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Staff Editorials

Don’t rush into risky investments regardless of the headlines

If you looked at the national business headlines recently, you’ve seen plenty of stories of Average Joes making a fortune in the stock market. A daily deluge of news has heralded little guys using a free app and social media group to stick it to the big guys on Wall Street.

Yahoo News last week had one of the typical rags to riches stories, AMC Theatres’ Surprise Stock Winners: Meet the Pizza Delivery Guy Who Turned $800 Into $65,000.

Everyone likes to read about someone doing well, even better when they out-fox elites, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is typical or easily copied.

It is hard to follow, much less explain,  how meme stocks and crypto became the rage and to understand how complex “shorts” and other stock plays produce such big winners.

But even casual observers may now have some familiarity with advanced investing strategies and know what the Robinhood investing app does and find themselves occasionally checking how the meme stocks fared that day.

It very much creates an illusion that everyone is suddenly getting filthy rich  sitting at home with their free app speculating not just in normal stock purchases, but buying options and dabbling in Bitcoin.

And in many cases it really does happen. For example, due more to social media confederations than business fundamentals, AMC Theatre stock has gone from barely above $2 a share early this year to more than $50 depending on when you look. The stock is so volatile its chart looks like a graph of shock absorbers’ on a JeepFest trail - up, down, way up, way down, back up.

Similarly, Gamestop was sitting at just above $17 a share when 2021 opened, and it had been there for most of 2020. Some critics  doubted the video game retailer with brick and mortar stores would avoid bankruptcy. But as one expert said due mainly to “social media sentiment,” (hence the name “meme stocks”) the stock surged to more than $480 a share.

If you had parked all your stimulus money in Gamestop shares back in January and unloaded anywhere near the peak, you’d be trying to decide which color Ferrari looked best in the driveway. And thanks to the Robinhood app you don’t need a stock broker to make it all happen.

But it’s important to remember that just because one person won a fortune on a Fantasy Five ticket, it does not mean you should drop your whole paycheck on scratch-offs this week.

As a counter point to the sensational headlines of common folks striking it rich, consider this, the Morning Brew sponsored a Fantasy Investing Competition at – a game that was targeted at savvy investors, you could pick a full range of stocks and crypto currencies. More than 10,000 people entered the most recent game and sure enough there were some strong performers with portfolios more than doubling in game value.

But, the average of all 10,000 investors was a minus 3.6 percent return reported by Morning Brew as the game was  ending. The average player had lost value.

We’re certainly not offering or cautioning against any particular stock pick. Heck you might make a bundle. 

But we do want to counter the portrayal that common guys with no investing experience are striking it rich jumping on the latest trends. 

In the longrun financial experts counsel that steady, diverse and mostly conservative investments pay off well over a lifetime. There are plenty of qualified sources (including local financial planners) to help you manage for retirement. Do not go it alone. If you don’t understand what you are doing be cautious. As the contest shows, there are also losers. Saving for the future is always a solid idea, do so with solid fundamentals that suit your level of risk, not by social media speculation boom investments that are hard to understand.

Remember our fallen soldiers

If you’ve lived in Pickens County for any length of time you’ve most likely heard of Sgt. David Collins or seen the symbol that has come to represent his life and sacrifice – the silhouette of soldier’s helmet and rifle with the words, “In Memory of Sgt. David Collins.” 

Collins died on April 9, 2006 while stationed in Ar-Ramadi, Iraq. It was Palm Sunday morning when a roadside bomb took his life. He served as a specialist with the 101st Airborne Division, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat team. He was born on August 10, 1981 and was survived by two children. 

Collins was the most recent Pickens County veteran to die while serving his country according to records from a local veteran’s group. A Progress reporter remembers the difficult, tear-soaked interview in 2009 with Collins’ mother who had just travelled to see the Middle East Conflicts Wall where her son’s name had been added. When you speak with the parent of a soldier who died in service you see what that “ultimate sacrifice” looks like up-close and personal – raw and difficult with sadness and longing, but also with a resoluteness to find peace and healing. 

