Jackson County Opinions...

OCTOBER 6, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
October 6, 2004

Debates About Impressions, Not Issues And Ideas
So, you watched the first presidential debate and your candidate won?
Wow, I thought Kerry did, though I really didn’t see it. I read the entire transcript the following day.
Here’s why John Kerry won: Because he didn’t lose. Simple!
The way I see it is that the challenger always has an advantage over the incumbent in a debate. Everyone knows Bush can be president, because he is president. On the other hand, some people have a lot of trouble imagining John Kerry as in the White House. If he didn’t screw up totally, if he appeared to just hold his own with Bush last Thursday, then he gained ground.
He did, and the polls bear that out
Remember, most Americans made up their minds long ago about this race. The debate is about convincing those other 10-20 percent – the ones whose votes will decide who gets to rent out the Lincoln Bedroom. Those voters are liable to lean one way this week, one way the next and who knows where they’ll punch their ballots on Nov. 2. A lot can happen in a month. All it takes is one big foot-in-mouth episode to kill either candidate.
Also, winning a debate doesn’t necessarily mean a candidate has won more votes. What counts to a lot of voters is not who had the best answers about complicated issues or best explained their vision for the future, but how comfortable they feel with the candidates. Was he mean like Bob Dole? Too bad. Did he look better on TV like Kennedy over Nixon? Did he seem smug or condescending?
For those whose votes are still up for grabs, Kerry had an edge in the first debate since it was about foreign policy, which this year means the Iraq war. He had the president on the defensive for a good part of the debate. As someone more articulate and better able to think on his feet, Kerry should have an advantage in the next debate too.
The operative word there is should. He should be better, but the Bush handlers four years ago trumped Al Gore’s intelligence with Bush’s real-guy personality. They know how to sell their candidate and how to tear down the opposition. In spite of the urban legend of the “liberal media,” the conservatives control most of the media, including their own TV network and all of talk radio. Advantage - Bush, except that talk radio preaches to the dittoheads who have long ago decided for Bush.
Friday’s debate will be about economic and domestic issues and while you should not expect to learn anything new, the real issue is which candidate seems to be in control and at-ease or which candidate can entice the other into making a stupid statement.
If the Bush campaign is nervous, look for him to bring up same-sex marriage. The country has a massive deficit, Medicare spending is growing, environmental issues loom and the economy remains a question, but those important issues will go on the back burner if the Bush campaign thinks their man can’t stand up to Kerry on them.
The “winner” will be the guy who comes across as most likeable, most confident. Facial expressions and body language will count as much as form and content. It’s show business, after all.


Editorials
The Commerce News
October 6
, 2004

Utility Crews Are First Responders Too
Recent stormy weather brought our way by the remains of hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne demonstrated clearly that for all its technical advances, mankind is not in control. There is little we can do about a storm save take cover and clean up afterward.
But during severe weather locally, a group of first-responders is always on call. Those are the utility company linemen who are the first to respond when a tree falls on a power line. During the winds of Ivan and Jeanne, crews from the city of Commerce, Jackson EMC and Georgia Power were all at work restoring power even as winds and rain raged.
These crews are on call virtually 24 hours a day and in all kinds of weather. It is a common site to see men on poles or in bucket trucks repairing a downed line in a downpour while the rest of us are under cover, but just as often they’re out at night in the rain and wind, replacing downed lines and broken utility poles so the citizens can enjoy air conditioning and see “Survivor” on television with minimal interruption.
We take our electricity for granted, but the system that delivers it to our homes and businesses is subject to the whims of nature. When the storm hits and the electricity goes off we are inconvenienced, but thanks to our utility workers, electricity is usually quickly restored. Hats off to the crews who labor in the worst possible conditions to keep the electricity running or to restore it when it goes out.

Getting SPLOST Passed To Require Strong Effort
City and county officials hoping to get another round of special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) approved by the voters in March have their work cut out for them. Previous SPLOST referendums have passed easily, but early indications are that voters are wary of any tax.
Interestingly, this antipathy exists even though as much as 50 percent of the tax would be paid by nonresidents through their purchases in Jackson County, primarily at the Tanger outlets. In addition, many Jackson County residents already pay that tax when they shop in Hall, Banks or Clarke counties.
If officials want the tax to pass, they’d better come up with spending plans that either match what the voters want or which are for essential items that must be funded one way or another. For example, the voters may be miffed about the new courthouse, but if it is not paid for with SPLOST funds, the only other source of revenue is property taxes, which are generally considered the more painful tax. In Commerce, much of the city’s proposed use of sales tax revenue is to help fund capital projects like the new wastewater treatment plant.
Voters should also be reminded that SPLOST does not represent a new burden; it would be the continuation of the current tax, but the problem pro-tax officials find is a public angered about county government and seemingly willing to cut off its nose to spite its face. The narrow win in the $70 million county school bond referendum suggests a new resistance to taxes of any kind.
For the first time in the county’s SPLOST history, the public is being surveyed to see what proposals it would support in a SPLOST vote. To supplement that, officials, without appearing threatening, need to communicate what will happen if it doesn’t pass. County school officials presented a bleak picture of double-sessions and mobile classrooms to convince voters of the need to tax themselves for school construction. City and county officials need to similarly demonstrate that the alternative to passing a SPLOST is bleak If they can’t do that, they shouldn’t bother to call for the tax in the first place.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
October 6, 2004

