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Staff Editorials

We need to talk about the rights to party

    After the commissioners suddenly cut short efforts to create a special events ordinance last week, three things became pretty clear.

1.The idea of requiring gatherings of as few as 50 people to pay $100 and register was far too draconian a suggestion.
2.The aborted effort was a disservice to the county as no clear procedures are in place.
3.When the going got heated, our elected three-person board of commissioners ran for cover, instead of leading.

    The county’s land development officer mis-stepped by tossing out the idea that parties of as few as 50 people might need a permit.
    But, he didn’t err that badly as it was plainly pointed out this was the first idea to get the ball rolling, not something intended as a final draft.
    There were at least two more meetings scheduled to take input on the proposal.
    The attendee threshold could have been raised to 200 or 500 or 1,000 or changed entirely to just apply to events that charge people. Only governing events that have a commercial component would have appeased many of the critics worrying about whether their get-togethers would fall under the watch of government.
    But just because the public firmly rejected the idea of regulating 50-person gatherings, doesn’t mean we don’t need a special events ordinance.
    The commissioners ran scared at a time they should have been leaders.
    The planning director’s original rationale for the ordinance was sound - public safety personnel and the public in general need advance notice when a large event is on the horizon.
    What the issue devolved into is a vague state where it is unclear if, or when, any regulations govern large public gatherings. It was noted special events might be best handled on a case-by-case basis. That idea sounds good but is too arbitrary; case-by-case based on what? The whims of the commissioners?
    Planning commission chair Bill Cagle responded to several questions at their stalled hearing by saying that common sense and what is “reasonable” would come into play with special events.
    He noted that it was common sense that live bands would disturb people if they were still rocking after 10 p.m. And for people in rural areas over 30 years of age that is very reasonable, but ask a group of 20 year olds attending a wedding what time they think the party should stop and we suspect that 10 p.m. would be a little early.
    At the commissioners meeting and planning commission, the county attempted to pass off their current disturbing-the-peace codes as sufficient for all purposes.
    Wrong codes and wrong answer. Of the 18 points covered in the disorderly conduct statues, only one seems applicable to a general event. The other 17 address crimes like public fighting, misleading 911 operators and using vulgar language. The one that does apply addresses noise. But the county doesn’t have a genuine noise ordinance so it’s tough to say when or how it would be applied.
    The code says that creating loud noises which disturb or interfere with the peace and tranquility of the public is a violation.
    Would a single blast of fireworks violate this? Would a church singing at a sunrise service? The description is so broad that children on a playground might constitute a violation.
    One member of the public hit the nail on the head when he asked during the planning commission meeting how these codes that mainly address “hooligans” are going to apply to a big wedding?
    They don’t. They were never intended to. That is why the land development officer had been studying event ordinances in surrounding counties and the city of Blue Ridge.
    That process, unfortunately, was squelched. Recently at a dinner, two of the commissioners said they had heard all they wanted to about this subject. They may not want to hear about it any more but our prediction is that this party hasn’t reached its cut off time yet.

On politicians versus public servants

By Dan Pool
Editor   
    About two weeks ago a member of the Progress staff had an impromptu discussion at a convenience store. The reader suggested we needed a front page story every week about how “the government is %&*$ing us.”
    We receive some variation of this editorial request often – especially if you count the e-mail and social media messages.
    Anti-government rhetoric is at level not seen since some fellows dressed up as Indians and threw a load of tea in the ocean. You hear “revolution” used in political forums frequently.
    Yet, when you asked how “government is %&*$ing us,” you rarely get an exact answer.
    There are bunch of issues that have people stirred up -- immigrants, fears of firearm restrictions and a genuine hatred of the president.
    Much of the animosity goes deeper than differences of opinion, with a belief that  politicians in Washington, Atlanta and Pickens County are intentionally seeking to harm us. Locally this growing distrust could be spotted last week on social media. When the county commissioners decided to drop efforts to create a “special event ordinance,” several online comments didn’t commend them for being receptive to public opinion but speculated they were trying to sneak it into creation by another route.
    On the national and state level, it’s often hard to pinpoint what effect the government actually has on your daily life. When you go about your business this week is there something you must do differently or can’t do because of the government?
    Taxes have always been there and aren’t as high now as they have been at some points in our history; Obamacare has hit some individuals in their wallets but also helped some people get insurance who had never had it. While there is a lot of rhetoric about taking our guns, there are no efforts proposed in Georgia.
    One wonders if the government gets a lion’s share of the blame for the economy. Rightly or wrongly they are faulted for low pay and lack of job growth. Studies show that over the past decade, the very rich became super rich, while the lower and middle class stayed the same, which surely builds frustration. But it’s hard to pin this growing inequality on the government. And the idea that someone different in the White House would change this is farfetched.
    The government may also get faulted for nuts who go on killing sprees. Or take the heat from parents upset with their child’s school experience.
    I thought of the many anti-government comments last Thursday when I spent the morning at a joint meeting of newspaper folks and state legislators representing northwest Georgia. It included State Rep. Rick Jasperse, who represents Pickens County, and State Senator Charlie Bethel, who represents the western part of this county in his district, plus their fellow legislators who cover the northern corner of our state.
    I didn’t feel like anyone in the room was out to %&*$ us. Obviously in a room full of reporters, no one announced their agenda is to steal a bunch of money, get some free trips and find their cousin a cushy job.
    In fact I was impressed by the depth of the topics the state legislature will tackle this year.
    Just a few of the issues the northwest Georgia cadre has in their sights:
    • Legislation to make it harder for pills mills to dish out painkillers and other narcotics.
    • Looking at ways to help lower-income grandparents raise their grandkids when the parents are unable to. This may also benefit taxpayers by reducing dependence on foster care.
    • Looking at how to best fund the schools.
    • And to show these legislators are not afraid to buck the establishment, one had on his agenda looking at law enforcement’s ability to seize money and possessions.
    Consider also at the county, school board and state level, most of these people work part time for little pay (many of the local elected officials make about $50 per meeting and meet only once a month, yet take calls any time).
    Keep in mind there are politicians and then there are public servants. Make sure you can tell them apart.

