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August 2019
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Staff Editorials

Weird things you think about at Walmart

By Angela Reinhardt 

Staff writer

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A weekend trip to Walmart proved that America’s most ubiquitous retailer is in the business of more than just groceries and home goods: With 95 percent of U.S. consumers shopping there, a Walmart experience is a shared human experience. The iconic photo web series “People of Walmart” has provided a raw, unfettered cross-section of Walmart shoppers we can all relate to - from ladies in bathrobes to shirtless dudes to “Wacky Weed Wizard” in his tie-dyed muumuu.

I avoid big box stores, but sometimes you can’t get around them (“I’m pressed for time and need my prescription filled, some ammunition, AND a head of lettuce.”). There’s a lot that can cross your mind while you wander around a 150,000-square-foot building. This is my “Walmart Medley,” a collection of random (not very deep) thoughts inspired by my recent outing to our country’s most-shopped-at store: 

•Those bumpy things on the sidewalk

I walked up to the building and saw all those little concrete bumps in front of the main doors and realized, to my delight, I wouldn’t need a buggy because I could carry the three small items I came to get. Surely by now the sound of a cart rumbling over those horrors has been scientifically proven to be one of the worst, most unsettling in the world. And what purpose do they serve? To keep carts from rolling away? Aesthetics? How has every other retailer managed to survive without these sonic torture devices?

•Generic vs. name brand

While I scavenged through the pharmacy aisles for a knee brace for my husband, a man studying the meal-replacement shakes stopped me. Why were 16 bottles of Ensure $19.97 when generic (also 16 bottles per case) were only $10? All the nutrition highlights were the same, and as someone who regularly buys off-brand I advised him to get generic. “Usually you’re paying for advertising or packaging,” I said. I thought about the tasty J. Higgs chips I discovered at Save-A-Lot – then I hypocritically chose the Ace knee brace over the Walmart brand. 


•Kindergarten fantasy job realized

I took my three items to self-checkout and it dawned on me this technological advancement made my five-year-old fantasy of being a grocery store bag girl a reality. I’ll probably never bag a heaping cart of groceries on my own, but those idealized kindergarten daydreams of scanning produce and separating items by type was now possible - albeit not as fun as I thought it would be.  

•Self-checkout manners

I looked over to the “Scan & Go” section, which unlike most self-checkouts was equipped with a conveyer belt. A customer had what was easily 100 items unloaded. She awkwardly looked for barcodes, searched produce codes on the computer, and bagged…very….slowly. I realize there was a conveyer belt, but shouldn’t all self-checkouts be considered an express lane? She must have had a fantasy about being a grocery clerk, too.  

•To tabloid or not?

I scanned the tabloids while I waited. “Lori Loughlin really botched her career,” I thought. Someone definitely buys these things, but I couldn’t recall ever seeing it happen in real life. Maybe people hide them under other items in their cart. As usual I just read the headlines, secretly wanting the full story.   

•Plastic bag guilt

They’d run out of the standard-size plastic bags and had haphazardly put larger ones in their place. They didn’t attach like they should to the metal holder and I had to fumble a few seconds to get one open. “I shouldn’t even be using these damned things,” I said to myself. In a brief shame spiral, I thought about all the plastic bottles I’ve used and vowed to ditch single-use products and get some of those reusable totes.     

•People sleep here

On the way to the car I remembered a photo essay about people who camp in Walmart parking lots in cars and RVs (Walmart allows it, according to the NY Times article). I wondered if we had any travelers in the Jasper lot, and other than wanting to camp myself (in woods, not on asphalt) I made a mental note – “If you ever own an RV and are in a pinch, remember Walmart.”  

Our paid-off but inadequate park is a disservice to county

Earlier this month county officials and the public gathered to celebrate the fiscal accomplishment of paying off our $3 million community recreation center at Roper Park, now named for Commission Chair Robert Jones. It was a fitting honor; Jones was the then sole commissioner who undertook construction of that 30,657 square foot building which is well used.

There were a lot of good points made that day about Pickens being debt-free. Our county is 99 percent debt free and has a very low millage rate compared to other Georgia counties. Hoorah!

But, specifically with the park, we’d argue the county has been too fiscally conservative; that the single, outdated park with limited fields, an antique swimming pool, walking track, playgrounds remains inadequate for this county with 30,000 people. 

Over the past two decades, we’ve traded the quality of life a vibrant park system offers for pinched pennies.

Celebrating the debt-free, but meager park system here is akin to a jubilant 30-year-old crowing about not having a mortgage while living in his parents’ basement.

For counties, just like people, there is a time to spend and a time to save; a time to pay-off debts and a time to sign the dotted line to acquire more than you can write a check for.

In 2004, the county paid consultants WK Dickson to do a needs study on recreation in Pickens County. Note, this was before the community center was built which addressed a few of the issues they found.

