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Staff Editorials

Great things are happening here

Too often that which is good is overshadowed by that which is bad. And, goodness knows, there is plenty of bad stuff happening in the world these days.

But great things are happening right here in Pickens County. We need to take a moment to remember these accomplishments and to think of other things we have inadvertently not included on this list.

1.            A whole lot of giving going on – The Thrift Store announced last month they had just given away their $3 millionth dollar to the benefit of people in this area. That is quite a pile of cash from a group that operates solely on volunteer and community service work and sells mainly old couches, clothes and whatever else people donate. Aside from the cash generated, no small benefit of the Thrift Store is that most of the stuff taken in and put up for sale would have ended up in a landfill otherwise. That’s recycling at its finest.

2.            Joy, Joy, Joy at their House At the end of 2011, the Joy House announced strong year-end giving and a generous matching pledge pushed them over the top with funding to complete a boys home/school at the Joy House campus on Cove Road. Joy House founder Steve Lowe said the real blessing is that the Christian ministry can now accept eight teenage boys into its program, up from the four that could previously be served. Over the years ahead, that expansion amounts to a lot more boys given a place to get their life on solid footing before they reach adulthood.

3. On the other side of the county - The Good Shepherd Ranch, with little publicity, has created a Christ-centered institution to help boys who cannot live with their biological parents. Founder John Smith welcomes troubled boys to stay until they graduate.

4.            And, still focusing on the youth -  The Boys and Girls Clubs around here have shown they are serious in their intent and effort to build a much-needed youth club on the grounds of Roper Park. The group announced they have $1 million in hand of the $2 million needed for the planned 23,000 square foot youth center that will serve both elementary school children and teenagers in two separate areas.

These are just a few recent events, ours to be thankful for in this community. These are great things, but they are not isolated. Rather, they signify the type groups we have operating here and the kind of people hereabouts still making an impact, regardless of any general feeling concerning the world at large.

We also have:

The Rotary Club at work on a new youth park facility for the county.

The Hope House taking in young people with nowhere else to live as their parents try to sort through their own issues (with some help from the court).

CARES, the food pantry, feeding way too many people.

The Pickens County Developmental Disabilities Ministries, pressing hard to open and staff a new supervised home here for adults with developmental disabilities.

Jasper’s Burnt Mountain Center, providing training and supervision through its daily program to developmentally disabled citizens, enabling them to find meaningful work that produces a positive impact on the community at large.

Habitat for Humanity working on new homes and chances.

And these are just the groups that came readily to mind. Undoubtedly with this much going on in Pickens County, we are blessed for certain. Looking from here, things don’t seem nearly as bad as they are often portrayed in the wide wide world.

Editor’s Note to whichever group we somehow overlooked: Sorry, it wasn’t intentional.

 

What's disgusting?

In the fashion world, they call the popular color of the moment, the “new black.” In the world of psychology and biological evolution, disgust is the new black.

A piece in the New York Times notes numerous books and studies have recently come out, telling us more about the reason we go “Yuck!”

One “disgustologist” explained researchers are paying more attention to what we find revolting to gain insight into psychological disorders. They want to know more about why some things gag the average person.

As pointed out in the Times article, disgust is a fairly important emotion/sensation. Disgust leads to a lot of behavior involving hygiene, diet––not to mention dating and marriage.

The article noted disgust is used in marketing campaigns. For example, tying toilet images into efforts to promote hand-washing greatly improves the odds someone will thoroughly wash hands before preparing or eating food, thus decreasing the spread of germs.

Some of the researchers focusing on the evolutionary nature of disgust said the common idea of being disgusted by certain substances, such as excrement, is a holdover from the earliest humans avoiding things likely to make them sick. In caveman times up through the earliest civilization, our early ancestors couldn’t tell you about microbes or bacteria, but they developed a disgust gene that told them not to get drinking water downstream from the bathroom spot.

More than just staying away from stuff that is gross, disgust behaviors also come into play in social decisions such as choosing a mate and with moral issues – where people will say they are disgusted by certain actions.

The Times article, Survival’s Ick Factor (written by James Gorman and available at the Times website, http://www.nytimes.com) notes that serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, is the perfect trifecta of disgust study. (1) He killed people (disgusting morals). (2) He ate the people he killed (disgusting culinary choice). And (3) He did plain ol’ disgusting things to the victims (disgusting social choice).

Contrary to the idea of disgust-used-to-discourage is the notion that some companies and industries go to great lengths to hide disgusting parts of their processes. Take for example the regular saying that compares all types of processes to making sausage, which is apparently a fairly disgusting sight. For sausage, along with hot dogs, chicken strips, bologna, SPAM and most any other processed meat, would we eat it if we saw how it was made?

Probably not, or at least not as often. Similarly with snack products that use a lot of artificial colorings. If they came in whatever color they would be uncolored, would we be as anxious to eat that whole bag of processed cheese snacks?

To aid in further research of disgust, we’d like to suggest some things we find gross.

