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Heat and light
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Throughout the country, August has been marked with heated town hall discussions that have at times become screaming matches splashed over the television news networks.

Georgia's fourth congressional district recently held a forum on health care reform attended by 2,000 people. There was plenty of bickering, booing and cheering, but it remained generally civil, according to locals who attended the event.

Rockdale did one better. On the same night, residents and home owners came together for the first citizens' forum of its kind. Instead of just sitting home and worrying, residents asked questions and expressed an honest interest in learning more information about the issue of in-home day care facilities and the financial management of the county.

The Board of Commissioners recently held a retreat to sit down for some long-term strategic planning. Away from the fishbowl of regular public meetings, the commissioners, whose recent public conversations had been marked with mistrust and infighting, seemed to make some genuine breakthroughs. Nobody came out singing Kumbaya, but the commissioners seemed to actually listen to one another and give each other the benefit of the doubt.

This kind of civil discourse starts with unclenching fists and putting away fear. If these disagreements can continue to produce light instead of heat, there is more hope of solving the huge challenges Rockdale County faces.