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Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald - August 4, 1999

Proud of staffs
I feel like a proud papa this week who's son has just hit a winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. As any parent knows, watching the accomplishment of a child is far more rewarding than any personal achievement.
I had that same feeling last week as this newspaper and its three sister papers racked up 40 awards in the annual Georgia Press Associa-tion's Better Newspaper Contest, awards that included first place honors in General Excellence for both The Jackson Herald and The Commerce News. A lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated folks was responsible for those honors and I couldn't be prouder of that.
Newspapers don't publish just to enter awards contests. We do our jobs to serve the local communities we're in. But as any good newspaper person will tell you, the element of competition with peers is a strong motivating tool. Win or lose, we like putting our product next to other similar size newspapers in the competitive forum. Such contests help push everyone in our industry to a higher level.
As editor, I'm just a figurehead in all of that. Many people might know my name through this column, but there are a lot of other people who are really responsible for those awards last week.
Associate editor Angela Gary is the glue that holds our newsroom together. Not only is she our assignment editor, she is also the editor of our Banks County newspaper, The Banks County News. That paper took home nine awards last week, including a third place finish for general excellence.
Mark Beardsley, editor of The Commerce News, has been around Jackson County politics for many years. That experience shows in his eight awards last week, including first place in general excellence for newspapers under 4,000 circulation. Mark also won a first place for best editorial page, among other honors.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal in Danielsville and has his hands full covering that unique county. We purchased The Journal a couple of years ago and this was the first year it had ever entered the state newspaper contest. But even as a newcomer, The Journal brought home eight awards, including a tie with The Banks County News for third place in general excellence. Zach also had an individual first place for sports writing and finished in first place for best sports section. Zach's right hand in Madison County is Margie Richards whose writing is a delight to read and who also was a large part of The Journal's overall success this year. Helping Zach and Margie is Ben Munro, a college student who covers a lot of sporting events for The Journal.
Photographer Travis Hatfield brought home seven individual awards for photography among all the newspapers. Travis is a talented photographer and travels all over our three-county coverage area to photograph a wide variety of events.
Sports editor Drew Brantley covers sports for both The Banks County News and Commerce News and had two individual awards for sports photography. Drew also had a second place win for best sports section for his work in The Commerce News.
Herald features editor Jana Adams brought home second place honors for business writing and won first place honors for producing the best lifestyle section. She also had a hand in many of the other awards and does a major part of the layout for The Banks County News.
Sherry Lewis is news editor for The Banks County News and had a second place award for business writing. She also had a large hand in the other awards won by The Banks County News.
April Murphy coordinates several pages for all four newspapers, including our religion coverage for which she won first place honors for The Commerce News. April also oversees our obituary pages and the public notice pages for The Herald and The Banks County News.
Others in the newsroom who had a part in the newspapers' success are reporter Adam Fouche, typesetter Mary Ann Robinson and proofreaders Sharon Hogan and Cathy Krusberg. Sharon also does a lot of other duties for our newspapers.
Beyond the newsroom, there are a lot of other people who had a part in the success of all or newspapers. Over in the advertising department, Scott Buffington, Pam Moree, Dana Brown, Connie Owensby and Sandra Fite generated the advertising dollars to pay for the people and equipment we need to operate.
In the front office, Debbie Bass, Alexandra Stewart and Bobisue Strickland coordinate much of our contact with the general public and oversee our classified ads and subscription lists, among many other duties.
In the printing department, Julius Mack, Tony Phillips, Garnett Smith, Larry Norman, Brad Smith, Maurice Sanford and Lisa Lyles take our raw work and turn it into a printed product for our readers. Their focus on quality has a large impact on everything else we do.
In distribution, Jim Smith in Madison County, Dana Bronsted in Jackson and Banks Counties and Veda Wade and Donald Poe in Jackson County make sure our papers get to the store racks.
All of this is built on the foundation laid by my parents, Herman and Helen Buffington, who purchased The Herald in 1965 and built the business so that we could become a progressive small group of newspapers.
As you can see, what we do here is a team effort. And while winning awards is nice, we really want to be winners for our readers by giving you all the news week after week and year after year.
That is the ultimate prize. It doesn't hang on a wall, but it's the most important of all.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
August 4, 1999