“When I saw David’s name engraved in stone I guess it just reinforced that it was final, but I was proud to see that everybody would remember his service,” she said. “Now when I think about David I can focus more on the positive things instead of just focusing on his death, and you know what? A few days after he told me he was going to enlist, which was just after 9/11, I went to bed but couldn’t sleep so I went to ask him if he was sure he wanted to do this. Well, he told me that he had two little sisters and if he didn’t make a stand we would be fighting them over here. He did what he wanted to do…It was his time.”

Collins is one of so many fallen soldiers we ask you to remember on Memorial Day while celebrating your freedoms with family and friends. There are hundreds of thousands of these heroes over the course of U.S. history. In 1949, American Legion Post #149 in Pickens County erected the marble statue in front of the courthouse “honoring all who served and dedicated to the everlasting memory of the men from Pickens County who made the supreme sacrifice in World Wars I and II.” The monument has been added to over the years. Here is the list of Pickens’ fallen as displayed. 

WWI – Charles M. Barrett, John W. Barrett, Grover Cleveland Brooks, Homer Carver, William Champion, Charlie Disharoon, Frank Elrod, Howard Lee Minter, Claude L. Moss, William V. McBee, Charles Pendley, Arthur L. Roland, Pleas B. Russell, Joe Tatum, Joseph B. Teague.

WWII – Linton Bruce, Hilburn Bunch, Newman Columbus Bunch, David Winston Champion, James T. Champion, George M. Dodd, Robert H. Dorsey, Charles C. Evans, Sam T. Fitts, Welford A. Fitzsimmons, James Hugh Fowler, Willie Frank Free, McFarland Gayton, Paul Junior Gayton, George W. Hayes, Mose Washington Hendrix, Etsel F. Holbert, Herbert C. Holbert, James W. Hulsey, Joseph Lewis Jarrett, Clifford Waldo Owenby, James Hugh (Sam) Philyaw, Robert L. Pittman, George Lewis Pruitt, C. F. Reeves, Theodore Benjamin Reese, Lee H. Shipman, Joe F. Stanfield, Bennie L. Stephens, Henry Stephens, Dallas Glenn Thacker, John William Wehunt, Reynolds James Young, Donnas Hank Boyd.  

Korean War – Curtis E. Bunch, Jack Alexander Burrell. 

Vietnam War – Billy Guinn Langley, Bobby Arthur Young, Charles George Boling. 

Iraq War – David S. Collins

This Memorial Day we ask people to also remember veterans who take their own lives because of post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues created by their service. According to veterans are at a 50 percent higher risk of suicide than peers who have not served, and that since 2001 over 114,000 veterans have died by their own hand. 

The Progress staff thanks all veterans for their service, and thanks those men, women, and their families who have made that ultimate sacrifice.  


Two truths on growth: It doesn’t mean lower taxes; owners have right to develop

Last week’s coverage of the growth now pouring into Pickens County, aroused strong sentiments from readers, both online and in the real world.

There are two facets of growth we’d like to clarify. First, growth does not typically lead to lower taxes and second, property owners have a right to develop their properties within the existing zoning and regulations.

These are two fundamental facts on development that are often missed.

It’s often argued that if more development occurred, then we’d see lower taxes. In a way that would seem logical - bigger tax base, lower tax bills. More people paying in, results in healthy county coffers and more public perks with less individual cost. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case across Georgia. The most developed (in residential and commercial) counties have the highest property taxes. Fulton County has the very highest property taxes in the state. Cobb and Cherokee also have higher taxes than most counties in Georgia, including Pickens, showing that development doesn’t drop the costs for individual homeowners.

And, looking at the other end of the scale, small middle and south Georgia counties such as Warren and Wilcox, boast the lowest tax rates.

The website does an excellent job of compiling graphs/charts of all Georgia counties most recent tax rates and then applying them to the median priced house in that county and giving you their median tax rate.

Among a few comparables:

 The median property tax in Georgia is $1,346 per year for a home worth the median value of $162,800. Pickens has a median property tax bill of $1,134 based on a median home value of $170,600.

