Tag Archives: Douglas County

Douglas County Sentinel Editorial is Irresponsible, Unrealistic

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On Dec. 14, the Douglas County Sentinel – the legal organ and publication of record in Douglas County, Ga. – published an unsigned editorial (making it the “official” opinion of the otherwise impartial newspaper) calling on the county’s board of commissioners and the Douglasville City Council to do a better job of listening to the wishes of their constituents.

For the city, that means changing the way catering contracts are awarded for the new conference center downtown. For the county, it means reigning in spending, lowering taxes – and somehow proceeding with a major capital investment in a new animal shelter and continuing to provide exemplary public services.

Here’s the thing that was missing from the Sentinel’s concise opinion: running a government costs money.

(Actually, the more governments you run, the more money it costs. Look at all the newly incorporated municipalities around metro Atlanta. The job market for city managers, police chiefs, planning and zoning administrators and others have improved dramatically since the Georgia General Assembly got all city-happy, creating massive duplication of services to appease residents who want both lower taxes AND better services. But that’s an argument for another time.)

The city’s decision is much less consequential than the county’s. The long and short of it is, the conference center – which the city owns and manages – has a single caterer under contract, and people don’t like that caterer. Residents wanted the city to follow a more open approach to hiring caterers, allowing multiple vendors to bid on individual events. This would allow some local caterers to participate in the process. But the city has an obligation to run the facility as efficiently – and, therefore, as economically – as possible, and mitigating disputes with multiple vendors or figuring out who is responsible for the cocktail sauce stains in the carpet in the grand ballroom or who’s can of steno scorched the wall in the lobby will be a much larger investment of resources for the city. So, the city decided to contract with a new caterer who will provide exclusive catering services for the conference center. Residents fear that will make the price of having events, like wedding receptions, go up and lead to a loss in utilization for the conference center. Two points about that: 1) there are other venues in town, and if you want to have whomever you want to cater your event, then certainly you can rent a pavilion at the park, a facility at a local, privately owned venue or just have folks over for a weenie roast in your back yard; and 2) going by my own empirical observations, being downtown nearly every Saturday night for trivia at a local restaurant, the limos and black Escalades consistently lined up outside the conference center are a pretty good indication that the venue isn’t at a loss for demand.

The county, however, is really catching heat for a recent increase in property taxes.

Now, let’s get something clear first: the economy tanked, Douglas County has been a state leader in foreclosures, and that means that revenue from property owners has dropped. In the meantime, the county still has to function.

We all like having a fire station nearby, but we don’t want to pay for the engines or the salaries of the firefighters who staff it. We want the sheriff’s office to respond when we call for help, but we don’t want to pay for replacing the patrol cars that get worn out from constant use. We want parks in our communities, but we don’t want to pay the tab when they’re built.

Any idea what a new police cruiser costs?

Any idea what a new police cruiser costs?

The Sentinel’s pie-in-the-sky optimism – “cut spending, cut taxes and find a way to build a new animal shelter” – is absurd. You can have one, maybe two of those things, but not all three. Nor can you expect to have a highly functioning local government operating with dwindling revenues.

Property taxes are a fairly progressive tax: the more your property is worth, the more you pay. If you want to live in a single-wide on a quarter-acre lot, then you can enjoy the benefits of a much lower property tax bill. However, if a 2,500-square-foot all-brick home with a home theater in the bonus room and a rec room in your finished basement is more your taste, well, your annual tax bill will reflect it. But odds are, you’re not going to choose the single-wide just to save money on taxes, and if the single-wide is all you can afford, then you’re going to have an awful lot of tax liens on your lot trying to pay the same bill in November as your fellow resident ensconced in his brick façade.

If we want a reduction in property taxes, then we must accept a reduction in services. Fewer youth recreation programs. Slower response from deputies and fire/rescue workers. More potholes and slower traffic pushing through unimproved intersections. And certainly, we should expect to continue using the same small, outdated animal shelter and probably be willing to say goodbye to the stray and abandoned animals housed there a little faster (after all, gassing and incinerating the puppies and kittens is an awful lot cheaper than trying to feed and clean up after them until someone comes along to adopt them).

