Jack Simpson - Leadership is needed during tough times

Some of our local politicians have already announced plans to run again for their offices. They say they wish to continue development of some of their pet programs.

Comments in the Citizen Poll reflect some dissatisfaction with overdevelopment in the community. Approving rezonings as well as more and more construction while allowing the infrastructure to fall behind has led to traffic, congestion and sprawl.

Those who wish to lead us in the future should tell the voters what they plan to do to manage growth and protect the quality of life in the region.

Look at what has already happened in the county. Problems are plaguing the housing sector. Home prices are sinking and the housing market is weak. Published reports show Rockdale County had the second highest foreclosure rate in 2006, just behind Clayton County. The county was known to have high numbers of subprime loans and, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission, 34 percent of all loans here came from subprime lenders. People who received these loans moved into houses built here that were beyond their means. Now many of these same people face foreclosurers and some are in bankruptcy because of their rising mortgage payments.

Empty houses in the community bring down property values and attract some undesirables and crime. Among several of these houses were some properties used by criminals for the cultivation of illegal marijuana.

People in some of these troubled neighborhoods are reporting burglaries, gang activity, drug sales and vandalism. Stores are reporting an increase in armed robberies. People are being held up at gunpoint in parking lots and while at ATM machines.

Those of us who have lived in Rockdale County for many years are astounded at some of the changes here. People no longer feel safe in what once was a quiet, peaceful community.

Other problems also concern voters. The drought has brought water problems, and they have only increased by more and more building. Wells have suffered from less rainfall and septic tanks are on the increase. New stripmalls are being built, while stores in others stand vacant for long periods of time.

You may remember the Piggley Wiggley store at Ga. 20 South and Oglesby Bridge Road was robbed several years ago and has long since closed its doors. The space this store occupied is empty. Just over the county line in a stripmall building, police recently made a raid in a flea market, seizing thousands of dollars worth of counterfeit merchandise. Empty stores do attract some business activity - just not the most desirable for a family-oriented community!

So, we read about our water department, aging pipelines and treatment facilities, unbilled gallons of water and past-due bills going uncollected. We also see, hear and experience traffic congestion, overcrowded schools, higher crime rates, and see more approval for new construction, while we continue riding over pot holes in our streets, all the while trying to get home from work while fighting our way over two-lane roads and through four-way stops badly in need of widening and traffic signals!

Those people running for office and seeking voter approval might take note of the desire for change expressed by Iowans. What will be done differently in Rockdale County to serve the needs of the people? Will emphasis remain on the status quo and rezoning for increased construction without keeping up improvements to infrastructure? Will sound planning be emphasized to avert future crises? Failure to listen to the citizens' desires for their community and catering to special interests will only reflect unfavorably upon the reputations and credibility of those seeking a favorable vote in the next election - be they incumbents or newcomers.

The Rockdale County we once knew is slowly becoming only a state of mind. Growth, sprawl and diversity are eroding the community and engendering mistrust. The course we take in the future must not make us enemies, but bind us as friends. Will we cease to be a special kind of community or just another suburb of a sprawling city?

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author, and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Sunday.