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Staff Editorials

Graduates: There’s a lot of wisdom in comedy

Ah, graduation. It’s the time of year in every student’s life (and their parent’s lives) to become reflective, to celebrate, and maybe even panic a little.

Saturday will mark the  annual graduation ceremony at Pickens High School where a couple of hundred seniors will flip their tassels to mark they are no longer high school students but rather young adults ready to take on the world. Whether they are heading off to college or straight into the big, bad workforce, this time of year there is no shortage of advice.

Celebrity commencement speeches at colleges and universities across the nation are ripe with the standard “follow your dreams” and “don’t be afraid to fail.” All good pieces of advice, of course, but sometimes the most sage advice comes from those who look at the world a bit differently than the rest of us - comedians.

There’s a lot of wisdom in comedy and sometimes the best comedians are serious and sometimes just seriously funny. 

 

“Try putting your iPhones down every once in a while and look at people’s face.” Amy Poehler, Harvard University, 2011

“You guys are millennials, which is the biggest generation in U.S. history. I thought it was hard for me to find a job. It’s going to be like The Hunger Games out there for you.” Ed Helms, University of Virginia, 2015

 

“Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.” Conan O’Brien

 

“Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path then by all means you should follow that.” Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University, 2009

 

“It was so important for me to lose everything because I found what the most important thing is. The most important thing is to be true to yourself.” Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University, 2009

 

“So how do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? The honest answer is this: You won’t.” Jon Stewart, College of William and Mary, 2004

 

“On behalf of frogs, fish, pigs, bears and all of the other species who are lower than you on the food chain, thank you for dedicating your lives to saving our world and our home.” Kermit the Frog, Southampton College, 1996

 

“You are the nerds who are going to make some serious bank, which is why I am here today... to marry the best-looking amongst you.” Mindy Kaling, Harvard Law School, 2014

 

Today you begin the next phase of your life. Whether it’s college, a job, or a program abroad where you build a schoolhouse for underprivileged children while hooking up with each other.” Eugene Mirman, 2009 high school commencement speech

“You can’t do it alone. As you navigate through the rest of your life be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you. Spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life. No one is here today because they did it on their own. You’re all here because someone helped you. Someone gave you strength, helped you, held you. God, Allah, Buddha, Gaga. Whomever you pray to.” Amy Poehler, Harvard, 2011 

 

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the water slide overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” Tina Fey

“As you go out in the world you’ll find that people are always quick to define you, to pigeonhole you, to whittle you down to their pre-conceived notions. Never let others define you, define yourselves.” Ed Helms, University of Virginia, 2015 

 

Inherit the Wind offers a lot to ponder

By Dan Pool

Editor

Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to catch the Tater Patch Players’ production of Inherit the Wind. There are a lot of things right about this play for Jasper audiences. It’s thought–provoking material pertaining to the rural South presented very well by a local cast.

The problem is that the theater was only partially-full; a solid crowd, but this much work deserved more filled seats. It’s a shame that with the limited opportunities for the arts here, it was not a sell-out every night of the run. It does continue this weekend, so you still have a chance to catch it.

For those who are averse to arts/culture, have no worries, the Tater Patch production of Inherit the Wind is something to ponder but not snobbish; casual attire is fine to wear and they sell beer at the theater – in other words you’ll have a good time.

There is never a shortage of people talking about supporting community businesses or proclaiming how they shop local. We will add to that list: Be entertained locally and some of those people need to put their time and money behind their Facebook posts and go see a local show. 

If anyone believes that the arts will march on without their support, recall the Sharptop Arts Center closed after many years due to lack of public interest.

Having a theater troupe in town makes the whole community look better and gives opportunities for both adults and kids to have something to do.

In this case, it should be easy to support the hometown thespians as their Inherit the Wind is a production that would draw applause anywhere. It is a top-notch play put on by local talent.

If you have ever thought about going to see the Tater Patch Players and haven’t, this is a perfect one to start with due to the subject which is tailored for a thinking, small town crowd.  

For those not familiar with Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee, it is loosely based on the, Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, TN in 1925, concerning the teaching of evolution in public schools. Or as the play refers it in some scenes, “Evil-ution.”

Tater Patch Director Nan Nawrocki said she did not pick it to be controversial and it is really not. The play is clearly sympathetic to the teacher who decided to open the book on evolution to his students, but not so one-sided that anti-evolutionists would run screaming from the theater.

