The Jackson Herald - August 4, 1999
I feel like a proud papa this week who's son has just hit a winning
home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. As any parent knows,
watching the accomplishment of a child is far more rewarding
than any personal achievement.
I had that same feeling last week as this newspaper and its three
sister papers racked up 40 awards in the annual Georgia Press
Associa-tion's Better Newspaper Contest, awards that included
first place honors in General Excellence for both The Jackson
Herald and The Commerce News. A lot of hard work by a lot of
dedicated folks was responsible for those honors and I couldn't
be prouder of that.
Newspapers don't publish just to enter awards contests. We do
our jobs to serve the local communities we're in. But as any
good newspaper person will tell you, the element of competition
with peers is a strong motivating tool. Win or lose, we like
putting our product next to other similar size newspapers in
the competitive forum. Such contests help push everyone in our
industry to a higher level.
As editor, I'm just a figurehead in all of that. Many people
might know my name through this column, but there are a lot of
other people who are really responsible for those awards last
Associate editor Angela Gary is the glue that holds our newsroom
together. Not only is she our assignment editor, she is also
the editor of our Banks County newspaper, The Banks County News.
That paper took home nine awards last week, including a third
place finish for general excellence.
Mark Beardsley, editor of The Commerce News, has been around
Jackson County politics for many years. That experience shows
in his eight awards last week, including first place in general
excellence for newspapers under 4,000 circulation. Mark also
won a first place for best editorial page, among other honors.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal in Danielsville
and has his hands full covering that unique county. We purchased
The Journal a couple of years ago and this was the first year
it had ever entered the state newspaper contest. But even as
a newcomer, The Journal brought home eight awards, including
a tie with The Banks County News for third place in general excellence.
Zach also had an individual first place for sports writing and
finished in first place for best sports section. Zach's right
hand in Madison County is Margie Richards whose writing is a
delight to read and who also was a large part of The Journal's
overall success this year. Helping Zach and Margie is Ben Munro,
a college student who covers a lot of sporting events for The
Photographer Travis Hatfield brought home seven individual awards
for photography among all the newspapers. Travis is a talented
photographer and travels all over our three-county coverage area
to photograph a wide variety of events.
Sports editor Drew Brantley covers sports for both The Banks
County News and Commerce News and had two individual awards for
sports photography. Drew also had a second place win for best
sports section for his work in The Commerce News.
Herald features editor Jana Adams brought home second place honors
for business writing and won first place honors for producing
the best lifestyle section. She also had a hand in many of the
other awards and does a major part of the layout for The Banks
Sherry Lewis is news editor for The Banks County News and had
a second place award for business writing. She also had a large
hand in the other awards won by The Banks County News.
April Murphy coordinates several pages for all four newspapers,
including our religion coverage for which she won first place
honors for The Commerce News. April also oversees our obituary
pages and the public notice pages for The Herald and The Banks
Others in the newsroom who had a part in the newspapers' success
are reporter Adam Fouche, typesetter Mary Ann Robinson and proofreaders
Sharon Hogan and Cathy Krusberg. Sharon also does a lot of other
duties for our newspapers.
Beyond the newsroom, there are a lot of other people who had
a part in the success of all or newspapers. Over in the advertising
department, Scott Buffington, Pam Moree, Dana Brown, Connie Owensby
and Sandra Fite generated the advertising dollars to pay for
the people and equipment we need to operate.
In the front office, Debbie Bass, Alexandra Stewart and Bobisue
Strickland coordinate much of our contact with the general public
and oversee our classified ads and subscription lists, among
many other duties.
In the printing department, Julius Mack, Tony Phillips, Garnett
Smith, Larry Norman, Brad Smith, Maurice Sanford and Lisa Lyles
take our raw work and turn it into a printed product for our
readers. Their focus on quality has a large impact on everything
else we do.
In distribution, Jim Smith in Madison County, Dana Bronsted in
Jackson and Banks Counties and Veda Wade and Donald Poe in Jackson
County make sure our papers get to the store racks.
All of this is built on the foundation laid by my parents, Herman
and Helen Buffington, who purchased The Herald in 1965 and built
the business so that we could become a progressive small group
As you can see, what we do here is a team effort. And while winning
awards is nice, we really want to be winners for our readers
by giving you all the news week after week and year after year.
That is the ultimate prize. It doesn't hang on a wall, but it's
the most important of all.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson
The Jackson Herald
August 4, 1999
Water Wise: A web of duplicity
The convoluted dealings between the Town
of Pendergrass and a private sewerage firm are little more than
a web of duplicity and conflicts of interest by public officials.
Not since the shenanigans of the Arcade City Council and a private
landfill company have we seen such a brazen misuse of the public
trust by elected government officials. Actually, the Pendergrass
situation is worse because a web of deceit was deliberately crafted
to mislead the citizens of Pendergrass and throw other county
officials off track.
