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September 2019
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Staff Editorials

Convict camp should be on Historic Register

Two weeks ago we published a story about a local Facebook page that has captivated the community. “Photos of Pickens County Georgia” is a forum where people can share old photos of Pickens’ past. The page highlights how important history is to us collectively, and how our cultural history shapes our identity as a community.

While the photos being shared on this page are invaluable, preservation efforts should go beyond just taking pictures when there’s an opportunity to keep significant pieces of our physical history intact. The recent, palpable sadness caused by the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral shows that some buildings carry more historical weight than others and, if the community recognizes that early enough, they can keep these important structures around for future generations to enjoy. 

The “old convict camp” on Camp Road is architecturally one of the most unique in the county, with its all-marble façade and barred windows, and is culturally significant as a facility that housed chain gangs after it was built in 1938 - but the convict camp is notably absent from the list of Pickens County properties that appear on the National Register of Historic Places, and that needs to change. 

(Places on the list are: Georgia Marble Company and Tate Historic District; Pickens County Courthouse; Pickens County Jail; Tate Gymnasium; Tate House; and private residences the Cagle House and the Griffeth-Pendley House. These listings were added between the years of 1974 and 2008). 

There is plenty of confusion surrounding The National Register of Historic Places and what a designation does and doesn’t do.  Contrary to popular belief, a designation does not place restrictions on the use of private property, nor mean a building can never be torn down, nor require it be repaired, restored, or maintained. Property owners’ rights do not change under this designation. 

But if a designation doesn’t mean the building will be preserved what’s the point? 

Briefly defined, being on the National Register of Historic Places is an honorary title and an official list of properties that are considered worthy of preservation because they are significant in the areas of history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture. The program, overseen by the National Parks Services, aims to “coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.”

Benefits of a property being on the list include: helping project planners and developers (public or private) know which buildings are most valuable to the community; education by way of thorough, publicly-accessible documentation about why the property is historically important (this information must be provided during the nomination/application process); the opportunity for property owners to qualify for the Federal Historic Tax Incentives Program that helps recoup rehabilitation costs; and it strengthens arguments about preservation efforts. Property owners can also put up a plaque at the property that shows it has been added to the list (but they don’t have to). 

There are also studies that have found areas that have historically preserved properties see a positive economic impact in property values and tourism. 

We need individuals and community leaders to make it a priority to be preservation minded and take steps to preserve our historical places, or risk seeing them dissappear. We remember the public outcry over the old log cabin at the corner of Cove Road and Grandview Road. The cabin, thought to be built sometime in the 19th century, was torn down and replaced by a Dollar General despite last-ditch efforts to save it. Had someone at some point in the past taken initiative to document the history of the building and get it on the list the outcome could have been different. 

While a designation on the National Register of Historic Places doesn’t guarantee an historic building won’t be torn down or changed, it’s a step in the right direction and one that should be taken for the old convict camp. 









Make students who take vapes to school pay for new technology

The local schools have indicated that if they get certain state grants, they will likely buy a very cool, high-tech piece of technology that can determine whether a student’s vape is filled with a legal nicotine product (basically a chemical cigarette) or a synthetic marijuana product (an illegal drug).

This TacticID is considered a needed $50,000 purchase by sheriff and school officials. During this school year, 70 vaping offenses have occurred on campuses and quite a few students have suffered seizures and been transported to the emergency room due to vaping.

Rampant vaping continues despite the schools’ and district attorney’s efforts to show the consequences of vaping synthetic drugs. A more effective anti-vape message should have come from the students spreading a video of a PHS student having what was called a vape-related seizure in the school cafeteria. It was ugly, watching the student flop around then go comatose. If any kid saw it and still said, “you know what, I’ll take a puff or two on the same stuff,” they deserve what is coming to them.

Since education and public warnings didn’t solve the problem, the schools/ law enforcement are going to fight the vaping scourge, which one detective predicted will eventually prove fatal to a teenager, with technology.

Expensive technology paid for by the hard working taxpayers of Georgia.

Medical people want the new technology to better treat vape seizures. Law enforcement wants the TacticID to make stronger charges against kids with synthetic, illegal drugs in the vapes. Both uses only apply to the vape or other drug users -- though the machine can also identify many other substances. If we are going to buy this wonder-gadget, we suggest letting the vapers and their parents pay for it.

The schools could track every time a vape substance is checked on campus and send the vape owner’s family a bill. Perhaps start with something like $50 to the student and his family for any vape check. Any time the results come back positive on an illegal substance, the bill rises to $200 (plus the standard criminal charges). And, any time the device is used to help treat a kid taken to the emergency room due to a vaping seizure, it’s a $500 charge.

The schools already charge for items like caps and gowns, yearbooks and to play sports. So, this wouldn’t be that different: if you want to be on the tennis team it’s a certain price and if the school SRO’s have to test your vape, it’s a set price.

