Hello, It’s Me

A couple of years ago, a number of my esteemed colleagues at georgiapol.com asked me if I wanted to start blogging on issues in Georgia law and politics. I am forever grateful for their encouragement and I could not be happier that I agreed to join them. The last few years have been a wild and wonderful ride. I am most proud (and appreciative) that I have given voice to perspectives that are not always the most popular in Georgia. That fact notwithstanding, I have nevertheless been able to garner mutual respect for so many folks involved in Georgia politics across the ideological spectrum.

Indeed, politics work best when a diversity of voices can come together to talk about the most pressing— and often divisive— issues in a civil and thoughtful way. Here in Georgia, we are fortunate to have no shortage of sharp public policy minds. And now with georgiapol.com, I hope to be part of a venture that encourages productive exchanges to better the public policy process.

Blogging done right is like an education— it is not so much the filling of a pail as it is the lighting of a fire. Here’s to starting a new chapter at georgiapol.com, kicking off conversations that spark new ideas, and facilitating innovative approaches to improving the lives of Georgians.

Congressman Doug Collins Draws A Primary Challenger

Doug_Collins_official_photo
Congressman Doug Collins 
Photo obtained from Wikimedia Commons

 

Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA-09) has drawn an opponent in the Republican primary this coming May.  Former teacher and Lanier Tea Party President Roger D. Fitzpatrick will be challenging Congressman Collins again.  Fitzpatrick came in last place with 17% in the 2012 contest after redistricting left the 9th district open with no sitting congressman. From WDUN:

Fitzpatrick made his announcement Monday on WDUN’s Morning Talk, saying he knows there’s a growing dissatisfaction among conservatives in north Georgia with so-called establishment Republicans.

“It has to do with what’s going on with our representative in Washington,” said Fitzpatrick. “He’s voting with establishment, he’s voting with leadership and that’s not what we sent him up there to do.”

Where is the Party compass pointing when you have conservatives lamenting that their conservative congressman isn’t conservative enough.  Not everyone can be Ted Cruz (thank goodness) and have a perfect score from the Heritage Foundation’s PAC.  I’ve tweeted my opinion on effectiveness and these conservative scorecards:

09.02-Roger-Fitzpatrick
Roger D. Fitzpatrick
Photo obtained from Tea Party Cheer

Some may consider a “do nothing” Congress and Congressmen and Senators who consistently vote “no” the best form of representative government, but I believe we can do something better and at least move the ball down the field in terms of better policy.

We aren’t going to get everything we want especially with a Democrat as President, but it seems like there are people who would rather see Republicans who don’t receive a 95%+ rating from Heritage or any other get defeated than Democrats.  Of course, I believe there is a lot of overlap between that and those who believe that Donald Trump is a conservative.

Before people start commenting on how I’m in the bag for all of our Republican incumbents, I’m not.  I don’t believe in an “incumbent protection program”.  If someone feels led to run for office, then they should, but I wonder how many do it just to take a jab at the (seemingly nebulous) #Establishment with no real plan or expectation to lead or govern.  Or, to put it succinctly, “we elected a Republican who votes with his fellow Republicans, we must defeat him.”

Savannah city manager announces retirement after tensions flare among new, returning city council members

Savannah’s newly elected officials — mayor Eddie DeLoach, at-large alderman Brian Foster, 2nd district alderman Bill Durrence, and 4th district alderman Julian Miller — participated in their first city council meeting last Thursday. That meeting went pretty smoothly, all things considered, and concluded with some fond words for city manager Stephanie Cutter after she announced her impending retirement.

But there had been a lengthy closed-door executive session earlier in the day, which is presumably when the details of Cutter’s departure were hammered out after tensions among the mayor and council had flared on Facebook and discussed in the Savannah Morning News.

Stephanie Cutter has had a long history with the city of Savannah and already has qualified for a full pension. But she was an assistant city manager only from 2010 to 2012 before being elevated to the top spot after the forced departure of Rochelle Small-Toney, who turned out to be a particularly poor choice to lead the city.

At first, it seemed like Cutter might have the right skill set after the turmoil of the short Small-Toney tenure, but existing problems worsened while new ones arose. Police staffing deteriorated, no doubt in part because of the federal conviction of former chief Willie Lovett, even as crime continued to rise dramatically. The decade-old city-county police merger nearly unraveled, which many of us saw as the result of poor decisions by city staff. A series of proposed new ordinances seemed ill-considered and incompetently handled, including an alcohol ordinance rewrite, a food truck ordinance, and a proposed bicycle and skateboard ban in Forsyth Park. Confidence has also waned in the city staff’s ability to handle decisions related to property deals and major projects like the long-planned Cultural Arts Center. Continue reading “Savannah city manager announces retirement after tensions flare among new, returning city council members”

State Sen. Butler Pulls DeKalb County Critic From Audit Oversight Board

Harmel_Codi
Harmel Codi

Audits should be boring. Audit committees should be extra boring. In DeKalb, not so much.

