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 OPINION PAGE - SEPTEMBER 22, 1999 - DANIELSVILLE, GA

Column
By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
September 22, 1999

Driving fiascos
My little sister drives now. She's 19 and recently got her license and first car. Most people would say she's three years late getting on the road. And of course she's sensitive about that, but my parents had no problem with her late start and neither did I. Perhaps that's because we remember my first days behind the wheel.
There were the warning signs. As a toddler I would build up speed on a tricycle, slam into a wall, then turn around and do it again. In elementary school I'd go over to my friend Jason's and we'd take turns getting in a cardboard box and sliding down the stairs into the front door.
I was never bashful about hurling myself forward with some velocity in the name of fun. So my parents had one objective when car shopping for me - finding an enormous metal box that could absorb a crash. Remember the ad with Michael Dukakis looking so goofy in that tank? You could have replaced him with me and that would have suited my parents. Style was simply not an issue.
And as we stopped to inquire about every brown and beige boat on wheels in middle Georgia, I began to picture myself parking that tragically uncool auto at a party, no longer a 16-year-old, but an old man in a granddaddy car. Like a movie camera, the eyes of the party-goers would pan upward from my black socks pulled tight over bare, white legs to a face obviously winded from the fight to open the enormous car door.
"I'll take it! I'll take it!" I said, looking at the 1981 Cutlass Supreme that was the best thing I could hope for.
And just like that, I was my own man, a man with his own ride. The freedom was great. I could drive to the golf course when I wanted. I could pick a girl up on a date.
But it didn't take long to realize the flip side of the deal. In fact, on my third day driving to school I encountered my first of three driving fiascos in my 16th year. That morning I squeezed into the only spot open on one of the rows closest to the school. I pulled in so close to one car that my neighbor, Summer, who rode with me, couldn't get out of the car. And to make matters worse, a senior named Brad and a classmate of mine, Amanda, were in the other car. They both looked at me with eyebrows raised as I began to back up, my car grinding against Brad's Toyota Seleca. Our cars were stuck. I tried to back up some more, but there was more grinding. I stepped out of my car, apologized, then threw my keys as far as I could away from the school, letting out a loud cuss word as the metal jingled in the air. Walking back with those keys, I felt about as childish as I ever have. And our cars stayed stuck until another senior came and helped us.
About two months later I had a tape player in my car. I cruised the town for hours listening to my favorite bands. One afternoon I drove down Rivoli Drive with "Cult of Personality" by Living Colour blaring through the speakers. As I banged on my steering wheel pretending I was a drummer, I attempted to make a left turn. A station wagon going the opposite direction smashed into my passenger's side going about 40 miles an hour. No one was hurt. But I remember the horror and shame I felt when I saw an elderly woman driving the other vehicle. Her car totaled, she clutched the steering wheel with a look of real fear in her eyes. And I knew that it was my carelessness that had shaken her.
Later that year I had a less traumatic, more humorous blunder at the wheel. After caddying in a mini-tour golf tournament, I got in my car parked by the ninth green at River North Country Club and attempted to back up a hill on wet grass. As golfers and spectators looked on, I bumped into a car behind me, then slid into a car parked in front of me, which was pushed into the car in front of it. A friend's dad had to tow me out of that jam. I left notes on the cars but never got a call about the incident.
There's a world full of bad drivers and I was one of them - at least for a year. Hopefully, my sister won't adopt her big brother's early track record. I was lucky to escape that awkward period without any real tragedies behind the wheel.
Except perhaps in my tape deck, where metal ruled.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