Pendergrass & Water Wise: A web of duplicity
The convoluted dealings between the Town of Pendergrass and a private sewerage firm are little more than a web of duplicity and conflicts of interest by public officials.
Not since the shenanigans of the Arcade City Council and a private landfill company have we seen such a brazen misuse of the public trust by elected government officials. Actually, the Pendergrass situation is worse because a web of deceit was deliberately crafted to mislead the citizens of Pendergrass and throw other county officials off track.
It's time for the real story to come out:
FACT: Water Wise Inc. owner Jerry Wycliff misled the citizens of Pendergrass in his bid to sign a contract with the town. He said in a July 20 council meeting that he wanted to build a sewage treatment plant in Pendergrass for Pendergrass - he never once mentioned that he wanted the city to sign a trust indenture for the old Texfi waste water facility in Jefferson, seven miles away. The truth is, however, that was the key thing he really wanted from Pendergrass since that paperwork would allow him to get a state EPD permit for the Texfi facility. The county government had already turned Water Wise down, hence the action with Pendergrass.
FACT: Pendergrass city councilman Melvin "Monk" Tolbert had a huge conflict of interest at stake during that July 20 meeting - he represented the firm in its purchase of the old Texfi facility. Yet councilman Tolbert participated in both the discussion and the vote for Pendergrass to do a deal with Water Wise. Tolbert also likely knew that action was only a charade designed as a back door way to get the town's signature on a trust indenture, yet he never acknowledged that during the July 20 meeting.
FACT: Pendergrass Mayor Mark Tolbert, son of the councilman, also participated in the duping of Pendergrass citizens and had a huge conflict of interest involved. On July 21, the day after that council meeting, Mayor Tolbert rushed to Jefferson to put his signature on the infamous trust indenture for the Texfi facility in Jefferson. He had to have known the night before that he would be doing that, yet he never mentioned anything about a trust indenture or the Texfi plant during the July 20 meeting. On top of that, Mayor Tolbert, like his father, had a personal conflict of interest with Water Wise - his wife is an employee of the firm.
FACT: Pendergrass' lawyers likewise had a questionable role in the deal between Pendergrass and Water Wise. That firm, Tolbert & Elrod, represented both the town and Water Wise. That means there was no legal counsel whose only interest was the citizens and taxpayers of Pendergrass. Not only that, one of the law firm's principals, Scott Tolbert, is a brother to Mayor Tolbert, son of councilman Tolbert and a former Pendergrass mayor himself. In essence, the law firm used its inside influence with Pendergrass, a public client, to push a deal that was designed to help a private client, Water Wise. Also, these lawyers had to know the primary goal of the July 20 proposal with Pendergrass was to obtain a signature on the trust indenture for the Texfi facility so their client could proceed with getting their EPD permit.
FACT: Attorney Chris Elrod of Tolbert & Elrod deceived this newspaper last week when he responded to an open records request by saying that no paperwork between Water Wise and Pendergrass had been executed. But Elrod knew that on July 21, Mayor Tolbert had indeed signed the trust indenture for Water Wise, obligating the town to take over the old Texfi plant if the private company went out of business. Elrod's signature is on the July 21 document along with Tolbert's, so why did he tell us there were no contracts?
FACT: There was no Pendergrass City Council meeting held last week to authorize Friday's intervention by that town in the Jackson County vs. Water Wise condemnation action. The decision to intervene apparently came from Mayor Tolbert and lawyers Tolbert & Elrod. Once again, the Town of Pendergrass was used to run interference to help Water Wise. That a different attorney was retained to file the motion of intervention was only a ruse to shift attention away from the true decision-makers.
All of this is a sorry mess for all of Jackson County. Public officials have misused their positions to further the needs of a private company and in the process, attempted to deceive the very people they were elected to serve and sworn to protect.

