Jackson County Opinions...

DECEMBER 29, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
December 29, 2004

Mixed Results In 2004; Good Luck In 2005
It is said that as one ages, the years seem to pass by more quickly, which would account for why it seems that 2004 started just a month or two ago but comes to an end Friday.
The 365 days that hurtled by so quickly covered a multitude of events. How we view 2004 is a result of how those events affected us personally. Ill health, death of a loved one or concern about a family member in Iraq would make 2004 remembered as a rough year; the birth of a child or grandchild, a marriage or a good pick on the Fantasy Five, on the other hand, would provide good memories for the past year.
That would make it a longer year for John Kerry than for George Bush. It’s all a matter of perspective.
So, how was 2004 from a news perspective?
Well, it was busy, but 2004 does not fall neatly into a category of “good” or “bad.” Let’s say there were mixed results.
For example, Jackson County has a new courthouse. We certainly needed one, so that is good, although we may argue over its location and cost and the politics of the situation.
We also had an election, and the supporters of the victors would see good here. I’m willing to bet, however, that for many of us the elections were good news and bad news. You win some and you lose some. Let’s just say the results were mixed.
Politically speaking, it could not be called a good year, as the campaigns for local and national offices set new records for negativity and money spent. Whether your candidates won or did not, only a political consultant could find good news in the proliferation of ugliness that brought us “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” and the other groups dedicated to tearing down a candidate.
There were a lot of positive events, however.
Jackson County landed a number of new industries, including the Kubota Tractor plant, and the Toyota-Denso plant is under construction. The $15.7 million economic development bond issue will (literally) pave the way for new economic growth. It is particularly important to Commerce since it has largely been out of the loop in the process so far.
Related to that, the city has at last annexed some top industrial sites, most of them on the to-be-built Bana Road. In addition, the city council is discussing buying land for its own industrial park along Interstate 85. All those things together suggest that Commerce will acquire some industry.
You can read about the new mixed-use development on Page 1. While the houses and townhouses are more densely packed than one would hope, the project brings a promise of commercial growth, something Commerce also needs. In addition, developer David Chattham promises that those 1,350 to 1,450-square-foot houses will not be starter homes and that the development will live up to the standards for which he is highly regarded.
The long-awaited widening of U.S. 441 between Commerce and Athens appears to be a reality at last. Contracts for both halves have been awarded. Before that is well under way, however, Commerce’s gas line will be moved, a project that has been hanging over the city for years. It too is under way.
Let’s just say 2004 was busy, good in some ways, not so good in others. We can expect the same in 2005, but I hope that for you it will be a good year.


Closing The Door On ‘04, Opening It For ‘05
How people view 2004 as it draws to a close probably depends more upon the events in their personal lives than those reflected in newspaper headlines. Still, 2004 offered much worthy of celebrating or condemning, remembering or trying to forget, and often the only difference is a matter of perspective.
Locally, the new Jackson County Courthouse and the new Commerce Middle School were completed and occupied. Both the county government and the city government made some great strides toward laying the foundation for further economic development. Commerce completed most of the work on the new sewer plant and started the relocation of the gas line along U.S. 441, two major expensive but necessary projects.
A lot of faces in leadership changed with the local election; few changed in the national election. The economy is improving, though slowly, our troops are still in Iraq and the carnage continues. Osama bin Laden remains at large, but (so far) there have been no new terrorist acts on American soil.
We can look back over the past 12 months and see improvement, but also see areas where the progress was scant, so as we turn the final pages of 2004, there is much to look forward to in 2005. Right now, the new year is unmarred by any failures but does not yet reflect any successes.
The new year gives us a clean slate. Like a baseball team entering spring training, we have reason to view the upcoming year with optimism that our failures will be reversed and our successes repeated. We leave behind a year in which we did not live up to our potential, but begin a new year where anything is possible. May 2005 have more ups and fewer downs for each of us and for our city, county, state and nation.


Editorials
The Commerce News
December 29, 2004

Citizens Should Share Planning Panel’s Anger
Members of the Commerce Planning Commission have expressed anger that the city council has allowed R-1 zoning to a project that does not meet R-1 guidelines. The citizens should be angry too.
While the council made a mistake in allocating 114 lots for the controversial Whitehill School Road project – when under R-1 it should have been 94 lots – the real mistake occurred when three councilmen voted to ignore the recommendation of the planning commission in the first place.
Ward 4 Councilman Bob Sosebee, followed by Mayor Pro Tem Archie D. Chaney Jr. and Ward 1 Councilman Riley Harris, were able to override the planning commission’s vote to deny the rezoning request. The councilman for the area in which the project would be built – Mark Fitzpatrick – opposed the rezoning and Councilman Donald Wilson was absent due to surgery, so the three votes prevailed.
City Hall dropped the ball again when it turned the resolution of the Sierra Group’s appeal over to its attorney without seeking input or advice from planning commission members and the city zoning official. That led to the judge’s order that, in effect, re-writes the R-1 section of the zoning ordinance. The precedent of requiring only 10 percent greenspace flies in the face of the 20 percent requirement spelled out in the ordinance, and the finding that the city and the developer agree that the “proper, constitutional zoning of petitioner’s property should be R-1” suggests that the city agrees that the R-1 provision in the ordinance is unconstitutional.
The end result is that a housing development that does not appear to be in the best interest of Commerce will be built, and it is quite likely that the city council’s mistakes will come back to haunt Commerce for years to come.
The planning commission has a right to be angry. Voters have every reason to be angry as well.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
December 29, 2004

Big issues in 2005
If you thought there would be a lack of news after the old board of commissioners leave office, don’t worry; there will be plenty of newsworthy events to read about in 2005.
The following are some of the bigger questions you will be reading about early in the year:

