The year gone by provided some interesting firsts: It was the first time in 25 years that ex-state Rep. Bill Jackson didnt hold public office, and it was the first time ever that County Commission Chairman Ron Cross did.
Those things happened one year ago, and are related: Jackson, as a lawmaker, was responsible for eliminating the Commission chairman as an elected post, and years later helped change it back.
In 2004, Jacksons wisdom - and his past experience as a school board member - would be useful again as lawmakers head to Atlanta in just over a week. One of the likely topics of discussion this year is whether the school board chairman, like the Commission chairman, should be elected countywide rather than appointed from within the boards ranks.
In a Republican Primary straw poll in 2002, the idea of electing the board chairman passed overwhelmingly. If lawmakers decide to put the idea to another vote, the change to an elected post could be made by 2005. That means jockeying for the chairmanship, which for this year takes place next week at a called board meeting, could be the last time trustees are able to pick one of their own to take charge.
The past year also marked the openings of Grovetown Middle School and Lewiston Elementary School, both huge successes. In the coming year, another middle school will be on the agenda as school officials begin in earnest to market the valuable Evans Middle School site and work toward replacing the more than 40-year-old building with a new school on a better location.
The school system wont stop there, however; fast growth means negotiations already are underway for a new elementary school site in the Evans area. Riverside and Stevens Creek elementary schools need relief from exploding populations.
Speaking of exploding populations, the countys workforce continued to grow in 2003, along with the countys population. Construc-tion ended on a new office building in the Government Complex, and began on the countys new main library.
All those buildings and all those people - besides adding to the amount of support needed from taxpayers - have put the squeeze on parking at the complex. Officials are now working to move the states drivers license bureau elsewhere to ease the pressure.
Also in 2003, Andy Kingery did a fine job as the countys interim director of the revamped Chamber of Commerce. His eventual replacement, Gordon Renshaw, has brought to the post energy and commitment that will be valuable this year - as will the leadership of Development Authority Director Zack Daffin - while the county debates its involvement in a regional development partnership.
The only elections in 2003 were unexpected: a Grovetown City Council seat opened up when George James stepped down to run for the County Commission District 4 seat, which in turn had become available when Mark Devoti resigned to take a job in Virginia. Tony Arnold won the Council seat; Lee Anderson won the Commission seat.
For 2004, election activity will be a little more predictable. Andersons district is up for re-election, and commissioners Diane Ford and Tom Mercer also must seek voter approval if they want to stay in office. The current school board terms of Lee Muns, Regina Buccafusco and Wayne Bridges also expire in 2004.
The seats of all local lawmakers - from U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood of Evans, to state Sens. Don Cheeks and Joey Brush, and state Reps. Ben Harbin and Barry Fleming - are up for re-election in 2004.
In 2003, county officials began the year talking about changes in fire services. County commissioners ended the year with a surprise vote to replace private subscription fees with a fire tax, taking off the table a plan to ask voters to approve the tax in a referendum.
If there is fallout over skipping that referendum, it will come in Mercers re-election and in consideration of the countys 1-cent sales tax. Meanwhile, county officials will need to make sure talk of the fire tax doesnt again this year starve the private fire departments of funding as residents hold off on paying their subscriptions in anticipation of the change.
The fire tax isnt the only political hot-potato from 2003 that will bounce back in 2004:
The issue of an alcohol license for Rhineharts Oyster Bar will again come up because the restaurants owners are buying additional land to allow them to build a new Martinez restaurant outside the distance limits from Bel Air Elementary School.
School trustees turned down a distance waiver in 2003; in 2004, they wont have a say in the decision when the restaurant requests an alcohol license from the county.
County officials at the end of 2003 approved an ordinance to require builders to obtain licenses; enforcement starts in 2004.
In midyear the county temporarily suspended its sign ordinance because of complaints about flags; its expected to resolve the issue in 2004.
A 2003 school system study recommended foreign language instruction in elementary school; too few people are fighting to put those measures into effect in 2004.
The school system made progress last year on school athletic safety - too much progress, in some cases, with plans that look like an overreaction to isolated accidents. A good use of scarce money would be installation of automatic defibrillators in every school, a process that could be completed in the coming year.
After a series of complaints, county officials began studying whether stronger controls are needed over gunfire from hunting, target-shooting or turkey shoots near residential areas. In 2004, the county should enact a fair ordinance that gives better protection while not overly restricting gun owners rights.
In all these things, our hope for 2004 is that elected officials spend less money, listen more to their constituents, and that all the countys citizens continue to enjoy our communitys prosperity. Happy New Year!
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.