Jackson County Opinions...

JULY 28, 2004

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
July 28, 2004

Excited (Yawn) About Coverage Of Conventions
I don’t know about you, but I’m excited that the Democratic National Convention will be on TV this week. The thought of watching thousands of delegates waving their signs from Florida, Ohio, etc. and looking like they’re drunk (surely they wouldn’t act like that while sober) and erupting into well-planned “spontaneous” demonstrations at key points makes for can’t-turn-away TV.
If you failed to detect any sarcasm in the above paragraph, stop here and proceed to the obituary page.
Even when political conventions produced newsworthy events – like the selection of a presidential candidate after a couple rounds of voting – they were hard to stomach during the hours and hours all of the networks devoted to their coverage. But there was a sense that something important might happen.
So, there were exciting moments, particularly the selection of a vice president or the on-air near fistfight between network commentators William Buckley and Gore Vidal one fine year (Buckley called Vidal a “queer,” providing some balance to the street demonstrations outside the convention center).
Overall though, the conventions came across like, well, conventions, and nobody looks good in a convention. Maybe it’s the liquor, or the alternative intoxication of being together with so many people of the same philosophy, but seeing so many grown men and women acting so silly reminds me of a huge Ducks Unlimited banquet after the bar has run dry.
You have people wearing strange clothing woven out of American flags, to which are fastened a variety of pins from every state and every special interest group, the collection of which seems to be the most pressing issue; and hats more appropriate to a New Year’s Eve party. You listen to speakers making absurd (and loudly applauded) comments on camera that will come back to haunt them like a really dirty joke told at the office Christmas party while people march around the arena in conga lines like kids at an out-of-control middle school prom. Take several thousand people out of their normal environments, put them on national TV, provide free liquor, remove all meaningful activities and what you get is a week of really bad TV, the watching of which makes you wish God would send a second flood.
This would be the opportune time to move Turn Off Your TV Week from April to August and to repeat it in September, because while the Democrats and Republicans have many differences, the desire to make assess of themselves at convention is truly bipartisan.
Unless the Democrats in a surprise move nominate Hillary Clinton or Al Sharpton, or the Republicans induce Dick Cheney’s 11th heart attack, the conventions this year are set to be little more than week-long pep rallies. We have nothing to look forward to other than facts-be-damned partisan ugliness.
The first party that decides not to hold a convention will have a huge advantage. Voters will see the other party’s faithful appearing childish, mean and drunk and find the first party preferable by default. But don’t look for that to happen soon.
Meanwhile, if you can’t survive without convention news, Comedy Central is your best bet for fair and balanced (and entertaining) coverage.

The Commerce News
July 28
, 2004

Growth Shows Need For Economic Development
It hasn’t been that long since at the start of each school year the three systems in Jackson County would “compete” to see which would post the most enrollment gains. Today, while growth in student population may bring a small amount of pride, it is of great concern to school officials.
That’s because the wave of growth moving across the county is creating havoc. Jackson County will seek a $70 million bond referendum to build a new high school, a middle school and an elementary school or two. Jefferson’s elementary school is bursting at the seams and Commerce, just now completing the construction of a $7 million middle school, must start looking toward a new high school.
The cost of building and operating schools comes right out of the taxpayers’ pockets. That’s why local governments work to attract business and industry; it’s why major industries like the proposed Toyota facility at Valentine Farms are important, why Commerce is intent on providing sewer and natural gas to the Maysville Road interchange at Interstate 85 and why the Commerce Downtown Development Authority seeks to revitalize the downtown. Industry and business traditionally subsidize the operation of schools (and other tax-funded functions). Without a proper mix of industrial and commercial taxpayers, property tax rates can quickly become outrageously high.
No one has yet found a solution to the conundrum of what to do when the quality of life attracts so much growth that it threatens the quality of life, but that is the situation here. The growth cannot be stopped; at best it can be managed somewhat, but without an infusion of business and industry, property taxes will grow as fast as the school population. Taxpayers should not only support infrastructure improvements designed to attract business and industry, they should demand them. That’s why the Jackson County Board of Commissioners’ failure to live up to its road-building commitment for the $100 million Toyota plant is so crucial. The commissioners’ disinterest – perhaps even opposition to the project – has already discouraged other prospects and angered Toyota, damaging Jackson County’s reputation in the extremely competitive business of economic development.
The election is over, the courthouse is almost built. It’s time for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to turn its full attention to building the road it promised one of the world’s most respected companies. Anything less gives Jackson County a black eye in economic development circles and makes it more difficult to attract the business and industry we need to keep property taxes from getting out of hand.