The Sentinel missed an opportunity to educate residents on what their taxes really go for. A few empiric examples of probable waste – a take-home vehicle policy that seems generous but that’s actually pretty common throughout the metro area, for instance – is a good start. Every governing body could stand to trim a little fat and run a little better. But this unholy trinity of lower taxes, reduced spending and a capital investment is an impossibility.

If you want lower taxes, be prepared to pay somewhere else. Either in not having a ambulance to respond to your child’s medical emergency, or the likelihood that by the time you get to the shelter to pick up Fido after he slipped the fence, he’s probably been reduced to cinders.

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A Democratic Effort to Change Douglas County’s Body Politic

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The times, they are a’changing (in Douglas County).

Oh, my my. Party politics are getting interesting in Douglas County, Ga.

The Douglas County legislative delegation – a substantially gerrymandered hydra of a thing itself – has proposed retooling the county’s board of elections.

Presently, the board of elections is comprised of four Republicans and one Democrat. This is an arrangement that has actually reflected the political reality of Douglas County pretty well, as the county’s Democratic party has largely slid between dormant and dead for about two decades.

But now, the county’s legislative delegation (that is, the state representatives and senators who represent parts of Douglas County in the Georgia General Assembly) has proposed changing how the board of elections in Douglas County is constituted, and to change it in such a way that might actually give the Democrats a 3-2 advantage on the board.

This has some in the county establishment, including Douglas County Commission Chairman Tom Worthan, a Republican, stomping mad.

In a recent article in the Douglas County Sentinel, Worthan vows to “do everything in my power to kill this thing.”

The county’s delegation is composed only three Republicans: Rep. Dustin Hightower (R-Carrollton), Rep. Micha Gravely (R-Douglasville) and Sen. Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton). The remaining five members of the county’s delegation are Democrats: Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta), Rep. Kim Alexander (D-Douglasville), Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta), Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague (D-Red Oak) and Rep. LaDawn Jones (D-College Park) comprise the rest of the county’s representation.

Under a plan proposed by Sen. James and one that Rep. Alexander plans to carry in the House, the Democrats and Republicans would each get to pick two members of the county’s board of elections. The remaining member would be elected by the delegation, which, again, is 5-3 Democrat.

Senator Donzella James

Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) is leading a potential shift in the Douglas County Board of Elections — and maybe county politics, too.

Ergo, a 3-2 Democratic advantage, which might more accurately reflect where Douglas County is, and where the county is going.

During the 1990s, while total population increased by almost 30 percent, the black population more than doubled its proportion of the population from 7.9 percent to 19.4 percent.

But demographic shifts in the county may not be the underlying reason for the current tension. Like the rest of Georgia, a little more than a decade ago, the county experienced a nuanced shift from Democratic to Republican hands. Tommy Waldrop, who served as sheriff in the 90s, ran as a Democrat the first time, and as a Republican for his second term. (My grandfather, a lifelong Democrat who kept a framed portrait of FDR on the wall of his living room, said he’d have to “hold his nose” to vote for Sheriff Waldrop, who was also my grandfather’s cousin.)

See, it’s like this:

During this transition, the “establishment” – that is, the organized, hierarchical political structure in place, i.e., “good ol’ boy network” – flipped. It was still the same people, mind you, but rather than being Tallmadge-type Democrats they were Perdue-type Republicans. For more than a few election cycles, this served fine; just as was the case during the bad ol’ one-party system days, if you won the Republican primary, you basically won the office. Board of commissioners chairman, sheriff, tax commissioner, etc., all went pretty seamlessly from Democratic to Republican control, and since the issues that cause such tension between the parties has precious little bearing on local politics, few even seemed to notice.

So it was that I observed the inauguration of the last Democratic office holder in county government—the county surveyor.