Last month, State Sen. Gloria Butler unceremoniously ganked the DeKalb senate delegation’s appointee to a county audit oversight committee, telling the AJC that Harmel Codi appears to have “an agenda,” and “we want someone on the committee who has the agenda of the committee.”

Codi, an attorney who worked in finance for DeKalb County before resigning in disgust, has been an outspoken critic of the county’s governance. She – along with nine others – ran for the commission seat opened up by interim CEO Lee May’s resignation of the post.

Codi expressed concern about the composition of the new committee, noting that at least one member – Belinda Pedroso, senior auditor for the University System of Georgia’s Office of Internal Audit and Compliance – is a close political ally of Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton and had applied for the job of auditor with the county.

Codi had also spoken against making the meetings private, citing open meetings laws.

State Sen. Gloria Butler (D-DeKalb)
State Sen. Gloria Butler

Shortly after Codi’s removal, Harold Smith Jr., an appointee of the county commission and the chairman of the board, said he planned to resign his post as well, citing “current uncertain circumstances.” Smith said he has since changed his mind, though he no longer intends to serve as the board’s chairman.

Codi’s still planning to show up to meetings. In a letter to Butler, Codi called her rescission “illegal” and “arbitrary” and that she “will continue to serve as the legal appointee of this committee.”

The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 22, according to meeting minutes from Dec. 7.

Butler, chair of the DeKalb delegation in the state Senate, appears to have made the decision to replace Codi without consulting other members of the seven-person delegation. At least two senators – Elena Parent and JaNice Van Ness – have sent letters to the Attorney General’s office asking for its interpretation of the legality of Butler’s actions. The enabling legislation required appointments be made by October 27. Butler sent word of Codi’s removal on December 28.

“Sen. Butler’s actions undermine the infrastructure and processes the voters approved to provide some measure of oversight for a county government that has been plagued with scandals and malfeasance by elected and appointed officials,” wrote Commissioner Nancy Jester, calling for Codi’s return. “Any actions that undermine the independence of the Audit Oversight Committee reinforce DeKalb’s image as corrupt and secretive. It gives credibility to the idea that DeKalb’s government is often used for the benefit of a small number of the well-connected residents and businesses at the expense of the larger public.”

Last year, legislators created a new citizen panel to oversee the hiring of an independent auditor for DeKalb County’s finances. The auditor itself will hold a powerful position, because whoever gets the job is bound by the new law to report findings of illegality immediately to the district attorney and to the public through the oversight board.

Other than suggestions of “an agenda,” Butler hasn’t spelled out exactly what she learned between the time of the appointment and the 28th to justify removing Codi. She has not returned calls to her legislative office.

Removing a critic will be seen by many as a signal that the committee is in the bag for the county government. Even if the auditor says that the county’s financial activities are honest, no one will be convinced.

Butler has to know that. Which means whatever embarrassment Codi might have offered was substantially worse than the damage done by removing her.

So let’s play a game: beat me to the crime.

I’ve pulled some records using the Georgia Open Records Act. (Got a free 8-gig stick out of it, too.) I am going to do the trivial and obvious act of matching those records to contracts, and those contracts to both the timing of campaign donations and to actual work performed. It won’t take long.

This is something any auditor should be able to perform drunk with the dogs barking for a walk. Though I’m an excellent researcher and hold an MBA, I am not trained in government auditing. So if I manage to find something, and the auditor misses it, little more will need be said. Because I don’t think Codi wouldn’t have let that happen.

Walk Toward the Light, Baby

I’m one of those rare commodities, a native Georgian. Raised a Democrat, I’m now mostly right-leaning, but always a conservative first and foremost. While I’m not a card-carrying member of any party, there are some who call me a “Good Republican.”  My career background is in IT and cybersecurity.  Other titles include, but are not limited to, wife, mother, daughter, caregiver, sister, artist, musician, writer, gardener, and certified smart aleck.

I’ve been at this blogging thing for almost ten years. It started as a hobby, really, just an amusing experiment. The original plan was to write about the Georgia of my youth – memories of places I’d been and how they’d been buried by over-development, neglect or careless zoning. A big issue was how Georgia could still grow and modernize, but keep that graciousness I remembered. Ranting about bad manners almost always turned to politics. The rants turned into something bigger; almost a calling to do my part to set things right, not only in my own backyard but across this country I love so much.  Today I start a new chapter here at GeorgiaPOL.

