Jackson County Opinions...

SEPTEMBER 29, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
September 29, 2004

Ahead Of My Time By At Least 30 Years
To my everlasting shock, I discovered recently that Italian-made Vespa motor scooters are considered cool.
That wasn’t true in 1968 when I drove one. Owning a Vespa was better than having no wheels at all, but it was definitely at the low end of the cool scale.
Mine had about 9,000 miles on it when I gave a neighbor $45 and a promise to pay $1.50 a week until the full $150 purchase price was covered.
Achieving “cool” was so far out of the question that driving a Vespa did little to diminish my standing. If its long-faded and scratched blue and white finish did not attract girls, I could not see that it further repelled them. All things being equal, I was glad to have the ride.
When it rode, anyway.
It was the first gasoline powered engine I owned, which is to say it helped me perfect my vocabulary of coarse words.
Like a weed trimmer, the Vespa had a two-cycle engine. I had to carry two-cycle oil with me, usually in a four-ounce cough syrup bottle wrapped in an oily rag in the tool compartment in the back left fender. When it was time to buy gas, I dumped the oil into the tank and pumped exactly one gallon of gas into the tank.
Worse, changing gears was accomplished by a shifter on the left handlebar connected by cable to the transmission. When the cable broke, as it was prone to do, replacement was an all-day job accompanied by loud, vulgar oaths of frustration. A brake cable inspired similarly, and the headlight powered by the magneto was perpetually dim like a flashlight on spent batteries. At least the horn worked.
The good news was that the Vespa would do 53 miles per hour, a good seven or eight mph faster than my cousin’s Honda 50, which he’d been given for Christmas to my great envy.
Having transportation trumped being a nerd in the dark era before every kid received a new car for turning 16. Most of the boys who had cars or motorcycles bought them themselves, and the parking lot at the high school was awash in leaked oil, transmission fluid and radiator coolant from a fleet consisting mostly of cars bought for less than $250. I was one of about 10 guys with two-wheel powered transportation and one poor soul rode a Cushman motor scooter, which kept me one rung above bottom in the motor pool. Still, I could park my Vespa anywhere without fear of theft.
Photos of me on my Vespa are few and well hidden, but when one surfaces, my family – all of whom were provided free transportation at age 16 – howls with derision. There I sit wearing a white T-shirt, shorts, sneakers and a helmet looking like the poster child for a failed “Leave It to Beaver” spin-off.
Still it gave me freedom to go where and when I pleased. We cared little for style points in transportation back then. The important thing was to have transportation.
I drove the Vespa for a couple of years, then paid another $150 for my first car. A few months later I gave the Vespa to Goodwill.
Maybe I really was cool and was just ahead of my time. Nah.


Editorials
The Commerce News
September 29
, 2004

Codes Should Consider Effects Of Severe Weather
It happens after every hurricane, when the public and elected officials view the damage and the heartache caused by the devastation. The question always arises, what could have been done to reduce the damage?
In coastal areas, officials ponder tougher building codes and even prohibiting development on barrier islands, but the development continues and though the building codes may get more strict, the damage from both wind and water continues.
Inland communities don’t escape. Flooding, from South Georgia to North Carolina, damages property, destroys roads and even takes lives, and officials there mull the prospect of strengthening building codes and prohibiting development in flood-prone areas.
In the piedmont area of Georgia, flooding is of a lesser concern, but here too severe weather demonstrates weaknesses that should be addressed. Manufactured houses are susceptible to winds that would do little damage to a well-built site-built house, and the heavy rains should teach us to design better systems for handling stormwater runoff. The former is a problem for industry and its regulators to consider, but the latter is subject to mitigation through land use regulations and building codes.
At present, stormwater is controlled by directing it through pipes and ditches to the nearest creek, but when areas with steep slopes are developed often the system cannot contain the runoff from roads, sidewalks, rooftops and driveways in periods of heavy rain, and creeks that were sufficient to remove the runoff from raw land can no longer hold the runoff from developed property.
With strict state and federal regulations being developed to reduce runoff, local governments should take steps now to require new developments to meet a higher standard for stormwater runoff. It’s easier and cheaper to design systems for slowing the runoff as a subdivision is being built than to retrofit it five years later – when the developer has moved away – at taxpayer expense. Standards must take into account not just the impermeable surfaces that will shed water, but also the degree of slope that will hurry it into the collection system. As development replaces natural areas with impermeable surfaces that shed water, the opportunities for flooding will increase.
The heavy rainfalls are infrequent, but they occur often enough that they should be taken into consideration by code enforcement and during the process of planning and zoning.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
September 29, 2004