During this transition, however, the county’s minority community was left without significant representation. Democrats since the 1960s, they continued to vote a Democratic ticket through the 1990s and into the 2000s. Until, that is, it became clear that there often wasn’t even a Democrat on the ticket; by the general election in November, a great many races had been decided.

For a couple of elections, the Democratic ticket was led by candidates who could not be taken seriously. One county commission candidate in particular caused a stir when he placed his campaign signs in front of Douglas County High School, not realizing that school property is not exactly a public right-of-way and that you can’t put signs there. These were folks who were already pretty unglued, and for whom even the pettier burdens of local public office would doubtless lead to disaster.

In other words, these were the kinds of folks they elect in Clayton County, not Douglas County. Follow? (OK, so, we did kind of elect at least one Clayton-caliber candidate.)

Now, a Democratic party is reemerging. Some of this is driven by the diverse coalition of blacks, gays and lesbians and educated, liberal whites and freethinkers bound together through President Barak Obama’s two national campaigns. And the good ol’ local GOP isn’t happy about this at all, no, sir.

Chairman Tom Worthan

Douglas County Commission Chairman Tom Worthan, a Republican, is none too happy with how them Democrats from Atlanta are influencing the political landscape of another county they happen to represent — his.

Even a local election can be an expensive proposition. Presently, however, most of the money is invested in the primaries, on the assumption that winning the Republican nomination is all that is necessary to win office. But an emerging, viable Democratic Party in the county, fielding viable candidates – like Todd Johnson, a white Democrat who endeavored to run for sheriff against Democratic challenger Derrik Broughton and Republican incumbent Sheriff Phil Miller until the county’s board of elections kicked him off the ballot because he didn’t have his fingerprints taken in the right place (he had them done through his employer, another metro Atlanta sheriff’s office, rather than at the Douglas County Probate Court) – means that more money and effort will have to go into general elections as well. And that means fewer cocktails and low-profile tires for those in the county who wish to remain politically influential (think: developers, contractors, etc.).

The claim that is easy to put forth is that these candidates are a product of an influx of people from outside the county – “those people,” if you will. But really, in the past few years, there hasn’t been much of an influx of “those people,” or any people for that matter. From 2010 to 2011, the U.S. Census shows the county’s population grew by only about .7 percent – less than the state’s growth of 1.3 percent. The housing market went kaput, new housing construction stalled and people couldn’t sell their old houses.

(Plus, during the past decade, Douglas County instituted minimum home sizes, which effectively priced many minorities out of buying a new home in the county.)

This isn’t so much that people are coming into Douglas County, and that these outsiders are stealing our way of life. Rather, it’s the fact that the people who are here are finding their voice.

Chairman Worthan – who, coincidently, I’ve voted for a few times – is casting this as people from outside the county (only Rep. Alexander actually lives in Douglas County; Rep. Gravely, though he has a Douglasville address, lives in that little loop of ZIP code that extends up into Paulding County) meddling in local affairs. Really, though, this is a product of the how the GOP gerrymandered the county in an (ill-advised) effort to dilute the political influence of Democrats from southern Fulton County (which the state would like to see go away), as well as a surprising Democratic victory that sent Rep. Alexander to the Capitol and kept former Rep. Bob Snelling (who, many took for granted, would handily win a seat after winning the Republican primary) on his porch.

It’s hard to see one’s dominance come to an end. It can leave a bitter taste. But then, those of us who remember being loyal Democrats back when Sheriff Waldrop ran with a “D” next to his name, are quite familiar with how this feels. We know how it tastes.

And right now, amid the Republicans’ tantrums, it tastes kinda’ sweet.

The Birds

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Cameron was having a bad day.

Slumped in a chair in Tony’s basement, he laid it all out: he got fussed out at work, was short of funds, and had just had a terrible fight with his girlfriend. To close his day, he decided to take a drive in his Jeep. Driving his Jeep, he said, made him happy. But then…

“’Bam! Bam, bam, bam!’ They were pelting the front and the side of my Jeep like little Kamikazes,” Cameron said as I entered the basement for a night of story-swapping and trip-planning.

