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Showcasing unique talents

For 85 years Decatur County has celebrated each year with an annual Chamber of Commerce banquet. Like all the counties in this part of the state, Decatur County uses this occasion to celebrate those who have excelled amongst our own. I have probably been to 50 such banquets in my life, including almost every county in Southwest Georgia.

Decatur County did it a bit different this year. The format barely allows for the word “banquet” to be used. However, to their credit the Decatur County Chamber understands that we have become a more visual society. Instead of speech after speech, followed by entertainment and a long dinner, the Chamber showcased the various winners via pictures shown on a large screen in the Kirbo Center. The program was followed by a reception held in the atrium.

The program was filled with many worthy award winners, all of whom have already been featured in The Post-Searchlight. The winners, along with all the nominees, were worthy of the attention begin given to them. The fact that I am mentioning two of them does not diminish in any way the contributions made by all the others.

When I became involved in politics in Seminole County, Charles Tyson was one of the first people I met in the adjoining counties. Later, when I represented Decatur County in the legislature, Charles and I had many more opportunities for our paths to cross.

All of us have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives around us. However, Charles has taken that opportunity and combined it with his role in city government and civic affairs and multiplied its effect many times over.

He never met a stranger, does not know how to take no for an answer, and doesn’t suffer fools easily. His adopted community became his passion and benefited from his endless efforts on behalf of the city, county and the region.

I am a resident of Seminole County, but I have been in a unique position to see how all of the counties of this region benefit from someone like Charles Tyson. Most counties in our region have someone like Charles that works tirelessly for the benefit of all. But among all that I have known, Charles Tyson stands tall. He received the Community Service Award, but in fact he deserves much more as an advocate of all that live in this region.

The second person I would recognize from Thursday’s event is Amy Jones Wells, who received one of two Governor’s Commendation for Excellence in Customer Service within the University System. Dr. Tom Daniels was the other award winner. I know him well and he is certainly deserving of this recognition.

Amy, however, is a teacher cut of a different cloth. She was nominated because of scheduling her classes at 6:30 a.m. to meet the needs of her students. I am first amazed that there are students willing to attend classes at that time. I am further amazed that there is a teacher willing to accommodate their needs.

Amy grew up in my church. Her mother was the pianist when I began playing the organ there. Much later, Amy replaced her mother as pianist and choir director. It was then that I learned about the amazing talents that Amy possessed. Most Sundays we would pick an organ/piano duet at the last moment. After the service we would laugh with delight about how much fun it was. Playing with Amy wasn’t an obligation or job, it was a joy.

On Christmas Eve, I would often accompany Amy as she sang “O Holy Night.” In many ways, that memory of her soaring voice within the candlelit sanctuary is as powerful as any of the many other recollections I have of Christmas during my lifetime.

Amy, like Charles, has shared her talents with all those around her. I can’t imagine Charles singing, nor can I imagine Amy running City Hall. God gives us different gifts. Thanks to all the award winners for sharing their gifts with us.

The chancellor’s visit

Chancellor Erroll Davis was visiting Bainbridge College on Friday and a number of community leaders joined him for lunch. It is to Chancellor Davis’ credit that he visited Bainbridge on the day after his appearance before the Appropriations Committee. Such meetings before the committee are particularly grueling in difficult economic times like the state is currently facing.

Davis takes three days per month to visit various campuses within the University System. Despite the challenges he currently faces, he made his way to the local college and met with the administration and faculty.

Davis told of his comment to the Legislature that the appropriation to education was not an expense, but rather was an investment in the future. I believe that we should hold all accountable for their use of taxpayer dollars. I also believe that cutting funding for education is shortsighted, particularly in a state that is on the lower end of funding already.

There are a lot of difficult decisions to make with our state facing a $2 billion deficit. Let’s be careful that we don’t make those decisions in ways that handicap our students and our future.

Other budgetary matters

One of the bills introduced in this session is a $1 increase in the tax on a pack of cigarettes. Budget analysts state this could raise as much as $350 million in the first year. Of course, this assumes that the higher price does not reduce the number of people smoking and thus result in fewer taxes raised by cigarettes.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a passionate ex-smoker. My father died of lung cancer and after that my brother and I banned smoking in all of our restaurants long before it was prohibited by local or state law.

However, smokers are disproportionately poor, just like lottery players. To raise the tax on cigarettes is to raise the burden on those that can least afford it. Banning tobacco use is fine with me, but don’t disguise a user fee on cigarettes as anything more than what it is—a tax on the poor.

Eliminate the homeowner’s property tax relief, eliminate funding for school nurses, eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for education, eliminate pork, and so on and so forth. It is hard to cut $2 billion in a way that the public will accept.

Tax increases are the flip side of the budget cuts. Be careful of things disguised as user fees, deferred expenses, enhanced revenue or temporary elimination of tax relief grants. A tax by any other word is a tax. Nothing wrong with that, let’s just call it like it is.