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December 2019
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Staff Editorials

If the politics/culture has you down, try looking with a different perspective

By Dan Pool, Editor

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A few weekends ago, I took a gravel road bicycle ride with Gary Pichon, a regular Progress contributor through his letters and columns.

Pichon, as anyone who reads his submissions knows, is well read and thinks a lot and deeply about the state of the area and nation.

Gary and I have cycled together regularly on the gravel roads of North Georgia. On the day in question we took a route through the Nimblewill area, on the far side of Amicalola Falls State Park.

Steep uphills on gravel bikes give plenty of time to talk, so Gary and I naturally started discussing politics/culture  -- both local and national.

We shared concerns that however the impeachment mess in Washington turns out, it’s damaging for the country.

And this nasty tone in Washington and online regarding politics filters down to the people on a local level, so that we both felt the country is filled with citizens who are shorter-fused and uglier in actions than ever before.

It’s worrisome on where this trend will go with ever more divided groups in this country, and there already has been violent encounters and actions over political rhetoric.

We then turned to the wildfires in California and how they affected the power grid out there, and whether the climate here follows the west coast and dries out in a prolonged drought - our steep slopes with houses tucked into forested mountains are a bad mix for the same type of wildfire devastation.

There is also concern that America’s power grid is particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

We also talked about how it seems development sort of slides around Pickens and doesn’t take hold here, but we probably don’t have the infrastructure with water and sewage to accommodate growth anyway.

In other words, it was about the type of conversation you might expect an editorial writer and a regular contributor to discuss – all doom and gloom.

But then we sort of noticed that the leaves that sunny weekend were really bright on the road and still catching the sun in the trees. And the views when there were breaks in the forest along the road were true north Georgia grandeur at its best – all yellow and red shining mountain ridges.

And it was really sunny and warm that day, always nice for late November cycling.

And Nimblewill Creek was flowing nicely and clean. 

And there was almost no traffic on the mountain road, which was not even that steep compared with other routes we’d done.

And, we noted that we didn’t have to worry about encounters with guerilla fighters or armed terrorists or riding over a landmine, which in many areas of the world would greatly decrease the appeal of cycling.

We were out riding peaceful roads, with awesome scenery, few houses, lots of trees in fall majesty along a clean creek. Things really didn’t look all that bad from a bicyclist’s view. It’s only from the view that you get by looking at the headlines and worse still from the comments below the headlines that you get worried, mad, anxious and scared about the future.

Undoubtably there are plenty of problems out there, but maybe they aren’t so pressing if you get out every once in a while and enjoy yourself and turn off the political conversations.

As we go into the holiday, I’d encourage everyone to take a view if not from the seat of a bicycle, at least from the same mindset of being outside enjoying this great, safe and prosperous place we live.

 

Yes to more traffic enforcement on local roads

By Dan Pool, Editor

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I was coming along one of our winding, mountain, residential roads Sunday and met a driver in an SUV going about 60 mph and doing surprisingly well at keeping it on his side of the yellow line considering the speed and angle of the turn.

I would have loved to ask if I could have yelled when he went by, “What are you thinking?” Literally.

I don’t get too worked up on road rage. I was genuinely curious what the driver was thinking. Specifically, was it something like, “There’s no chance that a deer, child, stopped car, or anything would possibly be in the road around this curve.” Or maybe, “I am such a great driver that even if I find something unexpected blocking my route while going too fast I can manage it.” Or maybe something like, “I hate my life and everyone else’s so if I slam into some poor guy backing out of a driveway I don’t care much.”

Any number of times over the years, we have covered court stories here and seen them in other places where (usually) some younger male was emotionally pleading at a sentencing something to effect of, “I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt.” And they look like they mean it.

When you are going excessively fast on a country road, particularly those in north Georgia with dips, tight curves and steep grades you may not be intentionally looking to cause pain and suffering but you surely aren’t doing much to prevent it either.

So, in response to Sheriff Donnie Craig’s recent query to all residents on their views of tighter traffic enforcement in school zones, we give an emphatic yes and suggest he extend more traffic coverage to non-school zones as well.

If the county reaps a little extra revenue, that’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Put it to good use buying patrol cars; you are keeping us safer. 

Pickens County government and their sign technician generate regular speed reports, which are forwarded to the sheriff’s office and the Progress which show clearly speed is a problem. Nathan Jones, who conducts these speed studies, always points out there is a national formula to formally declare speeding problems. But, he doesn’t rely on it since so many of the local roads are really unsafe if someone goes much over the speed limit as they are narrow and curvy and steep. This is a mountainous county, not a safe place to put the pedal to the metal.

We realize that in general law enforcement is leery of speed crack downs as they aren’t popular. But when you rationally consider what is a real threat to your life, reckless driving is in the bullseye. 

