Saturday, December 31, 2005

AthPo Presents: The de Rigeur New Year's Predictions

With the New Year just around the corner, we thought it would be a nice touch for your peerless political prognosticators to produce a few pointed pieces of partisan predictions and punditry. Without further ado, here goes:

Mayoral Stuff
  • Incumbent Mayor Heidi Davison will not run for a second term. Why? Well, we only know what we hear around town, and word on the street is that Heidi’s not going to throw her hat in the ring this time around. Every day that passes without a yea or nay from Her Honor indicates to us that she’s really sweating this decision, and in our experience, the more people think about these things, the less likely they are to decide to submit themselves to a grueling campaign, not to mention the ensuing four years of service if they win.

  • Mayoral candidate Keith Johnson will also drop out of the race early in 2006.

  • With Heidi out of the race, Tom Chasteen will emerge as the heir apparent, due mostly to the massive (for Athens) sums of money he will raise.

  • Also, with Heidi out of the race, her supporters will search long and hard for someone to carry the progressive banner. They will try to gang up on David Lynn and convince him to run. They probably won’t succeed, and Chasteen will win the election in a runoff against Charlie Maddox. Andy Rusk will poll a not-so-distant third.
ACC Commission

  • States McCarter stays on the Commission (see the post below), and continues to peddle his crazy all over City Hall. He never again says the words "vivacious honky," and the Athens blog community is deeply saddened.
  • In Commission election action, James Garland will surprise folks in District 1, George Maxwell, Kathy Hoard, and David Lynn will easily win re-election, and Jim Ponsoldt will win Tom Chasteen’s District 9 seat.

  • In Commission agenda action, the smoking ban stays, rental registration will continue to be chipped away in the courts, and, after being the butt of many jokes, potty parity will be wiped off the agenda.

  • Many people will continue to make fun of Carl Jordan’s light ordinance, while secretly thinking it’s kind of a good idea. Your crack editorial staff will be the poster children for that position.

  • La Puerta del Sol will come back in the opening months of 2006, but the variance will be voted down. Commissioners voting against will be: Sims, Maxwell, Kinman, McCarter, Chasteen, and Dodson. Kathy Hoard will continue to ask many questions. Charles Carter will continue to sound like Foghorn Leghorn. George Maxwell will continue to complain, and David Lynn will continue to look on, an impenetrable mass of silent disapproval.

  • The ACC Commission’s war on ACC will continue, with other sketchy “quality of life” ordinances being bandied about.

  • Mass transit will be better funded, but not completely funded.

  • Prince Avenue will continue to have four lanes. Bike Athens will continue to be very angry.

  • The Commission will consider at least one or two more community art projects along the lines of the downtown bulldogs or the artsy-fartsy bus shelters. Meanwhile, community centers and parks in inner-city areas will continue to fight for the budgetary leftovers.

  • A business/community/government initiative will raise money and re-open the homeless shelter. Major players will be: members of the ACC Commission, the Chamber of Commerce, numerous private citizens, and the Interfaith Hospitality Network will lead the effort. (Hey, we can dream, can’t we?)
Gold Dome
  • The Voter ID Law will be struck down in the courts. Republicans will be forced to find less overt forms of legislative racism. Sue Burmiester will never be allowed to sponsor a bill, or even speak publicly, again.
  • Numerous bills will be passed to make life harder for gays, blacks, Latinos, and the poor. Democrats in the State Legislature will hunt for political cover, will find none, and many will unltimately join the GOP in passing these bills.

  • State Senators Vincent Fort and Sam Zamarripa will emerge as the new leaders of the Democratic Party in Atlanta and will work as hard as they can to marshal support against Eric Johnson and the GOP agenda. The Legislative Black Caucus will continue to
State Politics
  • Cathy Cox will win the Democratic Primary for Governor, but will lose in a tight race to the Gubner.

  • Ralph Reed will lose the Republican Primary for Lieutenant Governor. Republican Casey Cagle will beat Democrat Greg Hecht in a closer-than-expected general election.

  • Republicans will win elections for Superintendant of Schools and Secretary of State, Democrats will hold on to the Attorney General’s office and Commissioner of Labor. Brian Kemp will win the Republican primary for Agriculture Commissioner but will be beaten like a borrowed mule in the general by Tommy Irvin. The Democratic primary for Secretary of State will be a free-for-all and a lot of fun to watch, but not many people will watch, because no one really cares.

  • Locally, Democrats will hold on to Jane Kidd’s State House seat, and Doug McKillip will prove to be a typical apologetic Democrat once he takes office. Keith Heard will not run in 2006, but Democrats will hold on to the seat. Jane Kidd will lose to Bill Cowsert in the race for State Senate.

  • The Republican/Democrat ratio in the State House and State Senate will not change much.