It's time for the real story to come out:
FACT: Water Wise Inc. owner Jerry Wycliff misled the citizens
of Pendergrass in his bid to sign a contract with the town. He
said in a July 20 council meeting that he wanted to build a sewage
treatment plant in Pendergrass for Pendergrass - he never once
mentioned that he wanted the city to sign a trust indenture for
the old Texfi waste water facility in Jefferson, seven miles
away. The truth is, however, that was the key thing he really
wanted from Pendergrass since that paperwork would allow him
to get a state EPD permit for the Texfi facility. The county
government had already turned Water Wise down, hence the action
FACT: Pendergrass city councilman Melvin "Monk" Tolbert
had a huge conflict of interest at stake during that July 20
meeting - he represented the firm in its purchase of the old
Texfi facility. Yet councilman Tolbert participated in both the
discussion and the vote for Pendergrass to do a deal with Water
Wise. Tolbert also likely knew that action was only a charade
designed as a back door way to get the town's signature on a
trust indenture, yet he never acknowledged that during the July
FACT: Pendergrass Mayor Mark Tolbert, son of the councilman,
also participated in the duping of Pendergrass citizens and had
a huge conflict of interest involved. On July 21, the day after
that council meeting, Mayor Tolbert rushed to Jefferson to put
his signature on the infamous trust indenture for the Texfi facility
in Jefferson. He had to have known the night before that he would
be doing that, yet he never mentioned anything about a trust
indenture or the Texfi plant during the July 20 meeting. On top
of that, Mayor Tolbert, like his father, had a personal conflict
of interest with Water Wise - his wife is an employee of the
FACT: Pendergrass' lawyers likewise had a questionable role in
the deal between Pendergrass and Water Wise. That firm, Tolbert
& Elrod, represented both the town and Water Wise. That means
there was no legal counsel whose only interest was the citizens
and taxpayers of Pendergrass. Not only that, one of the law firm's
principals, Scott Tolbert, is a brother to Mayor Tolbert, son
of councilman Tolbert and a former Pendergrass mayor himself.
In essence, the law firm used its inside influence with Pendergrass,
a public client, to push a deal that was designed to help a private
client, Water Wise. Also, these lawyers had to know the primary
goal of the July 20 proposal with Pendergrass was to obtain a
signature on the trust indenture for the Texfi facility so their
client could proceed with getting their EPD permit.
FACT: Attorney Chris Elrod of Tolbert & Elrod deceived this
newspaper last week when he responded to an open records request
by saying that no paperwork between Water Wise and Pendergrass
had been executed. But Elrod knew that on July 21, Mayor Tolbert
had indeed signed the trust indenture for Water Wise, obligating
the town to take over the old Texfi plant if the private company
went out of business. Elrod's signature is on the July 21 document
along with Tolbert's, so why did he tell us there were no contracts?
FACT: There was no Pendergrass City Council meeting held last
week to authorize Friday's intervention by that town in the Jackson
County vs. Water Wise condemnation action. The decision to intervene
apparently came from Mayor Tolbert and lawyers Tolbert &
Elrod. Once again, the Town of Pendergrass was used to run interference
to help Water Wise. That a different attorney was retained to
file the motion of intervention was only a ruse to shift attention
away from the true decision-makers.
All of this is a sorry mess for all of Jackson County. Public
officials have misused their positions to further the needs of
a private company and in the process, attempted to deceive the
very people they were elected to serve and sworn to protect.
Here's what we believe should happen now:
1. An investigation should be performed on the actions by Pendergrass
public officials in the Water Wise deal.
2. The trust indenture signed by Mayor Mark Tolbert should be
declared null and void. The vote by the Pendergrass City Council
on July 20 was clearly for Water Wise to build a sewage facility
in the city for Pendergrass customers. That vote had nothing
to do with signing a trust indenture for the Texfi facility in
Jefferson, a fact that Pendergrass' own minutes of that July
20 meeting show.
3. The intervention by Pendergrass in the condemnation proceedings
should be thrown out. Such an action wasn't voted on by that
city's government nor does the town have a legitimate standing
in the Water Wise condemnation.
4. The county and City of Jefferson should proceed with their
condemnation of the old Texfi facility, and the county should
assist Mulberry Plantation developers with getting sewerage to
5. The Georgia EPD should deny the transferring of the Texfi
waste water permit to Water Wise because of the misleading way
in which the firm sought to get that document. The permit should
stay in the name of Texfi, the former owner of the facility and
its largest user, until the condemnation action is resolved.
We're ashamed of how Pendergrass leaders and their lawyers have
acted in this deal. But the good citizens in that community,
and in the county as a whole, should not stand by silent in the
face of such deceit and abuse of power by those who were elected
to serve the public, not themselves.