“Cameron, what are you talking about?” I asked with great interest.

“It was terrible, Joey: I was out driving, and I saw this massive flock of birds walking around on the ground in someone’s yard off to the left,” he told me. “I thought, ‘man, that’s a lot of birds,’ and, right then, they all at once just took off like a big gray cloud. I thought they were going to fly away, but they didn’t; the whole flock just flew right out into the road.”

“Well, what’d you do?”  I asked.

“I couldn’t do anything. They were everywhere,” he said. “I just kept cringing and driving until I got through it. And then I looked in my rearview mirror and saw all these birds laying in the road. A lot of them were dead, and some were almost dead and were flopping about like fish out of water.”

Cameron with Jeep

Cameron, with his Jeep, during happier days.

“Oh that’s awful!” I said.

“Yeah, I felt really bad,” he confessed. “I still feel really bad, but there was nothing I could do. It was like they were all on a suicide mission.”

The Jeep itself was a mess of feather and smeared bird… I don’t know, bird something. Cameron described in grim detail how he heard them desperately beating against the plastic windows of the Jeep, how they’d hit with such force that he’d had to stop shortly thereafter to squeegee off his windshield and readjust the side-view mirrors.

We had all seen birds fly into a closed window, or a pet parakeet fly into a mirror because of the reflection, but we’d never heard of anything the likes of what Cameron had experienced. If I didn’t know him better I would have sworn he was making it up. The thing about Cameron, though is that he never had to make this stuff up.

Despite Cameron’s unintentional bird massacre, we had convened at Tony’s with a mission to plan our trip to Florida in two weeks, so after getting over the shock of Cameron’s incident we got down to business. We left Tony’s basement that night with the satisfaction that another quick weekend vacation had been planned and the knowledge that at least one flock of birds had been infiltrated by a featherbrained cult leader and led into mass suicide.

A few days passed and by the middle of the week Cameron and I once again found ourselves hanging out at Tony’s. As we entered the door, Tony, who was sitting at his computer to the right of us, turned to face us with a look of contained excitement on his face.

“Cameron,” he began, “what day was it that you hit that flock of birds?” He was almost giddy. And Tony’s not a man who gets giddy. It was a little creepy.

Cedar Waxwing

A cedar waxwing, during happier days.

“Saturday,” Cameron said.

“And what road were you driving on when you hit them?” Tony asked.

“Banks Mill. Why?” a concerned Cameron asked.

“Funny thing happened to me at the office the other day,” Tony said. Tony was working as a reporter for the local daily paper, the Sentinel. “I had just got in for the day, and one of the photographers started talking to one of the other reporters about a ‘bird story.’ So, I asked them about this bird story. Seems someone found a massive collection of dead birds along Banks Mill Road on Saturday. The health department is investigating.”

“Really?” I said, not too surprised. This was at the time that the danger of the West Nile Virus to elderly people was a popular news story in Georgia, because the disease is spread by mosquitoes and if there’s two things Georgia has, it’s peaches and mosquitoes.

“Yeah, well, you know one sign that West Nile may be present in an area is finding birds that have died from being bitten by infected mosquitoes,” Tony said.

“Yeah I’ve heard of that,” Cameron said.  “What about it?”

“Well, you see, when you find a dead bird, you’re supposed to report it to the health department, so that they can check it out to see if the bird died of West Nile or not,” Tony said.  “So, you might could imagine the sheer terror one might face upon finding a total of 19 dead birds in one’s yard.”

“Are you saying that…,” I started before Tony interrupted me.

“I’m saying that when I was at the office today, one of our reporters was checking out a story about someone finding 19 dead cedar waxwings on Banks Mill Road,” Tony said.

We all started laughing.  “It can’t be,” I said.

“When did they find them?” Cameron asked.