The report begins by stating, “the master planning process started after a public recognition that current recreation facilities seem to be inadequate and there is no plan in place to address future growth.”

The consultants compared Pickens to similarly-sized counties, talked with officials in recreation and government and held at least one public meeting.  They found Pickens stacks up dismally against other counties in north Georgia and maybe the entire state in terms of parks. 

Most surrounding counties have more than one park. Here, “the existing park is an abandoned airport. The site in an inappropriate shape, long and narrow and has had few upgrades since it was built 35 years ago,” stated the report in 2004. Now, 15 years later, we still only have one park even though the population has grown some. Attempts at establishing simple playground parks on the east and west ends have gone nowhere. And most troubling, there is still no plan to address these shortcomings.

That report from 2004 concluded the most effective way for Pickens County to address deficiencies is to build a new park. It called specifically for a new 200 acre park in the county to go along with the existing Roper Park.

We got a very nice community center, while ignoring the larger need.

Parks produce quality of life. Quality of life ties into the people and businesses you attract to your county. We have gone the cheap, safe, conservative route for the past two decades and the results show. Perhaps our dormant downtown and lack of “things to do around here” tie directly into our frugal approach to parks.

One speaker at the celebration of the paid-off community center extolled the fact that it is crowded and hard to find parking. Consider that a clue that we need more of this kind of county-provided recreation. 

There’s a fine line between being frugal and being a miser. We urge the county commission to loosen their purse strings and give us parks we can be proud of for their amenities and appearance and not just because they are paid for.


In the woodshed

By Dan Pool, Editor

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Our February 21st edition was a good one. We had stories about animal carcass dumping, a detective who spends his weekends with a metal detector searching for treasures, a horrible story about three fires and an update on the work at the Hwy. 515/Antioch Church Road intersection.

As far as I know there were no mistakes in any of those stories. And no one brought any problem to my attention with 24 out of the 26 pages that week. That meant we got a whole lot of words correct.

Unfortunately, there were two errors in that issue of the Progress. The first was the list of obituary names on the front page. There, we made a typo, changing the last name Duckett to Puckett. The obituary itself was correct, but the list of obit names on the front page had the mistake.

The second mistake was leaving out a service ad from the service section. A CNA didn’t get the message that she was available to the public because of our oversight.

To the average reader these mistakes may seem minor. They may not have noticed the wrong name on the index and obviously no one but the person who placed the ad knew there should have been one more service listed.

But we know these errors matter. The items are important to the people who see their family member’s name spelled incorrectly right after their death and if you are counting on us to make the public aware of your service, then it matters if it gets left out.

We spoke with people connected to both those mistakes and apologized. One thing about working in print, you can’t hide mistakes. When our digital pages hit the press in Rome, Ga., and then become 6,300 copies of the Progress we live with what we sent. I will point out that newspapers are the only businesses that publicly announce any mistake they made in the previous week. 

Getting things straight is a responsibility we don’t take lightly.

With both the missing ad and the typo in the name, the people who brought it to our attention were polite in doing so. But it was clear they were disappointed and they should have been.

We hate making mistakes and thankfully don’t make many. If you look at the number of words in each issue of the Progress that we get correct versus those where we make errors, our success rate is very high. I would add that in the history of the Progress, we have never made a mistake so grievous that it required us to retract an entire story. There have been corrections over the years, but not once have we reported something and then had to go back and say the entire event never happened or was drastically different.

It’s not just the big stories where we strive for accuracy. We know that everything in the paper is important to somebody. You mess up the mayor’s name and it’s embarrassing. But you get names mixed up in a birth announcement and that’s guaranteed to bring fury. You leave out a yard sale listing after a poor spouse spent his week hauling boxes up from the basement, you are in for a not-so-nice discussion of media accuracy.

We recognize that it’s a good thing people get heated up over mistakes in the Progress. It shows they are reading and reading closely and they care intensely about what is printed.

We appreciate our readers and advertisers and work hard to put out a quality newspaper every week with interesting stories, accurate news and no mistakes. When you see a mistake, call us on it. If we’re wrong, it’s right there in print and if it’s important to a member of the community to see it corrected, you better believe it is important to us.

A cold night at the mountain bike park

By Dan Pool, Editor

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It was cold last Tuesday (March 5), but it was dry, making that evening one of the few chances we’ve had for mountain biking lately. It’s frowned upon to ride muddy trails as it damages them.

On Tuesday, I didn’t get to the Talking Rock Nature Preserve trails until 6 p.m. It was 30 degrees and the wind was blowing, making it feel even colder.

Thinking I’d have the trails to myself that late on a cold day, I was surprised to see two younger people (teens or 20 somethings) riding out of the parking lot on Carns Mill Road. Another middle-aged guy was loading his bike and a 30ish-year-old was also about to get a few miles in before dark.