• Cherokee: $1,665 median bill on a $201,900 median home value;

• Dawson: $1,430 tax bill on a $201,400 median home value;

• Fulton: $2,733 tax bill on a $253,100 median home value;

• Fannin: $633 tax bill on $172,400 median home value;

• Gilmer: $749 tax bill on a $137,600 median home value.

And among counties on the other end of the scale:

• Warren County: $314 tax bill on $61,100 median home value (lowest in state)

• Wilcox: $493 tax bill on median home of $56,900.

We always point out Pickens’ location, adjacent to the booming metro, but south of the mountain counties who really benefit from tourist cabins, lake homes and packed downtown. We straddle the line between metro and mountains. 

As we grow, the belief that a bigger tax base will equal a lower tax bill for homeowners is not something that appears to be likely. In fact, based on the rest of the state, more population may lead to more commercial businesses but it will probably mean higher, not lower, taxes.

Second, we often hear people put forward arguments in planning and zoning meetings essentially saying they don’t want any more congestion or growth. Perhaps none of us do. 

But there’s a problem with that argument from a government policy standpoint. Georgia, like most states, recognizes the property owner’s right to develop his land within the zoning/land use codes. 

This makes it very difficult, and potentially costly from a lawsuit, for any  city or county government to turn down a development, simply because the neighbors object. We’re not saying that concerned neighbors shouldn’t speak their minds and that government shouldn’t listen, but we encourage them to think through their position and make it more forceful than “too crowded.”

There is undoubtedly change coming. Let’s hope we are prepared and handle it as well as possible -- both our government and members of the community.

Graduation is back; look ahead to brighter future

Students, teachers, and parents have made it through the most difficult, disrupted, and emotionally challenging school year in modern history. This Friday is the culmination of that year that we all want to be in the rearview, inching farther away as we (hopefully) drive towards more peaceful times. 

Not only is Friday, May 21 the last day of school for all Pickens County students, it’s graduation day for seniors we are so grateful will have an in-person ceremony, unlike last year’s seniors who were robbed of traditional graduation because of the pandemic (not to mention missing out on prom and so many other events). We’re also happy to see the return of an evening event, which we think will add a lot to the celebration. Responses from our readers on social media show that people overwhelmingly prefer night graduations - attendees will welcome the lower temperatures, and nighttime evokes much more of a sense of celebration than mornings. (We would even support a few fireworks in the future if evening ceremonies continue.) 

Graduating high school is a milestone and crossroads at the same time. It’s a symbolic marker of the separation of a student’s life as a child and their life as an adult. Many students will leave home for the first time, off to college or trade/technical school in a different city. Others will stay home and commute to school. Others will go directly into the work force. There are a myriad of paths students will take, so what advice could we possibly give that translates across all of those unique trajectories?

We thought about Bronnie Ware, an author who worked in palliative care and wrote the bestselling Top Five Regrets of the Dying. The book, which came after her viral blog, was inspired by Ware’s experience with people at the end of their life, and the things they told her they wished they did differently. If these are some of the most universal regrets, seniors at the beginning of their adult lives could surely benefit remembering them along the way. 

•The most common regret was that people wished they had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected. “It is very important to try and honor at least some of your dreams along the way,” she writes. “From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late.”

•Have the courage to express feelings. “Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others,” Ware said. “As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

• Allow yourself to be happy. “Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.”

• Not staying in touch with friends. “Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years.”

• They wish they hadn’t worked so hard. Of course, it takes hard work to get what you want, but this advice addresses a tendency for some adults to “[spend] so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence” they miss out on what it is to truly be a fulfilled and happy. “By creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.”

Add these five reminders to all the other advice you’ll receive, graduates, and forge on boldly to your next phase, whatever you want that phase to look like. 

        Congratulations PHS class of 2021!

Let’s avert crisis with school board and do so without upsetting apple cart of solid student performance

The situation with the school board and superintendent is still shy of crisis level, but has reached a point where something has to be done, if for no other reason than to calm the amount of divisiveness in the community.

