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Staff Editorials

Pop quiz for gun carriers

By Dan Pool
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    Over the summer I spotted a man in a restaurant with a pistol strapped to his belt who looked suspicious. He looked suspicious to me primarily because of his age - very young, mid 20s at most. Now, he could have been an off-duty police officer, decorated combat veteran or some   kid who bought the pistol that morning because he thought it looked cool – all could have been legally carrying that firearm in public.
    While waiting on my food, I began to ponder in exactly what situation this young man might draw his gun. I ran through a list of different imaginary scenarios in my head wondering when is it time to pull your pistol?
    For example, if we heard what sounded like gunshots in the restaurant parking lot would you get your gun out, just in case?
    What about a large man savagely beating a woman?
    What about someone holding up the restaurant with a gun?
    Aside from that restaurant:
    What about someone storming up to your car after a traffic mishap, between you and them?
    What about if you were inside a mall  and clearly heard gunshots? Lots of gunshots?
    Most online resources advise that knowing when to draw a firearm is a judgment call -- and we need to just essentially hope the people carrying have good judgment.
    For it is this judgment which will determine if you are a hero, a vigilante, an overzealous nut who hampers a law enforcement response or someone who makes a tragic mistake.
    The general laws regarding self defense are also subjective. Not only do you have to be threatened, but it has to be a case of imminent self-preservation. Again it goes into that gray area of a judgment call for the shooter: did you feel yours or someone’s life was in immediate danger?
    Carlton Wilson, who has taught virtually every NRA course imaginable for more than 10 years, as well as teaching law enforcement gun classes, is clearly a strong Second Amendment supporter, believing no limitations should interfere with gun rights. But the associate magistrate in the local courts agrees that the prospect of people carrying guns in public with no training is frightening. From mistakes he corrects in classes, Wilson said there is a component of training needed for every gun owner, even those who may be comfortable shooting from a lifetime of hunting.
    While classes here are fairly limited at this time, Wilson is working with a partner and Appalachian Gun and Pawn to open a new range with expanded  opportunities.
    Answering the above questions of when to draw, Wilson said he teaches to not draw a gun  until you are confident you know the circumstances and are ready to shoot someone right then. Don’t draw a gun “just in case,” such as hearing gunshots in a public area, as you may be mistaken for the shooter by arriving law enforcement. In the case of the savage beating, Wilson said his first suggestion would be to hit the attacker with chair or something; only shoot when the victim is clearly about to be killed.
    Wilson encourages anyone who wants to carry to do so with a concealed, not open, weapon to prevent exactly the type of reaction I described at the opening, “Who is that guy with a gun and what is he doing?” There are several cases the NRA instructor was familiar where people with weapons displayed had provoked panic from the public believing they were about to start a shooting spree after some perceived suspicious action, even though they were later found to be  legal weapon-carriers.
    Like the longtime NRA teacher, we agree that Second Amendment offers important protections for gun ownership, but also that citizens who want to enjoy the rights have a responsibility to seek out opportunities to learn to handle their weapons safely, especially if they carry them into public areas.

Our Public Rulers: The commissioners who would be kings

    To be clear on the county government’s 10 percent property tax increase  this year, it was taken by the commissioners against strong public sentiment.
    Politicians talk about being public servants, carrying out the will of their constituents. Our whole democracy is based on the idea that the elected are there to represent the public. The public wanted taxes to be held steady or cut; the politicians wanted a tax increase. The truth of what happened is crystal clear - we’ll all pay more.
    Two of the three members of the board of commissioners (chairman Rob Jones and Commissioner Jerry Barnes) plowed ahead with a tax hike to fund increases in employee health insurance plans, increases in employee salaries and improvements to the jail. (The third commissioner on the board, Becky Denney, abstained, citing more tightening that could have been done.)
    These are not the actions of public servants, these are the actions of public rulers – commissioners and other elected officials who would be kings and take what they can in taxes, deaf to the cries from the public. The fact that the county rolled it back from a proposed 14 percent increase to a 10 percent increase at the last moment shows they knew what their constituents wanted but lacked the political fortitude to make cuts.
    Our local politicians always trot out the clichéd claim that they are financial conservatives at some point in their campaigns, but they have all, without exception, misrepresented their true philosophy on spending.
    Did any of the elected leaders in the public hearings voice dissent against the plan for more taxing and more spending? No. The fact is, from the courthouse to the administration building, all our elected leaders either supported the increase or dared not stand against the other officials to oppose it.
    It’ll be interesting to see how many of these incumbents will still claim to be financial conservatives when elections roll around in four years.
    In 2016, they all qualify as tax and spend liberals. Regardless of how they try to spin it,  all had their hands out for more taxes and more spending and by ten percent – no slight increase this year.
    Our rulers make it appear that they had no choice but to go up on taxes as though it was out of their control. Hogwash. Not one person in office detailed any attempts to cut anything. Why would they? They are going to take what they want in the end any way.
    As we have editorialized before in this space, our elected officials are completely out-of-touch with the realities of running a business. In the real world there are things you want, but you do without if you can’t afford them. This simple premise is utterly lost on those in power in Pickens County.
    The county is preparing to spend a possible $270,000 more for the county employee health insurance, which already costs the taxpayers $2.7 million. As one speaker at the public hearing pointed out, the county funds a better plan than most people in the county can afford. Similarly the county budgeted $400,000 more for employee raises. And as we have written before,  the most dedicated wonderful employee in the world doesn’t normally get a raise if his employer doesn’t turn a profit.
    In the real world you stay within your means; in the government world you raise taxes.
    We would further point out to our county officials who claim they have no choice but to up our taxes that the city of Jasper (which admittedly has more commercial base) has figured out ways to go years without any noticeable tax increase. Good job Jasper.
    They raise spending only when they see increases in the tax digest. In other words when there is growth, they grow. When the digest is flat so are the taxes.
    Now that is a model of county government finances we’d support. Taxes go up or down depending on growth in the county, not the whims of three rulers and their elected cronies.

