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By Bill Shipp
The Madison County Journal
September 29, 1999

Highways and power plays
Gov. Roy Barnes has decided to "put politics back into the highway department." That means the governor intends to choose personally the state's new Transportation commissioner, 11 months before the present commissioner officially retires.
Some members of the state Board of Transportation are less than thrilled at what they see as Barnes' latest act of audacity - an attempt to extend the direct powers of his office to a semi-autonomous branch of government. So, outside the realm of state Capitol insiders, why is this important and who cares?
First, the state Transportation commissioner (his title ought to be czar) is one of the most influential and independent agency chiefs in state government.
He administers billions in state and federal funds, some of which are dedicated revenues from motor-fuel taxes that no other government entity can touch. His actions determine the future of transportation and economic development throughout the state.
On paper, the commissioner is hired by the Georgia Board of Transportation, which, in turn, is appointed by the Legislature, not the governor. (In 1962, Gov. Carl Sanders ran on a platform of "taking politics out of the highway department," which meant letting the Legislature appoint the transportation board. Sanders turned out to be a fine governor. But a recitation of his pledge to remove politics from road-building still draws incredulous chuckles from the old guard in the Gold Dome.)
Gov. Barnes came forward last week with his No. 1 nominee for road czar, DOT Deputy Commissioner Steve Parks, to succeed retiring Commissioner Wayne Shackelford. (Shackelford, by the way, was handpicked by Gov. Zell Miller in 1991, at the insistence of key Gwinnett County supporters Wayne Mason and Virgil Williams.)
Parks seemed proud as he could be to have Barnes' blessing. The DOT Board generally liked the idea too. After all, Parks had been a good road warrior, did what he was told, laid asphalt where he was directed, and poured concrete where he was ordered. He deserved a reward.
Ah, but that old bugaboo of "personal considerations" (see Newt Gingrich, Mike Bowers, Bill Clinton for clarification) cropped up, and Parks felt compelled to say no, thanks. At age 49, he'll get a $125,000 annual pension as a consolation prize.
Then Gov. Barnes appeared with No. 2 choice, 71-year-old former state Sen. Tom Coleman of Savannah.
Barnes wants the DOT Board to elect Coleman Tuesday, though Shackelford doesn't expect to clean out his desk until September 2000.
The DOT Board is not happy. Acting Chairman Tom Triplett says diplomatically: "We're trying to work with the governor. But some folks I've talked to think we ought to be kept up a little bit better on what's going on."
Translation: This ain't going to be as easy as you think, Roy. The last time a governor tried unsuccessfully to select a Transportation commissioner occurred in 1982 when Gov.-elect Joe Frank Harris tried to install his chief of staff, Joel Cowan, as DOT boss and oust the incumbent Tom Moreland. The DOT board told Harris/Cowan to take a hike, and Moreland stayed put until his retirement in the late '80s.
Now Cowan is back at center stage, selected by Barnes to chair the Barnes-created Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. GRTA gives Barnes virtual veto power over transportation projects in the state's urban areas. It also provides him considerable indirect power over land-use planning.
Some believe Barnes' attempt to install his own man at DOT is another move toward consolidating the governor's power over transportation, which might not be a bad idea.
Barnes has already taken on unprecedented authority as governor in other areas. He is nearly singlehandedly driving a massive reform of education, while the elected state school superintendent looks on mostly from the sidelines.
He has chosen an inspector general to look over the shoulder of the elected Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine. When Oxendine raises insurance rates, the governor's IG, Cathey Steinberg, blows the whistle.
When time came last spring for Barnes to veto line items in the state budget, the governor made a little history. He didn't just veto parts of the budget act passed by the Legislature; he changed the numbers. "I have that power," he reportedly said. "It's implicit in the Constitution."
In view of Gov. Barnes' other power moves, why should anyone be shocked that he intends to take full charge of DOT? Watch what happens next. The brouhaha over the Transportation commissioner may mark the first time that the Barnes administration encounters stiff opposition to extending its spheres of influence.
Bill Shipp is editor of Bill Shipp's Georgia, a weekly newsletter on government and business.

The Madison County Journal
September 29, 1999

Cheerleaders should be allowed to wear uniforms
Dear editor:
This letter is in response to Miss Lara Sanders' concern about the Madison County High School cheerleaders no longer being able to wear their uniforms to school due to a "violation of the dress code." As a former three-year letterman of the varsity cheerleading squad at MCHS, I think that this is an issue that needs to be reconsidered.
During my days on the squad we practiced non-stop throughout summer camps, pep rallies, weekend football and basketball games, and for extremely competitive region and state cheerleading competitions. When we were not cheering for athletic teams, the school depended on us as a squad to be tour guides for new students and to pass out class schedules to students at the beginning of each school year. We wore uniforms for every event in which we were expected to participate. These cheerleading uniforms are worn with pride by each member of the squad. They function as a "trademark" of school spirit and help to fire up the students and athletes on Red Raider game days.
The cheerleading squad at MCHS is in itself a county tradition. These girls work hard and they deserve to be recognized for the squad that they represent. I realize that a dress code is necessary due to all of the recent trendy fashions that young people like to wear, but I do not understand why a school function uniform is applicable. I do not see why a cheerleader can wear a uniform to cheer in a ball game in front of hundreds of parents, grandparents, the student body and visiting teams, yet she cannot wear this same uniform to her classes on game day in order to do her job and promote school spirit. To all MCHS cheerleaders, coaches and sports teams, I support you and wish you luck this season. Go Red Raiders!
Mandy D. Perry
MCHS class of 1996

