Retired Lt. Col. Charles L. Schuman and Joe Spina, both of Evans, found the answer I'd missed.
After ranking 32nd last year, Evans isn't in the Money magazine list of 100 best places to live for 2006 because... (drum roll, please):
They changed the rules.
Yep. Schuman and Spina read the fine print and noticed that this year Money decided to set a minimum population on its "Best Places," with consideration for the honor going only to areas with population above 50,000. Inside the community's boundaries determined by the post office, Evans has only around 27,000 residents.
That settles the mystery. It's not that Evans is no longer good enough to make the list; it's just that it's no longer big enough.
Unless Money changes its criteria again, the only thing that could put Evans back on the list is to either wait a couple of years until high-speed growth pushes Evans' population over the top, or, consolidate Columbia County so it's all one big city of about 110,000.
Under the circumstances, neither prospect is very appealing. The county's 2005 Progressive Farmer ranking as one of the country's best rural communities is looking better all the time.
Unfortunately, that recognition has expired, too. Progressive Farmer recently released its list of the Top 200 best rural communities for 2006 - and Columbia County no longer made the cut there, either.
To see the two listings online, go to http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2006/index.html and to http://www.progressivefarmer.com/farmer/bestplaces/top10.html
Columbia County was a very rural community back when Wayne Meadows ran the local unit of the Georgia Forestry Commission.
Meadows, who passed away this past week, retired after 30 years as senior forester. When his service began, the county's rural areas had no fire service at all. While not designed to be a fire department, the forestry commission often had the only personnel and equipment to save a rural home from fire.
Meadows worked hard to do just that, especially in assisting farmers and foresters to help manage timberland and reduce fire risks. His successors at the forest service have continued that work in the high-tech era, in which the county now has 24-hour professional fire protection.
One other distinction Meadows had: He was a weekly columnist for The Columbia News, offering advice on forestry and fire protection and providing news on forestry commission initiatives. His photo that ran with the columns is memorable: Instead of a simple head shot, he's posed at the open door of his work truck, holding the microphone of his department's two-way radio, a look of seriousness on his face.
Meadows was serious about protecting Columbia County, and we owe him a debt of gratitude for it.
There are many in Columbia County - especially her husband, former County Commissioner Ted Lane - who are thankful for the life of Ruby Lane.
The Columbia County Merchants Association is largely a group of business owners, mostly men, helped by a great many hard workers, mostly women.
There's something very much Southern about the men metaphorically standing around talking while the women work in the kitchen. Mrs. Lane was one of those women, spending years toiling behind the scenes for the Merchants Association - and especially the children who are the recipients of the association's generous scholarships.
But she was a lot more than that. The spouses of public officials are a rare breed. It's hard to imagine the restraint it must take for them to endure the criticism that a politician receives.
Mrs. Lane took the good and bad with grace, never seeking the limelight herself but getting the work done behind the scenes so others could shine.
May she rest in peace.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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