A friend and I had an interesting philosophical debate recently.
He isn't a Columbia County employee, but on their behalf he questioned the rationale of posting all county employees' salaries on The Augusta Chronicle's Web site.
Like some people, he believes it's too intrusive -- that these public employees are still private individuals, even though their salaries are paid with your tax dollars.
Here's what reporter Johnny Edwards had to say when The Chronicle debuted the database a couple of weeks after posting a similar database with Augusta employees' salaries:
"Some folks are calling this an invasion of privacy; others are asking us to build more databases tracking tax dollars. We're planning to accommodate the latter group. This is the public's money, and we have a right to see where it goes."
Well said, Johnny.
It's interesting that providing access to the salaries of public officials makes some people uncomfortable, yet most don't think twice about the fact that the county's Web site, right now, provides Internet surfers with instant access to, among other things, an aerial view of your home.
It gets downright scary, as Lewis Rich of Evans puts it, when you add the use of such tools as Google Earth. In the "street view" mode you can often find an image of the front of your house.
Or in Rich's case, in January his son in California found a photo of Rich on Sawbuck Way walking his miniature Schauzer, Ruby B - as captured by a passing Google street-view camera.
There are no pictures of dogs, but the database of salaries is available from a link on The Chronicle's home page at www.augustachronicle.com.
Hug a cypress
The last straw was mulch.
Bags and bags of mulch, stacked high, sitting on pallets in front of convenience stores and on the sidewalk at Publix.
What is all that stuff? Who cares, right? It's cheap, it's easy to pour out of the bag and it makes your gardens look nifty.
But it's bad. Not like Al Qaeda bad, or even Al Franken bad. More like dumping litter out your window bad, or driving a Hummer bad.
Because those bags are filled with cypress mulch.
Gasp! You say. Or more likely, "So what?"
Here's what. Cypress mulch is made from bald cypress trees that are harvested from wetlands, often by using Clean Water Act exemptions foolishly granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
This means gigantic machines are allowed to plow through wetlands en route to pulling down and grinding up mature trees just to pack them in bags and stack them on pallets in front of gas stations.
Writing in the Georgia Sierra Club's April newsletter, Alan Toney points out that such cypress harvest is damaging wetlands in Georgia and other states. The damage is bad enough that major home improvement chains are considering bans on cypress mulch.
In case you're one of those blissfully ignorant folks who thinks wetlands are just worthless swamps, keep in mind that they are a vital part of our ecosystem - especially regarding such things as aquifer recharge. That's hardly a small benefit, considering the persistent droughts we've faced lately.
So, how is cypress harvesting different from other timber harvests? Other than the fact that most pine trees, for example, are harvested on dry land, the difference in the end use is pretty significant. It's the difference in shooting a deer and eating the venison, vs. shooting a deer at night over a baited field, hacking off the antlers and dumping the carcass in the ditch.
Besides; it isn't as though there aren't plenty of alternatives. Pine straw, for example, is sustainably harvested with no damage to the existing forest. Pricier, but even better, is rubber mulch made from recycled car tires.
But cypress? Just say no. And if you don't, I hope a spotted owl poops on your head.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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