School bond vote sends a message to local officials
What was the message in last week’s close school bond vote? That question is being pondered by all local leaders as they attempt to sort out the meaning behind the message.
I’m no political psychologist, but I think the low voter turnout last week, combined with the very narrow margin of victory in favor of the bond referendum, is further evidence of a changing political wind in Jackson County.
Indeed, by all historical evidence from previous school bond votes, last week’s results should have been 2-1 in favor of the new construction projects.
County school system leaders had all the advantages in the vote: It was scheduled at a time when there were no other items on a ballot, thus ensuring a low turnout which typically favors a “Yes” vote in such matters; there was no organized opposition to the bond referendum, no protest groups out beating the bushes for “No” votes; there was an organized pro-”Yes” effort of local school parents out working in favor of the effort; and there is a clear, undisputed need to build more classrooms for a growing student population.
So what happened? Why was the vote so close and the turnout less than half what had been expected by school system leaders?
Here’s my theory.
First, a lot of people were lukewarm to the $70 million bond vote from the get-go, but didn’t want to voice that hesitation among their peers. That’s why pro-”Yes” workers got so many verbal commitments that didn’t translate into actual votes. People didn’t want to say what they really thought, so they told proponents what they wanted to hear, then stayed home on election day and didn’t vote at all.
I think that’s mostly due to the size of the proposal. Had the deal been for a $35 million high school, it may have passed with overwhelming support. Then next year, the rest of the projects could have been floated in another vote.
But even that “smaller bites” idea doesn’t explain all of it. Another factor was the lack of turnout among many of the county’s newer residents from Braselton to Jefferson. Since the proposed new high school, the top project on the to-do list, was on the east side of the county, many voters in the fast-growing west side didn’t connect with the voting. They just didn’t see how it would affect them. So they stayed home.
Yet, voters around the planned new high school were also cool to the vote. Both the Nicholson and Center areas voted a majority against the referendum, although the new high school will serve students from that area. And if those who will benefit directly from the vote are against it, then there must be something else at work.
That something else is the overall negative voter reaction to the general political climate in Jackson County. The fiasco over the building of the new courthouse and the millions of dollars wasted in that project are fresh on voters’ minds. Voters don’t trust local public officials, especially with building projects, because they have just been put through one of the most politically divisive events in the county’s history. Indeed, the courthouse issue is still alive as the true costs become more and more apparent. Some of that negative feeling was reflected in the school bond vote.
No doubt the close school bond vote will be on the minds of public officials in Jackson County for a long time. It will greatly impact the next SPLOST vote. It will make public officials more cautious about how they plan and launch future bond votes.
As for the county school system, leaders will have to pay extra attention to how they spend the $70 million voters narrowly approved. There was no mandate in that vote, no overwhelming show of support.
Accountability is the new watchword in Jackson County politics. Government officials at all levels ignore it at their own peril.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
September 29
, 2004

Put broom and mop in hand
At long last, the true cost of the controversial new county judicial center is coming to light.
In addition to the egregious $35 million cost of construction and fancy furnishings, now we are beginning to see the massive cost of operating and maintaining this building.
And the picture is ugly.
Telephones at over $100,000 per year.
Electricity at over $100,000 per year.
Heating with natural gas at over $19,000 per year.
Water and sewerage at over $25,000 per year.
A busload of deputies and helpers to man the expensive high-tech security system in the building.
And perhaps worst of all, over $84,000 per year for a contractor to clean the building.
A contract that was never put out to competitive bid.
A contract that would be unnecessary if the building were cleaned by prison inmates, as was the old courthouse.
This is what happens when local governments spin out of control. Not only did our county leaders throw away millions of dollars with unnecessary frills in the new facility, they also added hundreds of thousands of dollars in ongoing overhead costs.
And those costs are being put on the backs of local taxpayers.
We know this budget is only a temporary document and is likely to see many, many cuts once the new administration takes office Jan. 1, 2005.
Leading that list of cuts should be paying outside contractors $84,000 to clean the new county judicial building.
If inmates can’t do it, then we suggest giving the judges and lawyers who occupy this lavish building a broom and mop and let them scrub their own floors.
Jackson County taxpayers should not become slaves to a bureaucratic plantation system — a system where those who toil and pay taxes are forced to supply maids for the masters who live in the “big house.”


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