It’s much easier to worry about terrorists, active shooters, illegal immigrants or climate change than to hassle the lead-footed neighbor or nice lady down the street who drives like a bat out of hell, or that busy middle-aged man who just couldn’t resist seeing what that text said while behind the wheel.

But according to odds compiled by the National Safety Council "Injury Facts" and published by the businessinsider.com, except for health issues (cancer, heart disease and such), the car is a good bet for what might get you.

Your lifetime odds of dying in a motor vehicle incident are 1 in 103 while your odds of dying in a mass shooting are 1 in 11,125. 

In America we get emotional over mass shootings. But in reality you are 100 times more likely to die driving to some place than being shot while there.

According to Wikipedia, in 2018 if you count every shooting where there were multiple victims, 323 people were killed. 

But that same year, the National Safety Council estimates that 40,000 people in the United States died in roadway deaths. Looking back that figure is consistent at around the 40,000 mark for years 2016 and 2017. As a nation we are not making improvements on highway deaths.

So, yes, we are all for more traffic enforcement.

Tag-team efforts tackle park deficits

You will read (Pages 8A-9A) in this issue about the City of Jasper and Pickens County filing a joint grant seeking funding for a 3.4-acre park on the corner of downtown Jasper. This is a big deal for several reasons.

First, they might (hopefully) will get the potential $3 million from the Conserve Georgia grants. In case you had forgotten, this was a state voter-approved revenue allocation where some of the sales tax from sporting goods goes directly to outdoor projects. There is a required local match, but with a plan put together by the local Atlantic Coast Conservancy (ACC) using in-kind labor and private donations, it should be a bargain for the innovative park the area will get.

The phase 1 plans are not large, but they will create a showplace for our mountain views and raise the “hip” factor in the county seat.

The plans, courtesy of Robert Keller and ACC, that have been presented are well-tailored for a downtown. The park will sit at the southeast corner of town on property already owned by the city at South Main Street and Spring Street. It surrounds the former Perrow medical clinic and will be named Perrow Park to honor the family.

That area is already a greenspace which hosts a few sporadic events but it’s rough, uneven terrain with no bathroom, night lighting or anything that facilitates public gatherings. 

Giving the property some designed character should be a catalyst for the revitalization underway along Main Street with new eateries and coffee/sweet shops. 

Among the features of the park we liked the best is the grassy amphitheater. This will be a neat asset as a gathering space any time, in addition to any shows. The terraced earthen area will be a spot to hang out, meet a friend or have lunch. If you think about cool-looking towns in Georgia, the ones that win awards and keep people coming back to downtowns, they all have something unique, feature some greenspace and are surrounded by vibrant shops. Whether it’s the colossal Atlanta midtown and Piedmont Park, or a smaller Marietta with the square or Dahlonega with the neat mountain atmosphere and puzzling traffic flow, Woodstock and their amphitheater and booming shopping/dining, Saint Simons and the lighthouse or Madison and its revitalized downtown park where unused buildings formerly sat, all these places have an ambiance.

Jasper business owners have made tremendous strides with new restaurants, boutiques and shops now open, giving a fresh flow on Main Street -- small businesses leading the way.

Now, if fortune smiles on the grant application, the civic side can pull their weight by giving a touch of character to town. 

However, if the state decides our project doesn’t get the dough this year, the effort has already broken new ground in the joint city/county approach. While the two governments have worked together regularly on roads, waterlines and storm clean-ups, this marks a new chapter of them tag-teaming for recreation. Not just working together to accomplish a set task but actually combining heads and resources for an ambitious plan.

Working together the city and county can tackle this recreation deficit to benefit us all.

 

Decline in church attendance hurts small towns, America

Christianity in America is changing. On a nationwide scale, a decline in church attendance is accompanied by a rise in those who identify as “religiously unaffiliated.” 

Last month the Pew Research Center came out with an update to what they describe as “America’s changing religious landscape.” The non-partisan think tank conducted telephone surveys in 2018 and 2019 and found that “65 percent of American adults now describe themselves as Christians, down 12 percentage points over the past decade.”

The “religiously unaffiliated” who identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26 percent, up from 17 percent a decade ago. 

Consider that in the late 1970s, 90 percent of U.S. adults said they were Christians.

In Pickens County, a conservative and demographically older community, we may be insulated from the trends somewhat. But think about these figures on a personal level, do nine out of 10 people you know attend church or is it just a little over half?

We’ll leave the theological implications to the pastors out there, but for practical reasons, this trend is troubling. Churches are the backbone of small town America.

Flip to our church pages (Page 4-5B) and look at the services offered and deeds performed by churches. For church critics, we’d be quick to ask who else is going to organize youth groups, volunteer with food pantries, visit the sick and offer solace to the grieving? Sure, there are secular groups, but without the support of churches, all these efforts will be drastically reduced or disappear entirely. Loneliness now stands as a recognized health crisis in America – that alone speaks to the need for strong churches.

