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Staff Editorials

What we’d like to see in 2018

Last week we reviewed what we wanted in 2017 (some small progress such as a reinvigorated Marble Festival) but mostly we saw the status quo keep a tight grip here. 

Undaunted, we again suggest improvements and wishes for Pickens County. 


• More parks – Like a present you hadn’t expected, Pickens County got a top-notch mountain bike park in the last quarter of 2017, all thanks to a private group with private money. Nothing from local sources/governments, other than words of appreciation (after most of the work was done) moved The Talking Rock Nature Preserve along.

Unfortunately this new park with benches, fields and walking area at the Gilmer line is a lonely beacon in new recreation options for this county. Talking Rock has a nice park; Nelson has upgraded walking trails, and Jasper started and then mostly abandoned their own wooded trails on Hood Road. What’s missing is the county adding anything significant to our recreation facilities. When the community center opened at Roper Park in late 2011, it was as though someone strode out and declared “mission accomplished.”

You actually can’t say we want more focus on improving parks/recreation as there is no focus except for maintenance. We’ll simply ask for any attention to recreation. 

Lesser request in same category -- More classes at rec. center at Roper Park. How about some new offerings? It seems we don’t even fully utilize what little we do have.

Chattahoochee Tech playing a vital role here again – In December we reported that the dismal usage of our tech school had blown up with everyone from the speaker of the state house to our chief magistrate judge exhorting the college to get back into the education game. 

At the most fundamental level we need a strong technical college. Courses meet the needs of industry; this encourages expansion and attracts new businesses. The growth in industry will drive residential growth which drives commercial growth. Imagine what a steady stream of educated, young people coming out of a local tech school could mean for the county? 

Fill the buildings – The rise of several boutiques in the retail sector, a new restaurant in the massive Sidebar building beside the courthouse gives a little hope, but there are simply too many empty buildings in Jasper and around the county. The former home of Day’s Chevrolet, the NAPA building on Main Street, the former Hallmark store across the street from it all sit empty -  not to mention the empty acres and acres of graded property on the four-lane.

Whatever it takes to help developers/owners get these spots into action, we would support it -- tax abatements, incentives, help with utilities. In cases where a property is sitting empty, we would happily urge the local governments to defer some immediate taxes to see a vital business there hiring and paying sales tax.

A few other items:

• A healthy discussion and open-minded approach on both sides for the coming debate on senior school exemptions. Rather than both sides seeking exactly what they want (full exemption versus no additional exemption), let’s  find what satisfies the community as a whole and for the long term.

• For the Dawgs to bring that national championship home later this month. (One reader has requested a front page headline in the Progress if this happens. We’ll see.)

• To see our Pickens schools post scores on state tests that reflect the quality of the system. Last year, the students here beat the national and state averages on the SAT (the most reliable indicator of a system’s competency) but Pickens students still struggle on other required tests. Not acceptable.

• Let’s have some fun and well-attended events across the county. This is a two-way street. Organizers need to raise their games like the Marble Festival did last year. But the public must support them. Shop local also means attend local. You can’t expect a group to shell out resources for a fickle public that may or may not show up.

Finally, we wish for 2018 to be a great one for Pickens County and the people who call this place home.

Our annual you can’t always get what you want list

Ah, year’s end, time for a little ritual to Janus, the two-faced Roman God who looks both forwards and backwards. This week we’re looking backwards at how we fared with what we wanted in 2017 - as published in this space a year ago. Next week’s we’ll look ahead.


• Give us a sign – We sought curb appeal on Highway 515 showing that Jasper is here and welcomes visitors. Nope. Looks the same as it did at the start of the year. Surely, we can muster a sign at the Highways 515/53 intersection and some landscaping. Both Ellijay and Blue Ridge have made the four-lane through their burgs attractive and do well with tourism.


• Don’t Facebook, be happy – Social media hasn’t collapsed under the avalanche of lies, nasty comments and inane pet/food photos, but we can still hope. Even the Facebook company blog recently acknowledged that too much time glaring at their feed is detrimental to your mental health.


• Tax cuts for the county – Both the county and schools cut taxes slightly and now the GOP has delivered some tax relief for all Americans. We’ll take small victories where we find them. NOTE:  before you start e-mailing, we understand some people may have seen their properties re-assessed and higher tax bills. But in general taxes were cut.


• Fewer legend deaths – The deaths of Tom Petty, Glen Campbell and Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) plus Hugh Hefner made news but 2017 didn’t  hit as hard on the celebrity death notices as prior years – unless you count those who sexual misconduct figuratively killed.


• Fill the Buildings – Small change. A new pizza restaurant coming to the old SideBar/Crust building). Otherwise empty large buildings and vacant commercial properties still abound, though the former NAPA building downtown does look very nice.


• Rain – Pretty solid improvement with rainfall. Though no one here gets to claim credit, we were happy to go a year without serious drought issues.


• Marble Festival ReBoot – We’d consider this a full success. The Chamber of Commerce put new events and life into the October festival. Let’s get behind them to see it grow and improve again this year.


