Jackson County Opinions...

OCTOBER 20, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
October 20, 2004

New Appointees To Be Good For Water Authority
It is too early to be certain, but it looks like new members Hunter Bicknell and Phillis Holland are assuming leadership of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority. Nature abhors a vacuum.
Appointed by commissioners Harold Fletcher and Sammy Thomason respectively, Bicknell and Holland at their first official meeting appeared to lack the political predisposition for which previous appointees were chosen, which is to say they were not named to wrest control of the authority and deliver it to the commissioners.
The authority still has Wanda David, who is anxious to get rid of Jerry Waddell (he’s an ever-present consultant) and some of the staff; and Chairman Warren Walker, who continues to war with David and with the county commissioners. Saverne Varnum did not attend the first meeting, and though she has connections to David, it remains to be seen if she’s interested in joining David’s crusade or Walker’s camp or, like Bicknell and Holland, will join neither.
Bicknell and Holland represent sanity in an organization otherwise prone toward slipping into nuttiness.
They are aware of where David and Walker stand, of the relationships between them, the history of Waddell and of the bad blood between him and David. They constitute the swing votes between the “sides,” the mediators in what sometimes has looked like a domestic dispute, and the two members whose views are not prejudiced by the recent history of the authority or the board of commissioners.
This is good news – assuming that come Jan. 1 the new majority on the board of commissioners does not pick up the virus of its predecessor and become obsessed with taking over the water authority. Been there, done that, and it’ll be no more attractive in 2005 than it was in 2003 and 2004.
Bicknell brings to the board business savvy and the ability to focus on what is important. Holland’s biggest contribution is her accounting background, a result of which is a budget that is based not on numbers the authority hopes to see but on those it is most likely to encounter. One meeting is insufficient to make sweeping judgments, but it appears that both are more interested in getting the authority moving than on personalities, politics or prior conflicts.
That should work for David and Walker too. Neither need fear a conspiracy; the floor will be open to all members. There will be no more meetings where David is excluded, no more refusal to provide her with information.
They have challenges aplenty providing water and sewer services in a growing county without the distraction of infighting. With demand for both water and sewer services continuing to climb and a likelihood that SPLOST funds are ended, it will take all five authority members working in concert to keep the authority on track providing crucial water and sewer infrastructure to Jackson County.
It’s early, but I’m encouraged. Maybe the days of picking sides and petty bickering really are over. Time will tell.


Editorials
The Commerce News
October 20
, 2004

Cleanliness More Than A Week-Long Event
It’s easy to tell that this is the annual “Clean-Up Week” in Commerce. A drive down any street reveals piles of old appliances, containers, furniture, scrap metal and other cast-offs destined for the landfill. Clean-Up Week has developed into a favorite and long-anticipated city observation.
The interest could stem from a general desire to tidy up the home place. If not that, then maybe Commerce residents just like the idea of free curb-side pickup of their non-garbage refuse rather than having to take it to the county transfer station and pay to have it disposed of. For whatever reason, the annual fall clean-up results in untold tons of refuse cleared out of yards, garages and attics.
It’s a start. Certainly there are many areas in Commerce where the debris and clutter left laying about suggests that not all property owners take advantage of the city services. In the weeks after this clean-up week, it will also become apparent that some people think they can discard appliances, furniture, tires and other materials at the curb year-round. And litter is always a problem.
By providing a means of getting rid of all manner of trash, the city offers citizens every opportunity to clean and keep clean their yards and houses. Unfortunately, too many citizens do not take advantage of these services or they hold their wastes for an entire year in wait for the clean-up week, after which they begin stockpiling for the next year.
The city cannot clean up Commerce by itself. If this community is to look its best, every citizen must develop enough pride to want to keep his or her residence or business neat and clutter-free. The government provides the means by which we can clean up our community, but its up to us to keep it clean the other 51 weeks of the year.

We’ll Still Pay SPLOST In Neighboring Counties
Between now and March, you will probably hear a lot about why Jackson County voters should renew the one-percent sales tax for another six years.
You’ll hear about the plans to spend the $40 million expected to be raised, and hopefully you’ll hear what will happen if the tax is not renewed. You will hear arguments that it is a “fair tax” because everyone has to pay it and you will be told that a lot of the tax will be paid by people who don’t live here.
But what may get overlooked is the fact that whether or not you pass this referendum, you will pay that sales tax much of the time.
The last four letters in the SPLOST acronym stand for “local option sales tax.” It is at the voters’ option that these time-limit taxes are instituted. If you live in this county and shop elsewhere – Banks, Clarke, Gwinnett or Hall counties for example – you will still pay a seven-percent sales tax. Voters can eliminate one penny of local sales tax by voting down the option, but the savings apply only for shopping in Jackson County.
When we go to Banks Crossing, the Mall of Georgia or anywhere else outside this county, the three-percent of local sales tax we pay benefits the school systems and local governments in those counties. Conversely, if their citizens shop in Jackson County, their sales tax dollars do the same for us. If we vote not to renew the “special purpose” penny of sales tax here, we will continue to pay it when we shop outside of the county, but when tourists visit our county they will no longer help us fund roads, water and sewer lines and pay off our courthouse.
Although not many people would even notice the one-percent savings if the tax ceases, it is up to those who would spend the proceeds to demonstrate to us that it’s to our benefit to extend the tax. Just remember when you consider the options that (a) it is not a new or additional tax and (b) you’ll still pay at seven percent if you shop in any of the adjacent counties.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
October 20, 2004