  • Pressure will mount for Bobby Kahn to step down as head of the Democratic Party of Georgia. He won’t. Democrats will continue to lose.
National Politics
  • Charlie Norwood will win in a walk over whichever sacrificial lamb the Democrats put up against him.

  • John Barrow will run even farther to the right in an effort to avoid frightening rural conservatives. His liberal base will get even angrier with him than they are now, but it won’t matter because they don’t live in his district. Savannah’s large gay community will protest loudly against Barrow. Inexplicably, Pete McCommons will continue to support Barrow. In the end, Barrow loses narrowly, and spends some time mulling over a run against Saxby Chambliss in 2008 before deciding to go to work for a DC-based law firm.

  • The Democratic Party of Georgia won’t be any closer to finding a reputable candidate to run against Chambliss than they are now.

Your predictions below.

This Just In...McCarter Here to Stay

Courtesy of an anonymous source, everyone's favorite commissioner, States McCarter is not resigning and will stay in his seat to 2008. Apparently, he made the big announcement in his monthly propaganda-rag-disguised-as-constituent-service, "News From the 8th District."

For what it's worth, we wouldn't mind seeing McCarter's heir apparent, David Hamilton (to be fair, Hamilton assures us that he is nothing of the sort), run against McCarter in 2008 if Hamilton can distinguish himself from McCarter on the issues. We would submit that Hamilton is distinct from McCarter by virtue of not being crazy, but what do we know? Seriously, we're in favor of contested elections for every office, and not just because it helps us fill column inches. It's also, you know, what living in a republic is all about.

More on that later. Meanwhile, read our predictions for 2006 above.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Andy Rusk Kicks Off, Carlotta Harrell Drops In

Just a gentle reminder that frequent AthPo contributor Andy Rusk is having his kickoff party at Tasty World next Friday (January 6). Festivities start at around 8:00 pm. I don’t know from music (that’s one reason why I read Hilary’s blog), but I’m sure all the folks performing are top-notch.

On Thursday, January 5, the Oconee Democrats host candidate for State School Superintendant Carlotta Harrell. The fun starts at 7:00 pm in the Board of Commissioners chamber in the Oconee County Courthouse. Questions? Email Dan Matthews.

And in the spirit of open thread-ness, what would you guys like to hear Andy talk about on the 6th? What are your big issues in the mayor’s race?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Gays and latinos and the poor, oh my!

The nice thing about being a Republican state legislator in Georgia is that there is no shortage of straw men to beat up on next month when Eric Johnson and his gang of thugs meet up in Atlanta. The upstanding citizens that gather ‘neath the Gold Dome need easy targets to grant the appearance that they’re doing something, while allowing them to do absolutely nothing of importance.

Fortunately, as our local paper points out, the Republican majority won’t just have to limit their silly legislative attacks to the poor and the elderly (for instance, last year’s Voter ID law), or the illegal immigrants who showed up in Georgia looking for a better life (witness, oh gosh, we don’t know, virtually every piece of legislation the GOP majority has bandied about for 2006.) Thank heavens they’ve still got the gays to pick on too.

Picking on the gays is the subject of a piece in today’s ABH, courtesy of their corporate owner’s Atlanta bureau. Among the proposals on the table are the infamous parental consent bill for school organizations, which would require a permission slip for your kid to join the Chess Club (or perhaps the A/V Club, a hotbed of scholastic hijinks if there ever was one), and a potential bill to ban homosexual couples from adopting children.

We’d put our money on both of these proposals making it to the floor. Hey, it beats making laws that actually help people. Consider this: We’ve got over 2 million Georgians without health insurance, and before some of our conservative friends hop up on their high horses about this, it should be noted that over 75% of them are in the workforce. Now, how many homosexual couples in Georgia are out there champing at the bit to adopt a child? We’re not sure, but we’re guessing that it’s far less than 2 million.

How many kids in Georgia are living in poverty right now? The number, as of the 2000 Census, is a little over 350,000, which includes 25% of all the Hispanic children in the state, and 30% of all the black kids in Georgia. Call us crazy, but we’re betting that the parents of those kids are just a hair more concerned with putting food on the table than they are with whether their child wants to join Model U.N.

With respect to the bill concerning parental notification, we’d point out the obvious truth behind the thread of snarkiness running through this post. Of course this bill wasn’t written with the Chess Club or the A/V Club or the Model U.N. in mind. This bill had one type of club in mind and one type only – organizations that provide a support network for GLBT students. It’s discrimination disguised with smoke and mirrors. It’s hatred and tolerance dressed up as responsible parenting. With over 25% of minority children going to bed hungry every night, with 2 million Georgians living without health insurance, it’s a disservice to the people who put our legislators in office.

