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 OPINION PAGE - JULY 21, 1999 - COMMERCE, GEORGIA



Editorials
The Commerce News
July 21, 1999

Linder's Bill No More Than A Starting Point
Kudos to Rep. John Linder for wanting to simplify the American tax code. Having said that, his proposal for a 23 percent national sales tax is fraught with uncertainties. Presumably, a 23 percent tax on all new goods and services would offset the federal corporate and individual income taxes, including Social Security, estate and gift taxes, and would cause the American economy to grow 11 percent faster over the decade following implementation.
Pardon our skepticism. The "fairness" of a sales tax is certainly an asset, and simplification of the tax code is desirable, but replacing in one fell swoop a system that has evolved over decades should not be done just to accommodate the polls.
First, it is going to be very hard for Americans to adjust to a national sales tax. Imagine walking into the Ford dealership to buy a car, only to find out that instead of adding six percent (the current state and local sales tax rate), one would add 29 percent. Talk about sticker shock. Even worse, the sales tax would apply to new housing, but not to the subsequent sales of the house. Under that scenario, it is going to be very hard to sell new houses. Would-be homeowners would find their choices limited to existing houses, and the demand would soon push up the price of those structures as well.
In addition, retired people whose savings came from after-tax dollars, would suddenly find themselves paying a huge tax as they spend that money ­ upon which they had already paid taxes under the old system. That will be no problem for the wealthy, whose capital gains will no longer be taxed, but for the middle class and the poor whose savings are largely after taxes, the erosion of buying power could be disastrous.
Linder proposes to offset some of the damage by offering a "universal rebate" to equal the sales taxes paid on basic necessities. It has long been part of the Republican philosophy that sending money to Washington to be rebated back is bad business - inevitably, one gets back less than one sends. The cost of sending monthly checks to every American is nothing to sneer at either.
Part of the plan is to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service, long a popular position of the Republicans. The hatred of the IRS seems to stem partly from the arrogance of its guilty-till-proven-innocent position, but equally from the fact that Republicans dislike taxes so much they want to kill the agency in charge of collecting them. The IRS may be eliminated, but a new bureaucracy will have to be created to administer and enforce the new tax code.
While it should not be the main focus of any tax bill, the impact on charitable organizations must be considered. Many donations that are tax-deductible will dry up if the giver receives no benefits. Who will pick up the contributions made to American life and health if groups like the American Red Cross, American Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity, March of Dimes, United Way and thousands of other groups from food closets to churches find their ability to provide services severely diminished?
Linder's legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn., is a creation of a group calling itself Americans for Fair Taxation and claiming 200,000 members. It is a special interest group whose members at present are anonymous but are willing to raise $20 million to promote the sales tax. What do they stand to gain?
The national sales tax is a concept deserving of consideration, but the replacement of the entire tax code is not something that can or should be done in one or two years. Before Congress votes on such a measure, a lot of questions need to be answered and all of the ramifications explored and fully understood. Linder's bill may be a starting point, but it is no more than that.



Column
Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
July 21, 1999

We Cover Good News As Well As The Tragic
"Don't you take a picture of that child lying on the ground."
The occasion was a playground accident at the elementary school. The speaker was the principal, eyes full of fire, warning me not to photograph a boy writhing in pain from a broken arm.
I got the impression that if I took a picture, she'd whip me, and at that moment, I suspect she could have.
I took pictures of the paramedics as they treated the boy just the same, and she had more important things to do than to beat up a photographer. Thank goodness.
Reporters and photographers for MainStreet Newspapers frequently have similar experiences. The nature of our jobs sometimes puts us at scenes of pain and tragedy. Sometimes a police officer or rescue worker insists that we quit taking pictures, but we do our jobs. Other times, ironically, people doing nothing more than gawking out of curiosity seem offended by the photographer who is there not out of a macabre curiosity, but to do his job.
None of us like going to accidents, fires or other tragedies. We don't like seeing people in pain, and I certainly didn't enjoy watching a child suffer the pain of a broken arm.
Maybe you think of the "vultures of the press" at times like that, as though we hover around awaiting disaster so we can swoop down and make matters worse by shooting photos. But you also summon us vultures when it suits your purpose. I've been called to take pictures of the accelerated readers at the same school, or to photograph the winners of a poster contest. And I went, because it's my job. Just between you and me, I'd rather take a photo of five or six kids with blue and red ribbons and big smiles than one of a child, face contorted in agony because he hurts.
We "vultures" are hovering around awaiting your good news too. We're there when the football team wins, just like we are when it loses. We're there to cover the garden club planting a tree at the park, the special programs at local schools, the award winners, prize winners and special moments. We print birth announcements and funeral notices.
When circumstances bring us to tragedy, we have no options. We stay out of the way of firemen, EMS personnel, police and others whose jobs are to render aid. We don't force our cameras into your face, try to interview those in pain or look for people who are suffering. We record the scene. We gather what information we can. We are recording news and local history.
Some of us are practically human. We hurt for children who are suffering. We empathize with the family whose home is on fire. But we suppress our emotions, because we're there on business. We're not sight-seers. We cover the news.
I admit to having, in addition to sympathy for the boy and for the school staff members who were upset, a feeling of relief that day. A broken arm heals. In fact, it has. What if he had broken his neck? I'll never forget the tragedies of Teresa Ridling at Commerce High School and Al Ledford at Commerce Middle School.
We take the news as it comes, the good and the bad. We prefer the good, but we'll be there for the bad too. That's our job.