• Trump to Succeed – Last year we noted that regardless of how you voted, everyone should want the man in the White House to succeed.  Didn’t happen. At this point, we judge the nation to be slightly less great than when his term started. Let’s hope for a better sophomore year.


Some notable wish lists items 

from earlier years:

• Go Dawgs. For Kirby Smart to fire up the Dawgs. Didn’t make it in 2016 but we’ll take it a year later.

• Boys and Girls Club built and funded and open (2016 list). A big yes and continuing to meet needs.

• Revival of the arts in Jasper – Keep on dreaming.

• More focus on ways to capitalize on Pickens as a great bedroom community. No progress that we can tell. In fact we’re not sure there is any focus on any marketing angle of this county.

• Development around Walmart (2015 request) – Added the Murphy gas station, but certainly isn’t crowded out there or anywhere on the four-lane, though there is a whole new (empty) area near the Highway 108 intersection.

• Take off at the airport tech park (2014 list) – We wanted it first three years ago and it hasn’t happened. However, there are signs of life with the re-formed airport authority. Chances look good that we’ll finally see potential get airborne out there in 2018.

• Beat the national averages on SAT – In 2017, on the revived 1600 scale Pickens scored a 1092 average while the state average was 1050 and the national average was 1060 so mission accomplished. Way to go Dragons.


We wish all our readers a happy and prosperous New Year.


Invest now or cry later

Some people don’t want to stop working. They retire, piddle around a few months, get bored, then get a job to keep them occupied. But other people – most people we’d argue – don’t want to work after 65, into their 70s and even 80s. 

But the way Americans are saving for retirement, which is dismally poor by recent studies, people who don’t want to work may have to. With the holiday shopping season in high gear, money is on the brain. It’s a good time to remember that buying gifts and splurging at times can be fun - but without saving and planning now, the forecast for your golden years could be grim. reports that 94 percent of seniors polled said the advice they  would like to give to younger people is to start saving earlier, save more during their career, find small ways to save that add up, and maximize work retirement programs – advice we should all take before it’s too late. Proponents for the local Seniors for Change movement, the group that wants to increase senior tax exemptions in Pickens County, argue that seniors on fixed incomes can’t afford to pay their property taxes, which is true in many cases (although not only seniors on fixed incomes would benefit from the additional exemptions).


Here are a few stats: 

•One out of every three Americans has zero dollars saved for retirement, ZERO, which means they would rely totally on Social Security payouts. A GoBankingRates Retirement Rates survey found that of those who do save, 55 percent have less than $10,000.  


•The average monthly retirement benefit is $1,371, or $16,452 per year. The overall maximum monthly Social Security benefit (which reports only six percent of people qualify) of those retiring at 65 in 2017 is $2,687, or $32,000 for the year. 


•People are living longer. According to the Social Security Administration, "About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95. That means if you retire at 65, you might need money to live on for 25 years or more. 

What are we wasting our money on? 

Somewhere along the line, the American attitude about what’s required to live a decent life shifted. Older generations made things last and worked decades to build up to a new house or car. These days people want the big, fully-furnished house and expensive car right after they get married (with the average wedding now costing over $25,000), among other luxuries.

Here are just a few of the items we waste money on, in addition to things like lottery tickets, entertainment, clothes and other retail shopping, alcohol, and cigarettes:  


•Eating out and food waste: For giggles (or sobs) check out your bank statement one month and add up how much you spend on restaurants. Let’s say you spend $10 a day on lunch/dinner and $3 a day on a coffee/snack at the gas station. Over the course of a year that’s $4,745 for one person (The max contribution to a 401k is $5,500 if you’re under 50). This amount doesn’t even include what’s wasted throwing out food that could be eaten the next day as leftovers – which in America is estimated to be almost half.   


•Vehicles: The average cost of a new vehicles are on the rise, with the average now at $34,000 according to Kelly Blue Book. A NY Times report found that new cars are typically too expensive for the typical family, but they still buy them. The average term for a new-car loan is now 68 months, with some loans stretching as long as seven years.


We’re not advocating for super couponing or never splurging on entertainment or vacations – but with all our spending and dismal savings it’s in our best interest to put away now so we won’t be crying later.

Merry Christmas from the Progress staff

Christmas arrives in a few short days and by then we will have survived all the rushing around and preparing for the big day. With all the hustle and bustle to get ready for Christmas, it’s nice to notice the collective quiet throughout our town on Christmas morning. No more running around, buying  gifts and groceries, just that once-a-year calm that only comes on the morning of Jesus’ birth when practically everyone is at home relishing in the best gifts of all -  loved ones, the gift of family, and Christmas’ namesake, Jesus Christ.

Wise Men brought gifts to the newborn Savior and we still offer gifts today. But as Christmas approaches this year, perhaps the best thing we could give each other is our time. As long-time Progress contributor Ann Parks said in her Happy Ramblers post this week: “Have a wonderful Christmas with as many friends and family as possible and remember what Christmas really is about.”