Frank Gillespie
The Madison County Journal
September 29, 1999

Frankly Speaking
Commercial growth needed in county
Those of us who make frequent trips from Madison County into Athens along Hwy. 29 have noticed a flurry of construction in recent weeks. Most of the new business along this corridor is new mobile home lots. (Excuse me, I should have said "manufactured housing.") These new sales lots are joining a number of existing facilities to offer manufactured housing to eager buyers.
So why are there so many of them just outside the Madison County line? We are their best customers. For at least the past 10 years, and probably longer, more people in Madison County have purchased manufactured housing than stick-built homes. The figure runs around 60 percent manufactured homes each year.
I have visited some of these new homes. In general, they are well built, comfortable, spacious and filled with great features. They provide clean, safe and affordable housing for many of our citizens who do not have the money for more expensive site-built homes. The availability of these homes, and plenty of land on which to set them, are factors causing Madison County's rapid population growth.
And that is the problem. Madison County is growing rapidly. All of these new residents require county services such as police protection, ambulance services, recreation, schools and good roads. These services cost a great deal of money, far more than the property taxes generated by manufactured homes. Madison County must look elsewhere for the revenues needed to provide adequate services, build roads, construct and pay for new schools and a new jail.
The best source of new tax revenue is the sales tax. Madison County currently collects three cents on the dollar in local sales taxes. They include a general purpose tax to support the county and city budgets, a special purpose sales tax to finance county projects, and a special purpose sales tax to finance new school construction. If we had strong retail businesses in the county, these taxes would go a long way toward meeting the county's obligations to its citizens.
But we do not have a strong retail base. Most of us have to go out of the county to make most purchases, especially major purchases like refrigerators, furniture and most electronics. We are sending our sales tax money to Clarke, Jackson, Franklin and Elbert counties. Our neighbors are benefiting from our taxes while we struggle to get by.
That is why it is so important that we establish a thriving retail community in the Dogsboro area. That is why the entire county is investing in a water system, and potentially a sewage system, to serve the small area around Hull and Dogsboro. A strong retail complex in that area will not only capture much of the sales taxes we currently lose to Clarke county, it will draw shoppers from Clarke, Oglethorpe and Jackson counties to Madison County. That will mean a larger payoff from the sales taxes, which, in turn, means less pressure on property taxes.
A successful retail complex in the Hull/Dogsboro area, made possible by investing in a water and sewage system for that area, will benefit the entire county. Money spent on
infrastructure in this area is a wise investment.

Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal.

The Madison County Journal
September 29, 1999

Superintendent's suit against county is unnecessary
Dear editor:
I am a private home inspector, a professional member of the Southern Building Code Congress International, who is certified as an inspector of one and two family dwellings. I consider myself a student of and a booster for the building codes in general.
As a parent of two Madison County school children, I took interest in your paper's story about the Madison County Board of Education in its fight with the local code authority.
The BOE has mistakenly taken a negative finding during a routine inspection of an electric service as a blatant attempt at the usurpation of its lofty authority.
According to your story, the electric utility, on hearing the negative report from the inspector, refused to turn on the power to mobile classroom units. This is again a routine matter. A mobile unit needs a meter because it is its own little building, needing its own little service. To the utility it's just another mobile home.
The utility is required by law to provide power to its customers. Yet the utility has no inspection authority or personnel. The utility relies on the local code authority to inspect and certify as safe every new or altered electric service. It wisely will not energize an electric system that the building inspector does not certify as safe. The utility does not check with the state fire marshal's office every time it plants a meter in a socket.
I am grateful that the state fire marshal looks after the design and construction of public buildings. I am also grateful that the local county government has adopted and enforces several building codes. All of the building codes serve to ensure that our buildings are safe. Another inspector told me that the codes are "memorial texts," in that almost every item in every code was written to prevent the reoccurrence of an accidental death.
If a school building was deemed unsafe for electric service by the building inspector and the problem corrected prior to occupancy, then the school board should be sending a letter of thanks to the building inspector instead of a lawsuit. All I can guess is that the BOE thinks it is the victim of redundant oversight.
Safe buildings, safe school houses and safe school facilities are in everyone's interest. I am disappointed that the BOE and its lawyers can't understand that. It is a waste of public money and a waste of time for everyone involved to have to go to court to settle this ludicrous dispute.
Jim Baird

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