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Staff Editorials

Good, bad and ugly of previous wish lists And a few new ones for 2015

For 2015, we’d like to re-visit a few of our “things we’d like to see in 2014” which ran in this space last year.

            It’s good that we didn’t call these things predictions – because our soothsaying would rank dismally; these were the things we’d hoped for.

• Development around the Walmart – Yes, after years of sitting empty, a forthcoming Hibbet’s Sports/Dollar Tree commercial area is coming along quickly. Hopefully that will open the floodgate.


• “A few unique shops of Main Street to go with the two new restaurants.”  Unfortunately, one restaurant, Lola’s, left the county after a few months, the other never got very far with their plans to move downtown. Retailer Daisy’s did move from a backstreet to Main Street and a new sandwich shop appears to be underway in the Mark Whitfield Street area. But to be blunt, Jasper’s Main Street regrettably went in the wrong direction in 2014. People were truly optimistic when it looked like both restaurants were coming, maybe that energy will resurface in 2015.


• Take off of the airport tech park. No progress is visible out there in the tech park area and frankly we’ve spent enough ink bemoaning the lack of anything other than red mud there.


• Completion and heavy use of the city’s Hood Road park walking path. The park is definitely complete, but usage is unknown.


• Another movie shoot. None, though film continues to be a growing segment of the state’s economy. Even if we don’t get Clint Eastwood again, maybe Justin Timberlake will return to shoot something.


• A strong sports season for the Dawgs, Braves, Tech, Hawks, Falcons and Dragons. The Dragons definitely broke new ground. Let’s hope key offensive threat Shannon Brooks keeps the ball moving at the collegiate level and our home team finds someone to fill those impressive shoes. For our colleges and pros, 2014 was yet again depressing. No serious contenders among the hometown pack and 2015 doesn’t hold much promise – except for the Hawks who are sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference.

• Some normal weather  – definitely not in 2014. We had a headline here “The Fast and the Flurrious – Part 2.” The state had a Snowpocalyse and an Ice Jam; enough said on that one.


When you look at our list from 2014 like a teacher grading a test, it’s somewhat stark in the lack of progress. No matter how you spin it, the airport tech park, Main Street business expansion, hopes of more movie shoots, championship sports teams were mostly flops and the winter weather was more dramatic than normal.

You can explain it, rationalize it, justify it however you want, but we simply didn’t “Get ‘er done” in 2014.


On to 2015, a few new things to add to the list.

• A small tax cut from the county. They raised it this year about 6 percent with a lot of explaining and hand wringing. Show us you were serious about getting things under control with a similar 6 percent cut in the next budget.


• Beat the national average on SAT scores – PHS students routinely beat the state average but we encourage the system to set their target on the national average. In 2013 Pickens high schoolers had an average of 1475, well above the state average of 1452, but still below the 1497 national average.

• A recent report from Pickens Family Connections showed that Pickens County doesn’t do well with the number of child abuse and child neglect cases we see here. In fact Pickens ranked 138th in the state out of 156 counties in child neglect cases when adjusted for population. 

In child abuse we were 113 out of 156. It was noted that these rankings are high due to a low population of children, which is both an explanation and a cause for hope. With a low number to start with, we’d challenge the county’s courts/ schools/social programs to do whatever is necessary to drop us back to the middle of the state of rankings.


Lessons learned in 2014

    The lesson of the water park – “The $140 million tourist attraction is coming and it’s gonna be great for the economy.” “No it’s not coming.” “It’ll totally change our whole way of life.” “It’ll cost the taxpayers millions.”
    The lesson of the water park was one of not jumping to conclusions. It seemed many people had opinions on it before they had facts. One rumor we heard was our hotels were already full of construction workers, while another was that it failed environmental tests. Neither was true. At this point about the most accurate description is the developers say they are still working on it, but it’s obviously not moving very quickly.
    The lesson of the JeepFest/New Year’s Eve celebration downtown –     These events stand in stark rebuttal to those who complain that local people will not support events here. These two new events show plainly, folks will come out to an event if it entices them. JeepFest with its unique mix of offroad fun and Jeep watching drew more people to the bonfire last year than we have ever seen at any event here. Last year’s New Year’s Eve drew well over 1,000 people -- in spite of freezing temps. It may be hard to find something that catches the public’s interest, but these events show it’s not impossible.
    The lesson of the Dragons - Is there any great lesson that we got from having the best PHS football season in decades in 2014? Probably not, but it sure was fun to see the home team roll up yardage and wins. It builds community pride and let’s hope 2015 continues the winning ways.