Jasper needs public spaces

By Dan Pool

    It was on one of the fairly pleasant evenings we’ve had recently that I noticed the young couple sitting on the bench under the oaks in front of the courthouse as I was leaving work.
    They could have been waiting for their attorney for some late court business or they could have been waiting on some friend before going to a nearby restaurant.
    Or, maybe they were just hanging out, but this is a stretch and also why they caught my attention: No one ever just idles along Main Street. Occasionally, you see out-of-towners stop and a take a few pictures of the Old Jail or check out the Oglethorpe Monument.
    But you never spot anyone reading a book or eating a sandwich or just sitting in any public space in Jasper, GA. It would truly be shocking if you came along the far end of Main and saw someone had put down a blanket to enjoy a picnic at the water fountain park. Incidentally, the fountains may not please many artistically, but that sliver of space with the adjoining brick area and gazebo connecting to the historical area with the cabin and Old Jail is very nice.
    Now parents with kids and walkers do make solid use of the town’s duck pond area off Pioneer Road, and serious fitness walkers and joggers navigate the trails and sidewalks all over town.
    But most of these people are not out for socialization; they are not looking to engage in conversation with their fellow townspeople.
    Perhaps the spaces we have are not inviting. Certainly the courthouse lawn is a little too open for someone to throw a blanket and stretch out on it without making a public display.
    Seeing the solitary young couple reminded me of a quote that I read somewhere, but Google could not turn up again, that we will never have another revolution in this country as there is no where for the people to gather.
    The first American Revolution was fomented and discussed by people in taverns and on the streets in Boston. Many of the European cities and early American towns had public squares where people congregated to talk politics, commerce and gossip. Some towns even had small speaker stages where freedom of speech was heartily encouraged. Universities still have this.
    But in Jasper and Pickens County where do you go if you just want to socialize with neighbors and hear the latest opinions on issues like the tax increase or Trump v. Hillary. Walmart’s parking lot? Facebook?
    There are neither taverns nor public squares here where you can see your neighbors. And from all appearances, this feature is now extinct in most small towns.
    One contributing factor is clearly the housing patterns. Spread out subdivisions throughout suburban and rural America create a lifestyle of driving home, away from public areas at the end of the day and, to be honest, that is a very comfortable lifestyle.
    In this case, if they built it  [more attractive public spaces] would people come? Probably not, is my guess. The limited sidewalks here have never had an issue with overcrowding, though in all fairness the duck pond is crowded many days.
    But still, when the city is addressing their new transportation ideas we’d encourage them to include a few public spaces, and who knows someone might sit down on a bench one day and start a conversation.
    We don’t want another revolution,  just the opportunity to socialize.   