Here's what we believe should happen now:
1. An investigation should be performed on the actions by Pendergrass public officials in the Water Wise deal.
2. The trust indenture signed by Mayor Mark Tolbert should be declared null and void. The vote by the Pendergrass City Council on July 20 was clearly for Water Wise to build a sewage facility in the city for Pendergrass customers. That vote had nothing to do with signing a trust indenture for the Texfi facility in Jefferson, a fact that Pendergrass' own minutes of that July 20 meeting show.
3. The intervention by Pendergrass in the condemnation proceedings should be thrown out. Such an action wasn't voted on by that city's government nor does the town have a legitimate standing in the Water Wise condemnation.
4. The county and City of Jefferson should proceed with their condemnation of the old Texfi facility, and the county should assist Mulberry Plantation developers with getting sewerage to that site.
5. The Georgia EPD should deny the transferring of the Texfi waste water permit to Water Wise because of the misleading way in which the firm sought to get that document. The permit should stay in the name of Texfi, the former owner of the facility and its largest user, until the condemnation action is resolved.
We're ashamed of how Pendergrass leaders and their lawyers have acted in this deal. But the good citizens in that community, and in the county as a whole, should not stand by silent in the face of such deceit and abuse of power by those who were elected to serve the public, not themselves.

The Jackson Herald
August 4, 1999

Disputes editorial about Jefferson council meeting
Dear Editor:
In your July 13 issue, under the caption, "Our Views: Jefferson meeting a debacle," I was surprised to find out that whoever wrote the article had supinely misunderstood and misinterpreted my statement made at the city council meeting. The article accused me of injecting what it called "race into a discussion that had no racial content..."
My point of contention is that Jefferson is a growing community like other surrounding communities that are having their share of influx of minority, whether they are blacks, Hispanics or Africans. The city of Jefferson, in the past few years, has seen a significant number of minorities taking residence in the area. To continue to grow as a prosperous community as we have be doing under the leadership of Mayor Byrd Bruce, we must also continue to be acutely aware of the presence of our new neighbors and exercise some level of sensitivity in areas of employment and inclusive participation in the life of the whole community.
One of my responsibilities as a councilwoman is to clearly articulate those critical issues that affect the life of the people who reside in this city, whether black, white, yellow or red. The questions dealing with equality, fair play in hiring policies, the standard of education for our children, affordable housing, and health care for all the residence of Jefferson have nothing to do with "injecting race card." So those who think I was injecting a race card need to think that over again.
I also raised another point, that considering the cultural and racial diversity of the city of Jefferson, there should be at least one department head that is a minority, but presently, that is not the case. The writer of the July 13 article in The Jackson Herald could not and did not prove me wrong because the statement I made was the fact. We have no minority department heads that rightly reflects a balance racial and cultural composition of our growing community. Again, that is the fact.
When I registered my concern about an unfair hiring procedure, which is done behind closed doors without publicizing or announcing to the public that certain positions are open and that qualified applicants should apply, some people cried out that again, this is "injecting a race card." The truth is the truth when spoken, no matter what color you wish to color it. I will stand by my words. It was not surprising to read in The Jefferson Herald last Wednesday that "The council unanimously agreed to ask its city attorney to send the museum board a letter stating that any vacant or new positions in the future must not be filled unless the opening is advertised."
This is what I have said all along. That is exactly the point I have been raising. Now they have agreed with me that that is the right thing to do. My question is, why "in the future," why not now? Why the rush to employ someone at this time without announcing that there is an opening for a position at the museum? I want to know the reason for the urgency for now that we have to bypass the right way of conducting such an important public matter, simply to say, "Well, next time lets do the right thing."
Again, hiring of someone to assume a new position at the Crawford W. Long Museum had very little to do with color of the person who is employed for that new position. Qualification and the ability to do the job is what counts in this matter. I have nothing against Priscilla Daves being given the position. We as city councilmen and councilwomen must be accountable to the public as well as to those who will support that salary proposal as donors. We must be above reproach. My point was that such a position that pays approximate $60,000 a year is no play thing. Hiring procedures for such position must be done fairly, legally and justly. It is against state and federal laws not to advertise vacant positions that are publicly funded positions. Again, this has nothing to do with "injecting race card."
Announcing publicly that there is an opening for a position is the right and legal thing to do. When we continue to hire people behind closed doors based upon our own private criteria, we will never know who else out there that is qualified to do the job. When we are questioned about our racial composition in our government, we cannot fairly defend the fact that only the qualified persons were hired for the position. We have never tried to find out whether or not other people were qualified for the positions for which we hired who we wanted to hire.
To my critics who want to accuse me falsely by charging me with "playing the race card," I want you know that I am just trying to do the right thing, as the council has already agreed with me about the importance of advertising job openings before they are filled, so will history prove me right when it comes to the issues of our sensitivity, fair play, inclusiveness and balanced representation of our cultural diversity in the city government.
Marcia Moon

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