Jackson County Opinions...

NOVEMBER 3, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
November 3, 2004

Beshara’s Outrage Missing For Britt, Fletcher
It was reassuring to read last week Commissioner Emil Beshara’s comments of concern regarding the insensitive statement made by Warren Walker, then chairman of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority.
Walker’s statement was certainly worthy of criticism, but the Right Holy Beshara felt that Walker’s apology and resignation as chairman were insufficient and that Walker should resign from the authority that Beshara and his co-conspirators have been trying to gut for more than two years.
Beshara believes in situational outrage, and this situation warranted outrage because Beshara has been feuding with the water authority for years. Thus he faxed his statement of outrage to local news organizations.
That’s OK, but Beshara has no credibility in the area of outrage against public malfeasance.
Where was his sense of outrage when his co-commissioner Stacey Britt got caught stealing county water? He faxed no statement of condemnation to the press; he made no demand for resignation. The value of water Britt stole was enough to earn anyone but a commissioner jail time, but nary a word of criticism from Beshara.
And when Commission Chairman Harold Fletcher was caught with 74 ethics violation, did Beshara become outraged? Did he demand that Fletcher resign? Did he summon the Athens press? No, strangely he did none of those things.
Unlike Walker, neither Britt nor Fletcher expressed any remorse or made any apology. The rules, you see are different for commissioners.
If one wants to point fingers, one should be pointed at Beshara, who appointed Walker in the first place. Walker was Beshara’s campaign manager and once worked with Beshara. Beshara appointed Walker to the authority for the express purpose of getting then-manager Jerry Waddell fired. Unfortunately for Beshara, when Walker looked into the situation at the authority, he could not justify the firing of Waddell. At that point, he became Beshara’s adversary.
The commissioner does not give up easily. He next appointed someone who hates Waddell as much as he does. Wanda David clearly had a conflict of interest because of a broken relationship with and a lawsuit against Jerry Waddell, but in Beshara’s way of thinking, that made her the perfect appointee to the water authority. Someone who would stoop to that level has little credibility when finding fault with someone else’s morals or ethics.
His statement to the contrary, Beshara is not upset about Walker’s comment. He’s mad because his appointee would not do his bidding and he’s just trying to make the most of Walker’s mistake.
There’s no defending Walker’s comment, but Beshara’s outrage would carry a little more weight if he expressed similar feelings about the legal and ethical violations of his friends on the board of commissioners. His silence in regard to the offenses committed by Britt and Fletcher speaks more loudly about Beshara’s character than his profession of outrage for Walker’s gaffe.


Editorials
The Commerce News
November 3
, 2004

Road Bonds To Be A Good Investment
It was a long, painful and trying process, but the “economic development” projects approved by the Jackson County Industrial Development Authority and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners was worth the wait.
The $15 million package contains everything once estimated at $27 million. It meets the county’s commitment for the Toyota project and more importantly – on this side of the county anyway – it provides for the construction of Bana Road, the Steve Reynolds Industrial Boulevard extension and the extension of Steven Tanger Boulevard, both parallel to Interstate 85, plus the county’s share of providing sewer to those projects.
These roads aren’t being built to move traffic; they’re projects that open up vast areas for industrial or commercial development. They are an investment in the future and the payoff will be new businesses and industries that will take some of the tax load for schools and other public facilities and services off of residents while providing job opportunities for local citizens. While in two years taxpayers will see a line item millage rate for repaying these bonds, by that time development on the new roads should be generating more than sufficient revenue to repay them.
Economic development is particularly important to Commerce, which has watched time after time as industrial prospects rejected local sites for those closer to Atlanta. In addition to having no industrial parks in the city, Commerce has the disadvantages of being located further up I-85, having no road access to the most promising sites and having little in the way of utilities on the sites. The city is currently working to alleviate the utility situation, the three road projects will provide the access and a number of developers have projects on the drawing board that will result in marketable industrial and commercial sites.
It is a given that the I-85 corridor will develop, but the question in Commerce has been whether it would develop before the local schools went bankrupt under the pressure of enrollment growth. The construction of the three Commerce area roads will speed up the tax-intensive development and help keep the city school system adequately funded.
But the bond package is not about Commerce. Its purpose is to stimulate economic development to help the entire county. The final version contains roads and related infrastructure that will spread the development among the three school tax districts and will help keep the property tax burden from falling still heavier on homeowners.