Cold, late, almost dark and five people were still using the park. I ride there fairly often and when the weather is decent, I have never been the only person riding. A few times, it’s been on the verge of being crowded.

It’s not just a few crazy mountain bikers either, on a typical trip to the park you will see everything from mothers and kids walking dogs, to middle-aged trail runners, to parents and kids on bikes and there always seems to be a few people in work attire out strolling. There are plenty of metro tags on the cars in the lot, but the vast majority are from Pickens or Gilmer. 

On another day last week, I came across a member of our airport authority running the trails. I regularly see people from this area, including attorneys, a dentist, employees of one our larger manufacturing companies and a builder/handyman. 

Area bee keepers use part of the park as a training apiary. Geocachers can find several hidden caches there. Discussion of adding a disc golf course still surfaces occasionally.

These trails are a real gift to Pickens County and I mean that literally. They were given to the county. I regularly hear people make misstatements implying this was something the county or state did, which is not the case. The county was supportive and provides some signage, but the property was acquired by the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land (STPAL) and they paid for the trails to be built. Trust records show their private group spent nearly $300,000 on the park with about $15,000 coming from local donations. No tax money is involved.

The fine folks at STPAL, led by executive director Bill Jones, not only took the lead on this project but did 99 percent of the work or paid to have it done. The land trust’s mission is to provide outdoor recreation opportunities and preserve property. Pickens got lucky when STPAL envisioned a 211-acre park in our county. 

The trails and picnic areas are free to use. STPAL doesn’t even aggressively seek donations. And STPAL doesn’t expect to ever be paid back by users or the county.

The trails and parking lot are maintained by the North Georgia Mountain Bike Association and the Friends of Talking Rock Nature Preserve. They host regular work days, but some riders are so proud of this gift, they do trail work or trim the never-surrendering blackberry briars whenever it needs to be done.

It’s so rare that plans like this actually happen and turn out better than expected, the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land deserves a hearty round of applause.

Pickens County got a 211-acre park that didn’t cost a single dime of tax money, doesn’t require any public upkeep and is free to use. And that is one heck of good deal. Hats off to Bill Jones and the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land.


We want to see city manager government do well

Last Monday was the first day at the office for Jasper’s new, full-time city manger Brandon Douglas. We want to go on record as saying we hope to see this new form of government be successful and work in the best way possible for the residents of Jasper and Pickens County. 

We also want to formally welcome Douglas to the position and to the community at-large, and we encourage local leaders, businesspeople, civic groups and the public do the same. 

The Progress doesn’t typically use editorial space to give our well wishes to newly-hired or newly-elected officials, but the separation of the mayor and city manager positions is historic for Jasper, and the road to this point was a highly-contentious, one several members of council believed in and fought long and hard to attain, so we think it’s worth saying in print. The city council voted to separate the mayor position and city manager in January 2018. They had been held by the same person (John Weaver) for decades. Douglas, former Assistant City Manger from Acworth, was selected from a pool of candidates for the job. Douglas, as well as the council members who hired him, have an opportunity to show the public how their decision is a step in the right direction - one that will foster more open and productive discussion among local leaders, more transparency, better responsiveness to the electorate, and tangible and positive outcomes for the public. 

The city’s change in government reminds us of the long, tedious process the county went through to move from a sole commissioner to the current three-person board. The powers that be at the time resisted the change, arguing a sole commissioner could move quicker than a multi-person board when it came to decision-making, policy changes, emergency response, etc. - but the three-person board has provided more representation for residents and significantly improved checks and balances. 

We recall commission meetings under a sole commissioner as brief and nearly non-existent, lasting just 10 minutes (at most) with zero discussion and what amounted to little more than reading the agenda. Under a multi-person board they moved to longer regular meetings and the addition of a work session, both with board discussion. The move to a three-person board also spurred along much-needed changes to a grossly mismanaged finance department following a public outcry, which led the county to more transparent financial operations, better money management, and reduction of the county’s reliance on short-term loans called Tax Anticipation Notes. We think these changes, which included the hiring of a new CFO, would have taken much longer under the sole commissioner form of government. 

Over the last several months we have seen a very few developments, mostly internal, that are positive outcomes from the separation of city manager and mayoral positions – fair vacation time for emergency and utility city employees and a new sick policy that doesn’t require employees have a doctor’s note after one day out of work. Now, we’d like to see positive moves in the city that impact the public, including in the areas of economic development, recreation, job creation and general quality of life. 

We’d also like to thank City Manger Jim Looney, who resigned from both his full-time job and duties as council member to take on the role, for filling the position during such a confrontational time in the city’s history. Best of luck to city council and the new city manger during this crucial period in Jasper’s history.