Public, officials should support library expansion

    Libraries are important. And as the Pickens County Library’s current building celebrates its 20th year, the community needs our local and state representatives to get behind a proposed expansion that would add 8,000 square feet to its footprint.
    That’s 8,000 square feet of more book space, more computer space and more space to find a quiet place to read or participate in the many programs offered there each week. From LEGO robotics to bingo nights, teen advisory groups, story times for young kids or the fiction book club, our library provides great opportunities to get involved and stay intellectually active.
    Our library, which was built in 1996 and has nearly 40,000 books, is a cornerstone of our community providing people the opportunity to explore history, experience new ideas, get lost in wonderful stories, while also giving a sense of place and spaces for public gatherings.
    The library here is often the only readily available source of comprehensive information for personal, family and job-related questions. Over summer vacation - or last week’s fall break - evenings and weekends, the county library is the only library available to school children; for preschoolers it is simply the only library available. The Pickens County Library is a lifeline to the world and all the information in it.
    As the library continues to struggle to keep up with the many changes in technology, rising costs of books and other materials and a growing demand from patrons for more information, its board is working to make sure they see to the needs of the community.
    According to Susan White, library board member and a board member of the support group Friends of the Pickens Library, they are seeking to expand the current 20-year-old facility. The board has hired an architectural firm and put forth preliminary plans for the much-needed renovations. Local money to fund the project is currently being collected from the SPLOST, but local officials are waiting for a needed $2 million from the state to continue with the project. 
    We’d like to encourage Representative Rick Jasperse and our two senators, Charlie Bethel and Steve Gooch, to speak up on our local library’s behalf and support the project when the legislative session begins in January.
    When Representative Jasperse, the county commissioners and our senators meet next week for a tour of the library to see the plans, please remember that state support is essential to getting this project on more than a drawing board.
    A significant proportion of the population – 23 percent according to the Office of National Statistics - does not have an internet connection at home.  The people most in need of our library services are the unemployed, those on low incomes, senior citizens and other who may not have internet access at home. Students who don’t have internet access at the library simply could not complete some assignments.
    Americans read an average of 12 books per year, according to the Pew Research Center. A renovated Pickens Library is the best spot to get lost among the shelves searching for stories from Rowling, Keats, Grisham, King or Hawkins. 
    A library is not just a place for picking up a book; it is the social experience of reading, talking about the books, browsing. Libraries open doors to new worlds, new possibilities. So as our representatives will tour the facility next week and see it as it currently is, we’d ask you to think about something more. Think about what the library could become with these much-needed renovations and expansion. Our library needs to remain a place for learning and intellectual socializing.
    Don’t forget: The Friends of the Pickens Library book sale is set for Thursday, October 27th (for members) through Saturday, October 29th. Come find your new favorite book while you browse thousands of titles.

Property tax increase too much to bear

    We’d like to pose a question to our county’s elected leaders and government department heads: What do you think has happened to the average American’s income over the past decade?
    As county officials are slated to put their seal of approval on an astronomical 13.8 percent millage increase for 2016, (yes that’s 2016 as in the money’s already spent. 2017’s budget process will start in October) we believe they are unaware of how the private sector is faring.
    We’d bet they would say wages have risen –  it’s the only way we can see that they would regularly offer government workers raises. But they’d be wrong. According to Pew Research, from 2000 to 2014, middle-income households saw a loss of four percent in their incomes annually. Sadly though, according to Pew,  lower-income households - of which there are many in Pickens County - saw their median income fall by nine percent from 2000 to 2014. The US Census on Tuesday said in 2015 Americans real median household income finally saw an increase by 5.2 percent between 2014-15. The median household income in the U.S. in 2015 was $56,516, up from 2014’s $53,718. Adding almost 14 percent to a budget that’s being funded by folks who’ve had drops in their income over more than a decade doesn’t sit well with anyone.
    Even if the department heads and county commissioners can present completely valid reasons for their spending (as in jailers making only $29,000 a year), this large increase is just too much to swallow in one gulp.
    First off, the county’s whole budgeting process needs to be brought under control. There is little accountability when they set a millage rate in September to fund money already spent. The county is setting a millage rate now and the taxes due by December will go to fund a budget they’ve already spent through their yearly addiction to the Tax Anticipation Notes they take early every year and spend before the taxes are collected. The horse is already out of the barn every year when we gather to gripe about taxes. Then a month later the county officials set budgets after the anger has subsided.
    County department heads have the option each year of increasing their employees’ salaries by zero, 2.5 percent or 5 percent - elected officials can give whatever raises they want. At least they can ask for the increase. Commission Chair Rob Jones, who never seems to want the buck to stop with him, and Commissioners Becky Denney and Jerry Barnes are the only three votes that really count when approving the millage. Elected officials may ask for additional money, but they sure can be told no by commissioners
      Go to a local bank or Walgreens and ask how much they have increased their employees’ salaries over the past few years.
    When the economy slowed earlier this decade, private business cut salaries and benefits as there was no other way to keep the doors open. But government pay raises did not slow down a similar amount. It would appear based on the salary study, our county employees are generally fairly compensated. Nobody is getting rich there - but no one is getting rich working in garages, landscaping or raising chickens either.
    Back to our original point, we’d like to reiterate:  most Americans in the private sector haven’t been getting raises over the past decade. American firms in small towns are just now expanding and if the economy keeps rolling, hopefully we’ll all see raises.
    Unlike with county jobs, regular employees know you can exceed expectations every day but if your company doesn’t turn a profit, you’ll likely not see a pay bump. We have no doubt most county employees work hard and are truly public servants, but unfortunately, the county’s economy isn’t turning a profit - yet. When we see a rise in all our boats, then we should talk raises for our government workers, but not before.