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Missy Layfield - Editor
07/25/2013 at 3:14pm Delete

Budget Season Begins

Have I lost you yet? Nobody likes budget season. Not even those elected officials whose duty it is to understand and approve the budget for their taxing district. Yet, each year, July and August roll around, and taxing bodies start talking about TRIM and rollback rates. And some eyes start glazing over. Let’s be honest…most eyes glaze over.

Everybody is interested in lowering their taxes. That’s as American as apple pie and baseball. Few are happy to pay taxes, yet most everyone is happy to consume the services those taxes provide. Heard anyone complain about a newly paved street, the fire department ambulance that arrives at the accident scene, or a sanitary sewer system that works? No, we like public services, we just don’t like to pay for them. Especially those public services that we don’t use personally-those are wasteful. Or so goes the refrain.

Too many listen to the talking heads on TV and radio and hear hours of examples of how the state or federal government is wasting our hard-earned tax dollars. It’s enough to make anyone angry. Hour after hour, day after day. Wasted tax dollars, welfare cheats, corporate welfare, bailouts, $6,000 toilet seats, bridges to nowhere and expressways that aren’t needed. It’s maddening and you want to do something about it!

But those state and federal representatives are far away and have layers of insulation between them and the average taxpayer. And they are oh-so-skilled at deflecting a complaining constituent. You know who’s right here, down the street, at Publix or at the next board meeting? Well, it’s your local elected board member of a local taxing district! If you can’t do much about that federal budget, you sure can let your voice be heard on the local level!

Just remember that your local elected official is not responsible for any spending beyond the taxing district they’ve been elected to represent.

Here at the Sand Paper, we attend a lot of local government meetings and hence, a lot of budget workshops and hearings. Every one of those board meetings offers residents an opportunity to offer their comments to the board. Sadly, many of those meetings are held with few or no residents present so boards serve with little input from their constituents.
07/18/2013 at 5:00pm Delete

Voting Rights

The Supreme Court recently announced that there is no longer any need for part of the Voting Rights Act-specifically the section that required certain states, counties and municipalities to get pre-approval of any changes to their voting laws. Chief Justice John Roberts said essentially that our country has changed-particularly in the southern jurisdictions covered by the Voting Rights Act-it’s not needed anymore.

I have to guess that the members of the court don’t live in the real world the rest of us do - where racism is alive and well. Lynchings and burning crosses are in the past. But legislators will gerrymander the hell out of districts to be sure that they protect their seats, and dilute the power of the minority vote in the process.

Speaking for the dissenting judges, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated that the focus of the Voting Rights Act had shifted, from "first-generation barriers to ballot access” to "second-generation barriers” such as racial gerrymandering. And she insisted the Voting Rights Act continues to be effective.

"Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet,” Ginsburg wrote.

Congress has the power to pass a law to replace the section tossed by the court, but the prospect of that is flat out laughable.

We are in the grip of the worst partisan political environment many of us have ever seen. Along with that partisanship, we seem to have developed a national tendency to paranoia that is often paired with a gullibility that results in huge groups of people being willing to believe just about anything. If you want the votes of a large group, just figure out what they are afraid of and play to that. Seems to work every time. We are becoming a country that is afraid of everything and everyone.

Right now, a large share of Americans have been convinced that there is a horde of illegal aliens whose primary purpose is to register to vote and take over our election process.

As a result, there are lots of those "second-generation” barriers to voting being thrown up in states all across America. Voter ID, proof of residency, voter purges, poll watchers – all attempts to combat that most elusive of crimes -- voter fraud.
07/11/2013 at 5:04pm Delete

American Equality

It’s a good thing American society has moved beyond the stigma of slavery, racism and discrimination that so polarized our country over a century ago that we fought a bloody war to bring equality to all.

If you believe that statement, you haven’t been paying attention the last few weeks because we’ve been inundated with reminders that we are not yet the egalitarian society Americans hoped for with the passage of the Civil Rights Act (CRA) almost 50 years ago.Equality, that oh-so-elusive goal set down in the Declaration of Independence and clarified in the CRA, has been on center stage recently.

A couple weeks ago we heard that Paula Deen, the queen of ooey-gooey Southern cooking, disclosed in a deposition that she had used the "N” word. In her spectacular, in a train-wreck sort of way, painful-to-watch attempts to explain herself, Deen succeeded only in convincing all but her most ardent fans that she is a walking, talking example of American racism in the 21st century.

That may seem harsh, and it should also be acknowledged that she is a 66-year-old woman raised in the Deep South in the 1950’s and 60’s - ground zero in the fight for racial equality. This was the era that brought us Rosa Parks’ bus ride (1955), Little Rock High School integration (1957), Freedom Rides (1961), Ku Klux Klan lynchings, "colored” water fountains and restrooms, poll taxes and literacy tests for voting. It was not a shining time in the history of the American ideal of equality.

The fact that nobody seems to need to explain what the "N” word is -- is testimony enough that it’s commonly used even now. Still, Deen should know better. No matter how she was raised, there comes a time when only you are responsible for what you say and do and at 66, she is long past that time. She should also know that you don’t propose a "plantation-themed” dinner served by an all-black wait staff. What was she thinking?

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the very concept of "plantations” is likely to be a racial hot button topic. White plantation owners and presumably, their descendents, would view plantations with a rosy view - the genteel days of the antebellum south with its hoop skirts and cotillions. Black slaves and presumably their descendents, would view it from a darker view,
07/04/2013 at 4:12pm Delete

Happy Independence Day!

This fourth of July holiday seems a perfect time for Americans to reflect on the state of our country. Now 237 years old, our republic has weathered countless storms. It has survived attack from within and without. It has grown from a small upstart group of British colonies to the strongest nation on Earth. 316 million people call themselves Americans today.

This experiment in democracy continues to be a shining beacon for those around the world burdened with oppressive governments. Those who think that OUR government is oppressive need to spend time in China or Afghanistan or Sudan. Americans have the luxury of complaining about our government, usually with full bellies and roof over their head and without the need to defend their home and family on a daily basis.

Our nation is not yet perfect, and it will likely never be. It wasn’t perfect back in the good old days of the 1780’s or 1890’s or 1950’s though you’d think it was from the claims of some today.

It’s a natural tendency to idealize a former period of time, but a trap that wise citizens should avoid. Any casual look at the history of civil rights in our country alone will uncover that your "good old days” were someone else’s trial.

Today will be someone’s "good old days” 30-40 years from now. They’ll look back fondly and reminisce. Meanwhile we are consumed with how awful life is now. It’s all about perspective.

Yes, we have troubles. And we’ll continue to have troubles. Our country is not immune to the laws of nature-human and otherwise.

Rather than dwell on what’s wrong, let’s look at what’s good about where we are right now…

Every child in America has the right to a free education. Taxpayers elect members of a school board that controls their local schools. Imagine you have a 10-year-old daughter in Afghanistan.

Public Safety agencies serve both large and small communities and rural areas of our country. Some countries have no one to represent the law in their community and life is chaotic and dangerous.