Rather than being controversial, the play delves into familiar territory for anyone living in any small southern town. It provides a lot to think about on community dynamics, as well the weightier issues of religion, evolution and freedom of speech.

Among some of the great one-liners in the play:

• If the Lord wishes a sponge to think, it thinks.

• Show me a shouter and I’ll show you an also-ran. A might-have been. An almost was.

• What if a lesser human being has the audacity to think that God might whisper to him?... Must men go to prison because they are at odds with the self-appointed prophet?

• Sometimes it seems to me I ride like fury, just to end up back where I started. Might as well be on a merry-go-round, or a rocking horse.

• The ideas have to come out – like children. Some of ‘em healthy as a bean plant, some sickly. I think the sickly ideas die mostly don’t you?

• Then, why did God plague us with the power to think?

This is the last weekend to see Inherit the Wind at the local theater. If you want an evening out that leaves you something to think about and also an opportunity to support a great local institution, go see it. Remaining performances are May 19th and 20th at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 21st at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at taterpatchplayers.org.

Proceed, but with caution, on senior tax exemption

The Pickens County Seniors For Change meeting last week, where nearly 150 concerned residents came to hear about next steps for getting a senior tax exemption here, was  the largest meeting we’ve covered in months. 

We’re always thrilled to see citizens speak their minds, but we were glad our state senator Steve Gooch was there to offer reasonable precautions about the long-term implications of a tax exemption. 

Three things he said stuck out. 

First: “If you take away half the people in this room that are paying, the other half have to make up the difference unless the expenses are cut. If you eliminate half the taxpayers in the system the burden is a shift to the people that are still paying.” 

Second: “Whatever you put forward will pass. I can almost assure you. Be careful what you ask for because you’re probably going to get it,” Gooch said. 

Third: He said in every county he’s worked with on these has been a “significant” increase to the millage rate after an exemption passed.

Like commission chair Rob Jones (who was wrongly described at the meeting as backing the group) said, we’re not opposed to exploring the dollars and cents of what an expanded exemption would look like. (Pickens currently offers a full exemption for residents over 62 who have a household income of less than $25,000). 

However, this is not time to be hasty. Poor planning and research now could lead to disaster. And once passed, it can’t be quickly, if ever, reversed.

Gooch likened removing or changing an exemption once it’s in place as hard as taking away Social Security benefits.

According to the US Census, Pickens County has almost a 21 percent senior citizen population. If we enact something like Gilmer County – a 100 percent exemption for anyone 65 and older with no limitations, a.k.a. the Cadillac Plan – that’s a big slice of the taxpayer pie that we would need to make up. 

We realize Pickens Seniors for Change is looking at several types of exemption plans but we think Gooch is right that whatever referendum gets on the ballot as a straw poll will have overwhelming support, and because of this we need to be especially careful. 

Like Gooch, we urge our elected officials, Pickens Seniors for Change members and other residents involved in the process to take time and formulate the best option for the entire county, which includes not only seniors and seniors on fixed incomes, but young families, business owners and everyone else. 

Our commission board and school board, who have gone back and forth about who responsible for getting the ball rolling, need to belly up to the bar and work together because this issue is not going away anytime soon. 

We know our elderly population can struggle if they are on fixed income and we want to support them, but this is a big change and we need to do it right the first time.  

 

An edit medley

Survey offers chance for new ideas

 

The people of Pickens County have an opportunity at the moment that they actually have almost any time – to voice opinions on the future of the county.

“Public comment” appears on most meeting agendas, but rarely is it taken advantage of. 

We’d commend Commission Chair Rob Jones for running a particularly open government with meetings that encourage interaction with anyone who shows up.

Being heard and getting your way, however, are two different things. 

In between offering a thought and seeing something happen lies a step called consensus – what do the majority of your neighbors feel about your idea?

Right now in Pickens County all individuals have the chance to state what each of us wants to see happen. And, equally important, to see what our neighbors are thinking. Are you/we/us in the majority in your desires or are you a voice of one crying in the wilderness?

A survey appears on page 16A of this week’s paper.  Follow this link to take the survey online. Please take time to fill the short survey out. Let’s see what the consensus is around here regarding our future.

One person speaking out could be ignored, a consensus must be reckoned with.

 

Needed upgrades at the Jasper park

 

The city has closed Jasper Park for renovations including some new playground equipment, fresh paint for wooden decks and walkways, and other improvements, which we’re excited about. 