Letter to the Editor
The Commerce News
July 21, 1999

Reader Disputes 'Biased' Column
Editor:
This letter is in response to your articles July 14, 1999.
I was angry when my son didn't receive his award as did others with injuries. I was angry when the principal, superintendent, athletic director and coach would not address the issue. I was angry when Mr. Hames hung up the phone on me. I was angry when the board of education wouldn't listen. I was angry when a CUE member said that he overheard Mr. Perry, chairman of the BOE, tell Mr. Fouche, "Since we're old buddies, this won't hit the paper, will it?" I was angry when Coach Savage walked away from me and didn't show me respect due any parent when I called him by name and made a comment to him. I was angry when a BOE member's husband said to me, "Why don't you folks leave us alone? You need to stay out of our business." Now I am irate at the biased column Adam Fouche wrote.
I am not "trying to gain control of a system that is representing a different majority view." I am trying to get the BOE to abide by current policies and adopt new policies that are fair, consistent, legal and defined enough to be understood by BOE members, staff, students and parents.
In his column, Mr. Fouche stated that "CUE is a minority political group," which apparently is his personal opinion. In my opinion, CUE is not a political group. He also stated something about "board member's constituency believes we would execute anyone caught breaking rules, that the board member cannot possibly carry out those wishes." We haven't requested anything this absurd. We did in fact ask for a defined code of conduct policy with a defined punishment. The BOE adopted policy that could punish a participant in extracurricular activities twice; once by the school system and again by the head coach at his discretion. Even in our local and federal courts you can't be punished twice for a crime.
I am a CUE member and your biased reporter wrote "You can argue that more emphasis is being placed on athletics, but CUE is doing so hypocritically." For his information, I am not a hypocrite. I met Mr. White, superintendent, the latter part of May of this year. I told him I loved the Commerce School System but my main concern was that they put more emphasis on athletics than academics. He said that the board was concerned also and had addressed it on more than one occasion.
Mr. Fouche states, "A citizen committee sounds like a good idea, but there already is a group We call it the board of education." He implies that CUE's request for a committee on policy is ridiculous. Apparently members of the school improvement committee -- Donnie Drew, principal; Mary Evans, assistant principal; Elaine Roller, counselor; Joy Tolbert, family and consumer science teacher; Wanda Bagwell, English teacher; Kay Haugen, math teacher; Greg Jarvis, special education teacher; and Mark Hale, social studies teacher ­ were ridiculous in recently establishing a parent advisory committee.
I have been involved in the Commerce City School System six years and I haven't heard of a Parent Advisory Committee until a couple of weeks ago. It appears that this committee, which was established in April 1999, discusses issues that affect our children, as does the BOE behind closed doors. Invitations to this committee apparently went to a "select group" from Mary Evans.
The article stated "CUE member Jenny Harrison argued against her son not receiving an athletic letter she felt he deserved." I did not argue. I stated my opinion with reference to issues with regard to the administrative policies per the GHSA bylaws, specifically with handling of all finances and eligibility issues. I said that I had concerns over the eligibility requirements not being met this past year. I also stated "that award fairness is important as this information is a part of every student's permanent school record and an area that colleges and universities look at as well as academics." I stated that I spoke to Mr. Drew, Mr. White, Coach Savage and Coach Hames with regards to my son's varsity letter for wrestling. I told them and the BOE that my son lettered last year and the year before in wrestling. This year he was injured during football and was under a doctor's care. The doctor told him "no physical contact sports and no maxing out." Coach Savage allowed the maxing out in weight training class and Gary with Novacare (who I assume is retained by the school and is only a therapist and not a doctor) told him that he could wrestle. Mr. Hames allowed him to wrestle three matches (which I thought were varsity matches). On a follow-up visit to the doctor, his injury was not healing and the doctor said again that there should be "no physical contact sports." I told him not to wrestle even if Gary told him he could until he was released by the doctor. My son continued to dress out with the team and filmed the matches for Mr. Hames. He was not given his award. I told all of these people that another athlete got his varsity letter per the injury rule without even dressing out in another sport and that I requested the awards be given fairly and consistently with regard to every participant and every sport without discrimination.
"Steve Perry called for comments from the other board members, staff and parents present. When no comments were forthcoming, the board voted to adopt the policies." If he was asking for the parent's comments as indicated in the article, he should have addressed the parents. I was told at the work session that I could not ask questions, I could merely state my opinion. I was told that I should put my questions in writing and the board would respond accordingly. I was told in order to speak you had to be on the meeting agenda. Myself and the other parents present thought he was asking the board for comments. Perry said "the survey results showed that faculty, students and parents who responded agreed that the behavior code clearly stated school rules." That was true, however, the survey results also showed that faculty, parents and students all have concerns with reference to consistent discipline and students being treated fairly and consistently. Quoted from the survey from the faculty: "The parent organization at this school is considered important by the staff"; their response was one of the lowest rated of all the questions asked. It is my opinion that information was deliberately withheld on the survey results from the board that could affect the vote on the policies.
Another area of concern to me is that your biased reporter elected not to mention in the article was that I personally told him of the disrespectful actions of the athletic director and that the Commerce City School System requires our children to abide by a strict code of conduct and are disciplined by him at his discretion and this is the character that our children are hearing and seeing.
I urge all concerned parents, students and citizens to contact me, and we will strive to make Commerce High School's motto a reality: "Students, Parents, Teachers: Together we can make good things happen."
Jenny Harrison
P.O. Box 864
Commerce

Editor's Note: The "biased reporting" referred to was a personal column, expressing the opinion of the writer, an opinion based on the writer's interpretation of the facts. As a reporter, Mr. Fouche is not biased; as a columnist, he may project a bias - or interpretation of the facts - as he sees fit. As for the story "not hitting the paper," quite obviously, it did hit the paper.



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