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Staff Editorials

No celebration of the Fourth?

Showmen benefactors, the Lions have reached for the stars, giving us a slew of days this year for celebrating our country's beginning instead of some ordinary celebration of the Fourth alone. With a host of fellow countians, we rejoice at this bacchanal of patriotic fervor. Boom it loud as a Sousa march. Lob it higher than a Roman candle. And in the rockets' red glare, we can only wonder that there was ever a time this time was not celebrated here.

It's true, you know. From the Civil War to World War II, the Fourth of July wasn't much celebrated in the South. There were reasons. We had lost a war seeking our own independence from the country the Fourth celebrates. In the aftermath, we did not so much return to our mother country kicking and screaming as we were made to stand outside it devastated, humbled.

For a time we endured occupation troops, a relatively brief but predictable imposition to be visited upon a conquered country. That ended with the political wind shift that brought an end to Reconstruction during the 1870s.

A more paralyzing hardship remained. The economic disparity between the conquered South and the rest of the nation persisted––and persisted by federal design well into the 20th century. Always an agrarian land, the war-havocked, industry-poor, postwar South became a colonial market for the capital-fat industrial North embracing its "Golden Age" in the late 1800s.

On average, desperate and poorly educated, Southern backs became exploited labor in mills, mines and quarries freshly capitalized from sources above the Mason-Dixon line.

They went to it willingly, these Southern workers, hungry for even a meager cash wage or company scrip, the regular pay that proved their narrow escape from the nearly cashless hand-to-mouth subsistence they had previously eked from the ground. With few choices, many Southerners continued to farm, as bound to the land as European peasants.

Sound feudal, medieval or Dickensian? It wasn't far removed. By federal design? Believe it. Until the 1930s, by federal regulation, railroad freight rates were stacked from Washington to serve industrialists of the North. A Southern manufacturer paid more to ship finished factory goods to market by rail than a Northern manufacturer did. The intent was to maintain the South as a consumer colony, to hinder it from becoming an able competitor.

True, with the end of Reconstruction, we ruled at the statehouse again––our opportunity to impose racial segregation with a heavy hand. The economic backwater of the nation, relegated to the back of the class, we became the schoolyard bully, pressing down on someone weaker to mask our own shame. And the South saw the heyday of the scoundrel politician, villains empowered by their ability to bait us on the race issue.

We needed a fixing. And by the grace of God, it found us.

First a great depression put all Americans in the same boat. Southerners were still at the back of the boat, but at last we were all together in our looking for a way up.

And there was this man Roosevelt. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he later wore steel on his legs. He later wielded a wheelchair. And somehow he understood that even the poorest American black or white deserved dignity. He set about finding ways Americans could achieve that.

A great war helped him, creating many important jobs when they were needed, jobs that moneyed American workers and jobs vital to defeating imperial racism at both ends of the Earth. The South gained industrial opportunities as never before.

Many, many Southerners fought in that war, that most moral war of modern memory, fought it with their whole heart, with their life's blood. Southerners did their part, and the scapegrace cousin South was restored to the bosom of the national family.

It was along then that celebration of the Fourth returned to the South. Another two decades would pass before the nation would "rise up and live out its creed that all men are created equal." If reluctantly, the South went first in that. As that struggle unfolded, were there some Southern veterans of World War II ready to see the racism they fought overseas finally ended at home? There must have been.

This Fourth as our American banner moves down Main in the passing parade, many tiny hands waving tiny flags as they second that motion, remember those stars and stripes stand for more than the spirit of '76. They are the spirit of '45 and the spirit of '65 that made all of us Americans again––one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

 

Chiseled in marble plans needed for courthouse

During his May meeting, Commissioner Robert Jones announced a contract for test bores around the courthouse in Jasper. The $5,400 drilling project is needed to determine if soil around the site is suitable for a massive courthouse expansion.