At the last council meeting, Mayor John Weaver said the city might connect the two parking areas to create a loop.  This is a great idea. Parking has been a nightmare there since they put in the waterfall and separated the lots. On the far end by the little playground, the parking spots are angled in the opposite direction of cars pulling in, so you cross your fingers and hope there’s enough room to turn around at the end of the lot and get your car into a spot. We like the waterfall, but would like to see a road connecting the lots, possibly behind the water feature.

We’re also glad some of the ducks are being relocated because they’ve gotten a little too big for their britches. If you’ve tried to enjoy a picnic lunch at the park recently, you probably got bombarded for your bread crusts or leftover fries. (The geese aren’t any better. One of our reporters was bitten by an unprovoked Canada goose, but the city can’t do anything about those because they’re protected.) The closing last week was unfortunate with the weather just warming up, but we’re glad to see the city making improvements to a widely-used and important part of our community.

 

Spring fever at the schools

 

And speaking of warmer weather...

Spring fever is at its height right now in our local schools. With the warmer weather comes the inevitable change in our moods - both physically and behaviorally - that gets students and teachers itching to finish classes and get out of the classroom. 

While Milestone testing is out of the way for younger students, high schoolers are gearing up for finals and end-of-course testing. With these still to come we encourage everyone to harness the energy that comes with warm springtime weather and focus for these last few weeks of school. Easy to say and hard to do, but you’ve come so far this semester to let a little restlessness derail your efforts. 

Even calm and even-keeled students and teachers can be affected by the spring fever bug, but during this home stretch leading to May 26th, keep in mind that a little more work now will make your summer all the more sweet. 

Local government should go big or go home with plans

By Dan Pool, Editor

A retired friend with proven credentials in government and business who now calls this area home was having lunch with me recently. He did not want to be named but gave a perfect example of how Pickens County is regressive when it comes to planning.

Consider the idea of the mountain bike proposed by a land trust for north Pickens and the county leaders’ reactions. [Please note this has nothing to do with the actual merits of that proposal.]

When it was first mentioned, the government response was essentially a combination of the following: we need to look into this; might be something good; we’ll try to help.

Nowhere was there reference of whether a passive park in north Pickens fits or does not fit into our long-range recreation goals. 

A more progressive government, according to my experienced friend, would have immediately been able to assess it based on their long-range plans. Are more recreation areas a goal of the county? Or have the taxpayers generally said they prefer government to focus on traditional sports fields?

Whenever something like this comes up, it’s like reinventing a wheel in Pickens County.

Adding more planning meetings may seem like a minor point, but it substantially changes the way the local governments operate. It switches from decisions based on what the top officials feel at the spur of the moment to what is developed through planning processes, written down and formalized. It does not rule-out revision or improvisation, but is a recognized starting point.

It’s true the county has a Joint Comprehensive Plan that ludicrously runs through 2028 but it’s rarely referred to and never publicly checked to see if we are working towards the listed goals.

The document, running around 100 pages with a lot of graphics, is vaguely encouraging but short on nuts and bolts.

For example, the current comprehensive plan notes that “goods producing job growth is declining” and that 51 percent of our working residents commute out of the county.

It then gives 13 different measures to promote economic development including “expand business and industrial recruitment efforts” as though it were that simple.

One of the more interesting notes of the plan which, includes input from Jasper, Nelson and Talking Rock, is under infrastructure (page 60), “Consider the formation of an independent water and sewer authority to plan and manage services county-wide. (The City of Jasper does not concur with this.)” The italics are in the plan.

This plan alone makes a decent first step towards a lot of improvements, but what is lacking is a champion. Some leadership from the commissioners or others, perhaps our magistrate judge who is working to promote more planning, is needed to take what is essentially a dead document and put it into action.

After all it took Tom Brady on the field, not just the Patriots’ game plan, to win the Super Bowl (sorry Falcons fans). 

We’d challenge our commissioners and public officials to be ambitious. Throw out some big ideas. Maybe one reason Pickens County is not progressing as much as some want is no one is daring to dream a better future.

Whether it is recreation areas, economic development opportunities or significantly expanded water and sewage, our government officials must set the course, not just react when someone shows up with an idea. What is our strategy in 10 years? What kind of benchmarks are we going to measure whether we are making progress or not? What do our leaders think are the obstacles and challenges that are holding us back? 

Next Tuesday, there is a state-required meeting on the Comprehensive Plan (see article on page 4A). If you have views of where we need to go by all means attend. If not, then at least encourage our leaders to go big or go home.