Power of eminent domain to get court scrutiny
It’s a presidential election year and much of the talk is about which candidate can best manage the vast federal government.
The race is important, of course, but perhaps just as important is a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that affects the power of local governments.
Indeed, the government that affects people the most isn’t the one in Washington, but rather the ones in our own back yard. Our local city, county and school governments have far more impact on most of us than the more remote federal government.
And it is those local governments which many believe do the most to harm citizens. Indeed, here in Jackson County we have seen a textbook example over the last four years of how a bad local government can abuse its citizens.
At issue before the Supreme Court is a local government issue that is of extreme importance. Under the Fifth Amendment, governments are allowed to seize private property under the power of “eminent domain,” provided that the owner is compensated fairly for his property. But governments are supposed to use the power of eminent domain only for “public use” purposes.
The classic example of a legitimate use of eminent domain is when a government condemns land for a water line or a road. That is a fairly common event.
But some governments have decided to redefine “public use” as meaning whatever they want it to mean. In some cases, local governments have used their power of eminent domain to condemn the land of one property owner and then sell the land to another property owner. The logic behind such deals is that the government would get more taxes from the new project and thus claims the condemnation is for a “public use.”
In the case before the Supreme Court, a group of seven homeowners in New London, Conn., are fighting the city’s efforts to take their land and turn it over to a private developer for a riverfront hotel, health club and office complex.
That may sound crazy, but it has happened in many areas across the nation.
For example, in 1981, Detroit condemned 465 acres of land and forced 1,400 homeowners, along with businesses and churches, to relocate. The reason wasn’t for some high-minded public project. Rather, Detroit sold the confiscated land to General Motors to build a new auto plant.
In 1998 in Merriam, Kansas, the city government condemned property leased to a used car dealer so that a neighboring BMW car dealership could expand. The government then helped finance the expanded BMW dealership with special tax incentives. The reason? The BMW dealership would pay more city taxes to the town in the long run than the used car dealer.
And in Hurst, Texas, the city used eminent domain to force 127 homeowners to sell for the expansion of a private mall owned by a local real estate company.
And there are many other cases as well where local governments used their power to condemn land for private developers.
The root of all this, of course, is influence. Homeowners don’t stand a chance of fighting an eminent domain action if a greedy developer with strong political ties can manipulate a city or county government into taking the land away for a private project.
Like so many trends in government, the abuse of eminent domain has spread over the years.
Now a Supreme Court case may finally give homeowners some relief from this abuse of government power.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
October 20, 2004

Man’s right to free speech quashed
You’d better watch what kind of political bumper sticker or sign you have on your car at one Jefferson business. If the business owner disagrees with your political views, he may have the city police escort you off the premises.
That was what happened last week to Felton Rainey, a part-time contract worker for a furniture store in the Jefferson Real Deals complex.
Mr. Rainey was told by Stan Atkins, owner of the building, to remove a political sign supporting Sheriff Stan Evans from the window of his truck, which was parked in the Real Deals parking lot. Mr. Rainey refused. Mr. Atkins then called the Jefferson Police Department and had Mr. Rainey escorted out of the building and his truck off the property.
This week, Mr. Rainey was told by the furniture store owners that he could no longer work at the business. The owners reportedly fear that landlord Atkins will cause problems for their business if they continue to employ Rainey.
Mr. Atkins has been an outspoken critic of Sheriff Evans and has posted signs around his business complex which say, “Be Stupid, Re-Elect Stan Evans.” He has also purchased a number of political ads blasting Sheriff Evans.
The source of Mr. Atkins disdain for the sheriff comes from an incident four years ago when the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office arrested Mr. Atkins after he sped off from a routine traffic stop in South Jackson. Mr. Atkins, who has himself never been a candidate, has been on a very public crusade to defeat Sheriff Evans ever since that arrest.
But whatever his own political views, we don’t believe Mr. Atkins had the right to remove a worker from a tenant’s place of business because he disagreed with a political sign in the man’s vehicle. And we don’t buy the argument that Mr. Atkins had the right to remove Mr. Rainey and his truck off the Real Deals property because of “property rights.”
A retail business is a place of public accommodation. It invites the public into its doors. It may be on private property, but there are limits as to how it interacts with the public.
And if we are going to debate “property rights,” then what about Mr. Rainey’s property right to display a political sign inside his own vehicle?
Think of it this way: Do you have the right to put a George Bush or John Kerry bumper sticker on your car? Do you have the right to park your car in a shopping center parking lot while you go inside the store? Should the store owner have the right to have you and your car escorted off the premises by the police because he disagrees with your bumper sticker?
Of course not.
The situation with Mr. Rainey might have been different if he had parked a vehicle in Mr. Atkins’ lot for the sole purpose of creating a mobile billboard. In that case, Mr. Atkins would have probably been within his rights to have the truck removed.
And the situation might have been different had Mr. Rainey been carrying around a sign inside the store or parking lot, or soliciting votes, or causing some kind of disturbance.
But none of that apparently happened. Mr. Rainey was at work. He had a legitimate reason to be parked in the lot because of his job in the building. The political sign in his truck was incidental to his reason for being in the parking lot.
And Mr. Rainey was apparently not creating a disturbance on Mr. Atkins’ property. He was merely working for one of Mr. Atkins’ tenants.
This situation might not have been a big deal had the police not gotten involved. But when law enforcement officials are called to enforce an action which denies freedom of speech to an individual, it makes what would have otherwise been a minor private disagreement a matter of public concern.
We have a lot of respect for the rights of property owners. Certainly, Mr. Atkins has some inherent rights over his own property.
But property rights are not absolute, especially when one property owner’s actions affect the civil and property rights of other people.
In this case, we believe Mr. Rainey’s right to freedom of speech, his right to control his own private property (his truck), and his right to employment were infringed on by the misguided actions of Mr. Atkins and the misuse of the police to enforce his edict.
And in a free society, we should all be concerned when anyone’s ability to express his political views are quashed in such a manner.


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