    The lesson of Snow Jam -- In 2014 we all learned we should have at the very least a half a tank of gas in our cars during the winter months. This little gem of knowledge was learned after last winter's massive ice storm turned Atlanta into a slick parking lot. Snow Jam, as it was affectionately called, stranded thousands of drivers for hours on frozen roads in and around Atlanta - and even a few of us up here in the mountains. We also learned it can’t hurt to stash some water and chocolate bars in the glove compartment. Of course, we all already know to have plenty of bread and milk at home.
      The lesson of big news in small towns - Just last week the New York Times published an article about the Helen tourist who was killed by a Jasper resident  after he accidentally fired a shot that first went through his own hand. The incident has kicked up national discussions about gun rights, with a focus on expanded carrying rights legislation passed by the Georgia Assembly (and sponsored by Pickens’ own representative Rick Jasperse). Small towns like Jasper may seem to be perpetually under-the-radar, but make no mistake they can be thrust into the limelight just like middle-sized cities and metropolises (whether they want the attention or not).
    The lesson of the volunteers -  If you hang around non-profits or volunteers for a while you’ll probably hear the phrase, “If you want something done, give it to the busiest person.” We go to a lot of meetings and cover a lot of events for non-profits. While all those events are all different, many of the same faces pop up again and again. There are plenty of people who volunteer when they can (and we and everyone else are grateful) but for some people volunteering is something you’re just supposed to do and they do it all they time - even if they don’t really have the time.
    The lesson of the goofy idea - Who would have thought that throwing a bucket of ice water on your head and challenging others to do the same would become such a philanthropic blockbuster. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral across Facebook and Twitter for several months at the end of the summer raised more than $115 million dollars for the ALS Association. With that money, the ALS Association has approved substantial funding to support six programs and initiatives to expedite the search for treatments and a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

    The lesson of the child. This year the Progress staff met three-year old Sammy Simmons who was born with cleft hands and feet, along with a list of medical issues that would excuse any bad attitude she might have had. But Sammy wasn’t grumpy or hopeless at all. She was bright-eyed and happy when we met her, and after her story was published in this paper letters arrived from readers who knew her and who said being happy is how she is all the time. Despite their naiveté, children teach grown-ups life lessons everyday.

Tate Depot project – a train wreck approaching

The old saying “don’t start what you can’t  finish,” is probably not taught as a maxim for government planners, but it should be.

And nowhere is a lesson needed more than with the half-funded, half thought-out plan for the historic Tate Depot.

The schemes, plots, fantasies and delusions for the scenic building on Highway 53 go back a decade and include both a welcome center and a marble museum.

In 2005, the state DOT awarded a $400,000 grant to both move the building to the other side of Highway 53 where it would sit further from traffic and partially renovate the structure; a second $400,000 grant was pledged in 2007 and the county apparently can re-assign another $400,000 grant that was originally awarded to help with courthouse parking but never used.

The combined $1.2 million is a serious chunk of funding. For a complete depot project, however,  the county remains about $1 million short for total renovation based on bids already received. Commission chair Rob Jones said he was “flabbergasted” by the $2.4 million bid to have the depot fully renovated. He expressed hope that the small town of Tate or some other group might raise the rest of the funds.

Hope is a great thing, but starting a project with half of what you need and hoping for the rest is train wreck approaching.

Among the pitfalls is the lack of any strong community desire for a half-renovated building to be moved across the road. Even a decade ago, local historians weren’t happy to see the building moved -- which may leave an interesting structure but one of decidedly less value for history. 

The original DOT rationale for moving the building was the fact that its eaves were too close to the road for big trucks pass by.  But, consider that over the past decade we are aware of zero big trucks striking the eaves with any significant impact.

Tate leaders have expressed dismay that after a decade of fiddling around with plans at the county level, it appears now the county intends to complete half the work and “drop it in the community’s lap.”

The county believes the grants thus far will fund the move and exterior work, but not the interior.

  We are also bothered by the lack of any clear-cut plans should the renovations actually be completed. 

 A welcome center may be a fine thing, but one on Highway 515 makes a lot more sense. And for a museum, Nelson has already purchased an old building where they may move their Marble Museum. Even if Nelson does want to give the museum to Tate, who would run it? Keep in mind the current Marble Museum started at the Chamber of Commerce building, but they didn’t have the manpower to run it and a busy chamber office. It got moved to Nelson where it has languished – with no marketing or direction. Why would it be any different in Tate?

You can’t expect to spend $1million to $2 million on a museum or welcome center and  have it run only when volunteers can show up.

We urge the county to reconsider, and if they can’t convince the state to let them spend the money elsewhere possibly send it back with a Thanks but not thanks” note attached.