A Good Problem To Have
The good news Tuesday was that the election caused a near-record voter turn-out. That was also the bad news, because there were some long lines and waits and shortages of parking, equipment and poll workers.
Locally, people arriving at 6:30 a.m. to vote when the polls opened at 7:00 in Commerce got out at about 8:30 and the process took more than an hour much of the rest of the day. Harried poll workers did perform well and, for the most part, people were understanding – and pleased – at the high participation in one of the country’s basic freedoms.
But clearly the process can be improved to better accomodate larger numbers of voters. Long waits mean some voters can’t participate due to obligations of work or child care. If we assume hopefully that the 2004 turn-out will be repeated, local and state election officials must reassess the size of precincts, the adequacy of the polling places in terms of space, parking and the manpower needed to make the process operate smoothly.
This is a good problem. A heavy voter turn-out means more citizen participation. Let’s just be better prepared to handle it next time.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
November 3, 2004

Beshara mouths selective outrage
Politics often makes otherwise sane people say dumb things. And sometimes, people say dumb things just because their lips move before the synapses in their brain wake up.
Such was the case with a couple of local politicians two weeks ago, both of whom said dumb things.
The first was Warren Walker, the chairman of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority. Following a meeting of that group, Walker began talking about his supper plans as the authority members packed up their paperwork to go home.
But Walker’s synapses were asleep. Out of his mouth rolled a racial stereotyping comment to the effect that he was going home to eat fried chicken even if he “wasn’t the right color.”
Lost on Walker was the fact that new authority member Saverne Varnum was sitting at the table. Walker is white. Varnum is black.
Walker apologized to Varnum a few minutes later, after others in the room pointed out the situation to him. And a few days later, Walker stepped down as authority chairman because of his dumb comments.
Walker said that his words were not aimed at Mrs. Varnum. And it is obvious from the context of what happened that his comments had nothing to do with the authority, or any decisions before that board.
It was a dumb, personal comment that was inappropriate in any setting and Walker did the right thing by stepping aside and letting someone else take the helm as authority chairman.
But as dumb as that comment was, it was not as dumb as what happened next. Authority, member Wanda David, joined by county commissioner Emil Beshara, attempted to undermine the entire water authority with their own race-baiting comments. Both attempted to inject the idea that race was involved in the decision-making process of the water authority, in spite of the fact they know race does not have any role in the decisions made by the authority.
The real story is that both David and Beshara are political foes of Walker. Both want him off the authority before the end of this year so the current BOC can appoint a replacement, a new member that would no doubt be another patsy for David.
For his part, Beshara wants the entire water authority dismantled. Walker has strongly opposed that idea. Making matters worse, it was Beshara who appointed Walker to the authority in the first place. But he has regretted that decision because it turned out that Walker refused to follow Beshara’s directives during the BOC’s three-year war to take over the authority.
There’s bad personal political blood all around in this mess and Beshara and David’s comments about Walker were nothing more than political grandstanding, an effort to inject race into a situation where race has no bearing on any decisions being made.
Even worse, Beshara’s show of indignation appears to be very selective.
Where was Beshara’s voice of outrage when one of his own fellow BOC members was found with an illegal water meter, in effect stealing water from the authority?
Where was Beshara’s indignation when another fellow BOC member was cited for 74 ethics violations?
Where has Beshara’s voice been as county officials spent the county government into a deep financial hole?
Where was Beshara’s faxed comments of outrage when a fellow commissioner attempted to kill the $100 million Toyota industry by stopping the county’s work on road construction?
He was silent.
There were no press releases on those occasions.
There were no statements of outrage.
Funny thing is, Mr. Beshara fancies himself as a courageous, outspoken politician. But in truth, his outspokenness is selective, aimed only at bashing those whom he considers a political foe.
Certainly, what Mr. Walker said was wrong. He admitted that. He stepped down as chairman and tried to make up for his comments.
But as bad as that was, it was not as bad as the unnecessary, race-baiting political rhetoric which followed from Mr. Beshara and his handmaiden, Ms. David.
Mr. Walker’ comment was dumb.
Mr. Beshara’s words were disingenuous.
And of the two, the latter is a far worse public act than the former.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
November 3, 2004

Checks and balances make for good government
Last week’s approval of $15.7 million in bonds for economic development roads was a textbook example of how important a checks and balances system is in local government.
In its first proposal, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners wanted a lot more money for the projects — reportedly over $20 million.
Thankfully, the BOC had to work the deal through the county industrial development authority where clear thinking prevailed.
The IDA was created as a financing vehicle for local governments and while it is not directly responsible for paying the debts, it does have a financial responsibility to county citizens.
In this case, the IDA took that responsibility seriously. It asked questions about the costs and schedules, questions that BOC members didn’t want asked.
What the IDA discovered was that the BOC did not have detailed cost estimates or a working timeline. Indeed, it appeared as if the BOC had inflated the cost of the projects, perhaps as a backdoor means of flushing money into county bank accounts which had been emptied by the huge costs associated with the new county judicial center.
For months, the BOC hemmed and hawed and stalled as the IDA repeatedly asked for additional information about the cost of the projects. Only last week did the IDA finally get all the information it needed to move forward on the bond financing package.
And guess what — the cost of the projects was much less than what the BOC had first estimated last February.
For example, in its first request, the BOC said the cost of road improvements for the new Toyota plant near Pendegrass would be over $8 million in local dollars. Last week, that number had fallen to $5 million.
By asking tough questions, the IDA fulfilled its financial responsibility and saved local taxpayers millions of dollars.
This situation is a textbook example of the value of having checks and balances in local government operations. Local governments do not have separate executive and legislative branches. The only way to protect taxpayers is for there to be an internal system of accountability that goes further than just the elected officials hands.
This time, that system worked. And on such a balanced system, good government can be built.


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