Due to the history of the civic square (earlier courthouses, unmarked buried lines and the possibility of old “coal bins” left from times past), the test bores seem prudent before beginning work on a project once budgeted at almost $20 million dollars. Note: Commissioner Jones has said this will probably be only a $10 million dollar project, and he hopes to keep costs down. But in the original 2008 sales tax referendum spending resolutions signed by Jones, construction was pegged at  $17 million with a separate line “Debt Service for Courthouse and Parking Facility” at $2,711,510.

Of course, that was three years ago when the economy was stronger and the SPLOST was expected to take in $34 million. Now, at roughly the halfway point of the sales tax collection which runs through June of 2014, the county is projecting to collect only $21,977,434 based on their latest figures.

Obviously a lot has changed since courthouse plans were created. Early sketches for the renovation/rebuilding of the courthouse have been floated, then recalled as mere preliminary drawings; hearings have been held; committees have been formed, have met and disbanded.

For this project, 4.5 acres was purchased for $477,976 behind the Piggly Wiggly as future parking. The courthouse commission constantly listed parking as their major concern for a downtown courthouse. A former beauty shop on the bought land now houses the elections office in what has been described as a temporary setting until the new courthouse is complete.

A vacant 8,400 square foot building was purchased for $575,000 near the Admin Building in 2009. Originally this building was slated to be temporary court space for departments relocated during construction. But now the building houses the veterans referral office and the investigative division of the sheriff’s office, apparently not on a temporary basis.

About the only thing that hasn’t changed in the past three years is the poor condition of the marble courthouse, a state that clearly bespeaks the need for renovation.

One person inside the courthouse told us many judicial workers were chagrined that soil drilling on the grounds was considered “pre-planning.” Why after three years of piddling around is the county still not formally into planning mode yet?

Granted, this is a massive project for numerous reasons:

• Whatever is built must be big enough to handle the demands of a growing court system.

• The building has to meet all kinds of judicial security requirements.

• There is a historic element to the structure. The marble building is considered to have significance. We agree only that the marble used for the facade is representative of our chief industry here. In our view, there is little inside that is eye-catching or deserves preservation.

• There is, of course, the financing. Revenues are running behind projections, and taxpayers are not in the mood to see anything go over budget. But, consider the next point.

• Whatever is built will anchor downtown Jasper for the foreseeable future. We’d hate to see something put up with budget as the uppermost priority.

This is undoubtedly a complicated affair. What is needed from our commissioner is  leadership. Not a construction plan,  not a timeline nor a bid package, but simply for Mr. Jones to take the reins and clearly develop a plan of how we’re going to build something that works for the courts now, that we can be proud of into the future, and that we can afford with a much decreased budget.

We’re not saying it’s time to break ground, but it’s well past time to move from pre-planning into honest-to-goodness planning.

 

Ga. parks shouldn't be forgotten by families or legislators

Several people have recently been heard to comment that because of either time or finances, summer vacations for their clans are on the calendar.

We’d encourage you to consider a summer getaway using one of Georgia’s state parks. Both inexpensive and close to home, our state parks and other outdoor recreation areas offer a wide variety of activities and places to relax.

From nearby Amicalola Falls, which makes a great day trip, to the beach at Vogel not far north, to areas on lakes Lanier and Allatoona, it’s possible to have a great weekend for less than $200 – inexpensive tent, gas and food included.

While a trip to the beach may be nice, that weekend spent with your family hiking, exploring, and wading in creeks may ultimately do more for your mental state. With a growing percentage of daily lives consumed in front of some form of technology, the opportunity to “get back to nature,” so to speak, is dwindling.

Research and personal experience show that spending time in the great outdoors, even if the exposure is just a paved walking path, increases our attention spans and creative thinking abilities while lowering stress and burning a few calories.

In Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, the author coined the phrase nature-deficit disorder to describe his belief that many of the social problems affecting children today stem from too much time online and too little time outside.

