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OPINION PAGE - AUGUST 25, 1999 - JEFFERSON, GEORGIA



Column
Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald - August 25, 1999

Tragedy and community
I did not know Kim Thi or little Di Thi, the mother and daughter who were killed in a freak wreck in Jefferson two weeks ago. But like a number of other people who weren't personally acquainted with Kim or Di, I stood at the graveside service Saturday morning out of respect for a family that had been shattered and the two promising lives that had been lost.
It could have been my wife and child, or yours, who died that day. I had been at the scene of that wreck while rescue and medical workers attempted to save the two lives. It was obvious that those efforts would likely be futile, so serious were the injuries. And even though I've seen a lot of bad wrecks over the years, those where children are hurt or killed are the worst. No one gets hardened to that.
Saturday morning, Kim and Di were laid to rest amid a ceremony that blended the traditions of two cultures - the one Kim and her family left thousands of miles away and the one they adopted when they moved to Jefferson. Two Buddhist monks clad in bright orange robes chanted briefly as the smell of incense hung in the air, reflecting the Vietnamese heritage from which Kim was born. An older Vietnamese woman gave instructions to the family and the assembled Vietnamese crowd as various objects were tossed into the grave.
Intersecting with those traditions were brief remarks from local Methodist minister Gary Whatley. Sitting on the ground in the shadow of the single casket, Mr. Whatley spoke to the three young children who are now without a mother and baby sister. Dressed in traditional white, the three listened as this Christian minister offered words from a different faith, but a single purpose. The pain of loss is the same in all languages and religions.
In this single, blended service was the essence of what it means to be part of a community. We hear a lot today about "cyber-communities," locations on the vast internet where people with similar interests meet to exchange information. We also hear a lot about particular political or ethnic communities - the African-American community or Hispanic community, for example.
But those narrow definitions of "community" fall far short of what a community should really be.
A community is a place where people turn in times of tragedy for support, or in times of triumph for celebration.
A community is a place where people with different interests meet because they share the common interest of a particular time and place.
A community is a place where people from different religions meet to discuss not how they are different, but rather how they are alike.
A community is a place where ethnic or cultural differences are secondary to the larger common interests that transcend issues of race or culture.
A community is a place where people can come together to mourn the tragic loss of two people they did not know and to support a family they have likely never met.
Last Saturday, the common bonds of this community were tied around the different heritages, beliefs and histories of those assembled to bury Kim and Di. It was just a small sample, I think, of the sense of loss felt throughout the community. Hundreds not at that service in person were there in spirit.
Psychologists tell us that tragedies often sharpen the senses and focus the mind in ways not possible in our normal life's balance.
So too can tragedies focus the collective sense of community that we share, but often forget.
Kim and Di Thi reminded us of that. Whether we knew them or not, they were a part of our community and we mourn their loss.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
EMAIL: MikeB21081@aol.com.



Editorial
The Jackson Herald
August 25, 1999

Deal could be good for county
It's a long way from a done deal, but if the county and Water Wise can reach an agreement on sewer service, it would be best for both parties.
The key issue in this controversy is control - who will control the placement of sewer lines in the county and hence, where intensive growth is allowed?
We believe that no matter who operates a sewer facility, a local government should have control over where sewer lines are put. To allow unregulated, private companies to make that decision would make profit, not the public interest, the paramount concern.
The deal being worked on by lawyers for the county and Water Wise is an effort to balance those two interests by allowing the county to decide the location of sewer lines while allowing a private company to profit from sewer services.
So why is this good for both parties? From the county's perspective, having Water Wise fund the basic infrastructure development is better than the county borrowing the money to do it. Still, the county keeps control over when and where the lines will go.
From Water Wise's view, a deal now is better than fighting a protracted court battle. Even if Water Wise could win in the courts, that may take years. In the meantime, the county would have long since gotten into the sewage business itself, basically shutting off the local market from Water Wise.
There are still some big issues to be resolved in this effort. For one thing, the county will need assurance that Water Wise would be willing to put in some sewer lines for prospective industrial growth; to gamble, in other words, for the long-term profit by investing money today in sewer lines where there may not be any immediate return on that investment. That is one area where the profit vs. public interest balance will have to be reached to both parties satisfaction.
It'd be a stretch to say any deal between the county and Water Wise would be a marriage made in heaven - in many ways, it would be a shotgun wedding. And as in all forced marriages, there's a difficult and delicate balance that will have to be reached.
But that's better than the alternative legal fight that is sure to ensue if the two parties fail to reach a deal.