“Saturday,” Tony chuckled. “I just searched on the Internet for a picture of a cedar waxwing. Is this the bird that flew into your Jeep, Cameron?”

“Yeah, that’s them.” Cameron started giggling.

“Like I said, when you find one dead bird it’s a scare, but 19 is a crisis,” Tony said. “Someone probably came outside and saw all those dead birds and just freaked the hell out. They’re urging old people and children to stay inside if they live near the area where those birds were found.”

“Did you tell your co-worker that those birds committed suicide into the side of your friend’s vehicle?” I asked, knowing that as mischievous as Tony was that he definitely didn’t tell his coworker.

“I thought about it, but the guy said that the workers had already sent the birds off to the University of Georgia to determine the cause of death,” Tony said with a sadistic grin. “They held a press conference. I guess the autopsy results will come back with blunt force trauma as the cause of death?”

The thought of professional public health workers carefully collecting the massacre in little plastic baggies, marking them and sending them to a laboratory made me smile. The likely reaction of the biologist who would determine that all 19 of these birds sent in from Douglas County had been simply hit by a car made me smile wider.

“So, I killed 19 of those little birds, huh?” Cameron said sadly.

Always the optimist, Tony knew just how to cheer Cameron up. “Yeah, but look on the bright side: you single-handedly caused the largest West Nile virus scare this county has ever seen.”

 

Prologue

Driving to Panama City Beach for our weekend away, stopping for one of the many fill-ups the glorified tractor that is a Jeep requires, we spied something peculiar in the springs inside the front wheel well of Cameron’s vehicle. The three of us knelt beside the Jeep, peering at the grayish mash jammed between the coils.

“No way,” Cameron said.

“Awesome,” I said.

“Heh,” said Tony. “That means it was an even 20.”

 

Note:  While searching online for pictures of cedar waxwings to give an accurate description of the birds for this story, I came across a great many articles depicting the habits of the little gray birds. Cedar waxwings are renowned for their voracious appetite and a tendency to eat fermented fruit and berries. When a bird weighing only a few ounces gets a belly full of fermented berries, well, they have trouble flying in a straight line — or just flying at all. 

According to the state of Georgia’s health department on West Nile testing of birds in 2005: “Cedar waxwings, which are never positive, were the third most frequently submitted bird. This bird usually dies from drunken flying into windows or is found dead from alcohol poisoning from eating fermented berries.”

Maybe Cameron won’t feel so bad when he finds out that the birds were FUI (flying under the influence).

Douglasville Mayor Thompson Near-Sighted on TSPLOST

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Douglasville Mayor Mickey Thompson seems to have misgivings about the upcoming TSPLOST vote, and does not feel that the city, nor the western part of Douglas County, have been adequately represented in the allocation of funds possibly raised by approval of this one-cent sales tax.

To refresh your memory, earlier this year, the Georgia General Assembly passed a law allowing citizens in huge swaths of the state to vote on referendums that would impose a 1 percent sales tax in their respective swaths, with the tax going to fund a number of predetermined transportation projects.

Now, coming up soon, the registered voters of Georgia will have the opportunity to decide whether or not we will tax ourselves for one cent on every dollar we spend to improve the region’s transportation, with new road projects, new infrastructure and even a rail line or two, maybe.

But Thompson, who was part of the committee that had a voice on what projects would and would not be funded, now says that Douglas County will be a “donor county” in the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or TSPLOST, with 78 percent of the money the county would pay into TSPLOST being returned to fund projects within the county.

Thompson’s solution to the city’s transportation troubles appears to focus on building more four-lane roads, more interstate off-ramps and funneling more traffic into the black hole built on top of wetlands that is the local mall.

