The proposed abolition of the City of Pendergrass has gotten a lot of attention.

Legislation introduced by Rep. Tommy Benton would disband the city government and turn all its assets and liabilities over to the county government. A special tax district in the former city would be created to levy a property tax that would pay for the town's debts.

It's not every day that a town gets abolished, especially a town that still has an active city government.

In the early 1960s, the City of Arcade lost its charter for a time until the town's government could be reconstituted. The town of Center was abolished some years ago by the state, but it had long been disbanded as a functioning government.

So the move to ax Pendergrass is a historic event, one that will be discussed for decades to come.

The question is, should the town be abolished?

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There's been no more outspoken critic of Pendergrass than this writer. Over the last 25 years or so, I've written dozens of critical editorials about Pendergrass and its leadership.  

That began with the old Water Wise saga in the late 1990s where a private firm attempted to take over the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority. The Pendergrass government was a willing tool in that effort. In the end, the move failed and one of the private company's leaders eventually went to jail from a sour deal in another community. The entire thing was a con, a con that Pendergrass helped promote.

Then came the widening of Hwy. 129 and the creation of the Pendergrass bypass. Coinciding with that was the creation of a Pendergrass Police Department, a department that was designed to do heavy traffic patrols on the new bypass in a bid to issue fines and generate money for the town. Especially bad was the department's profiling of Hispanic drivers for ticketing.

That effort fell apart after city leaders discovered that police departments cost more than they can ever generate in fines. (The City of Arcade learned the same lesson the hard way, too.)

Then came the whistleblower accusations against city leaders and a resulting flood of lawsuits and bad publicity. That has been ongoing for over a decade. The city has appealed the case, but will likely lose and have to pay $1.2 million in settlement.

And that's on top of the town's ongoing financial struggles, late audits and questionable spending habits.

None of those things have reflected in a positive way on Pendergrass.

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The underlying problem in Pendergrass is that one family historically owned much of the property in the town and also controlled the city government. The town was run as an extension of the family business.

When there were just a couple hundred people in the town, that was easy to do. Votes are easy to get when you are the dominate landlord, candidate and vote-counter.

That has all changed in the last decade. With several thousand people in Pendergrass, and more coming, the control of city government is going to change.

Just ask the Town of Braselton what happens when a family-dominated community  sees massive growth.

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But all the loose-goosey administration of Pendergrass and the resulting controversies really aren't the main reason Rep. Benton has moved to disband the city government.

Benton said the main concern is the massive amount of residential growth the town is allowing to happen, growth that could overwhelm the local elementary school.

Jackson County school leaders have spoken out about Pendergrass' growth, tacitly opposing one proposed annexation for a large residential development.

But there's a lot of building activity in the town now and more is on the way. 

The question is, should growth be a reason to abolish a city government?

Pendergrass officials say no.

They defend the city by saying most of the growth was approved over a decade ago and is not new. They also point out that even if the town is abolished, those houses under construction will still be built and occupied.

And for that matter, there's a lot of other growth around the county, so why is Pendergrass such a target?

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In another piece of legislation, Benton is proposing something that's a pretty good idea — give local boards of education a seat on public planning commissions.

School systems have long complained that they don't have much of a voice in local development projects, but they do have to deal with the consequences of those projects.

Benton's idea would at least give local school systems a seat at the table during those discussions, something that would be good to do in fast-growing communities like Jackson.

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Perhaps one of the underlying concerns about Pendergrass' growth is that the town may not be providing enough oversight. 

Is the construction being adequately inspected to meet code? Is the grading and other environmental aspects being done right?  Is the town holding builders to a high standard, or is the oversight lax?

City officials say they are doing inspections and providing oversight. But the town's tainted history gives some observers a reason to question that. 

•••

Pendergrass leaders do have a pretty good point that they aren't only place development is happening in the county. There's a lot of other residential development taking place, too. 

In fact, the chairman of the county board of education is a developer and is involved in several residential projects in the county. His projects will also impact the school system — should he be cancelled for that? Is Pendergrass being held to a different standard than other communities in the county? 

And Pendergrass leaders argue that the town isn't just accepting residential growth, it's also seeing some industrial growth, developments that will pay a lot of taxes into the school system. Three massive warehouses were announced this week in the town totaling over 3 million sq. ft. of industrial space.

Jackson County is growing, People have a right to sell their land and see it developed. 

Is it really fair to hold any single community responsible for the ills that come from growth?

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There've been a lot of times over the years I've thought Pendergrass should be abolished. They've done some things that were unethical and perhaps illegal.

But it's a hard sell to say that a town should be abolished simply because it's allowing growth, without evidence of some kind of wrongdoing.

If the developments in Pendergrass are being done illegally with city leadership assistance, then that would be one thing.

But I've not seen any evidence of that. As far as I know, the various subdivisions are being done legally and are up to code. If they're not, then the county needs more whistleblowers to come forward and outline what is being done wrong.

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Maybe Pendergrass should be abolished — it certainly has nobody else to blame for its tainted reputation except its own poor decision-making in the past.

That reputation is now coming back to haunt the town, making it difficult for anyone to defend it. Not too many tears would be shed if the town does meet its demise. You don't see a lot of letters to the editor on this page defending the town.

Still, the precedent being set by giving a town the death penalty for allowing growth is a precedent that makes me uncomfortable. 

Does the Pendergrass city government deserve to get the ax?

Let me know what you think.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be contacted at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

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