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Alone With J

July 11, 2011

By J SWYGART
    Today, just a couple of things about a couple of things.

Fireworks out of control
    With ears still ringing, even as the July 4th holiday fades into memory, I’d like to suggest today that perhaps it’s time to draw a line in the sand — difficult though it may be —when it comes to this private fireworks thing in Decatur.
    It’s getting out of control. And, judging from other comments heard this week, I’m not the only one that feels that way.
    I mean, c’mon, is a 10-day window (essentially for disturbing the peace) before and after the 4th — as is now permitted by city ordinance — really necessary to allow local residents to celebrate their independence ... by firing exploding gunpowder into the air? It seems to me that a four-day celebration period would suffice, ending on the evening of July 4.
    But more than the duration of time in which fireworks legally may be detonated in residential areas, it’s the magnitude of those explosives that is most troublesome. I’m not sure how long the Decatur ordinance has been in effect, but it seems safe to guess that since it was first enacted the types of pyrotechnics now sold over the counter to anyone willing to cash their welfare checks to get them have grown tremendously. Private fireworks displays dotting the horizon become more and more extensive with each passing year. And more annoying, if you happen to live right next door to one. But even more than bothersome, these displays have the potential to be dangerous.
    So, where does it stop? When an exuberant but reckless amateur pyromaniac catches a dry summer lawn on fire, which in turn destroys an adjacent home or two? It may seem like a remote possibility — but it’s gonna happen.
    Perhaps the remedy lies with the state legislature, which could curb the sale of explosive devices of the magnitude which now are increasingly popular. But that would require a cooperative effort from neighboring states, which seems to dump the problem right back on local lawmakers. And truthfully, I’m not sure how to fix it.  Any suggestions? Anyone?
    
Dots in Blue Water
    Adams County residents from north to south should take a great deal of pride in the efforts of a handful of teachers and students from South Adams School who last month traveled to Haiti to assist residents of that impoverished nation in their efforts to recover from a string of natural disasters.
    Humanitarian aid to Haiti has poured in from all across the globe in the wake of deadly hurricanes and a devastating earthquake, and the group from South Adams Schools — led by science department chairman Michael Baer — deserve the thanks and praise of everyone in Adams County for their remarkable role in those recovery efforts.
    By providing clean drinking water, using portable devices designed, perfected and installed by SA students, the delegation from Berne improved the quality of life for thousands of Haitians almost overnight. And of the many lives that have been forever changed, not all of them belong to Haitians. The students and teachers are to be commended.

Touring the jail
    A tour of the county jail in which I participated a couple of weeks ago was a real eye-opener. And not in a particularly good way.
    Despite laudable attempts by the current sheriff’s staff to make the jail cleaner and brighter, through some much-needed painting and other long-overdue housekeeping efforts, a journey into the bowels of the facility revealed a depressing and out-dated structure barely suitable for housing even those who have stepped outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior.
    The lack of any natural light is what strikes you first. Even those paying their debt to society deserve an occasional glimpse at sunshine, as is required in all new jail projects.
     And then there’s the lack of recreational, educational or rehabilitative facilities of any kind. Prisoners are left to do precious little other than sit. It’s hardly an environment that lends itself to rehabilitation. To the credit of Sheriff Shane Rekeweg and Chief Deputy Eric Meyer, the work release program at the jail has been given new life, and actually is generating substantial revenue for the facility.
    But more than anything, the tour reinforced the belief that a new jail is needed. As state lawmakers drag their heels on serious sentencing reforms, and ponder new regulations that would require counties to house low-level felons, it’s time to step up discussions on where a jail will be built, and how it will be funded.

Hats off to Berne politicos
    And finally, congratulations are in order to the chairpersons of the two political parties in Berne for fielding a full slate of candidates for this fall’s general election. With the exception of clerk-treasurer Gwen Maller, every elected official in Berne will have competition in November. And that’s wonderful.
    Each candidate’s qualifications will be brought further to light as the campaign progresses later this year. But regardless of their individual merits, the candidates who agreed to place their name on the ballot — incumbents and first-timers alike — deserve the thanks of their community. There’s no such thing as having too many choices when it comes to filling political offices, and this year in Berne there’s plenty to choose from.

    The writer is the opinion page editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat. Email him at: j@decaturdailydemocrat.co

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