Douglasville has long had an “if you build it, they will come” attitude about transportation, structuring unnecessary four-lane roads here and there in the hopes of attracting development. To their credit, development has come; though it was almost all retail, which supplies low-paying jobs and works only when people actually have money to spend. Now, the city is once more in the midst of a glut of existing, vacant “big-box” development. Big box development is what you might think of when you consider the vacant Wal-Mart on Stewart Parkway, or the empty Hi-Fi Buys on Douglas Boulevard next to Outback Steakhouse, or the empty Circuit City at The Landing at Arbor Place, or countless other places throughout the city. Unlike smaller retail spaces, big box stores cannot be relatively easily filled with boutique clothing outlets, second-hand stores or hobby shops, simply owing to their immense size and square footage. It’s damn hard to fill a Wal-Mart if you’re not already a Wal-Mart, and with the exception of Big Lots, most retailers have little interest in setting up where another has failed. Often, then, these retail outlets would rather build their own, new development, which will itself be rendered vacant when hard times come calling and they once more pack up and leave town.

Another function of big box retailers is that they serve as “anchors” for a residential development. Most of their business is incidental, from people stopping in on their way to the Wal-Mart or Kmart or Target or Publix or Kroger. Without an anchor, it’s hard for a smaller retail operation to survive because the sheer traffic going past their storefront is so greatly diminished.

In Thompson’s view, an Interstate 20 interchange is needed at Bright Star Road to help relieve traffic at Highway 5 and Chapel Hill Road. This is, perhaps, the idea the city had when it built the seldom-traveled Bright Star Road Connector: pull traffic off of I-20, send it down Bright Star Road to Wal-Mart or down Douglas Boulevard to the mall. In an interview published in today’s Douglas County Sentinel, Thompson cites statistics to how many cars use the current interstate interchanges, though I gather the mayor has precious little concern for the fact that his vision constructs an interstate interchange in a residential area, streaming traffic past the homes of county residents who are not (yet) part of his jurisdiction.

His honor’s worries stop at the city limits, and that’s a problem.

Even if just 78 percent of what Douglas County puts into the TSPLOST is returned, the remaining 22 percent is nonetheless going to improve transportation in our region, making it easier for people who travel outside of the county’s boarders (and since Douglasville has done such an abysmal job in growing well-paying local jobs, most of us do travel beyond the county lines frequently, or even daily). And for those county and city residents idled by slashed transportation budgets, this means work – jobs, laying asphalt and installing traffic lights and generally working again. (Also, though no one’s hardly said it, this is a good time to get some transportation improvements done on the cheap while costs are depressed. It’s a bargain for taxpayers overall.)

Because the mayor didn’t get what he wanted in the TSPLOST, he’s ready to send the whole thing to hell by defaming it, even as he had more voice and influence to shape it than any of us who will be voting on the thing.

TSPLOST isn’t going to pay for paving subdivisions or replacing culverts down barely travelled back roads; it’s going to pay for major transportation improvements with a regional impact. One of the projects for which Douglasville and Douglas County advocated was improvements to the interchange at I-20 and I-285 – a problem interchange that regularly backs up eastbound traffic to Thornton and Lee roads and beyond and causes residents to lose countless hours due to delays.

In the Sentinel, Thomas said: “With the downturn in the economy and the struggles many are experiencing, I think it will be difficult for people to give up another 1 percent of their disposable income. You have an identical school board referendum question on the Nov. 8 ballot. Of course, if both are approved, that’s an additional 2 percent reduction in disposable income for each resident of our county.”

Perhaps we could look at it that way. Or, we could call it an investment in our community. As a region, transportation is the single greatest hindrance to attracting employers. The state is relatively business-friendly, and we have the post-secondary schools and research facilities to make this a whiz-bang place for potential employers, especially in the areas of technology and biotech with Georgia Tech, Emory, Georgia State and many other smaller area colleges contributing research and well-equipped alumni to the workforce. Still, companies are hesitant to commit investment to an area that is unwilling to invest in itself. Supporting transportation, just like supporting schools, is how we prove we have some skin in the game. It’s how we build our future.

