|OPINION PAGE - NOVEMBER 3, 1999 - JEFFERSON, GA|
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The Jackson Herald
November 3, 1999
Vote brings 'hurricane' of changes
The Arctic cold front that roared across Jackson County Tuesday wasn't the only change in the local climate that day.
Of far greater significance was the political hurricane that brought an overwhelming change to the structure of our county government. Nearly 80 percent of those going to the polls Tuesday said they wanted to professionalize the Jackson County government by going to a county manager system with a five-member, all part-time board of commissioners. On top of that, 67 percent of voters also approved a special purpose local option sales tax that will fund some major upgrades to the county's water and sewer systems.
It was a breathtaking result. Local voters are obviously looking ahead and want the county to do a better job of planning for the future.
But even though we support these changes and believe they are best for Jackson County, there are some caveats which should be noted:
1. Jackson County's new form of government should fix most of the structural problems of the board of commissioners, but our overall leadership will continue to only be as good as those whom we elect. If we elect flaky, narrow-minded, single-issue nitwits, we will get a flaky, narrow-minded government. But if we elect people who sincerely care about Jackson County, people who look at the big picture of county needs and who act within their proper role, we will have good, strong leadership. We hope the new district election system will draw quality people to offer for public office, but voters should realize that as a county commissioner, those district commissioners have to think about all of Jackson County, not just their own districts.
2. The key to success of the new county government will be the hiring of a good county manager in 2001. Not only should the board hire a quality manager, board members should step back and allow that person to do his or her job without interference. The days of our elected county commissioners having a "hands-on" daily role in local government is over. No more cell phones, offices or cars for county commissioners should be tolerated by voters. It's a part-time job and voters should demand that their new commissioners abide by the new law.
3. The approval of the SPLOST will be a boost to the new county commissioners as it gives them some funding to address a variety of problems. But even before the new commissioners take office in 2001, the current BOC should set guidelines for the disbursement of those funds that the new board can follow. No city should be given a blank check for SPLOST money. For their part, the towns receiving the funding should begin now setting their priorities in water, roads and recreation and making plans for how the funds will be used.
We're at the dawn of a new century and over the next 14 months, a lot of changes will take place in Jackson County. Some of those changes won't be easy, but we believe voters have put us on the right path toward a better local government.
We should all work to live up to that expectation.
By Mike Buffington
November 3, 1999
WWF voters stayed home
This week's voting was a big deal that too few people noticed. The low turnout of 3,268 voters proves once again that our political culture is superficial. Without the "drama" of two candidates butting heads, most voters will stay home.
Referendum? Issues? What's that?
Call it the "National Inquirer" syndrome - unless a political contest is a personality-saturated soap opera, few care about the outcome.
It's the same reason people watch WWF wrestling on television. The WWF isn't a sport, it's a personality-driven drama where people chose who they like or hate (there's no in-between). I'll bet more people watched a WWF show on television in Jackson County this week than voted Tuesday.
The irony is, if you do a poll and ask voters what they want candidates to talk about, they will always answer, "issues."
Don't believe the polls. Voters may say they want "issues," but what they really want is trash-talking candidates to put on a show.
Frankly, I'm a little glad these "WWF voters" stayed home Tuesday. The issues of changing our county government and approving a sales tax were too important to be left in the hands of those who worship Jesse Ventura.
Admittedly, neither issue was particularly sexy or exciting. To many, the organization of our county government or another penny sales tax may seem like distant questions that don't affect them - they have jobs to do, children to shuffle to-and-from school and soccer practice, churches to attend, golf games to play, homework to help get done, wash to do... the list goes on and on. Any time left to think about referendums gets lost.
But ironically, these same people will go out for a presidential election or a hotly-contested local race. The drama of those elections and the resulting media saturation (some would say manipulation) does penetrate the wall of political insulation so many voters have erected around their lives.
But don't misunderstand. It's not that these voters think much about presidential candidates or their position on the issues, but rather that the attending drama and excitement make voting an "event" they want to participate in.
In a word, shallow.
Of course, it's these same WWF voters who shout the loudest about a "corrupt system" at county commission meetings when there's a controversial rezoning in their neighborhoods.
It's these same non-voters who don't care about a sales tax, until their well goes dry and they're sitting before the water authority demanding help.
It's these same people who complain about the impact of growth on their roads and tell the county they need a repaving.
Those who did go to the polls Tuesday made some good decisions. The changing of the county government is needed if Jackson County is to have the tools to better plan for the future. A growing county with a horse-and-buggy government just didn't make sense, and those who voted recognized that.
The voters also made a good choice in approving the SPLOST. Everyone hates taxes, but this SPLOST vote fulfilled two basic criteria for taxation: 1. It is needed for legitimate expenses and 2. It is the fairest way to share the burden of those expenses.
The overwhelming support for both issues shows that Jackson County's thinking voters, those who study the issues and attempt to make a reasoned judgment for their community, turned out in force.
As for the rest who stayed home, turn back to your WWF channel and vegetate. We're sorry to have interrupted you.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
November 3, 1999
Responds to coverage of water authority meeting
I make reference to your coverage of the October monthly meeting of the Jackson County Water Authority as printed in the October 20 edition. I noticed your reporter honored Mr. Bryan's request to omit some events that happened at the meeting. I feel that if you are going to cover any public meeting, then you should report the facts. Maybe the reporter needs further training.
I would like to set the record straight on two items. At no time did I say I was against the SPLOST. Also, we have never been to any of the meetings raising "hell," but have always presented ourselves in a professional manner. We have been strong in making our request to be supplied with water, but never "raised hell."
I realize that it we ever get water in the Fairview Community (Hwy. 60), we will be taxed more than the SPLOST. If it passes, it will be interesting to see if Mr. Bryan keeps us "second on the list." Yes, I am tired of being taxed every time I turn around, but apparently the commissioners and water authority do not have the mentality or initiative to raise funds other than tax the citizens of the county.
I have noticed in the past that tax incentives and other benefits (water) are given to businesses to locate in Jackson County. We are giving away our greatest assets and resources to corporations at the expense of the citizens. If the county officials had the expertise to negotiate with the corporations and explain there are the "impact fees" that you must pay to support your being in our county, it would lessen the burden on the individual citizen. The same to the developers that are building subdivisions on top of one another, they too, should be charged an "impact fee" up front to support the extra expense to the county. Their argument would be that no one would locate in the county. Wrong! We are next, Gwinnett and Hall counties are overflowing.
The average citizen of the United States works 4.5 months to pay their tax bill. If the SPLOST passes, we will have to work another week to pay that bill.
I also noticed your article that Mr. Shackelford would give us the benefit of taxes we have already paid if we would agree to pay more taxes. What kind of deal is this? Why not give us the money he is dangling in front of our noses, no strings attached. It is tax money that we have already paid. Soon we will be working six months to get the benefit of taxes we worked and paid in the first three months of the year. Yes, I think it is time for a "modern day Tea Party." Let the elected officials know that we are taxed enough.
As I am getting ready to mail this letter, I feel that I am forgetting something. Yep, found it, another tax bill that is due.
W. Boyd Carlyle
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