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The Jackson Herald
November 10, 1999

Pendergrass: A private fiefdom?
We're not sure those living in Pendergrass really care, but the town has a huge problem - its city council. Seldom have we seen a government so willing to trade on its status to further the purposes of private interests.
The truth is, the Pendergrass city government does not represent the town's citizens, but rather the narrow interest of a handful of powerful residents.
Evidence of this came earlier in the year when Mayor Mark Tolbert, a member of the town's leading clan, convinced the city council to pay $400 per month for the mayor's position. That despite the fact that the town has no departments to oversee or work for a mayor to do. It has no water system, no police department, no street department and no full-time employees. It was simply a move to legally put public money into the mayor's pocket. It may have been legal, but it certainly wasn't legitimate.
But the real evidence of Pendergrass's willingness to prostitute its public standing came when it got in bed with a private waste water firm. Last week, the town continued that questionable relationship when it moved to appeal a ruling which said that Pendergrass had no standing in the condemnation lawsuit between Water Wise, Inc. and the Jackson County government.
The appeal only reinforces the nutty decision-making coming out of Pendergrass. Having been slapped hard by the earlier ruling, the town is willing to continue the charade not for its own gain - it has nothing legitimate at stake - but rather for the gain of a private water firm.
Why is that?
Could it be because Mayor Tolbert's wife works for Water Wise? Or because his brother's law firm represents Water Wise in its legal action against the county? Or because his father, also a city councilman, was the real estate agent representing Water Wise?
It should be obvious to everyone that Pendergrass's involvement in the Water Wise condemnation is not to benefit the town as a whole, but rather the personal interests of a private fiefdom.
What's really appalling about the entire mess, however, is that the city council continues to go along with it, blindly following whatever advice is dished out by the mayor and his lawyers.
That should not be. If Pendergrass is going to exist as a legal government, it should do so for the purpose of benefiting all its citizens, not just a powerful few.
It's time for the full Pendergrass City Council to wake up to its public responsibilities. If it can't do that, then we believe the state should step in and abolish the town's status as a legal city.

By Mike Buffington
November 10, 1999
Gause book is a Veterans Day tribute
It is altogether fitting that the official release of Major Damon "Rocky" Gause's war memoir is taking place on Veterans Day 1999. By now, just about everyone in Jackson County is aware of Gause's book, "The War Journal of Major Damon Rocky Gause." A native of Jackson County, Gause penned his journal after surviving an escape from the Philippines and making his way to Australia by boat during the early months of World War II.
Unfortunately, Major Gause didn't live to see his work published, having died in a flight training accident in England later in World War II. Although the basic story was widely known at the time, having been published in numerous newspapers and magazines, it soon fell into the shadows as the war dragged on.
But Gause's son, also named Damon, kept his father's memory alive, first by absorbing the stories as a child and now by seeing that the memoir is finally published as a book.
And what a book. Although I first read the raw journal about 15 years ago, I was still amazed when I read the book again last week. It is a story of courage and survival set against the backdrop of the century's greatest conflict. How could two men in a small, leaky boat travel through so much enemy territory and make it home alive?
On its face, the book is one man's story, but at a deeper level it also reflects much about this nation and its struggles during the last 100 years. Major Gause's journal reflects that which is good about the United States - courage in the face of adversity, ingenuity when the odds were long and the ability to survive even the toughest of trials.
It's true, of course, that many others also faced great odds in that war, and in other conflicts of this century. There are many who survived terrible conditions and struggled through long odds, both during battle and as prisoners of war.
But because of its rich detail that had been kept in a makeshift diary during the escape, Major Gause's journal stands out not just because he escaped, but also because he was a gifted writer. And in the end, he pays tribute to all those who helped along the way by acknowledging that his story is really the story of many people who risked their lives so that a "lone hunted American" might find his way to freedom.
That Major Gause later died in Europe was a tragedy, but his story doesn't end in some remote English graveyard. Through his son's commitment, the once-forgotten manuscript has again reached the public. That a son would wish to honor his father in such a way is understandable, but that's only one part of why this book was published. As Damon says when he speaks to various civic or veterans' groups, the publishing of his father's journal was also a way to honor all of those who fought for the idea of freedom.
In his closing comments, Damon salutes those veterans with words far better than I could write: "My undying thanks to the veterans of our military forces for forever standing tall in their beliefs that all the peoples of the world should live beneath a cloak of liberty and freedom."
And that is why Damon decided to release this book on Veterans Day - as a tribute not just to the father he never knew, but also as a way to say "Thanks" to thousands of veterans who fought so that we all might enjoy freedom.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

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