It’s nice to be idealistic. It’s healthy to want, more than anything, to have a legislature who isn’t scared to take on the tough issues and to champion the rights of everyone in our society. It is righteous and moral to strive to make sure that those 350,000 children have the food and the clothing and the education they need to thrive. But, it’s important to be honest with ourselves as well. Will the legislature use the burgeoning budget surplus to address these problems?

No.

Instead, we’re going to have weeks upon weeks of picking on every convenient straw man that doesn’t jibe 100% with the worldview foisted upon us by Eric Johnson or Nancy Schaefer or, heaven help us, Sue Burmeister.

But hey, no one in the state legislature is poor, and they all have good insurance. And it beats making real laws that actually help people. So enjoy the open season on gays and Mexicans.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Candidates, campaigns, and websites. Also, the ABH gives us some props.

Damn you Blake Aued, for making us work on Christmas Day!  

Well, we were working anyway, but still, it’s the principle of the matter.  We’ll get the self-congratulatory stuff out of the way first and note that the ABH has taken notice of us.  We’re big time now, so when you call us, if we take your call at all, we’ll only speak to you on speakerphone.

Kidding aside, we can sum up today’s story in one sentence: Candidates use websites.  

Blake also gives out some handy links to the websites of Andy Rusk, Charlie Maddox, and current Mayor Heidi Davison.  (Heidi’s hasn’t been updated in three years, as Blake points out, but she’ll update it if she decides to run.)  

With respect to Heidi’s website, we think it’s kind of a shame that she hasn’t kept it up while serving as Mayor.  One thing to remember for any candidates or elected officials who might be reading is this.  Having a campaign website is a great way to reach voters.  It’s also a great way to keep in touch with your constituents.  Everyday, more people are using the internets (as one politician terms it) to gather information.  

In fact, it’s not a stretch at all to say that having a campaign website is par for the course now.  If you really want to be cutting edge, and pull in those internet-savvy voters, then you’ve got to be blogging as well.  We’re willing to bet that we won’t see much in that vein from any of our local candidates (excepting Andy Rusk, of course).  It’s a shame, too.  Having a free and open exchange of ideas is the heart and soul of political discourse, and responsible candidates should always be looking for new lines of communication between themselves and the electorate.  

In any event, we’re biased, but we think that the internet is the greatest political tool since the town hall meeting, whether via a campaign blog, a vanilla campaign website, or through reaching out to your electorate on other blogs.  

Y’see, there’s a difference between talking to the voters and talking with the voters.  You can tell a lot about a candidate by the level of interactivity their website offers.  You can tell even more about a candidate by how regularly they interact with voters outside of their own comfort zone on the internet.  Case in point, there are four blogs in Athens alone that cover local politics pretty regularly: us, Hilary, JMac, and AthensWorld.  And yet, with the exception of Andy Rusk, none of our local candidates or elected officials have bothered to weigh in on any of the big issues.  It’s a mistake, in our opinion.  While the number of people who read and contribute to these blogs may be small, those folks who are reading about local politics 11 months before the election are a candidate’s prime targets for volunteer recruitment, not to mention fundraising.

So here’s a Christmas present to all of our candidates out there; it’s a little free advice on how to make the internets work for you.  
  • Got a website yet?  How frequently do you update it?  Does it have a blog, and can readers post comments and questions?

  • If they can, will you answer in a timely manner?  You’re running for local office, you’ve got the time.

  • How about those other blogs around Athens?  Go visiting, introduce yourself.  If they’re talking about something you’re involved in or an issue you feel strongly about, say something.  Mention politely that you’re running for office, but don’t post your stump speech.  Most of our readers have very finely-tuned bullshit detectors.

  • Stay in touch with the folks who run those local blogs.  We won’t speak for Adrian, Hilary, or JMac here, but we’re always looking for news to talk about.  If it’s stuff that we aren’t recycling from the ABH, so much the better.

  • Expect some disagreement, and learn to thrive on it.  Folks may or may not like the fact that Andy Rusk says “bullshit.”  Either way though, we’ll bet that the whole discussion drove more traffic to his website, where folks will read about his platform.  

  • Most importantly, keep it real.  

Happy Holidays.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas, Bitches!

I don't have anything AthensPolitickey to say. Just wanted to join my co-editor in thanking those who filled in. I'm looking forward to getting back into a more regular posting routine again soon; topics to be announced.

Regardless of your idealogy, try to do something to help somebody less fortunate out over the next couple of days. It's Christmas for God's sake.

And enjoy yourselves. Talk to you soon.

We're back, bitches.

Hi kids.

Well, we’re back, and this particular member of the crack editorial staff had a fantastic time on his sunny Florida vacation, barring a minor medical emergency.  We’d like to thank all of our guest contributors who kept the discussion rolling along during our absences, and we’d especially like to thank JMac for keeping a stern editorial eye on the whole thing.  