Things in the past year that made us smile

By Christie Pool

Staff writer

As I looked back over our papers from this past year, perusing front page headlines and compiling our top stories of 2015, I also noticed the stories on the inside pages. There, apart from breaking news, are the stories of our community; the stories that show how we treat each other. In those pages, I was reminded just how much good there is here.

Each week, the front page of the Progress is filled with an assortment of news: events that can be crime related or that tell us what our government agencies are up to. These “hard” news stories make up an essential part of our weekly coverage. But the rest of our paper is filled with the amazing things members of our little community are doing to better those around us. Whether building a Habitat house or packing lunches for kids who might otherwise go hungry in the summer, the people of Pickens County put their hearts into this place. 

So, while our “Top Stories” may have grabbed a spot on the front page, here’s a list of just a few of those “inside” news pieces that speak volumes about who we are. We here at the Progress couldn’t be more proud of our community and are happy each week to let people know all that is being done here.

Happy reading.

 

Feb. 26 - Holiday Market & Expo awards grants to non-profits. With 80 vendors and more than a thousand attendees, the 2014 expo generated $3,000 in profit that the organization returned to our community in the form of grants to six local non-profit organizations. Monetary donations went to: Appalachian Children’s Emergency Shelter (ACES), Partners of Pickens Pets, Weekend Snack Program, Boys & Girls Club of North Georgia, Youth Leadership Pickens and Pickens Ferst Foundation. 

March 12 - Piedmont Mountainside builds a Learning Garden for West End Boys & Girls Club. The hospital, in partnership with the Pickens County UGA Extension and Master Gardeners, built a garden with four raised beds and six tomato cages. The Live Better program was developed to create healthier communities through sustainable health-related education. Local businesses like Hinton Milling and the Jasper Home Depot donated supplies for the project.

 

March 26 - Good Samaritan opens new building. The building was completed on time and under budget thanks to an army of volunteers. The 4,750-square-foot Dr. Joseph A. Wilber Building opened to patients March 16, 2015. Good Sam is a not-for-profit, community health center that provides health services to community members regardless of ability to pay or insurance status. The center has treated over 9,000 patients and has over 300 volunteers.

 

April 9 - Community donates 250 books for children. To celebrate Rotary International’s 110th birthday, the club started the ‘Rotary Reads Literacy Project,’ collecting infant through teen books. Citizens donated over 250 books that went to groups like Prevent Child Abuse Pickens, Head Start, ACES and the Boys and Girls Club of North Georgia. 

The following week we ran a story about the local Rotary club donating 384 dictionaries to every third grade student in the county. 

 

April 30 - Pickens Community to observe National Day of Prayer May 7th. The Pickens Ministerial Association led prayer services on the steps of the courthouse in observance of the National Day of Prayer. Heads bowed at noon as pastors and members of churches from around the community offered up prayers on behalf of our families, nation, our state, county and cities. 

 

May 7 - Heads shaved to fight childhood cancer. Mount Zion Baptist Church raised over $5,500 for childhood cancer research by shaving 26 heads and cutting one ponytail at their second annual St. Balderick’s Foundation event. 

 

May 21 - Hungry children to be fed this summer. With 2,000 children on the free and reduced school lunch rolls in Pickens County, the area is vastly underserved during the summer when children are hungry. To help remedy this problem, MUST Ministries coordinated an effort to feed the children for the 3rd summer in a row, providing summer lunches of sandwiches and healthy snacks and distributing them. The Weekend Snack Program packed and delivered over 13,000 snack bags for student for the 2014-15 school year.

