Columbia County commissioners were just brimming with pre-Christmas generosity the other night when they granted county employees a 2 percent raise.
But they gave the county a tremendous gift when they turned Doug Flanagan into the county's full-time juvenile court judge.
Flanagan had been serving four days a week. Commissioners Tuesday gave him a raise to cover the fifth day, even though the pay won't come close to covering what he has been making as a private-practice attorney.
"I'll be losing money, but I'm going to do it," Flanagan told news editor Donnie Fetter. "There's a lot of stuff that needs to be done."
There is indeed. Columbia County's growth has been accompanied by a steadily changing demographic. One school official pointed out the other day in just the past few years, the percentage of students on free and reduced lunch has risen from 18 percent to 30 percent.
It's a sad fact of life that poverty breeds crime. While Columbia County's sheriff's office has done an outstanding job of keeping the crime rate down even as the population has increased, the cops have to be able to count on courts that will lock up people they arrest and by doing so continue to provide a deterrent to more crime.
Flanagan won't hesitate to give a second chance to a good teen with bad judgment - and, let's face it, every teen is sometimes guilty of bad judgment. But he also won't hesitate to lower the boom on kids and thugs-in-training who need a harsher lesson.
Having more of Doug Flanagan is good news for Columbia County, and for our kids.
As an aside, here's my favorite Doug Flanagan story: Years ago, I noticed that his car had a Purple Heart license plate, which only Purple Heart recipients can have on their vehicles. I knew he was a Vietnam combat veteran, but wondered how he managed to get that particular Georgia plate: No. 1.
So I asked him: "How in the world did you get Purple Heart tag No. 1?"
His response? "Well, first I got shot."
Ask a stupid question...
The rest of the story is that Flanagan was involved in drafting the legislation that created Georgia's Purple Heart plate, and as a result received the honor of getting the first tag.
Each year, in a effort to get in on the Christmas happy time, Georgia's Department of Agriculture sends out an official-looking announcement that Santa's reindeer have been cleared for landing in the state.
See, the ag department oversees veterinarians in Georgia, and would have to be assured that the visiting animals aren't carrying diseases.
But Columbia County has more to worry about from the flying reindeer's visit than just a few stray ticks. A couple of weeks ago, after a pair of deer strikes in Evans, the county set a new record for the number of deer-vehicle collisions in a single year when it beat 2008's record of 604.
So we already had to be extra-careful to avoid running into deer on the highways. Do we now have to worry about hitting them in the air, too?
A ringing success
My bell-ringing shift Wednesday for the Salvation Army was lots of fun, except for the cold feet and hands. My middle daughter, Ellie, gets the trouper of the year award for ringing with me the whole four hours in front of Walmart in Evans.
Many thanks, too, to colleagues Jim Blaylock and Jenna Martin for coming out in the chilly evening and taking a turn.
Other than the time spent with my daughter and our delight at recruiting children to help ring our bells, the highlight of the evening was the visit from Madge Shaw, her daughter and grandchildren.
Madge is the widow of the late Aubrey Shaw, the former News-Times columnist. I hadn't seen her in years, and she said she dropped by just so her grandkids could drop some money in the kettle.
Merry Christmas to all.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail email@example.com.
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