We’re not going to jump on any of the discussions at this late date.  Besides, someone invariably has said pretty much what we were thinking anyway.  There is one issue that we’d like to get back into, sparked by one comment in particular, and if there’s nothing going on in the news in the next few days, we might bring it back up.  In any event, we’re pretty sure it’ll come back up on its own.

Thanks again to all of our guest contributors, and to editor pro tempore JMac for all your hard work.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Lend a hand

We already knew the Athens Area Homeless Shelter was going to have close its doors, but today the Banner-Herald passed on the news that the Athens Homeless Day Service Shelter is going to have to close its doors. The AHDSS is facing a massive shortfall since it suddenly lost a $79,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The shelter is run by Advantage Behavorial Health Systems, and case manager Marshall Marrotte told the ABH it depended on the grant to cover its operational costs.

I bring this up not merely because of how unfortunate it is the organizations most dedicated to helping those in need are being forced to close their doors, but because I want to strongly question exactly how charitable we are as a community. It seems to me that following every disaster or crisis, we have our leaders stand up and talk about how America is the most charitable country on the planet. And, to be fair, in the immediate wake of things like the Asian tsunamis and Hurricane Katrina, the outpouring of support is overwhelming.

But does such stop-and-go spurts of giving hinder our ability to give to other organizations, like the ones facing hardships now, throughout the year? Are we as a community, and a nation, not as charitable as we like to think?

This morning, actually, I had read an article in the New York Times analyzing whether or not the government social programs enacted in the New Deal hurt charitable giving. This is the typical conservative argument - that providing services to the poor and sick are the responsibility of the private sector and of faith-based organizations, and that by having higher taxes to cover the costs of massive public programs like Social Security or welfare, more people tend to not give to charity because they feel they've already done their part by paying their taxes.

The article, however, finds this isn't the case. It says that 'charity provides an internal reward, the feeling of helping change the world,' and it quotes James Andreoni, a professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as saying 'donations are expressive ... I agree with your mission; I support your ideals.'

And recent research reveals this really isn't the case. The article goes on to talk about a study of churches in 1930s done by MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber showed that churches' charitable spending dropped 30 percent, but that equated to a reduction of three cents in church spending for every new dollar of government spending.

What is the real problem, I believe, is that the more a non-profit relies on public money, the less urgency it feels to seek private money. At IHN, we are near-desperate to receive donations and, despite our relative infancy, we have a very active fundraising committee (which I serve on) that puts on golf tournaments, sells pins and notecards, holds raffles, and solicts donations. We do actively seek government funding and grants when available, but we don't view those as long-term fixes to our financial situation. The way I see it, at least, is that such funding is 'seed money' which is designed to get the organization off the ground or back on its feet.

It's true I'd like to see increased money put toward things like Community Development Block Grants (I'm a huge fan of CDBG ... it's money given to individual communities for those communities to determine how best to spend it ... and it's a shame they've been trimmed the past few years and are in danger of being eliminated outright) because I think it's important for our government to be active in fighting poverty.

Conservatives have long decried socal spending by the government, and that's a perfectly legitimate ideological view to possess. The ABH ran a column by conservative commentator Tony Snow in which he took a few paragraphs to poke fun at the New Deal and Great Society for, in his eyes, not winning the war on poverty. I think that is a gross misinterpretation of those programs and the successes, and failures, they have experienced.

It's true poverty has not been eliminated, and it's true poverty has risen in the past five years in this country. But it's also true that programs like the New Deal and Great Society have done much to alleviate poverty in America. Much work does remain to help those in need and those who want to be helped, but the combination of government action and community compassion (through non-profits, charities and faith-based organizations) has dramatically reduced poverty in the past 75 years. And it's that combination which has helped to make such progress - the bureaucratic clumsiness of government can't do it alone and neither can the well-meaning, but overmatched charities and churches. It's this partnership which can help continue to reduce poverty and alleviate suffering.

We've all got ideological disagreements, and that's fine. I love a good debate as much as the next guy. But now, as we approach Christmas, I'd just ask you to take a look at the organizations which need your help, as well as some other ones which do good work here in Northeast Georgia, as well as around the globe.

Here are some places in the area ...

Athens Area Homeless Shelter

Athens Homeless Day Service Shelter

Athens Area Habitat for Humanity

Family Promise (IHN)

Food Bank of Northeast Georgia

... and outside of Northeast Georgia

CARE USA

Carolina for Kiberia

Practical Action (ITDG)

War Child

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season, and that the peace of God be with you this time of year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Downtown parking, road planning, and UGA's use of services

I wanted to write about how downtown parking is an issue that is really of growing concern, and I also wanted to give food for thought on a couple of other issues, road planning and the University of Georgia's exemption from property taxes.

