Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
The Savannah Morning News on preserving Cumberland Island:
When a group of people banded together to buy a piece of pristine Cumberland Island in 1998, they said they planned to "keep, hold and preserve the property." They didn't say they'd wait two decades and then split it up into 10 parcels so their heirs could each get a piece.
But that's what they want to do now with the 87 acres they own, stretching along Cumberland's narrowest band, from the Atlantic Ocean on the east to the Intracoastal Waterway on the west. It's a swatch of land day-trippers, campers and backpackers pass through as they walk or ride bikes along the island's main road, itself unpaved.
As nature lovers from St. Mary's to Seattle know, Cumberland Island is a 17-mile-long treasure off Georgia's coast, just the way it is. It's one of the few places in the country where ordinary people can get to where there are no paved roads, no grocery store, no gas station and no crowds.
There aren't any golf courses or seaside condominiums, either, no bulldozers clearing land to create another seaside resort. What it does have are dense maritime forests, salt marshes, windswept sand dunes and miles of beaches with hardly anyone else on them, except for shore birds and sand crabs and feral horses. There are alligators and armadillos, wild boars and wild turkeys, too.
Yes, there are man-made sites here and there: burned-out or otherwise abandoned remains of Carnegie mansions, old family cemeteries, the stone chimneys where slave cabins stood and the plain, wooden church on the northern end of the island where former slaves once worshipped.
Hidden away is the occasional house belonging to a family grandfathered in when their property went federal and who will have to leave eventually under the terms of the land transfer to the government.
A National Seashore
That's as developed as Cumberland should be, and that's how we hope it will remain for this generation and for future generations. That's why the industrialist families who owned the island, the Carnegies, the Rockefellers, the Candlers, turned most of it over to the U.S. government and why Congress in the 1970s made the federally-owned property a National Seashore. The designation protects most of the 56,000-acre island from development and overuse and opens it up to limited numbers of visitors, arriving by boat.
Whether you come for the day, pitch a tent in Sea Camp, backpack into the wilderness area or stay in the sole inn on the main island, a trip to Cumberland is something close to magic.
Or, so it is now. The problem is that about 1,000 acres have remained in private ownership, not required to be turned over for federal parkland at any point.
This includes the nearly 90 acres owned by Lumar LLC, a partnership that includes at least one member of the Candler family, the Very Rev. Samuel G. Candler, dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood.
Last December, the Lumar partnership persuaded Camden County officials to grant a zoning variance so it could create a family compound and divide its 90-acre parcel into 10 lots with unpaved roads leading to each of them.
However spacious and leafy these lots, for roads and for homes the plans will require the clearing of trees and moving earth, which would be a shock to the peace and quiet that characterize Cumberland and scar the landscape.
A short-sighted variance decision
Appeals of the zoning variance, accompanied by an outcry from Cumberland lovers across the country, have now cracked open negotiations on what limits should and shouldn't be placed on all 1,000 acres of privately-owned Cumberland.
The negotiations could wind up giving owners more leeway to develop their property. Participants won't talk about what's happening in those talks, but what appears likely is that things won't remain exactly as they are. The equilibrium has been disturbed, thanks to the unwise and short-sighted decision by local officials who granted the Lumar variance.
The partnership bought the land in 1998 for $3.5 million from Georgia Rockefeller Rose. The partners wanted their names kept out of it, but their lawyer said at the time that they wouldn't disturb the land.
The families who rescued the island from becoming another privately owned golf and yachting resort will forever have the public's gratitude. Congress didn't mean to protect the land so as to create pristine views for homes built in the middle of Cumberland. Ten homes on roughly 9-acre lots hardly constitute a crowded subdivision, but they would require trees to be knocked down and earth to be moved. Besides, what will these heirs' heirs want to do when their time comes? And those heirs' heirs?
A thousand acres is a big piece of property. Its location makes it almost priceless. Those who treasure Cumberland as the gem it is are rightly worried about what may happen with this parcel.
We hope the people who now own a piece of this enchanted place will agree, again, to do what the Lumar lawyer said they'd do back in 1998, to "keep, hold and preserve" it.
That way, their heirs and the public will have it always.
The Gainesville Times on bilingual ballots:
We've all experienced this moment: You're in the voting booth, poring over your choices. After selecting your candidates, you scroll to the bottom of the ballot, where you're greeted by a list of constitutional amendments and referendums, some quite lengthy.
With amendments in particular, you read over each two or three times to make sure you can figure out exactly what you're voting for. The heavily parsed legal language is filled with double negatives and strung together by commas into one jawbreaker sentence that often leaves you puzzled.
Now put yourself in that same spot and imagine you are still learning English and not yet comfortable with the nuances of the language. Can you figure out what you're voting for?
This is among the reasons many states and counties are adding bilingual ballots as an option for voters. Hall County's election board voted 2-1 to make that move last week, following Gwinnett County's recent decision to do so.