In Pickens County, the Progress contacted several church representatives last week asking whether their memberships have increased, decreased, or been stagnant over the past decade. Respondents reported a mixed bag, with some congregations seeing increases and others a decline. Churches report losing members to “nursing homes and funeral homes,” while only gaining new members “slightly.” Some traditional church representatives said over the past two or three years it has been harder to attract young families, with many in that demographic, they feel, preferring the worship styles of the modern “mega” style churches.  

According to Pew, in 2009, regular worship attenders (those who attend religious services at least once or twice a month) outnumbered those who attend services only occasionally or not at all by a 52-47 percent margin. Today, those figures are reversed; more Americans now say they attend religious services a few times a year or less (54 percent) than say they attend at least monthly (45 percent).

Those national statistics may not hold true here. Another area church representative said while  smaller congregations are losing membership, mega-churches are increasing numbers. This is clearly a factor in Pickens County with Woodstock First Baptist and Revolution Church with large construction projects underway and Encounter Life Church (which already has several locations) moving to Trinity Tabernacle on Allred Mill Road.

A member of a local traditional Baptist church here said their membership has stayed steady over the past several years, with approximately 100-125 attending weekly and numbers swelling to over 200 during revivals. While they have an older congregation, they also have a thriving youth group.  In contrast earlier this summer, a Progress story on the tradition of Decoration Days at a west end church noted that attendance was dropping. 

Declining numbers at small churches, many well over a century old, are a marked change for Pickens County. Consider in the 1950s this newspaper reported the Grand Jury asked the sheriff to speak to businesses  opening their doors on Sunday and encourage them to do otherwise. 

The wide array of welcoming churches here are a great asset and make our county strong. If you have been a little slack in your weekly attendance, we’d encourage you to make it a habit and take someone new with you. If you don’t have a church connection here, look around and you’ll find great people who will be happy to see a new face.

 

It’s great to see community involved, now keep it up

It was truly heartening to see the community participate so fully in the democratic process, expressing their views to the school board involving the transgender bathroom situation. And, while poor handling of the whole situation by the school district set off the chain of events, the school board and superintendent deserve respect for publicly owning up – in spite of death threats and raised tempers. It takes gumption to invite an angry crowd to air their grievances.

The bathroom issue was one that reached  parents at an emotional level. It is important that parents feel their children are safe both physically and emotionally at a school. And the rest of the public’s tax dollars fund the system so their policy is fair game for comment even if your oldest child graduated years ago. 

But for all those people who ONLY turned out for this one issue and will not be back to future school board or county meetings, shame on you. It’s like you came to watch the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl and then forget about the team the rest of the year.

Just imagine if the public rose up in similar fashion over the vaping issue? Vaping to date has affected more children than the bathroom issue; has already sent kids to the hospital; resulted in charges and reportedly left at least one student with lingering health effects -- prompting an investigator to predict vaping will eventually kill a kid here. Think for a second if the schools saw 800 parents or even half that amount down on D.B. Carroll Street demanding something be done right then to get vapes out of the schools? 

Or imagine, instead of complaining on the back end about the expensive video scoreboard at Dragon Stadium, people had turned out demanding a cut in spending before it was installed?

What about if parents and grandparents of elementary children marched into a school board meeting with questions and opinions on whether the board should shorten the school day for the youngest students, even if it means cutting some of the PEs and arts?

Or where were the parents asking what can be done to raise Milestone scores over the fair/okay but not that great ones reported earlier this year?

What exactly do parents feel about making the school year start later and with fewer class days? The board can only guess or speculate from a small handful of comments.

It was encouraging to see that people here still demand accountability of their elected officials and tax-funded institutions but outside of this one issue, it’s disheartening to see how few other topics raise much interest.

Former school board member Byron Long remarked at a public forum when he was still office that he had tried to engage the public, but his phone never rang nor did he log many e-mails. Even if you can’t attend a meeting, all board members can be reached by e-mail [it’s on their website pickens.k12.ga.us but not that easy to navigate].

Any elected official in a small town will do a better job with input from their constituents, whether its parents or property owners. They will do a better job because the people will hold them accountable -- when the eyes of the people are on them. There is no money in serving on a commission, city council or school board. People don’t get into small town government for fame or fortune. They do it because they care, and they need input to know what parents and taxpayers are thinking and not just once in a blue-moon.

The Progress ran a photo (May 24, 2018) of a public hearing on the school’s FY 2019 budget at the central office. It shows two board members and Superintendent Carlton Wilson talking amongst themselves in front of an empty room of chairs. Not one member of the public attended.

The latest episode involving the bathroom and school officials reversing their decision for the time being shows what can be accomplished when the community is engaged. Don’t let it be a one-time thing