DOWNTOWN PARKING

The downtown parking scheme hasn't been discussed a lot in the newspapers lately, but it certainly stays a hot topic with the denizens of the downtown area. Jackson Street Books is still encouraging a little civil disobedience with a sign promising a discount for discarding parking tickets without paying for them. Their objection is the recent redesignation of a number of two-hour street parking spaces into one-hour spaces because one hour generally isn't long enough to conduct business or enjoy a visit downtown, which is true. There is much that can't be done comfortably in an hour, such as meeting a party for lunch. The owner of Athens Jewelers on Clayton Street told me that she can't have a normal meeting with vendors because they are concerned about their parking meters, and an employee of Walker's Pub told me that the staff frequently leave to move their cars around (which supposedly the employees of Adam's Optics do, too).

Parking is indeed inadequate for the uses we make of downtown. The College Avenue parking deck fills up, which is why downtown employees are parking in one-hour spaces on the street to begin with, and perhaps the Classic Center deck is too far away from many places (and charges a flat fee rather than by the hour). The new parking deck being planned for Lumpkin Street is too little too late since parking has always been strained. If parking could be made adequate, then perhaps a lot of downtown businesses wouldn't fold so quickly, and it would be an easier place to visit. Stores and restaurants have a patronage that is somewhat limited to the university community (who already has another reason to be close to downtown) and those that work in downtown businesses (and already have a parking space from the limited supply of reserved public and private spaces). People who live and work outside of the downtown area are hardly going there to visit for lunch and they aren't encouraged to shop much either.

The metered parking scheme is by no means harsh. The basic ticket is $3, which is cheaper than all-day parking in any garage. If you add money to your meter when the hour has expired, your ticket is $5 (says someone at Walker's Pub). Penalties such as booting are directed at accumulating unpaid tickets, but as far as I know you can pay all the $3 tickets you want. So in effect we have a system with a flat $3 fee for parking all day, which is a pretty good deal. Why pay in the meter if you know you're going to be parked longer than an hour?

So parking is very limited, and there is little incentive to leave once you get a space (which is basically a good thing). Are there any solutions? The bright idea of changing two-hour spaces into one-hour spaces may help make more spaces available, but at that same time that discourages a number of people from coming downtown in the first place. I also don't think that there is a chance of getting a good number of garages built either; the financial figures for that new parking facility being planned suggest that those parking spaces take a very long time to pay for themselves, so any accelerated effort would probably have to be paid with new taxes rather than parking fees. Does anyone have ideas for solutions? I certainly can't advocate razing buildings and clearing lots for cheap parking. Limited parking is really just the nature of the beast.

ROAD PLANNING

Effective road planning in Athens is hampered by short-sightedness. This has been weighing on my mind a bit because every time it comes up in the news it seems that the NIMBY (not in my backyard) arguments usually win. For example, in years past there was a proposal for a new east-west corridor north of the current Perimeter Highway. It would have been very useful for residents and visitors, but it was scrapped because of all the objections, and of course the county commissioners in those districts have to be responsive to their voters, even when the result might be bad overall for the community. However, people will still complain about the congestion on Atlanta Highway and Mitchell Bridge Road, which could be relieved by such a new route, and the remaining solution seems to be to stop new development. The NIMBY arguments turn into a desire to exclude new residents and new growth, which of course is only going to encourage sprawl rather than compact, efficient development suited for a growing urban environment.

In addition to objecting to new major roads, there are objections to certain short roads that would connect subdivisions. These objections violate the planning goals that were set when the subdivisions were approved for development. (Certain subdivisions have had specific plans to later build roads connecting them to other subdivisions.) The advantage of allowing through traffic is that congestion is relieved from certain corridors and intersections, often more to the benefit of nearby residents than far-flung visitors. Residents may add that they had no knowledge of the plans to connect their subdivision in the future, but the wrongdoing here is between the developer and the home buyers, not the county government and the buyers. Of course, the commissioners that make the exceptions to the plans are serving in a different election term than their predecessors who approved the plans. It is not a straightforward claim that allowing through traffic is bad. Studies that compare crime rates between connected and isolated subdivisions have conflicting results, but clearly, though, there is some good in establishing a town with efficient traffic patterns.

THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA HAS UNTAXABLE PROPERTY

I wanted to touch on this issue because it has reared its ugly head again in the editorial-page discussions over the future of the Navy Supply Corps School site. A frequent complaint from elected officials and citizens is that it hurts the county government to have all this UGA property inside the county that is exempt from property taxes. The implication or sometimes direct accusation is that UGA uses county services that it doesn't pay for, but this is simply not true. A weaker version of the argument is that UGA benefits from the county without paying taxes, but the local community also benefits from UGA's presence without paying tuition.