For those blissfully unaware or under a rock, here’s the situation: in the past two years, two superintendents have been essentially fired with the board not providing even a whiff of the reasons for removal. Two weeks ago, a political group, Impact Pickens, presented a cache of texts mainly from the board chair to the current superintendent, but also to/from other board members, showing plans to get rid of the second of the superintendents as early as October and presenting an underhanded, cavalier approach to removing the leader who had only been hired months earlier.

The board shelled out more than $400,000 to buy Dr. Rick Townsend out of his contract in February and spent $178,000 to buy his predecessor Dr. Carlton Wilson out in December of 2020. Roughly $600,000 of tax dollars down the drain.

As a point to consider, in Georgia any employer, including a school board, may fire someone simply because they don’t like him. They may have had to battle over parting compensation, but as far as the laws and state agencies go, telling the past two superintendents “we don’t like the way you are running the schools, you’re fired” is legal. But even that didn’t happen, at least not publicly. The school board gets an “F” in public communication. There is no law that silences them - that is a tired and false excuse.

The history of our school board over the past 10 years is chock full of short tenures of both paid leaders and elected board members, political rifts, squabbling and backstabbing. To state the obvious, this has to change. Here is what we suggest, which falls short of Impact Pickens’ demands for three board members and superintendent to go.

First, we have in place the perfect body to deal with this, the grand jury. For those who need a civics reminder,  grand juries in Georgia were set up to investigate governments’ operations for any reason, not just criminal action.

Section 15-12-71 of Georgia code spells this out: “Duties of grand jury - the grand jury shall, whenever deemed necessary by eight or more of its members, appoint a committee of its members to inspect or investigate any county office or … the county board of education, or the county school superintendent or any of the records, accounts, property, or operations of any of the foregoing.”

This isn’t done often and it usually comes from the top down; a government official starts the process, but the power is with the people (the grand jurors). If you are among the current grand jurors, be active, tell the DA’s office and judge to convene your group and take an unbiased look at the school district predicament. 

The conclusion here (according to one legal expert familiar with grand juries who did not want to be named) would likely be limited to a report. It seems unlikely anything reported thus far rises to the level of criminal charges against anyone. But that report from an unbiased group with the power to summon people to speak could clear the air, set the record straight and offer recommendations to move ahead.

Second, we’ll cut to the chase -  board chair Sue Finley needs to resign. She was in charge when all hell broke loose. The school board meeting on January 18 was the nastiest gathering of any government group we have seen; never has a contingent of deputies been called in to secure an official gathering here in modern history. 

Just like the presidents of groups, coaches of teams, CEO’s and captains of ship, when your organization goes badly into the ditch, the leader has to go – if for no other reason than to lay groundwork for a new course.

In this particular case, Finley’s own texts add to our call for her resignation. They simply went too far in advocating and celebrating for a change in the superintendent position. 

With the departure of the board chair, the balance of power shifts dramatically to an even playing field. The board would then have two clear camps of two members each in regard to the superintendent. Bring in an independent fifth board member, (perhaps follow a grand jury recommendation) and immediately there is a new board dynamic and hopefully a chance to see if they can get traction to move forward together. This could include looking at the current superintendent’s position but giving him a fair chance to present his case.

The calls for three board members to resign along with the superintendent simply throws too much into turmoil. And based on our past history, the revolving door of board members and superintendents is the cause of the problems, not the solution.

Finally, we would like to end on a positive note, which may seem impossible, but it’s not. Pickens schools over the past decade have outperformed most similar school systems in academics. We beat our neighboring systems with graduation rate; our SAT averages are solid; our schools are safe; our graduates are succeeding; our teachers are well-paid by state standards and holding proper certifications. 

Despite the unceasing turf war at the central office, the student body, as a whole, is thriving. Of course there is always room for improvement but most students are well served. 

The most important thing our school system does (educate students), it is doing very well. For people who want to upturn the whole apple cart, don’t forget this.