Keep in mind, this isn’t a new tax or forcing anyone to pay anything. Kids who choose to bring vapes to school are subject to pay and if you don’t want to incur a bill, leave the vape at home. It’s a student’s decision and a good lesson in consequences.

While the public service messages on the hazards of vaping didn’t work, even the lazy parents would be a little more  attentive to what their kids are doing if they start getting bills for vape checks. Charging the kids for the use of the taxpayer-funded device to reimburse the rest of us is about fairness and responsibility. It’s not fair for the average citizen to fund the reckless behavior of teens. For the kids, it’s about you (or your parents) being forced to take responsibility for your actions, a great example of making vaping a teachable moment as educators say.


Pickens blessed with health

Where we live makes a huge difference in how well and how long we live and if new research by the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (CHRR) is correct, Pickens County, which ranked 19th in the state for health outcomes, is a great place to be. 

And we aren’t surprised. While fast food restaurants may dot our landscapes more than fruit and veggie smoothie stands and poor recreation opportunities may hinder us from getting outside as much as we would like, Pickens is still a great place to be. And apparently there are only 18 other counties in the state  “better” in terms of health. 

Pickens is officially 19th out of the state’s 159 counties for health outcomes, with only 13 percent of us ranking as having “poor” or “fair” health. A full 19 percent of people throughout the state rated as poor or fair health. 

Pickens residents only have an average of 3.4 poor physical health days each year. Statewide that number is 3.8 and the least healthy county reported residents with an average of 4.6 days with poor physical health. The healthiest county averaged just 2.9 poor physical health days.

Of course physical vigor isn’t the only thing that makes us “healthy.” Mental health casts a long shadow over our total health and locally people reported just 3.6 days of poor mental health, lower than the statewide average of 3.8. The healthiest Georgia county reported just 3.1 poor mental health days and the least healthy county reported a full 4.3 days.

And while 16 percent of adult Pickens countians reported as smokers, it’s less than the statewide average of 18 percent. 

Not all of the latest health numbers are flattering. Adult obesity in Pickens is listed at 31 percent, one percent more than our counterparts throughout the state. That number is the percentage of the adult population age 20 and older who report a body mass index (ratio of weight to height) greater than 30. Note: One way to combat this might be to shop local at our Jasper Farmers Market now open every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. - noon. Eat fresh and what’s in season.)

Our physical activity is nothing to write home about either. According to the CHRR our physical inactivity level is 29 percent -- five percentage points higher than the statewide average. In other words, Pickens residents as a whole sit around about five percent more than the usual Georgian. We recently editorialized on these pages, our access to exercise opportunities are limited because of the meager state of our parks. And the latest studies reinforce the idea that this county needs more recreation. The CHRR figures showed that “access to exercise” rates at 69 percent here while statewide the average is 76 percent. This based on the feeling of those surveyed who feel they have access to exercise opportunities. 

Seventeen percent of Pickens residents were listed as “excessive drinkers” compared to an average of  15 percent across the state who are imbibing too much or often. 

More and more research shows that our social connections, particularly among older residents, are a key component to living and aging well. (One study even found that social isolation is similar in health risk to cigarette smoking.) Pickens addresses social isolation well, according to the CHRR.  We boast  plenty of volunteer and church organizations that keep our residents as involved as they want to be. According to the study we rate at 9.7 memberships associations compared to the state’s 8.9.   

Much richer counties like Forsyth (#1), Oconee (#2), Cherokee (#3), Fayette (#4) and Gwinnett (#5) ranked highest for overall best health outcomes, according to the report. For surrounding counties, only Dawson to our east ranked higher than us, coming in at #15. Gilmer County ranked 63rd.

So as spring continues its pollen explosion and the days get longer and more filled with sunlight, let’s remember we have it pretty good right here in Pickens County. 

Damn, there is a lot of plastic

By Dan Pool, Editor

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Last week, we had a few days of the Progress Plastic Elimination Challenge. We didn’t create a hashtag or make t-shirts, but our staff did decide to be conscious of our plastic usage for a few days as an experiment.

There are some pretty interesting ways groups promote reduction of plastic with consumers, including several where people piled up all the plastic they wound up with for a period of time.

We made mental notes.

And the one conclusion we all agreed upon is there is a lot of plastic waste out there and you end up with more of it than you realize no matter how much you try to avoid it.

Among some of our small staff’s observations:

• Chances are if you get something to drink on the go, it comes in plastic – though several members of the staff sought out aluminum cans (which are easily recycled and efficient) plastic dominates drink containers - except beer. At several stores, major Coke/Pepsi soft drinks are only offered in plastic bottles. 