Those that argue that UGA uses county services without paying for them need to actually name the specific services they have in mind. The complaints essentially reduce to a desire for greater financial resources for the county. Yes, it would be nice to tax UGA property, just as it would be nice to raise the millage rate or maybe have Santa Claus deliver a ton of gold bricks to the courthouse. Any issue here should not be about not paying but about balancing services, just as Athens-Clarke has to balance its services and tax districts with Winterville. What services does UGA use without paying for?

Roads? Yes, there are some county roads that go through campus, but there are also some campus roads open to the public. UGA maintains its own roads, and it maintains the sidewalks along many county roads. It pays the county to maintain the traffic lights along its campus roads.

Water and sewer? UGA has its own utilities department that maintains its water and sewer infrastructure. I believe it pays the county for incoming water and outgoing sewage. If UGA is unfairly benefitting from this arrangement, then only the county could be blamed for not charging the actual cost of its services, but I have never heard this pointed to as a particular issue.

Law enforcement? State funds operate UGA's own police department. In fact, the UGA police serve Athens-Clarke and many other counties with its bomb disposal unit, and it is paid for by a complicated arrangement with state agencies. Fire protection? That is an interesting one. I had heard about UGA not paying for fire protection and it does not have its own fire department. I wrote to Tom Jackson of the Public Affairs office at UGA and he replied, "While UGA does not pay the county directly for fire services, we have provided the county with the land for Fire Station #7 on Barnett Shoals on a 50-year lease with a rent of $1 per year." So UGA is now providing valuable compensation for fire protection.
* * *
Anyway, back to the downtown parking issue, I am quite interested in what solutions you may propose, or whether "solutions" should be proposed at all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Shameless Plug

Pretty slow newsday, so here we go with the shameless plug. I'll try and keep the grandstanding to a minimum.

My Campaign Kickoff Party is coming up on Friday, January 6th at Tasty World. Music starts at 8pm, or so.

Adam Musick (from Southern Bitch), Heath Tolleson (of Last Picture Show), and Mother Jackson will grace the stage, as will I.

Look forward to meeting any or all of the regular crowd here at AthPo.

The short, bullet-point version of my platform goes like this:

- The smoking ban (the totalitarian local one, anyway) is bullshit. (go ahead and ask me why)

- The eastside needs more mixed-use development.

- Local enforcement of erosion-control ordinances at construction sites is abysmal, and MUST be improved.

- Improved mass transit and alternate transportation are neccessary to keep Athens growing within the boundaries of her land-use plan.

- Rental registration is un-American. If you can afford the rent, you get to live anywhere you want. That's freedom, baby.

- Students are people too. As are the nefarious, undesirable small business owners who generate millions of dollars in tax revenue selling alcohol downtown.( Too bad they make such great scapegoats.)

- The hospitality industry is a great way to bring money and jobs to Athens. Heavy industry is not.

- A minimum wage hike would do wonders for the working poor in ACC.

- We squander our civic moneys on brick crosswalks and fancy new green signs downtown. Meanwhile, the homeless shelter faces closure from a $60,000 shortfall. That's unacceptable.

- Money spent on art/music/PE/ etc. in k-12 education is money well spent. Sure, literacy is fundamentally more important, but school is fundamnetally boring. Any program we got that'll keep kids from sniffing airplane glue is worth its weight in... airplane glue.

Test...one, two...

Evening, gang. Just making sure I got a hold of the reins before launching into this guest editorial gig tomorrow... er, today.

Other than the much anticipated SHAMELESS PLUG, I have no idea yet what I'll be writng about come daybreak. I reckon I'll let the morning paper steer our discussion.

Unfortunately, I'll be working tomorrow until the sun goes down, so I won't be too active in the discussion 'til after work.

Still, I welcome your inquiries, pointed questions, and biting criticsisms. In the meantime, I've got to get some shuteye.

cheers,
a

Monday, December 19, 2005

LPDS and other mismash

[Monticello Pres. is a regular contributor to Athens Politics.]

I was asked to fill in for the vacationing (and working) Athens Politics folks today. And they even asked if I would like to submit about the on-again, off-again, on-again La Puerta del Sol (LPDS) rezoning petition on Cedar Shoals Drive (CSD). I'll toss out a few other nuggets for the sake of staying well rounded.

LPDS
I will begin by clarifying that I have never been an LPDS opponent - I have been an opponent of the rezoning of the Cofers site on CSD. I have frequented Caliente Cab and Pollo Crillo in the past and enjoy Bruno Rubio's work. I respect him as a businessman and as a restauranteer.