Things we find disgusting:

• Roadkill – the fresher it is, the worse it looks.

• Overflowing, clogged toilets.

• Anything that comes out of anyone’s nose.

• Male politicians who wear any of the following––hair gel, mousse, makeup, hair dye, gold necklaces or bracelets.

• Too big of people in too small of clothing.

• Public displays of affection.

• Most reality television programs.

• Rats, opossums, whether living or dead.

What do you find disgusting? Comment on our website, under the editorial section, www.pickensprogress.com.

 

The problem down on Main Street: Empty buildings

With the recent merger of Main Street Fitness and another fitness club, downtown Jasper is left with another of our key properties darkened.

While combining two fitness clubs is hardly news to rock the local economy, it is certainly poor news for Main Street merchants or anyone hoping for a vibrant downtown.

The two story structure that housed Main Street Fitness is a longstanding cornerstone of Jasper’s Main Street – the first building you see as you approach from the south. Having it empty adds to the impression that much of town is, if not boarded up, at least not occupied.

Consider that on our corners: the Main Street Fitness building is now vacant, the NAPA building (commonly called Old Blue), on the most prominent corner in town at Main and Highway 53, has been empty for some time, and the corner restaurant on Stegall and Main, which housed the Crowe’s Nest for many years, has been empty several years.

The image of a diminishing downtown is, sadly, most accurate. A walk along Main Street shows the former Nan’s Hallmark (a very large space) sitting empty on the west side of the street and the Savor restaurant, on the east side, sitting empty for too many years to count.

Adding to the closed downtown list is the large sprawling area beside the courthouse that housed the SideBar Restaurant/ Sharp Mountain Grill. And there is far too much empty space to count if you drive down East Church Street toward the County Admin building.

While downtown is not anywhere near 50 percent empty, the amount of empty space available on Main Street, in empty office spaces along the streets that run parallel to Main and across the city limits represents a vast amount of untapped commercial potential for this area.

In a discussion of small town economics with State Representative Rick Jasperse just before the opening of this legislative session, we encouraged him to look for ways to get empty commercial space back in action, especially if there were state funds, rebates, tax advantages that could help an entrepreneur. Some people with valid ideas/plans that might convert empty storefronts to productive businesses, given the economic collapse, lack the capital to get started. Coming up with a first month’s rent, a security deposit, funds for renovating, furnishing and stocking a new business is no small thing.

Encouraging state help for private businesses is not a position we are fully comfortable advocating. In the past, we have generally opposed ideas that brought government interference into private ventures such as downtown real estate. In fact, we have noted in past editorials that the blue NAPA building should stay blue as long as the owner wants it blue, it being private property.

But seeing so much real estate in downtown sitting idle, we’re softening our position. If government in Washington can bail out Wall Street, surely there is something our economic developer can do to help Main Street.

The empty space affects much more than the just the image of the town. You can’t very well submit a resume´, offer a cleaning service, arrange for insurance, install signage, sell advertising, perform pest control, or cater lunches for storefronts with locked doors.

It’s the problem down on Main Street: empty buildings mean missing pieces of the economic pyramid. It’s not just the owners of an empty building or laid-off former employees who suffer.

As presented to State Rep. Jasperse, if there were funds/credits/ resources to help a would-be entrepreneur with more ideas than capital to take an empty restaurant or fitness club and re-open it as a new gift shop, restaurant, antique store, law office or whatever the prospective business owner has in mind, then that would be a solid economic stimulus for Main Streets across Georgia.

 

A government intrusion

He was setting up equipment but looked up and introduced himself. "Max Smugness. How can I help ya?"

A high school source alerted me to the story, I told him, and I'd come to see for myself. By decree of the state legislature, a Coolameter was slated for every Georgia high school, and Pickens High was getting its own.

The elaborate, stand-under, "Beam-me-up-Scottie" contraption was to measure each student's C.Q.––their Coolness Quotient. Results would be neither obvious nor immediate. Instead, numbers would mail home to parents with patent advice for improving C.Q. in their offspring. No point in being too intrusive, someone must have figured.

I begged Smugness to let me try the machine.

"Nothing doing," he demurred still twisting wrenches. "Not ready yet. Besides, journalists tend to skew it. Pings off the low end. Could take hours to re-calibrate. But if you're looking for an assessment, it only takes a peeper pass to peg you at pathetic," he pricked, glancing up again. "Black shoes with white socks? Dude, you're not even tryin'."

I shrugged off the impertinence but noted the infraction. A cardinal rule had just been broken: Don't mess with the press, mister, if you wanta stay cool around here.

"I'm not the issue, Max," I said. "Your machine is the topic. How does it work?"

With technical balderfuscation, he explained. Beginning with body size, physical coordination, sex appeal and social cachet, the Coolameter arrives at a base quotient, he said. Then it assesses peripherals to add more points.

"Peripherals?" I asked.

"You know: designer labels; personal electronics; textuality; “bad ride” or “beater”; postured defiance of adult authority––all those enhancements that can mean so much."