Authority At Crossroads
After the past two years of conflict, who can blame Elton Collins for a willingness to move off the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority? In all, Collins has spent 12 years helping Jackson County start and build its water and sewer systems, only to be rewarded by the county commissioners with insults and obstruction.
Collins’ departure, and that of authority member Dean Stringer and manager Jerry Waddell, both at the insistence of the commissioners, creates a loss of institutional knowledge and leadership that could pose problems for the future. The move replaces two staunch defenders of the authority’s independence with novice appointees of a board of commissioners rejected last week by the voters.
The authority faces major challenges, caught between limited funds and great demand for its services. Collins’ leadership will be missed greatly, all the more for the timing, which leaves the water and sewerage authority in a potentially precarious position. Now that the lame duck BOC finally has the authority under its control, the next few months may prove critical to the authority’s ability to meet the water and sewer needs of Jackson County.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
July 28, 2004

Ideology, polarization focus of upcoming presidential race
There is a deep level of polarization surrounding the upcoming presidential election. While there’s always been partisanship when one party faces the other in a national election, the deep divide evident in this election is perhaps the largest split since the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.
The bottom line: People either love and support President George W. Bush, or they hate him. There is little gray area with most voters.
And on both sides, the rhetoric sometimes borders on the absurd. His critics on the far Left spew venom as though GW were a dictator. His defenders gloss over his shortcomings and focus their wrath on social issues that have little to do with the merits of his administration.
I’m no GW defender. I’ll vote for him in November, but that isn’t a vote of full confidence in him individually. Indeed, I consider his reaction to the events of 9-11-01 as having pandered to fear.
I was reminded of that a few weeks ago on a visit to the new FDR museum in Warm Springs, Ga. While I don’t particularly like some of the programs that grew out of FDR’s administration, he was a master at calming America during two great crises — the Great Depression and the start of WWII.
FDR didn’t pander to American fears in those events. Instead, he worked to calm those fears by projecting an air of confidence. (And if you haven’t seen the new Warm Springs museum, it’s worth a visit.)
But rather than calm American fears in the wake of 9-11, GW attempted to use that fear as a way to pass new laws that he believed necessary to fight terrorism.
He may or may not be right about those laws. But it was his move to use American fears as his springboard that I disagree with most. Leadership should be calm in a time of crisis, projecting confidence and working to dissuade fear, not stoke it for political leverage.
Taking action, of course, may help stem fear in the collective national psyche. But there is a fine line between using action to calm fears and using action to exaggerate fear.
It was unintentional, I believe, but GW did the latter. His response to the fear fallout of 9-11 was to take action, but the rhetoric surrounding those actions was unnecessary. It did nothing to calm Americans.
I don’t like any democratic government using fear as public policy. No matter what the underlying intentions, the use of fear to pass laws or change public policy is always the wrong motivation in a democratic society. Laws passed in an atmosphere of fear are usually bad laws.
Still, in spite of that glaring fault, I will support GW. There is no other choice. Radical special interest groups so dominate the Democratic Party at the national level that unless you’re a member of one of those groups, the Party of FDR does not today represent the American mainstream.
And that, at its core, is what the election of 2004 will be about. The deep divide we sense today is not just a divide between two candidates, but also a divide between two very different ideological streams.
And that is bigger and more important than the shortcomings of GW, or for that matter, of his opponent.
At the national level, it really doesn’t matter who the individual candidates are — well, it does matter in a crisis — but the bigger question is, What ideological undercurrent is carrying each of those candidates?
Today, those ideological currents are running in opposite directions. That’s why our political dialogue is so polarized.
One stream is rough and rocky, but passable.
The other stream, I think, runs over a steep cliff.
And every voter has to figure out for themselves which is which.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
July 28
, 2004

Back to school a time to set new priorities
Students in Jackson County will head back to school next week in what may be a watershed year for public education in Jackson County.
In addition to the usual school demands, local educators plan some major campaigns to accommodate growth during the upcoming school year.
In September, the Jackson County School System will put before voters the single largest bond referendum in the county’s history — $70 million — to build several new schools and to expand some existing elementary schools.
In early 2005, the Jefferson City School System is planning to also ask for funds to build a new primary school and for other expansion needs.
Both of those plans will no doubt garner a lot of attention and discussion during the coming year.
In addition to that, however, there will be continued discussion about how local schools fare with the ever-growing list of state and federal mandates. Some of those plans are sound, but some are more flash than substance. Figuring out the difference takes a lot of time and patience on the part of the public.
And then there will be the usual discussions on the appropriate use of standardized tests and the inevitable comparisons based on those test results.
All in all, it’s enough to give many parents a headache.
But as the new school year begins, we hope the focus on local education won’t just be on those big issues, important as they are. Instead, we hope the main focus will continue to be on the children attending our local public schools and on the smaller, often unseen efforts by teachers and administrators to meet the needs of these students.
We have to meet the needs of infrastructure. And we have to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops mandated by government.
But the real crux of education is in the classroom. If that is strong, then all the other will fall into place.
Public education may be structured as a top-down bureaucracy, but it’s real work comes from the bottom-up.

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