 

June 4 - Boy Scouts serve up flapjacks to benefit disabled women. The Progress and E.W. Hightower Lodge #679 sponsored a pancake benefit sale at Fatz Cafe to benefit Ginny Reynolds, a Nelson resident whose home was flooded in late April. Reynolds is a disabled woman who relies on the support of a wheelchair to get around. Local Boy Scouts took orders and served the pancakes.

 

July 9 - Habitat gears up for construction at New Hope Acres. 99 Hope Street was the first house in Habitat’s subdivision and the 16th Habitat house in Pickens County. Habitat plans to build seven houses on lots in the Philadelphia Road neighborhood. 

 

Sept. 17 - Piedmont Auxiliary donates $5,000 to Friends of Mountainside. The money went towards funding for an advanced vascular diagnostic that precisely shows the flow of blood through arteries. 

Oct. 22 - 50 Pickens families will be served this year from successful Prevent Child Abuse Long Table.  The proceeds from the event, a fine dining evening at the Pickens airport, allowed Prevent Child Abuse Pickens to offer services to 50 families in the coming year. 

 

Nov. 26 - JeepFest provides $134K to non-profits this year. Groups such as the Georgia Sheriff Youth Homes, The Joy House, Pickens Special Olympics, Pickens Drug Court (to provide Christmas presents for children of people in the program), Sheriff’s Office Explorer Post, Jasper Elementary PTO (playground project), the Weekend Snack Program, N. Ga. Pregnancy Center, Boys & Girls Club of Pickens County, 4-H SAFE team, the Appalachian Children’s Emergency Shelter and St. Jude’s Hospital all got a boost from the two-day celebration of all things off road.

 

Dec. 11 - JMS club donates 1,202 canned items to food pantry. Middle school students collected this food to help those less fortunate. And CARES, as always with their volunteer force, sees that it the food gets to where it is needed.

Things we’d like to see in 2016

•Tourism efforts put on the backburner by county and city officials and business groups.  Enough with the water park and tourist destination dreams. Let’s concentrate on what we already are - a great bedroom community for the metro area - and look for ways to capitalize on this.

•For Kirby Smart to fire up the DAWGS and have us poised for a serious run at the national championship bowls next year. Enough good-but-not-good-enough out of Athens; we want to be a contender.

•A cool restaurant, ideally a brew-pub, in the restored NAPA building on the corner of Main Street and Highway 53. The building makes a great anchor for downtown. Now we need a tenant that is truly a draw for the whole street.

•The Boys & Girls Club building completely funded and built by their goal of this spring. The fundraising team has raised over $2 million for the project and is less than $200,000 away from a fully-paid-off facility that will give our kids and teens a safe place to spend time. If you haven’t yet, please donate.

•A revival of the arts. We were sad to see Sharptop Arts Association close their doors, just as we were sad to see many other galleries and arts events (i.e. the Jasper ArtFest) that have come and gone. We would like to see new groups or new faces step up – like the successful Ed B’s Studio 54 in downtown - and make arts-related events happen here because they make a community richer and more vibrant.

•More support for veterans. We’d like to see more programs that help our vets transition back into civilian life so they can find work and live out a happy life at home with their families. We’d also like to see more funding for programs that help veterans struggling with drug addiction, PTSD, homelessness, job insecurity or disabilities from combat. We applaud all the programs out there already, like the well-received Veterans Court in this judicial circuit and programs offered through Highland Rivers, but we think more can be done in our country for those who served. 

•At least one good snow before spring.
 
•New sports heroes and idols to cheer. Everybody loves a hero and southern boy Cam Newton has been great to cheer for this past year as he nearly led his Carolina Panthers to a perfect season (thanks Falcons) but we need more sports role models for us and our kids. It’s fun to get behind sports figures, especially when they espouse the values we’d all like to emulate.

•While not original, we would like a more courteous tone in politics. We realize that partisan ruthlessness and low intellectual tone are chronic features of politics because they work - up to a point. But so does decency.

•More adoptions at the local shelter - and less animals there in the first place. Spay and neuter people. Spay and neuter.

•Jon Stewart’s yearlong retirement ‘joke’ end and him announce a new show. Comedy makes everything better.

•And maybe, just maybe, Blue Bell will come back with expansion plans after a safe return to shelves following the listeria scare that took the smooth, creamy, sugary stuff from us.

Keep the “War on Christmas,” we’ll take joy and happiness

MerryChristmas

    Two weeks ago, 36 members of the U.S. House signed a resolution to make a public stand against the “War on Christmas.” The resolution, which is not a law only an official statement of opinion, reads as follows: