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May 2020
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Staff Editorials

Elected officials can and should discuss important actions

During the Pickens GOP debates a couple weeks ago, school board member candidates were asked about former superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson’s termination and what they would have done differently. There were some variations in answers, but candidates generally pointed to the perceived and very incorrect belief that elected officials are not legally able to discuss things that happen during executive session - even after the action is complete.

School board candidates who do not currently hold office said they weren’t sure how to comment because they were unclear why Wilson was let go. Board members who  were part of that decision-making process said they could not legally discuss personnel matters. It is true that personnel issues are one of a very few items elected officials can talk about behind closed doors. Others include pending litigation and property transaction issues. 

Public officials may have been advised that they can’t discuss executive sessions, but we want to set the record straight for both established, new, and incoming leaders – it might not make you popular with fellow board members, but if you feel it is in the best interest of the public to know what happened, yes, you can discuss it.  

David Hudson, longtime general counsel for the Georgia Press Association and a leading authority on the Georgia Open Meetings Act, addresses the issue in his article, “Officials Free to Speak Openly About What Happens in Closed Government Meetings,” which is published in its entirety on the facing page. Hudson doesn’t mince words when he says, “advice from someone (usually a lawyer representing the public entity)” that executive sessions can’t be discussed “…has no basis in fact or in law. Elected officials are subject only to the voters, and may not be disciplined or discharged from office by their fellow elected members.”

Hudson goes on to clear up a misunderstanding about a Georgia Code (O.C.G.A. 45-10-3) that establishes ethics standards for boards, commissions, and authorities. “It has provisions against the use of undisclosed public information for private gain,” but, “…None of its various provisions, however, would prevent elected or appointed officials from disclosing what occurred in a closed session if the official felt that it was in the public interest to make the disclosure.”   

He cites other Georgia Code as well as the “overriding constitutional principal for public service in Georgia” from the Georgia Constitution and concludes that, “There is no prohibition in Georgia law that would prevent such disclosure…The officer may create ill will with other members of the public agency, but that is a factor that the public officer will have to weigh against what he or she feels is an overriding duty to the public that he or she serves.”

In a recent email to Hudson regarding the issue, he reiterated that elected officials retain their First Amendment right to discuss executive session issues. He did note, however, that there is no way to force a board member to reveal discussions in a legally-closed meeting other than to press them about situations (such as the termination of Pickens’ former superintendent) in which there is compelling public interest.

Additionally, it’s important to note that Georgia law allows for - but does not require - executive sessions only under those very strict parameters of discussing personnel, real estate transactions, and litigation. A Covington News article explains that executive sessions are allowed under those circumstances, “if they feel public discussion would harm the public’s interest. Two examples would be discussing legal strategy in a pending lawsuit, or discussing how much a government is willing to pay for land before a formal offer is finalized.”

Elected officials, from this point on you can’t hide behind the “we can’t discuss executive sessions” argument. We can’t force you to talk, but legally you are able to if you feel it is in the public’s best interest. 

 

Memorial Day is a time to remember the fallen

On Monday, May 25th we will recognize Memorial Day. Since the 1970s, Memorial Day has been celebrated on the last Monday of May but the day of remembrance dates back all the way to just after the Civil War.

America’s most solemn “holiday” honors the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War, according to History.com, and became an official federal holiday in 1971. 

Many consider Memorial Day the unofficial start of summer, complete with a three-day long weekend, barbecue, and perhaps even a beach day. But the day means so much more. 

Memorial Day is a day to remember and honor those in the American armed forces who have given up their lives in service to our country. Along with them, we should also be reminded of the horrible loss their families have suffered. 

While Memorial Day has long roots in America, 20 years ago Congress put into law the National Moment of Remembrance, asking all Americans to pause at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day. Flags across the country are ordered to remain at half staff from morning until noon - symbolizing the soldiers we’ve lost - then raised to full staff - representing our remembrance and appreciation of their lives. There is always a Memorial Day service held locally, but this year organizers with the North Ga. Marine Corps. Det. #1280 were forced to cancel due to social distancing restrictions. They will still have a few members go to the site and honor our fallen heros, but the public will not be able to attend. We invite people to instead pause at 3 p.m. and observe the National Moment of Remembrance. 

Whether or not you personally knew someone who lost their life while serving our country, every single American should be grateful and show proper respect for those throughout our storied history who have died in conflict. They all made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy our freedoms today. 

For that, we at the Progress would like to express our everlasting debt to the men and women who have died, and also to their families left behind.

Here you will see just how many Americans we have lost in the different conflicts. Come Monday, remember these are more than just numbers, they are both an American soldier’s life and the lives of those they touched.

 

 

Battle Deaths

(Source: Department of Veterans Affairs)

American Revolution 

(1775-1783)

4,435

 

War of 1812 

(1812-1815)

2,260

 

Indian Wars 

(1817-1898)

1,000

 

Mexican War 

(1846-1848) 

1,733 

(In Theater Deaths 11,550)

 

Civil War

(1861-1865) 

Union 140,414

(In Theatre Union deaths, 224,097)

Confederate 74,524 

(In Theatre Confederate deaths, 59,297)

 

Spanish-American War 

(1898-1902)

385 

(Deaths in service. Non-Theater 2,061)

 

WWI 

(1917-1918)

53,402

(Non-Theater: 63,114)

 

WWII 

(1941-1945)

291,557

(Non-Theater Deaths 113,842)

 

Korean War 

(1950-1953)

33,739

(In Theater, 2,835; Non-Theatre 17,672)

 

Vietnam War 

(1964-1975)

47,434

(In Theatre: 10,786; Non-Theater: 32,000)

 

Desert Shield/Desert Storm 

(1990-1991)

148

(In Theater 235; Non-Theater 1,565)

 

America’s Wars Total (1775-1991)

Battle Deaths 651,031

(In Theater 308,800; Non-Theater 230,254)

 

Students first - PHS does it right

Across the nation, members of the Class of 2020  have seen their graduation ceremonies cancelled this spring due to COVID-19 and the social distancing guidelines. Considering the death toll, the millions of people who have lost their jobs and the catastrophic impact to businesses, perhaps a seemingly small thing like a graduation ceremony - or the lack of one - may not seem like a big deal.

But it is.

A high school or college graduation ceremony is a life moment; a rite of passage. It’s one of those moments in life right up there with a wedding or a birth and it should be celebrated. Commencement ceremonies are about much more than the physical events, the stadiums and the stages, the caps and gowns. They are intended to honor graduates’ accomplishments, to collectively mark a moment in the lives of kids. 

Regardless of maturity or plans, it’s where kids become adults.

We at the Progress salute the PHS administration for both seeking input from graduates and their families and for doing everything they can to see that students  are rewarded with a ceremony. A big shout out goes to Ellijay Telephone Company, ETC, for their work filming, editing and producing a virtual graduation ceremony. The company has said they will give a digital copy of the ceremony free to all graduates. For that, too, we say thank you. 

This year the podium at Dragon Stadium might be missing - at least for now - but students don’t have to give up the time-honored tradition of graduation thanks to the work of our school administrators. With modern technology and some creativity, seniors will have, at the very least, a virtual ceremony plus, hopefully, an in-person ceremony in Dragon Stadium later this summer. 

In an interview Monday, PHS Principal Chris Wallace stressed how important it is for the graduates to know the community supports them. We agree. 

In addition to working on the graduation ceremony, Wallace said he has 200 yard signs saying things like “Congratulations Seniors” and “We Love Our Seniors” that he hopes to have placed around town within the week. Why? “Just to recognize these kids and to let them know the community supports them and is rooting for them and cheering for them.”

It would have been a lot less work for school officials to just hope that an in-person graduation would work out some time later. But they didn’t take the easy road. Instead they set out to see what parents and graduates wanted with a survey. Wallace said parents were 82-83 percent in favor of both a virtual ceremony and, hopefully, an in-person ceremony later. Approximately 65 percent of the seniors surveyed wanted both as well, he said.

Graduation ceremonies may mean sitting in uncomfortable chairs, being hot and listening to long speeches, but a graduation is not just an end, it’s a beginning and the start of a new chapter in our graduates’ lives. It’s a time to remember the things they have accomplished and to look forward to what lies ahead. 

It’s a moment. And, right now in the age of pandemic, we all could use a glimpse of hope for the future. 

To PHS and Ellijay Telephone Company and all the people and businesses in our community who pulled together for this year’s graduating class, the Pickens Progress says thank you. 

To the Class of 2020: “You cannot be both young and wise”

Congratulations on your graduation. We’re certain it’s not shaping up to be like you expected unless you read a lot of  dystopian fiction. No one ever said they couldn’t wait to throw their cap in an almost empty school as part of a virtual ceremony. 