Giving someone our time and our company is the most wonderful gift, this time of year and all year long. This Christmas, we should make a point to tell those we love why they matter to us. Reminding friends and family of the conversations that have meant so much to our lives, the memories we’ve shared, the laughter, and even the tears we’ve had through the years, are true treasures. 

This Christmas, we should tell those we love how special they are. From the parents who took care of us as children, made us laugh, kissed and hugged us and showed us how to take on the world, to that favorite friend or spouse whose daily comments and gestures support us as adults, there’s no better time than this Christmas to tell those around us just how much they enrich our lives. A spoken kind word can fill someone’s heart and mean so much more than a gift bought without much thought.

So as we gather around the table to celebrate the Savior’s birth with family and friends, make time for a thoughtful word to the person sitting next to you - the aunts and uncles we may see only once or twice a year or the mothers and fathers we see daily. Enjoy this time with those we love and this year - and all the ones going forward - we can remember that the quiet of Christmas morning surrounded by those special people is really what we long for in the first place.

Gifts will always be a part of America’s Christmas celebrations but we would be wise to know that a gift doesn’t always come wrapped in a box with festive bows. Our best holiday memories 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 celebrations with family and friends. We remember less the Christmas we received that diamond bracelet and more that Christmas that aunt Sue almost set the kitchen on fire when she burned the cookies. It’s not so much about the gifts and more about the experiences and the memories of those experiences.

We remember the challenges of trying to get the children to sleep on Christmas Eve, rather than the gifts Santa left under the tree. 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 Christmases past, we usually find that the simplest things give offer the greatest happiness.

Nowadays, we often feel cheated by Christmas. So rushed, so busy, that we can’t relax and enjoy the season. Next week when we sit down with our families why not talk of the memories of Christmases past because it’s the memories of those that will sustain us, not the gifts.

Christmas is the better for being a simple place with loved ones.

Flirting or abuse?

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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I don’t watch the Today Show, but before Matt Lauer was fired over sexual harassment allegations the image I had of him was that of a genial, boyish, All-American-type I enjoyed seeing cover the Olympics.   

At first all we had was the vague “sexual assault” claim, then details emerged – in one incident he pulled down his pants and showed his genitals to a woman, then berated her for not engaging. All allegations of course, but when I found a video of Lauer looking down his co-host’s shirt telling her, “Pretty sweater. Keep bending over like that. I like that view,” I was convinced the guy is a jerk - not at all who I’d imagined.  

Many people are calling the rapid-fire toppling of high-powered men a sexual revolution and a sea of change in our nation’s history. I’ve personally tried to take the allegations a case at a time, while being hopeful positive changes can come from it. Just last week, for example, a rape charge against a man was thrown out in local courts. I also recall covering a story about a local professor after he was exonerated from sexual assault charges a few years ago - false allegations have and will be made. But the truth is sexual harassment and assault are real, and we can use this historic moment to keep the momentum going by talking to our kids and implementing and enforcing protocols in the workplace. 

The only problem is sex is complicated and emotionally charged, and solutions aren’t clear cut for men or women. 

Matt Lauer’s termination came up with some male friends last week, one of whom said his acts and those of comedian Louis C.K., who admitted to getting nude and performing certain acts in front of two non-consenting women, were so outrageous he didn’t see how they could be true. 

I relayed a few of the experiences I’ve had to put things into perspective for my male friend. When I worked at a golf club in another county, a man I’d never met offered me several hundred dollars to flash him on the back nine. It was completely unprovoked. I hadn’t been flirting and wasn’t wearing skimpy clothing. I’ve also had a man forcibly put my hand on his genitals. When I refused to engage him, he told me I was uptight, and made a few explicit comments trying to guilt me into sex. 

The #MeToo movement shows that most women have experiences of their own.

My son overheard me talking about the wave of allegations and asked what was happening. I told him, “Men with very powerful positions are getting in trouble because they abused and touched women when they didn’t want to be touched.” He said that was awful and shook his head, then after a second said, “Well, all those girl pop singers who sing about wanting to be touched, I guess they don’t mean it.”  

My son is in middle school and doesn’t know anything, or much of anything other than vague concepts, about sex or intimacy. In his prepubescent 11-year-old brain I could see how he would make that connection, and his observation is valid and touches on this idea that women who tease and flirt are asking for it. My friend, and other men, have wondered what led to those instances like Lauer and Louis C.K., where men felt it was okay to pull out their privates. Was everyone drunk? Did the woman initiate flirting? But there’s a difference between flirting and genuine abuse, and men should know what’s what, and when to stop. 

Like the LA Times’ Cathy Young, I’m concerned about the sterilization of healthy flirting and courtship in the workplace, and men who fear that “careers may be destroyed over minor misconduct and ambiguous transgressions.” I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a “sterile society,” as one NY Times reporter questioned if that’s not where we’re headed. For the time being, I’m going to talk to my kids in hopes of changing the future landscape to one that’s not devoid of sex (where’s the fun in that?), to one where there is “nuance,’ as Ms. Young writes, where we distinguish between healthy flirting, “abuse, minor bad behavior, and innocent miscommunication.”