1. What will happen to county manager Al Crace? Will the new BOC keep him, or is his tight association with the “old” BOC a noose around his neck?
Some view Crace as the mastermind behind the old BOC’s failed policies and a bureaucratic spendthrift. Others see him as just following orders. If Crace is removed, where will the BOC look to find a replacement? If he isn’t terminated, can he work with a new board that vows to take a totally different direction from the past?
2. What will happen with county finances? What county departments may get cut in order to balance the 2005 budget?
In order to pay for the new courthouse, the old BOC depleted a lot of the county’s reserves. To strengthen the county’s financial standing will require either more income, or fewer expenses.
3. What will happen in Jefferson’s planned March school bond referendum vote?
A new elementary school is the main part of the referendum’s plans. Another item is to change the appearance of the high school. Will Jefferson voters do as they have done in past school referendums and support those plans? Or will the environment of higher taxes and high growth cause a pause in those plans?
4. What will happen with plans for a 2,400-home mega-development in Arcade?
This project could be a turning point in the history of Jackson County. Arcade leaders want to annex the 1,300 acres to do the deal. In effect, this project would become “Arcade.” The current Arcade would be just a suburb of this huge development. The developers are even throwing in free land for a new city hall in the project.
But the impact on schools and traffic would ripple far beyond the city limits of Arcade. And that regional impact has some observers concerned.
5. What will happen with the renewal of a county SPLOST vote? Can payments for the new courthouse be put on a SPLOST, or will those dollars have to come from property taxes?
A fight is brewing in Jackson County over the renewal of SPLOST. The new BOC holds most of the cards in this effort, but the key question of using SPLOST funds for the courthouse lease payments has yet to be answered. Despite plans by the old BOC to use SPLOST funds to pay for the courthouse, that may not be legally possible.
If the SPLOST can’t be used for those payments, then are county citizens willing to have a property tax hike in order to pay for the new facility? If not, then is it feasible, or desirable, to abandon the new courthouse and its lease payments and move back into the old facility?
6. What will happen with the county’s 911 program now that the sheriff’s department has pulled out?
Sheriff Stan Evans appears to be in the driver’s seat here. It could be that all 911 operations are put under the sheriff’s department; or there may be some other resolution to the issue. But in this face-off between Evans and county officials, Evans will likely be the winner.
7. What will happen with the on-going efforts to get the infrastructure in place for the new Toyota plant near Pendergrass?
For some unknown reason, the old BOC attempted to undermine this $100 million industrial project. Now the new BOC must fix all those problems.
8. What will happen with the district structure of the county BOC? Will the voting by districts get overhauled in the legislative session following the events of the past four years?
One of the key problems over recent years has been a BOC based on petty district concerns. Rather than viewing the county as a whole, and doing what was best for the entire county, BOC members came to view only their own little districts as being important. New state Representative Tommy Benton will be in a position to address this during the upcoming legislative session.
9. What will happen with the county water and sewerage authority? Will it remain a financially strong, independent agency?
Part of this question will be answered by what happens in the following question; that is, will the authority be able to maintain its system of providing service without towns like Arcade eating away at its growth? With two exceptions, the authority appears to have fairly strong leadership. In time, perhaps the two troublemakers can be replaced.
10. What will happen to the county’s shared service agreements now that the current plan has been nixed by the state? Will the City of Arcade be successful in getting a water and sewer service territory, or will developers continue to do business with the county water authority?
Arcade wanted to skim the cream off the top by becoming a middleman in water and sewer services. But the state messed up that idea when it rejected the county’s shared services plan because of Arcade’s demands.
Now the developers of the proposed Arcade mega-project have to make a difficult decision — will they continue to hold hands with Arcade officials, or will they get water and sewer service from the county water authority?

Those are just some of the key issues you will be reading about in 2005.
Happy New Year. Stay tuned.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
Decembeer 29, 2004

Time to rebuild trust
A new year is upon us. With the new year comes new hope for a better Jackson County.
In past years, we have often adopted a list of major goals we believed were important to the citizens of Jackson County.
There are a lot of things that need to be addressed in Jackson County during 2005, but rather than list those individually, we want to focus on the one major goal that is paramount to all the others: The county government must work to rebuild the trust and confidence of county citizens.
Over the past four years, that trust was broken by an inept county administration.
Fed up, citizens revolted in 2004 at the ballot box. Two incumbents were booted and a third didn’t run for re-election. As a result, a new board of commissioners will take office Jan. 1.
But that is just the first step. Now comes the hard part. This new board will have to make some tough decisions in order to restore the public’s faith in its local government.
What specifically can this new BOC do to rebuild public trust?
We believe there are four items which should be high on that board’s agenda:
• Hire a new county manager. The county government will not be able to chart a new course unless it has new executive leadership.
• Fix the county budget. That will likely mean cutting some expenses. The new board should move quickly to get a realistic budget and then do whatever is necessary to strengthen the county’s financial standing.
• Follow through with the county’s commitment to Toyota. The current administration gave Jackson County a huge black eye when it attempted to undermine county commitments to Toyota for its $100 million industry locating near Pendergrass. The new BOC should make it clear to Toyota and to state officials that Jackson County will stand behind its commitments and do whatever is necessary to make amends for previous leadership failures.
• Fix the county BOC structure so that voters have more voice. The current BOC district system did not work over the past four years. Individual commissioners became petty chiefs of their own little fiefdoms. And citizens found that they had little voice in county government because of how the district system splintered the county. That system needs to be modified and the new BOC should get behind legislation to change how county leaders are elected.

There are other important issues that local officials face. Area towns and school systems have before them their own set of challenges. Indeed, 2005 will be a critical year in the life of Jackson County.
But the restoration of public trust in county government has to be the top priority. Without that trust, Jackson County will not be able to move forward.


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