"Mean so much," I repeated, scribbling that down.

"Oh yeah. You can be practically a loser on the base quotient," Smugness said, "and peripherals will put you over the top. And what's really cool: you can buy most of those."

That troubled me. "Now look here, Smugness," I said, "paraphrasing a great American, he dreamed people might be judged not on the kind of tripe you quantify but by the content of their character."

Smugness turned from his machine and stared straight at me. “'Dreamed',” he deadpanned. “It's all about image, you nimrod, and popularity. Character? You're a character. Just look at those socks.”

“Forget the socks, you fatuous frat-boy,” I threw back. “Your machine is a soul-less sorter of surface assessments. It promotes a valueless lifestyle, a shallow existence of unexamined conformity to imposed external standards. Who could dare stand outside your ‘normal’ and risk being labeled some fool oddball? It's mind control, Smugness. It's herd-think: conform or be tread under. Your machine would mark any iconoclast, free-thinker or genius as deficient.”

"They are!" he shrieked, his finger suddenly in my face. A vein bulged on the side of his neck. "Don't you get it, you meddling pin-head? Right now these kids maybe can't think past the weekend, but there's a future up ahead. Out there they trade in their flip-flops for wing-tips, baby, and they keep on playing if they know what’s good for them."

"Playing at what?" I asked.

“The game they learn here: conform to survive. Don't think of it as mind control,” he smirked. “Too Orwellian. Think of it as 'running with the pack'.”

Sounds predatory, I thought.

The machine was ready. A ninth-grader entered to stand under its glow. Dark hair fell straight to her shoulders. Shy eyes betrayed awkwardness and fear in a face as fragile and beautiful as innocence itself. I turned away.

"I'm leaving, Smugness. Look for your bad self in the newspaper."

"Awh, don't do that," he said. "Good jobs are hard to find just now, and this is an easy one. My legislator friends won't like it if you do that."

I wasn't surprised. "So someone is on the take, then," I guessed, "for funding your Coolameter statewide?"

"Well duh, Daddy-O. Nothing's so cool as the color of money."

 

Wake up, Nelson

Used to be when a crisis erupted in a village, someone rang a fire bell in the night to alert the populace and avert disaster. It's time someone did that at Nelson.

For about a year, the city’s planning and zoning commission, or part of it, has operated in a way you could call fast and loose. The planning commission is a five-member body appointed by the elected city council.

At the time some commission members began to go maverick, an atmosphere of animosity had squared the city council against the mayor. Fervor to strip Mayor David Leister of executive powers propelled the council in a moment of weakness to place expanded powers into the hands of the planning and zoning commission. It appeared to be done in the spirit of "The mayor don't like it––must be a swell idea."

Overnight the planning commission's job expanded from hearing zoning change requests to scoping the town for code violations by homeowners, along with about a dozen other responsibilities hardly appropriate for an appointed zoning board.

At the same time the commission’s mission expanded, it also received a new set of council-approved "operational guidelines." Among points of that incredible document is sanction for the planning commission to hold "informal" meetings, those not to include all planning commission members. By the guidelines, one or two members suffice for such "information gathering" confabs, some with city employees.

It seems most such "meetings" have been conducted by planning commission chairman, Lamar Kellett, and member, Mike Haviland, with the other commission members largely out of the loop.

A Nelson asset, Haviland’s experience as a professional in municipal government proved his worth during planning commission talks with Cherokee County for park improvement money (another expanded duty). Haviland's expertise showed as a feather in the planning commission cap.

But at what price such successes? Chairman Kellett seems to believe he best operates in secret, revealing his doings to the mayor and council only as he wants to.

This month the mayor confronted Kellett in a public meeting about seeking financial information from neighboring cities. Kellett denied the activity, though a letter from City of Jasper Finance Director Tacie Williams confirmed it took place.

In addition, it took the city attorney to convince Kellett the planning commission’s city-council-approved operational guidelines do not place the commission above information sharing stipulations of Georgia open records law.

The mayor and council members have asked Chairman Kellett to share information he controls, only to be denied. Does the chair not understand the only power he wields rightly, as an appointed official, he wields by the grace of the elected officials who appointed him, to whom he must rightly respond?

Leister sees Kellett attempting to operate a shadow government at Nelson, trying to conduct the work of government without council oversight or accountability to the public.

Leister asked the city council February 15 to remove Kellett and Haviland from the planning commission. The council responded with a delay, pushing the decision onto a citizen-based ethics committee, an as yet unformed body.

We would urge Nelsonians to do something better. Put forward candidates for that ethics committee and demand of your council that the committee be formed. Let your common wisdom end present craziness, and go forward in a way that makes sense to an involved majority of residents.

Open, representative government remains as fundamentally American as our founding documents. We remind Mr. Kellett and any allied with him that, good intentions notwithstanding, the end does not justify the means.

For all Nelson residents a duty remains to take part in their government and to demand accountability on behalf of the electorate, so that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from that struggling municipality astride the county line.