The board voted 2-1, Democrats Kim Copeland and Gala Sheats in favor and Republican Ken Cochran opposed. Newly appointed GOP member Craig Lutz had not been sworn in when the vote was held; the fifth spot on the board goes to the elections supervisor, a job currently vacant since Charlotte Sosebee left last fall. It's still uncertain whether the move needs approval from the Board of Commissioners.
The move is a reaction to the growing number and influence of Latino voters in Hall. Though Latinos are just 3 percent of Georgia voters, more than 7,000, 7 percent of those registered, live in Hall. That's the state's fifth highest total, up 35 percent since 2008. More than 1,000 registered during last year's high-profile presidential election season. As first generation immigrants become more assimilated and their kids go to school and grow up here, that number will continue to grow.
The reasons for this are based on two driving forces: what's right and what's legally pragmatic.
First the inevitable: The federal Voting Rights Act stipulates that a jurisdiction must provide bilingual ballots when more than 5 percent or 10,000 citizens of voting age are of a single language minority other than English. Gwinnett made its move based on its 170,000 Latino residents. Hall has more than 54,000 total, both noncitizens and citizens, some 28 percent of the population.
It likely would have been just a matter of time before the county was required to provide bilingual ballots, so why not get ahead of it and make it happen now?
"Hopefully, we can save the taxpayers money from unnecessary lawsuits, and allowing citizens greater access to voting is always a good thing," Copeland said.
Yet Lutz said the move might be too costly. The former commissioner called the move "fiscally irresponsible" and expressed concern it could put a burden on taxpayers. That's worth asking for any government initiative, and the exact cost of creating bilingual ballots is a bit of a wild card. That needs to be determined and shared with the public.
Even so, we then ask: Is spending money to expand ballot access, however much it costs, still worth doing? In this case, the answer is yes.
There are some responsibilities government must take on despite the cost, including keeping streets safe and putting out fires. Fostering democracy is on that list. Voting is the most fundamental of American rights, and any move that improves that process is a vital service.
As it is, motivating more eligible citizens to register and vote is a task unto itself. While presidential elections can draw big turnouts, such as last year's 78 percent showing in Hall, most off-year elections draw limited interest. That has led Georgia and other states to streamline the process any way possible, adding early and Saturday voting, absentee ballots and other conveniences.
And before some counter with "why don't they speak English if they want to live here?" remember these are American citizens, including those from the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Forget the bogus claim of massive voter fraud by illegal immigrants, who in reality have no interest in exposing themselves to possible deportation by trying to cast ballots, particularly in the current political climate.
Yes, those who go through the naturalization process must learn a fair amount of English to pass the required exams on American history and civics. But there's a difference between being proficient in a language and being fluent. As mentioned before, the ballot questions are not written to be easily understood by many who have lived here their whole lives, much less someone still learning the language.
It is indeed in the best interests of all Americans to learn English to better assimilate into the culture, but that can take time. English is the common language of the United States, not an "official" one, and does not require its citizens to speak and use it exclusively.
Though many native-born Americans may take the right to vote for granted, naturalized citizens in particular have a special appreciation for free elections, many having emigrated from nations where that right is denied or limited. Those who make the effort to become citizens dearly want to participate in our democratic process, and should be welcomed with open arms.
Thus, if that means we spend a few more tax dollars to provide ballots in a language that puts them at ease, then it is money well spent.
The Valdosta Daily Times on organ donation:
April is many things.
Christians around the world celebrated Easter, as they honored and remembered the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Jewish holiday of Passover commemorates the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, taking its name from the Book of Exodus when the Israelites were told to mark the doorposts of their homes with lamb's blood so the spirit of the Lord would pass over as it carried out the 10th plague of the death of the first born.
So it's appropriate that in the month these two holidays are held, both in their own way celebrating life in the face of death, that we also remember National Donate Life Month.
Organ donation also celebrates life in the face of death.
There are around 118,000 men, women and children in America currently awaiting an organ transplant.
Some need lungs.
Some need kidneys.
Some need a liver.
Some need a heart.
Some need eyes or even skin.
One donor can save up to eight lives, and through the donation of eyes and skin, can improve the lives of many more.
Roughly 45 percent of American adults are registered as organ donors, though it varies greatly from state to state.
Georgia is currently at about 4.7 million.
Registering is simple.
Georgia residents can sign up for organ donation at www.donatelifegeorgia.org.
Georgia residents can also choose to have it listed on their driver's licenses when they get or renew their licenses.
For grieving friends and family members, there's comfort in knowing the death of their loved one has resulted in so much life, both lives saved and lives improved.
It's somber to think about it, but planning ahead is a way to perform one last act of kindness and generosity, to reach out to someone and help them, to celebrate life in the face of death.