We can no longer expect to hinge our local economy on large-scale retail and the building of strip malls. We must realize that our financial future is tied to the fortunes of metro Atlanta. Where goes Atlanta, so goes Douglasville. We’re beyond being a distant island out in the west; if that is what we wanted to remain, then we needed to develop a self-sustaining local economy. We didn’t do that. We don’t have the jobs to pay our residents a livable wage, and we certainly don’t have the jobs to empower people to spend dollars locally by virtue of the fact that we aren’t paying them enough dollars to spend, period. Our people need work, and there’s no longer any point in trying to build more houses that will be underwater in value by the end of the week that the certificate of occupancy is granted. There are no factory or production jobs to speak of. Not here, anyway.

By and large, I’ve thought a great deal of Mayor Thompson, and I was disheartened to hear that he would not be seeking a third term as mayor. But if this isolationist view of the city is what he would have pursued, we would have been wiser to elect a rival.

Appreciation: My Property Taxes

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No Tresspassing

This means you.

A bit more than a year ago, my wife, our little daughter and I had gone grocery shopping and swung by some restaurant up along Chapel Hill Road to pick up some dinner. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I’d left my debit card at the restaurant and we went back to retrieve it. As we left, Ashley’s cell phone rang with a number we didn’t recognize. She almost didn’t answer it.

When she did, we found it was Protection 1 – our home security monitoring service. Something had tripped the alarm at our house, and they were just making sure we were not the ones who had done it. Given that all three of us were in the car together a couple of miles away, we asked them to kindly send along the sheriff’s office, post haste.

I beat the cruisers to the house. I locked Ashley and Ellie in the car and raced around the house with my knives out. I really didn’t expect to find anything; this had happened before, and it turned out one of Ashley’s good-for-nothing-but-shedding-and-shitting cats had chewed through a wire to a sensor, leaving the sensor to assume it’d been cut and thereby triggering the alarm. So, I figured, the cats probably found something else to destroy.

Then I found the window to the basement. It had been cracked since we’d moved in, and our no-count builder had flown the country for England without fixing it (long story). But, it hadn’t seemed to bother anything; it was just the outer pane of the double-paned glass, so it’s not as if rain or bugs or anything could get in. It was purely cosmetic.

But what I saw as being an aesthetic problem was actually a chink in my armor, which some lowlife sought to exploit as a means of gaining entry into my abode.

The sheriff’s office came, checked the place out, and then dispatched a detective, who turned out to be an old school chum. He tried, in vain, to lift some prints from my filthy basement windows, and then sought to see how the alarm had been triggered. What we discovered was chilling.

Whomever it was who had trespassed into my home had broken a window and walked past all kinds of really good, pawnable shit. They’d passed an old computer, a nice electric keyboard, a box containing my brother-in-law’s old Xbox and stacks of games. They had to pass this, we realized, because the sensor that was tripped was the one that covered the stairs going up to the main level of the house – the level where we spend all our time.

The son of a bitch who broke in wasn’t just trying to rob us; he was trying to get at where we live, and on a Sunday afternoon when, ordinarily, we would have been home.

But, the deputies assured us, since they’d tripped the alarm and knew for sure that we had one, they probably would not return.

Ashley was still on nightshift at the time, and Monday night – the very next evening – she was at work. I was home alone with our toddler daughter. At about 1:30 a.m., I awoke to an awful noise, louder by far than my alarm clock, louder than the fire alarms. I didn’t get up; I rolled out of bed. I grabbed my 12-gauge shotgun from under the bed and a handful of shells. I jumped up and flipped on the light. I was given to sleeping with the curtains and blinds open, because I liked falling asleep to the moon and stars shining through the windows. I looked out as I shoved shells into the shotgun and slammed it shut with a “fwump,” and I saw a car parked along the road, in the grassy area between the trees that shielded my house from the road and the edge of my front lawn. I grabbed the cordless phone off its base and dialed 911, opening my bedroom door and training my shotgun on the stairs. If anything came up ‘em, I was ready to reduce them to a mash of blood and pulp.