A new and simpler Christmas Beyond the tension – Have a Christmas with Joy

    Christmas is here and we are close to surviving all the rushing around and prepping for the big day. With all the hustle and bustle we go through to get ready for Christmas, it’s nice to notice a collective quiet throughout our town on Christmas morning.
    We’ve done all the hard work – buying gifts to present to our loved ones like the Wise Men brought gifts to baby Jesus, wrapping those gifts in beautiful, sparkly paper and topping them with festive bows. We’ve spent time buying up all the ingredients for those old-fashioned family recipes that we turn to every year as we gather around the table to celebrate the Savior’s birth with family and friends. Now, as Christmas Day draws near, we can sit back and enjoy the time with those we love. And maybe this year - and all the ones going forward - we can remember that the quiet of Christmas morning is really what we long for in the first place.
    While the tradition of gift giving has its roots in the story of the original Christmas, looking back at photos of 50 years ago we are reminded what a simple thing it once was. What we wanted for Christmas was really a rather short list of things. And what we got was typically the simplest thing of all, possibly an orange thrown in our stockings or something our mother’s thought we needed.
    The intent was the same as it is now, but the means were so much fewer. We have countless holiday memories and most of them are centered around faith, family and traditions. If we really think about it, very few childhood memories actually include the gifts we’ve received but rather celebrating with our family. We remember less that one Christmas when we received that Barbie dollhouse and more that Christmas when uncle Larry got locked out of the house while trying to play Santa. It’s not so much about the gifts and more about the experiences and the memories of those experiences.
    When recalling Christmases gone by, we are more likely to reminisce about that time we burned the Christmas turkey than we are to recall those diamond earrings we got. We remember desperately trying to shoo the little ones to bed on Christmas Eve, not the gifts Santa brought. As time goes by and we collect more and more Christmases, it’s the memories of being with family and friends more than the gifts – no matter how big or expensive. When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things give off the greatest happiness.
      Today so often we feel cheated by the Christmases we are having. So rushed, so busy, that we can’t relax and enjoy the season. This week when we sit down with our families why not focus on reviving some old traditions? Sing some carols, watch a favorite Christmas movie year after year. It’s the memories of those that will sustain us, not the gifts.
    Because, as Carson of Downtown Abbey once said, “The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end that’s all there is.”
    So this Christmas think quality over quantity, needs over wants, and experiences over everything else.
    And remember: Christmas is the better for being a simple place.

Happy Holidays to everyone

I wanted to use the phrase Happy Holidays recently. It would have fit perfectly on a newsletter I was helping a local non-profit Christian ministry with.

It would have also perfectly conveyed the intended message, which was for people to have an enjoyable holiday; nothing ulterior or political implied in the choice of phrase.

You see the newsletter was going in the mail in late November and with Happy Holidays it would have been fine as a slightly late Thanksgiving letter. It would have also worked as an early Christmas greeting and they could use any left over for the first few weeks of 2015 as belated New Year’s greetings.

Merry Christmas would not have worked as I hate being wished Merry Christmas before mid-December and I certainly don’t want to read anything that starts Merry Christmas after December 25th.

I like the phrase Happy Holidays and had used it for years for its vagueness, but not the vagueness that some of you are getting riled up about. I am not trying to be pan-religious and appease everyone from Wiccans to atheists with that phrase. I was trying to find a phrase that in publishing is “evergreen” – not because it appeals to druids but because it will be timely for a long period.

I ended up not using Happy Holidays or anything except December 2014. I feared the religious intolerance the phrase Happy Holidays might have provoked.

It’s a shame that companies somewhere (though none that I am personally familiar with) make employees say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas to be politically correct.

And it’s just as much of a shame that defenders of Merry Christmas have made such a big deal about it that someone doing a Christian ministry’s newsletter feels compelled to avoid a seemingly innocuous phrase out of fear that Holy Rollers will get their dander up – as though Happy Holidays is a code word for new age beliefs or political correct pandering.

It’s utterly ridiculous that with all the tension in the world already that we put so much stock in to which phrase to use, as though whether you say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays is a litmus test for whether you are a good Christian or not. Heck, I should have used Season’s Greetings and then let the people who are proud they throw the first stones determine if Season’s Greetings meets their approval.

  The heightened sensitivity to holiday correctness and the merry backlash it provoked has been rightfully mocked by any number of comedians and comedy shows with puns like “assault on Christmas” or “the Christmas attack zone,” or “terrorists say Happy Holidays, we say Merry Christmas.”

Good for the punsters. Anyone who is so self-righteous or judgmental that they try to divine another’s morality and Christian bearing based on a holiday greeting deserves to be mocked.

This year I would suggest you put the Christ back in Christmas. After all the holiday did start as a religious celebration of Jesus’ birth and Christian tradition.

But if you don’t believe that way, that’ s your business. I still hope you enjoy the holiday, even if you only celebrate with Santa Claus, shopping and mammon and watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. 

Most of all I don’t care which phrase you greet me with – as long as you are relatively nice when you do it.