Column
Frank Gillespie
The Madison County Journal
September 22, 1999

Frankly Speaking
Disappointed with BOC on legal fee issue
I am disappointed in the vote by the board of commissioners to keep the current policy on paying legal fees of its members. Commissioner Bruce Scogin put in a lot of work to document the abuse of the current system, to point out the problems and offer a simple solution.
As things stand now, and as the commission voted 3-2 to continue, any member of the commission can sue any other member, or another county official, and have the county taxpayers pay up to $125 per hour for his or her lawyer. We, the taxpayers, also pay for the defense attorney at the same rate. This constitutes a blank check, allowing any commissioner to dip into the citizens' pockets without any kind of control.
Madison County has a policy that the board of commissioners must approve any expenditure in excess of $100. If the chairman wants to spend money to buy a new lawnmower for the recreation department, he has to get approval. If the probate judge needs a new computer, at least three commissioners have to approve before the money can be spent. If funds were not included in the county budget, a budget amendment has to be passed to provide the money.
However, any commissioner can, without even consulting the board, commit the county to thousands of dollars in legal fees. They can file lawsuits right and left without having to worry about the cost. So far, members of this board have run up legal fees of approximately $80,000 suing each other over insignificant disagreements. This is absurd.
Let me make it clear that the money being spent on lawyers by arguing commissioners is not "county funds." It is your money, and mine. We pay the taxes to support the county government. We expect that money to be used for our benefit. When a commissioner uses that blank check to redirect our money into the pockets of lawyers, they are clearly misusing our money. That practice should be stopped immediately!
I said that the disputes that lead to these lawsuits are insignificant. They are. In normal circumstances, these disputes would be settled by reasonable people sitting down and negotiating their differences until an agreement is reached. With this blank check to pay lawyers, commissioners don't bother to work out their differences. They make demands on each other, then look to a judge to enforce their demands.
We the people are spending an absurd amount of money on lawyers because the commissioners are not doing their job. Either the commissioners need to change their ways, or we need to change commissioners in the next election.
Frank Gillispie is founder of the Madison County Journal.

Letter
The Madison County Journal
September 22, 1999

Says MCMS cheerleading tryouts were unfair
Dear editor:
It has recently been brought to my attention that some unusual things have been taking place at Madison County Middle School. Perhaps someone at the paper could investigate this, and help concerned citizens like me understand how this could happen.
Last year no one got around to holding tryouts for this year's cheerleading team at the middle school, so they've just been held. I have some knowledge of how these things are done. The girls trying out are not allowed to wear any type of clothing that would identify them as previous cheerleaders. There are supposed to be three impartial judges, between which an average score is reached for each girl. Sponsors of cheerleading teams from other counties, or cheerleaders from the University of Georgia, or anybody with knowledge of the sport - who does not have any ties to the girls trying out - could be called in to judge.
It seems that this year Madison County has decided to break tradition and do things differently. There is a man who makes his living giving private cheerleading lessons, obviously for a fee. A fee some girls in our county might not be able to afford. This same man gave lessons to some of the girls from our middle school over the summer. He was then allowed to judge the tryouts for this year's team. He, and another judge that he brought in, were the only judges.
School officials have given assurances that he should be considered an impartial judge, because they did not put name tags on the girls - only numbers. This puzzles me. There was no mention of bags being worn over the girls' heads. So I wonder if he could recognize the faces of the people who had paid him for lessons.
It really seems to work out great for him. After tryouts, the school handed out a paper saying that in order to be on the team this year, you have to get your parents to agree to pay for you to go to this same guy for a training clinic.
Girls who were on the cheerleading team last year were allowed to wear their cheerleading shoes and socks. Any judge familiar with the sport would recognize these items.
What happened to fair and impartial?
There is a saying that goes something like this, "Everything you need to know about the basic rules of life, you should have learned in kindergarten." You know, stuff like - say please and thank you - don't spit on the kid beside you - don't knock people down. I always liked the part where we learned that all people make mistakes. When we make a mistake, we are supposed to say I'm sorry, and we are forgiven. Later in the year, we learned to expand on that by being big enough to try and correct the mistakes we made.
I wonder if some of the school officials went to kindergarten?
School officials need to sit down and draw up a code of ethics for team sport tryouts. These guidelines should preclude the involvement of anyone with a financial, or otherwise personal, interest in the outcome.
What about this year? Do we want these kids to decide that it's who you know instead of what you know? Do they have to carry these adult burdens now?
I don't believe there is anything wrong, in itself, with lessons that individuals choose to take on their own. I'm sure there is improvement to be found, from wise instruction, in any area. However, no matter how valid a business in itself might be, the cheerleading team at our middle school is not supposed to be a business designed to make someone money. These are kids looking to their school for support and a fair and equal chance.
Sincerely,
Walter Coley



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