911 sent me straight away to the sheriff’s office dispatcher. I gave them my address, and told them what was happening. They asked me where I was. I told them I was guarding the stairs with a 12-gauge. They told me that was good, and not to move; units were on their way.

A few minutes later, the phone rang again. It was dispatch. The units had arrived, they said; please, sir, put down your gun and come out to meet the deputies. So, now I can say that, at least once in my life, the sheriff’s office has asked me to please put down the shotgun and come outside.

I did as I was instructed. The deputies swept through the house, checking every room to make sure that the intruder was not still there. They’d gained entry through the same window, tripped the same sensor – the one guarding the stairs – and had fled. I like to think that, as they ran, they looked back at the house and saw me, fat and hairy and wearing nothing but a pair of boxers, in the window, loading shells into my shotgun and slamming it shut, and throwing open the bedroom door to find and blast them to hell.

After that night, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office became a regular presence at our home. They installed security cameras and told us that, if we noticed anything unusual, to call them and they’d come out and review the footage. Unfortunately, all they probably caught was a lot of me forgetting the cameras were there while I took a pee in the yard and at least one great scene of me losing my mind because I got a spider on me, throwing down my Weedeater, stripping off my shirt and running away screaming.

It also became common to look out and see a cruiser sitting in our driveway, occupied by a deputy filling out paperwork. Ordinarily, having a police presence around my house like this would be a major distraction, but after two break-ins in as many days, I welcomed their presence. If the intruders happened back by, it was clear that this house was well-protected. We saw the sheriff’s office cruisers drive up and down our road with a greater frequency, slowing past our house. If it was dark, I’d often notice one of their spotlights cut on and scan the yard for any suspicious activity (which, admittedly, is kind of hard to define around my house).

That experience made me grateful for a number of things. One, that I watch a lot of reruns of “Cops” and have a good idea about how officers think, speak and react, and how I should always keep my hands where they can see them when I’m talking to them and not make any quick movements. And two, that I live in a county patrolled by a professional law enforcement organization with high standards and a dedication to serve the county’s residents.

It’s a far cry from what people in Fulton or Clayton counties can expect from their sheriffs’ offices.

Since then, we’ve invested heavily in upgrading our security system, with more monitors, more floodlights and a keener awareness of what we need to do to protect ourselves. You can’t so much as sneeze within 100 feet of my house without me knowing it. If you breech the perimeter, you’re probably going to get shot – and with a really big shell that’s going to leave a really, really big hole. If I catch you on my property, you will be arrested for criminal trespass and I will press charges and be on your ass throughout your engagement with the criminal justice system, making your life miserable.

I’ve also gained a greater appreciation for the notice that came in the mail a few weeks ago. It was my property tax assessment. See, a lot of folks don’t like paying taxes, especially on something as sacred as their home. As for me, I don’t mind so much. I realize that bill is what I have to pay in order to have an ambulance come when I call them, or a fire department that will come in and haul my ass out of a burning house. It’ll pay for my road so I can come and go, for the schools that help reduce the number of people I have to shoot for breaking into my house, and for those deputies who came out so quickly when we needed them and watched over myself, my wife and my little girl when it appeared someone wanted to do us harm.

Now, I could probably appeal my tax bill, and I’d probably get it reduced a bit. But I’m disinclined to try, even as I’m keenly aware that there are a great many others who are battling successfully to avoid paying their fair share.

Because when it’s dark, and you’re home alone with your little girl and a shotgun loaded for bear, and you’re waiting to either blow the hell out of a home invader or be rescued by a cadre of sheriff’s deputies, and the burglar alarm is bellowing in the night and the car out by the road is trying to make a three-point turn and escape, money seems like a very minor thing to come between yourself, your family, and their safety.

Be glad when you get that bill that you have the resources you have, and the peace of mind of knowing that you’re safer because of it. Do what you can to meet them half-way. Install the floodlights and keep them on. Activate the security system. And pay your taxes so they have the units to send when that alarm goes off.