Letter
The Jackson Herald
August 25, 1999

Manufactured homeowners can be 'good neighbors'
Dear Editor:
The article in the August 11, 1999, edition of The Commerce News titled "Too Many Trailers, Too Little Leadership" was quite an eye-opener. Apparently there are folks who feel that our county is being besieged by "trailer trash" and that our elected officials need to do more to keep our county free of these apparently substandard people.
Elliott Brack, associate editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Gwinnett Extra, offered his views to the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 4. Apparently, Mr. Brack feels qualified to help solve the problems we face. He said that the percentage of manufactured homes rose from 33 percent in 1995 to 40 percent now. "That is not good. That is a step backwards," he commented.
First of all, those 40 percent are legal property-owning, voting residents of Jackson County. Secondly, who is going to tell that 40 percent of the county that they are somehow substandard and are not wanted?
People who buy and live in manufactured homes are generally hard-working, law-abiding, peaceful-living people who have chosen manufactured homes for good reasons. They are good neighbors and good friends. They raise families and work hard in our community. They deserve to be able to live here just as much as those who are rich do.
Manufactured homes are the only category of homes in America that are built to a strict nationwide code. The fire marshall of Georgia wrote the following: "It is unlikely that any local jurisdiction enforces such fire safety code requirements on conventional on-site single family homes as are imposed by the federal government on the manufactured housing industry."
According to Mr. Brack, manufactured housing offers "a low yield of taxes that will never pay for the services these people will need." First of all, manufactured home buyers are required to pay sales tax on their purchase. Stick-built homes are not subjected to this tax at the retail purchase point. Secondly, I would assume that more taxes are collected on manufactured homes and the improved lots that they occupy than the county collected on the land before improvements. Thirdly, these homeowners pay regular rates for utilities and other services that make a profit for the companies providing them. These extra profits surely benefit our county through taxes collected on them and from more jobs being made available.
Now I realize what Mr. Brack is thinking. Perhaps if we keep on trying to exclude manufactured homes from Jackson County, only wealthy people will be able to live here and thus our tax base will be large and our county will prosper. Wouldn't it be great to be just like Gwinnett County? Maybe we can even get MARTA so we can bus in workers for the enjoyment of rich folks.
Mr. Brack did have a suggestion to help keep the worker bees in the colony, "encourage lower cost but better-than-mobile-home housing." Perhaps Habitat for Humanity can come in and build a few hundred homes a year. Or maybe we could build some really nice public housing projects or maybe we should just pay people to live somewhere else.
The average site-built home costs approximately $60 per square foot to build and is built to standards that often are not as high as many manufactured homes. The average factory-built manufactured home costs $30 per square foot and is inspected at every point of construction by government inspectors. It is never subjected to the elements during construction and is built using computer-aided design and production techniques that maximize productivity and control labor costs.
If Mr. Brack truly reflects the thoughts of our Chamber of Commerce, then the Chamber needs to stop trying to get industry to move to Jackson County. Ask any business and you will hear that getting and keeping employees is a top concern. Without those people who choose to live in manufactured housing, these new industries are going to have a very hard time getting employees for their manufacturing and other service-related jobs. The rich folks certainly aren't going to do those jobs. Will we do like the poultry industry in Gainesville and import immigrants to work here?
Maybe the county needs to work with manufactured home retailers to implement some uniform controls to prohibit all forms of housing that become unsightly and unsafe. Prohibitive zoning that discriminates based on a home being built to HUD code specifications alone is not legal or moral.
I encourage the 40 percent of Jackson County residents who live in manufactured homes to make themselves heard to our current elected officials. If these officials refuse to listen, that 40 percent should be enough to swing an election.
To those who live in manufactured housing, if your home and land are offered for sale as a package, your values do not depreciate. I'd venture to say that land is what holds the value of any structure. A $1 million mansion is not worth quite so much if it has to be moved from its current site.
As to Mr. Brack's opinion that Jackson County has an "obvious lack of forward-thinking leadership in government and community organizations," one might partially agree when applied in some areas. Perhaps our current commissioners are daunted by the task of trying to control growth in Jackson County. It is certainly a pressing need to make sure that the county experiences positive growth. I personally offer my encouragement to Pat Bell, whom I know to be a lady of great intelligence. She has a good heart and a strong spirit. May she and the other government officials make the right choices and may Elliott Brack stay in Gwinnett County!
Sincerely,
Carl Bergeron
Nicholson



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