It would seem that with families watching budgets more closely than ever, now is the perfect time for the state to promote park options. But the idea of a “staycation” seems as forgotten as last year’s Jersey Shore plot lines. Tourism is continually touted as a great economic development booster, yet the state is failing to follow through by promoting local resources that might entice people to stay and see Georgia this summer.

Rather than sprucing up and promoting Georgia parks, the legislature has put its budget-cutting sights squarely on these natural assets. In the latest legislative session, allocations to these close-to-home summer getaways shrank considerably (as much as 40 percent in one estimate), forcing some parks to close some features on some days and to cut back services in most all venues.

A member of our editorial staff found one federal park campground near LaFayette (The Pocket) inexplicably closed earlier this summer. The same budget woes hindering parks on the state level are hitting federal parks, too, it seems.

The volunteer group Friends of Georgia State Parks has published a long list of needs they seek to supply in the face of what they call a $100 million maintenance backlog at parks and historic sites in Georgia. Items they are trying to cover for the state aren’t frivolous extras but essentials like repairing handrails and maintaining trails.

Well aware of the public cry to cut taxes, we can’t blame lawmakers for cutting back on parks, but we wonder if a more prudent approach might be trying to run parks like businesses to see if there is a way to make them self-sustaining or at least much closer to break-even.

Resorts like Disney can keep raising prices, but for the good of everyone, there needs to be a low-cost option that allows anybody to get out and enjoy the woods. Back to the days of President Teddy Roosevelt, this country has seen the good of providing public wild spaces. Roosevelt said parks furnish “essential democracy” by preserving wilderness and scenery for all citizens.

In 2011, with stuff like social online media occupying more and more of our lives, it’s increasingly important for our state to maintain the natural attractions and outdoor recreation opportunities that we, the taxpayers, have already bought.

And as for us taxpayers, 2011 is a great time to explore what Georgia parks already have to offer.

Keep mean dogs on short leashes

Before the sheriff here listened to the people and beefed up animal control ordinances, opened a pound and assigned officers specifically to dog issues, some of the most frequent emergency calls in this county concerned aggressive dogs frightening neighbors and sometimes whole neighborhoods.

These calls have dwindled, and we’ll assume the work of Sheriff Donnie Craig and officers in brown has been a factor. The City of Jasper has gone one step further with its voluntary pet registration program. All involved in this animal control program deserve applause.

A reminder of old free-range days came recently from reading the Georgia Times-Union Sunday paper. It reported that in Hawthorn, Georgia “a gentle-natured” 74-year-old man who liked to pick up trash and chat with neighbors had his arm literally torn off and his face severely disfigured by two neighborhood dogs, described as either pit-bulls or pit-bull mixes.

Both dogs were euthanized after the attack. Their victim, who already suffered from poor health, is now in critical condition and may not survive.

One of the most tragic facts about this story is that, according to the Gainesville Sun, police records show officers had contacted the dog owner twice before concerning his aggressive-acting animals, though the dogs had apparently never hurt anyone prior to their attack on the elderly gentleman.

While the local situation has been greatly improved, and dogs running loose are now subject to impoundment, officers still lack  needed leverage over owners of dogs that appear aggressive but have not attacked yet. We’ve heard this from several people, including a small farm owner in west Pickens who lost two prize sheep to neighboring dogs that killed.

Even with the changes in Pickens County, it’s hard for officers to do much until a dog has bitten. By law, a dog acting aggressively, growling, even attacking another animal does not obligate its owner to improve fences, get rid of the animal, or to euthanize a dog with a nasty temper and big teeth.

But as the Hawthorn mauling shows, the idea of waiting until dogs have attacked doesn’t offer much protection.

It’s one thing to presume people innocent until proven guilty. It is bogus to borrow that Constitutional framework and apply it to a dog, extended no civil rights or freedoms in   this country. Pets have no legal right to run loose and certainly not to terrorize or disturb neighbors––even if owners don’t believe their animals are truly dangerous.