Toyota a huge deal for county
It’s difficult to understand just how big a deal Tuesday’s groundbreaking for the $100 million Toyota plant is for Jackson County. It will be one of the largest single industrial or commercial investments in the county’s history. (The power plant in Center is the largest single project so far.)
And such investments are critical to the county’s future. Without an influx of industrial and commercial developments, Jackson County will become just another bedroom community with high taxes and commuters who live here, but work outside the community.
As everyone knows, most homeowners do not pay enough in property taxes to cover the cost of public services, especially for schools. And commuting workers tend to shop less at home than in the area where they work, which cuts into sales tax revenue for their home county.
Industrial and commercial projects, however, generally pay more than what they demand in services from a community. Industrial developments, both in buildings and equipment, can add a huge amount of money to a county’s tax digest.
So it is important for Jackson County, which is growing rapidly with residential developments, to also keep pace with industrial and commercial development.
But the impact of the Toyota deal is bigger than just its direct $100 million investment.
First, luring a “brand” industry that has a high-profile name to the county dramatically increases the county’s ability to market to other potential industries.
Business leaders look at a lot of things before making a decision about where to locate a new industry. Location, transportation, labor market and infrastructure are all things that are considered and can, to some extent, be measured.
What cannot be measured, however, are the intangible aspects of industrial development. One of the intangibles is market atmosphere — what other businesses are in that community and how they feel about their investment.
High profile industries are critical to the “buzz” talk about a community, talk which, if positive, can lead to other prospects.
The second indirect impact Toytoa brings to Jackson County is that this project has opened the door to a huge swath of industrial land along I-85. Because of Toyota, water and sewerage infrastructure will be available in the area. In addition, road upgrades for Toyota will also serve a much larger area and other industrial properties.
So Toyota is the first link in what may become a chain of quality new industrial development for Jackson County along the I-85 corridor.
Of course, it wasn’t easy getting to this point. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners almost blew the deal by dragging and not getting the road infrastructure in place. That was apparently due to opposition to the Toyota project by BOC chairman Harold Fletcher. The chairman and three other members of the BOC did not attend Tuesday’s groundbreaking. Only commissioner Tony Beatty attended from that board. The others’ absence speaks loudly about the difficult behind-the-scenes politics which almost cost Jackson County this project.
But thanks to other county leaders, particularly industrial development chairman Scott Martin, chamber of commerce executive director Pepe Cummings, and leaders with the county water authority, the Toyota deal was able to move forward.
The Toyota project is a big deal for the community, a historic moment. It will impact all of us for years to come.

***

The race for sheriff in Jackson County has taken an ugly turn with advertising and signs that blasts voters for incumbent Sheriff Stan Evans as being “stupid.” But the advertising and signs did not come from Evans’ opponent, but rather from an area business owner who was arrested by the sheriff’s department four years ago and who apparently still holds a grudge over that arrest.
The “B stupid” advertising and signs have generated a lot of political “buzz” in the county, but mostly in favor of Evans. Indeed, the crude attack has rallied Evans’ supporters and will likely help him win re-election with another landslide.
There’s a long story behind this vendetta against Evans, but the story behind that will have to wait.
In the meantime, when you see political advertising for any race that is insulting and crude, always consider the source. Usually you will find someone is grinding on a personal grudge.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
October 6, 2004

SAT flap the wrong debate
When Gov. Sonny Perdue handed out honors to several school systems for having improved SAT scores, he stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy.
One school, Hephzibah High School, has been the target of condemnation from some educators and political pundits for having put in place some requirements for students taking the SAT. The requirements, as outlined by one writer, restricts the school’s official SAT score to students who were “the brightest, the most highly motivated, the most likely to succeed.”
Indeed, the school does require its students who take the SAT to have first completed some college prep classes, among other things.
Some claim that practice is wrong and is nothing more than the school’s attempt to “clean up” its SAT score by excluding students who haven’t met those requirements.
But we say, so what? The SAT is not a measure of how well a high school performs; it is a predictor of how well college-bound students will do at higher institutions of learning.
Read that again: The SAT is designed for college-bound students. It is not designed for students who have no college prep background and who do not plan to attend college.
So what’s the big deal? Why shouldn’t schools require students taking the SAT to have first taken some college prep classes? To us, that only makes sense. To do otherwise is like giving a test on a subject that a student hasn’t yet taken.
Those attacking the idea are the typical, shrill voices who believe all students are somehow equal in ability and that students shouldn’t be judged on merit, but rather on some vague concept of class, race, or ethnic affiliation.
But the SAT isn’t an ethnic issue — it’s an educational issue. Their argument is the wrong debate. Non-college bound students should have access to a good education, but that doesn’t mean it will be the same education as a college-bound student.
But we do agree with those who say the state should standardize how schools report SAT results. Some schools report only college prep students. Some schools report all students who take the test. Some schools report only the most recent testing while others report the average of the “best” results from each student regardless of how many times the test is taken. And now some schools, like Hephzibah, are putting in place other requirements. It’s a confusing situation, an apples-to-oranges comparison.
But the reporting of SAT tests should be an apples-to-apples comparison. We believe the only fair way to do that is to report the results of students who have taken college prep classes and who intend to attend college.
To do otherwise just doesn’t make sense.


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