There are LPDS opponents among us, I cannot deny that. But the overwhelming majority of the folks that I work with and have talked with are concerned about one issue and one issue only - the rezoning of this site. You may not have realized that after reading much of Blake Aued's writing, but he consistently puts forth a disappointing attempt at journalism. To my knowledge, Blake has still not spoken with the President or Vice President of the homeowner associations opposing this project. He and his bosses apparently have other motives and the truth seems to get in the way of those, unfortunately.

So why are so many eastsiders opposed? Well, it's about precedent. Don Nelson, of the local Banner Herald's business section, wrote sometime in the past about the LPDS issue. He said that rezoning requests are always considered on their own merits and precedent doesn't matter. This is the closest that anyone with the ABH has come to vocalizing the opposing logic, by the way. He then went on to write, just a few paragraphs later, that the current rezoning request should be approved because the gas station and gym have C-N zonings. So precedent doesn't matter - but it does. And that is precisely the problem. Once this property is rezoned to C-N, which gives a whole hell of a lot more latitude than a restaurant, there is no going back. This property is forever more C-N. And it starts us on the slippery slope for the rest of the CSD corridor to also go C-N. And, I'll repeat, that gives a whole hell of a lot more latitude than just a restaurant and/or bakery. It gives us another Barnett Shoals Road or Atlanta Highway. And, quite frankly, that is just not acceptable. (Please also note that the gas station and gym have C-N zonings from a grandfathered decision of a previous zoning criteria decades ago).

Ast the old addage says, you also have to walk a mile (or at least a few steps) in our moccasins. You have to see that so much local and currently zoned C-N space is sitting idle. Vacant. The old Willowwood shopping center with its outparcels needs a new business infusion. The newly built - and long time process - of Ansonborough needs tenants. The Cedar Pointe development that will one day include commercial space at the tip of Cedar Creek - if the developer can find the money to continue. The stalled Tower Place would certainly need such a tenant but for 2 reasons. First, it hasn't seen a construction worker in months. Second, it has been deemed too close to a school (Gaines Elementary and Hilsman Middle) to allow a restaurant selling alcohol. Then you have the WalMart outparcels and soon to arrive Lowes outparcels. Moving down Lexington Hwy there was even another site available when this process started - already zoned C-N. The old Edwards Pharmacy just inside the loop. But it was deemed unattractive by the buyer's agent (who happens to be the seller's consultant), and it sat for a few months before becoming a latin-themed restaurant. Wow, what an idea!

You also must have a sense of history. And as many of you have heard me say, this property was previously rezoned to allow the Cofers home-and-garden business. Without the addition of a PD designation, this business would not fit within the C-O designation previously held by this address. The Cofers petitioned area neighborhoods for their support - and ultimately received it. But they ran that business unsuccessfully for a few years and now have a vacant building on their hands. Now it's time to sell and they want yet another rezone - all the way to C-N - to help bail them out of this mess. How wonderful that would be.

Bottom line, this whole issue with the eastside neighborhoods started when the LPDS petitioners came seeking our support before submitting their plans to the process. As they stated, they didn't want to get into this issue if we didn't want their business there. We reviewed their plans and offered our thoughts - as they are listed above. We concluded that we could not support the rezone. Next step... the request went straight to Stuart Cofer's friends at the A-CC Planning Commission for their stamp of approval. And we were on the other end of the spin machine.

When you have hundreds - if not thousands - of local residents opposing a petition, there are going to be a variety of reasons for the individual oppositions. So, yes, noise has been a concern of some. Traffic issues have been of others. The alcohol issue across the street from the high school is a tough one to get beyond for many. Not because of sales to underage students - but because of the sharing of CSD (and the same red light) by students and their families with drivers under the influence of alcohol. These are concerns, for sure. After all, big nights for a restaurant and bar are also big nights for CSHS football games and basketball games. But the biggest concern is that of the rezoning. The C-N designation for that site forever more and the precedent it sets for the properties along the CSD corridor.

There is current discussion about a Special District Overlay (SDO) for CSD. The Planning Department has started the process for this. And this will help us avoid messy issues like this in the future. It will more clearly define what businesses and what zonings are available along the CSD corridor. This SDO will allow a compromise between those wanting commercial development down this road and those concerned by such "progress". As for the LPDS request, though, it would not be governed by such a proposed SDO. So we will review the recently re-submitted plans. And we will see how the A-CC commission decides to vote in early February. Stay tuned.

Carl with our checkbook
Blake Aued wrote last Friday about Commissioner Carl Jordan's desires to bury utility lines along Baxter Street. Budget overrides are obviously of no concern to him. Instead, he's more concerned with hundred-watt bulbs and equal urination opportunity in downtown bars. It sounds like the other commisioners (at least a majority) may have a bit more fiscal discipline and will act appropriately.

