot of political rhetoric over the years, but I’ve never seen anyone claim their political advertising should be as “powerful” as the Bible.
Am I the only one who finds this kind of political rhetoric a little scary?

***

Here’s a prediction for you: There will be a major county BOC tax increase this year. The cost of paying for the new courthouse debt, plus the much higher cost of staffing the facility and paying its overhead, will drive up the county millage rate. A higher millage rate along with higher property assessments will mean that taxpayers will get a double-whammy this year.
My prediction will no doubt be disputed and dismissed by incumbent candidates who face re-election in a few weeks. But so far, I’ve not heard a single incumbent candidate pledge to lower taxes or even keep them at the current level.
Sometimes, silence speaks louder than words.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
June 30
, 2004

Requiem for water authority
It seems fitting to pause this week, the week before July 4th, and reflect on what Jackson County is about to lose — an independent county water authority. With new appointees in place, the authority will soon be dominated by political puppets of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
And the loss will be felt by all county citizens.
Jackson County got in to the water business late, forming its authority only in the mid-1980s following a joint effort of the chamber of commerce, industrial development authority, county fire departments and the county government. Prior to that, only some of the larger towns in the county provided treated drinking water and had water for fire protection.
One of the key discussions during the creation of the authority was how to structure it. Should it be a department of county government under the BOC, or should it be an independent authority?
Wisely, the leadership in the community chose the latter to keep the water authority from being overly manipulated by county politics.
For the most part, the authority remained an independent agency, making decisions on where water and sewer lines should be placed based on good business, not political deals.
It was independent, of course, until three years ago when the current BOC took power and began to exert pressure on the authority to do its bidding. The current BOC called for the authority to be just a department of county government and last year, attempted to have legislation introduced that would have emasculated the authority’s independence.
That move failed, but in the wake of that political power play, the BOC began to kick off members of the authority’s board and replace them with fawning political cronies. Last week, another good member of the water authority, Dean Stringer, was booted off. Within the coming weeks, long-time authority member Elton Collins will also get the boot, to be replaced by someone who has agreed to submit themselves to BOC control.
Thus, this BOC will grab control of the authority, destroying its independence and make it a mere puppet of political whim.
Over 200 years ago, our forefathers fought against the political corruption of an arrogant, abusive and domineering government.
And as you celebrate this weekend the meaning of July 4, Independence Day, reflect for a moment on the fact that in smaller ways, we are still fighting that battle today in Jackson County.


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