Unfortunately the standard answer to someone who confesses fear of neighboring dogs is “shoot them yourself.” In Wyatt Earp’s era, that advice probably meant something. In 2011 it’s not very practical for a large number of reasons, including the level of marksmanship among subdivision dwellers and the possibility of escalating violence. Shooting a threatening dog may be legal. That doesn’t mean it won’t bring war to your neighborhood.

This is why it’s not a citizen’s responsibility to handle their own law enforcement. Advising someone to just shoot any dog that looks mean on their property is one step from telling them to Taser and handcuff anyone who walks across their lawn after dark––joggers and friendly dogs beware.

Ultimately, however, the responsibility for dogs rests with owners. No matter how much you love Fido, regardless of how he’s the sweetest little, 105-pound, pure-bred mastiff on the planet, if he makes neighbors and passersby nervous, you need to keep him properly restrained. If he’s “just being protective” when he growls, or if you take masculine pride in owning a fighter, you need to recognize that your dog poses a threat. It is the owner’s responsibility and duty to see that their pet does not end up putting someone in the hospital and the owner in court.

Under no circumstances is it acceptable to own a dog you know is aggressive and allow him to run loose.

We can guess the owner of the dogs who mauled the man in south Georgia now wishes he had thought more of his neighbors than of his dogs’ free-range enjoyment. If not, we bet he is going to be wishing that real soon.

 

Is college worth it?

Of the approximately 242 students who graduated from Pickens High School two weeks ago, administrators say around 60 percent will go on to some form of higher education. The question recently posed in a national poll by a nonpartisan group is, “Is college worth it?” In our view, the answer is a resounding, “Yes”.

The Pew Research Center’s national survey conducted this spring found the majority of Americans believe college is too expensive for most Americans to afford. Yet they agree it is a great way to teach work-related skills and knowledge, at the same time helping students grow personally and intellectually. Costs for college continue to rise. More and more kids graduate with mountains of school-related debt. But we still believe the benefits of college far outweigh its costs.

Locally, according to PHS administrators, 40 percent of this year’s seniors plan to study at a four-year college while another 20 percent plan to learn at a two-year or technical college. Those percentages have held static the past several years, administrators say. By those numbers, some 141 students from Pickens County go forward into some form of higher education each year.

Still, in the recently released poll, the majority of Americans say the higher education system in this country fails to provide students with a good value for the money they and their families spend. That said, an overwhelming majority of college graduates (86 percent of them to be precise) say college was a good investment for them personally. Seventy-four percent of those people who graduated with a four-year degree say their college education was “very useful” in helping them grow intellectually. Sixty-nine percent say it was very useful in helping them grow and mature as a person, and 55 percent say it was very useful in helping them prepare for a job or career.

Aside from learning to live on their own, preparing for a future career, and growing intellectually, college graduates have more earning power than their non-post-secondary educated peers. And that’s a good way to pay off the debt incurred from tuition. According to a report issued in 2010 by the U.S. Census Bureau, the median gap in annual earning between a high school and college graduate is $19,550, varying somewhat, depending on the type of degree and field of study.

Despite 94 percent of all parents surveyed saying they expect their child to attend college, most young adults in this country still do not attend a four-year college. And it all comes down to money. Two-thirds of adults ages 18-34 who are not in school and do not have a bachelor’s degree say a major reason for not continuing their education is the need to support a family. Over half say they prefer to work and make money. Just under half say they can’t afford tuition.

To this we say, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” Numerous moving accounts record the story of the poor kid from the inner city or rural area overcoming all obstacles to get that degree, often times performing better academically than the kid with all advantages, simply because they wanted it more and earned it the old-fashioned way. Such people inspire us, make us recognize we can overcome circumstances to achieve better things in our lives. Be that person, Pickens High graduate. Be what you want to be. College can help you get there.

Remember to look at the big picture not short-term wants.