In times like these, it’s hard to know what advice to offer graduates, so we’ll rely on some of the best commencement speeches ever. If you are interested in finding more, check “best pieces of advice to graduates” on businessinsider.com.

• "If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask what seat. Just get on." Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Harvard Business School, 2012. 

• "Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer… You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn't have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring and dreams are not real." Television producer and author Shonda Rimes,  2014, Dartmouth College.

• “If it doesn't feel right, don't do it. That's the lesson. And that lesson alone will save you, my friends, a lot of grief. Even doubt means don't. This is what I've learned. There are many times when you don't know what to do. When you don't know what to do, get still, get very still, until you do know what to do." Oprah Winfrey, Stanford University, 2008.

• "You can't connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life." Steve Jobs, Stanford, 2005.

• "Will saying 'yes' lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don't be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise." Stephen Colbert, Knox College, 2006

• We're taught that "growing up means leaving the herd, starting up the long escalator to isolation [but it that's not necessarily true]…. As you leave here, remember what you loved most in this place …. I mean the way you lived, in close and continuous contact. This is an ancient human social construct that once was common in this land. We called it a community. We lived among our villagers, depending on them for what we needed." Barbara Kingsolver, Duke University, 2008.

• “Our problems are manmade — therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants." John F. Kennedy, American University, 1963.

• “Your life will be full of setbacks — how you handle them will make all the difference. So you have to stick with it. You have to be persistent.” Barack Obama, Rutgers University, 2016.

 

To close, Churchill, speaking here after Britain entered World War II, strikes the perfect tone for courage.

• “You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination. Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." Winston Churchill, Harrow School, 1941

 

This has nothing to do with coronavirus because we all need a break

By Christie Pool

Staff writer

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We have a competition going among members of our staff at the Progress -  who can grow the most “tonnage” of food this summer. We have five regular staff members and four of us are participating, plus columnist Caleb Smith. It may not initially seem fair since one of us (me) is married to our editor (Dan) and essentially that makes us a two-person team against three solo individuals. But I definitely don’t have a green thumb. I would even venture to say that I am a detriment to my “team.”

One staffer believes that my  spring greens shouldn’t count in the “tonnage” as they were planted before we officially cooked up this contest (pardon the pun). We are fighting hard for the early produce to be included, because kale is prolific even if it takes a mountain of it to weigh much. 

The benefits of growing our own vegetables extend well beyond bragging rights. Backyard gardening leads people to take an interest in the origins of food and make better choices about what we put on our plates. 

For people like for me, who are holding out hope that someone will crossbred plants to taste like Captain Crunch or Fruity Pebbles, growing my own food inspires me to do better -- even if deep-down I know that kale still tastes like, well kale.

The thinking for all of us is that if we grow it, we’ll likely eat it which means more veggies on our plates; knowing exactly how that food was handled and what pesticides were used; the ability to harvest at the right time - vegetables that ripen in the garden have more nutrients than their store-bought counterparts that must be picked early so they can be transported long distances.

And let’s face it: growing our own food is something everyone can do to some extent. Though there is clearly something I miss when it comes to bell peppers, but for very hardy and forgiving tomatoes, squash and  green beans as long as the weather cooperates, I get something to take back to the kitchen.

And cucumbers arrive in droves when they get going.

Whether it be a hydroponic system like a Tower Garden or a large-scale, need-a-tractor-to-plow-it type of garden, there are a few good tips to follow when starting out. 

• Think small to begin with and plant things you really like to eat. 

• Pick a spot with at least six hours of good daytime light and access to water. • Consider using a raised garden bed, especially if you are new to gardening, because you can to control it all better.

• For more see tips from a UGA horticulture expert on page 8B.

The best advice, however, is to talk to farmers or other backyard gardeners right here in our area to get a sense of what grows well here and when.

The Master Gardeners offer regular programs, a new county agent - when  one is hired - should be able to help with particular problems and the vendors at the Farmers Market, which we hope will be back in action soon, are usually very willing to tell how they grew what they are selling. 

Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the most important things we can do to keep our families healthy and this surely reduces our country’s dependance on foreign goods.  We saw a great graphic online (which we can no longer find) showing a feisty mountain woman in a garden with the caption something to the effect that her supply chain is fine outside her door. 

If we are lucky, with plenty of sunshine interspersed with just enough rain this spring, hopefully our grocery bill will get smaller and smaller as the summer progresses and we stock our pantries with fresh produce from the backyard and who knows we might claim bragging rights at our Progress tonnage challenge.