Then there’s the Star Wars thing.  And the Star Trek thing.  And Battlestar Gallactica.  Babylon 5.  Firefly… I blame the hobbits.   They started it all.

Morning Reads for Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Good morning! I hope your eggs were properly cooked, and your issues were equally to your liking.

It’s only Day 2 of session, and by now you may have spent enough time thinking about the Capitol to ponder, “Oh, this is why Daddy said not to go downtown! Teri, remind me what we’re looking for?”

Continue reading “Morning Reads for Tuesday, January 12, 2016”

So you want to know who’s going to win HD58?

One of the best ways to judge strength of candidates before an election is by the amount of money they are able to raise. Not only does it imply the quality and level of campaign they will be able to run, but it is a good measure of the success they will have when they begin communicating with voters. That’s because giving money is way more painful than voting, so if you can convince someone to do that, voters will likely follow.

Just in case you forgot, HD58 is the Democratic-leaning seat that was held be Simone Bell before she resigned in November. The election is a week away, so let’s check in on the three contenders.

Park Cannon leads the way with $17,843 raised. Kwame Thompson lags far behind at $3,875, and Ralph Long didn’t even file a report. The fine for that is $250, so I guess we can mark him down in the negative. Shocked? Don’t be, he’s been fined 17 times before. In fact, he’s been fined a total of $1,425, which is almost impressive.

So if you are going to handicap this race based on all the information we have now, it appears all bets are on Cannon. Except if you are betting on who will accrue the most ethics fines, in that race the smart money is on Long.

 

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams Previews Session Priorities

On WABE this morning, host Denis O’Hayer shared a conversation he had with House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta) on the eve of session, noting that the House democrats hold just enough seats in the House to block a Constitutional amendment.

Their conversation centered on:

  • Governor Deal’s proposals for education reform –
    • “Money following the child is a nice sentiment, but the question is how much money, and which children are we following?” And, “The state should not invest in private schools with public money.”
  • The HOPE scholarship –
    • “If we decide to move in the direction of gaming, we should invest those new revenue – and what I’m calling ‘Hope 2,’ which is a need-based program. Georgia is one of a handful of states that does not provide need-based aid… By moving [HOPE] to merit-based aid, we left thousands of kids behind.”
  • Her own leadership in the House –
    • “My job as leader is not to put people in line. My responsibility as leader is to present legislative options and to say, “Here is the best way for us to serve our constituents together,’ and to a person my caucus members have said they agree.”

The link above features their in-depth conversation (around 30 minutes long), as well a Reader’s Digest version. The longer version expands the dialogue to include casino gambling, MARTA, Georgia’s voting laws, and Rep. Abrams’ own political goals.

Coming Together for Real Discussion

“When group-man wants to move, he makes a standard. ‘God wills that we re-capture the Holy-Land’ or he says, ‘We fight to make the world safe for democracy’; or he says, ‘we will wipe out social injustice with communism.’ But the group doesn’t care about the Holy Land, or Democracy, or Communism. Maybe the group simply wants to move, to fight, and uses these words simply to reassure the brains of individual men.” – John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle (1936)

This country is in dire need of real solutions to some big problems, but I am concerned as I examine the current political arena. It seems like the goal for some is not to find or offer solutions but rather to stimulate a group of people simply for self gain, self preservation, and/or the sake of entertainment itself. Some people and groups are willing to take a Shermanesque approach of burning everything in sight, even if it ultimately results in their own downfall.   

Good people are being villainized if they are willing to listen to opposing factions or if they are willing to disagree with a certain point of view. They are becoming frustrated and choosing to stay out of or reduce their activity in politics due to the frustration. We all end up paying as these people choose to disengage from the process and the wheels of government spin with no traction. Continue reading “Coming Together for Real Discussion”

Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders Could Address General Assembly this Year

House Speaker David Ralston said any presidential candidate still in the running by the time Georgia’s presidential primary rolls around are welcome to address the Georgia General Assembly. In a truly magnanimous moment, Ralston said “I’ll even welcome members of the other party.”

Well if that doesn’t sound like he’s rolling out the red carpet for Democrats, I don’t what does…

Ralston added: ““I don’t know how many will be in the race when it gets to Georgia. I don’t think everybody that’s in now, will be. But they’ll all be invited.”

The ever-astute Jim Galloway of the AJC notes that Ralston is “a fan” of Chris Christie. 

Galloway also writes: “[P]arading a presidential candidate through the Capitol entails mere logistics and enough sense of protocol to determine who gets the first audience: The governor, the speaker, the lieutenant governor, or the lobbyist for the National Rifle Association?”