• If you eat fast food, you wind up with all kinds of plastic – from packets of sauce, to containers for food and again with the drinks, cups, lids and straws. It’s hard to imagine anything other than plastic or Styrofoam (just as bad or worse chemically) in which you could get a shrimp plate home from a drive-thru. In our discussions, we generally agreed we would pay slightly more or dine elsewhere if a chain offered a non-plastic substitute like corn starch containers that do biodegrade in less than a century.

• A wide variety of purchases, particularly toiletries and small electronics, come in ridiculously thick plastic packaging that is not only an environmental problem but a pain in the rear to open. Do so many products really need to come in a safety sealed cocoon that requires a sharp knife to open?

• Plastic sneaks up on you – Only one member of our staff regularly uses totes in place of plastic bags at the grocery store for big shopping trips. But we all ended up with plastic bags when picking up just an item or two with efficient clerks who bagged purchase before we could say “no bag, please.” Some of us did pull some purchases back out of the bags, but that ends up messing up the clerk’s line and holding up other shoppers.

Taking stock of our habits really made two points: consumers can make a difference with their personal choices that would be significant if a new less-is-better mood became a nationwide norm. It’s not farfetched that people might carry re-useable shopping bags or re-useable water bottles/cups/straws with them one day, as who would have thought every living person would carry a phone with them everywhere they went 10 years ago?

Second, personal choices make a difference, but much of the plastic is unavoidable unless corporations step up with decisions regarding packaging. Is there something less harmful that groceries and other household supplies can come in that consumers will support? 

If you are wondering why we are worrying about a bunch of cups, straws and bags we’ll leave you with this: (numbers compiled from a variety of different internet sources)

• 500 million plastic straws are used in the US every day. 

• The average American family takes home around 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year.

• Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. 

Every little reduction will help, particularly if it’s a small action by many consumers. Just think about the impact over the course of a year if everyone started by  eliminating one straw, one bottle and one bag a day?


Tired of the outrage

By Dan Pool, Editor

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To say I’m outraged by the outrage might seem hypocritical. It’s more a case of I’m tired of seeing constant outrage as the go-to response for everything.

Every time our president makes an off-the-cuff remark, there is a flood of liberals who wail and moan and gnash their teeth as though the comment was going to destroy the country. Then comes the backlash of conservatives who wail and moan and gnash their teeth that the liberals got so heated up in the first place. 

It would be much more impressive had someone posted on their social media, “I was looking over the latest reports on the effects of the tariffs and...” 

Have a little substance instead of non-stop yelling and yakking about trivial matters as Shakespeare might say, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The height of my outrage over this outrage involves actor Jussie Smollett, who became really famous and discussed as though he were an important person. Other than Empire, Smollett’s career has little of distinction unless the Mighty Ducks ranks as a classic, and outside of acting, he had nothing of any gravitas to suggest his opinions or actions should be the subject of study. The news story that brought him infamy is pretty humorous. In a nutshell he paid two guys to rough him up, then claimed it was a hate crime, hoping to boost his career. Chicago police saw through the farce. So no one got hurt other than the guy who paid people to do it.

But, judging by media reporting, you would think Smollett was a spokesperson for the modern liberal world, a figure whose actions need to be debated and parsed over in pleasant company or at least on social media. 

Author Bret Easton Ellis used the phrase “generation wuss” to describe the faux outrage that erupts every time anyone says anything that doesn’t sit right with the masses.

He was targeting millennials whom he called overly-sensitive and narcissistic – because they were always upset by something and thought society gave a darn about their feelings. But from what I see this generation wuss outrage infects all levels of society.

Even here in Pickens County, as anyone has followed the news knows, a convicted sex offender was found roaming the halls and entering the bathroom at Tate Elementary. He was on campus including entering a bathroom about five minutes before being escorted to the office where his identification was copied. He left the building but when his prior convictions came to light, he was arrested before the sun went down.

He gained access through a door that apparently didn’t latch because pine bark got stuck in it. The sheriff has since added personnel to see that full-time officers are at all schools. The schools have elaborate plans to review procedures and entrances. 

While the man’s motives aren’t known, this is certainly a concerning situation to everyone -- possibly a close call with tragedy. But at the core, the problem was a malfunctioning door, not a colossal sign of incompetence or moral laxity or an indication that people are blasé about sex offenders at elementary schools. It was ludicrous to see people make online comments to the effect they wouldn’t stand for sex offenders to be walking the halls of schools. As though what? Other people find sex offenders on an elementary campus acceptable? As though the school not only should have known the particular door was malfunctioning but also foreseen that a sex offender was going to walk through?

This shouldn’t be taken lightly but when you get to the bottom line unnoticed pine bark stuck in a door is not a grievous sin or an unpardonable mistake.

Most of the time in life it is simply a malfunctioning door, not a moral failing and jumping on a moral high-horse every single day will sooner or later break the poor animal’s back.