Merry Christmas
I trust all will have a Merry Christmas and a safe New Year. If you do not celebrate Christmas, then please have a Happy Holidays and a safe New Year.

If you were offended by the Merry Christmas offer, then find a hobby ... you obviously have too much time and too few distractions in your life.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Update on Cox fundraiser

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Dan Matthews Jr. is a freelance journalist for Oconee Living section of the Athens Banner-Herald. He runs Oconee Politics, a local blog devoted to, well, politics in Oconee County. He submitted this piece concerning Thursday's fundraiser for gubernatorial candidate Cathy Cox.]

My hope for the actual election of Democrats in Georgia was greatly increased by Cathy Cox on Thursday evening. She was at the home of Athens attorney Ed Tolley who was asking $150 a head to get in the place. I am of course too poor to pay, and this was not mentioned in the last second telephone invitation I received. Having RSVP'd none the less, there was a lovely pre-printed name tag waiting for me after a hit up for cash at the door.

The Tolleys have an amazing house, and Secretary of State Cox spoke in the TV room. There was a crowd of around 50 people in a fundraiser crowd straight out of 1988 in terms of old-school Democrats. Quite a number of Republicans either attended or donated a check to get the name tags named. Barbara and Vince Dooley were not there but were on the table. Robert Finch was there, as was attorney Kim Michael. Lars Ljungdahl, Upshaw Bentley and many more of the old school folks also attended.

It was a Louise McBee kind of gathering, and she was there. Cathy also referenced Dan Ponder, formerly of McBee's staff, but also a Republican awarded the Kennedy Profile In Courage for a speech on hate crimes a few years back. He also is Cox's campaign manager.

She made an amazing speech appealing for cross-party cooperation in her upcoming term. I am firmly convinced she will be Governor in a few short months. That is not as much of a endorsement as it is an assessment of the race. Elections are generally won or lost a year ahead of time, and Cathy knows she needs to raise many millions very soon. She wants to unite Georgians to do the very best we can in all research facilities. She was critical of the Perdue administration without being too negative and able to offer concrete positive alternatives.

From there it was the Oconee County Christmas gathering at Becky Vaughn's house. It was a great gathering to talk about the great things we are doing for our home. We have a candidate to run against Bob Smith, and it was not the host.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Stuff and Mishmash

Sorry for the lack of news lately, kids.  It’s final exam time, and my co-editor has been, as we’ve mentioned, up to his tuchas in trial stuff.  Since I’m about to head South on my vacation (and could you think of a better day to do so?), here’s a few brief things for your attention.

Barrow
Y’know, we’ve often talked about having a regular “douchebag of the week” feature here.  We haven’t gotten around to it yet, but if we had, Congressman John Barrow (R-Athens) would definitely win the honors this week for voting to extend the Patriot Act.  Barrow was one of 44 Democrats who, in our humble opinion, went the wrong way on this one.  Apparently, they don’t teach the U.S. Constitution up at Hah-vahd Law School.  

Now before everybody and their conservative mothers jump our shit about this (and at least one of us won’t be around to defend ourselves anyway), we’re not talking about the Patriot Act en toto, as much as we’re talking about a well-reasoned opposition to the parts that – oh gosh, we don’t know – violate the Constitution of the United States!  (And make our civil liberties just a little bit less important every passing day.)

By the way, we understand that John Barrow feels a need (spurious in our opinion) to vote conservative for the folks in Jenkins County, but the controversial (to put it politely) provisions of the Patriot Act should be, and are, anathema to anyone who cares about civil rights.  Don’t believe us?  Ask Bob Barr, because we’re in the trenches together on this one.

Speaking of Barrow…
He was also the not-so-proud recipient of two petitions from his constituents in Athens and Savannah with respect to his support of the war in Iraq.  (ABH talks about it here.)  Ok, we can’t criticize him as much on this one, actually.  We think he’s wrong, but as the local paper points out, JB has been consistent on this one.

While We’re Out
Here’s the more or less final list of what you’re going to be hearing about from our cavalcade of guest bloggers.
  • Some good stuff from the O.C.  (Hmm…we hear a rumor that some dude named Jim Ivey might be in a little trouble for something or other.)

  • An anonymous friend is going to talk a little about the ins and outs of running for office in ACC.

  • We’re going to talk about the hotel-motel tax.

  • An opponent of La Puerta del Sol will make his case.

  • Andy Rusk will talk about his campaign for mayor, and probably hit you up to attend his kickoff party on January 6th at Tasty World (be there!  Federline, yo.)

  • Adrian from AthensWorld will weigh in about some stuff.
We’d like to thank JMac for keeping everything firing on all cylinders in our absence as well.  He’s a class act.

Whole lotta deliberatin' going on

A verdict was reached last night in the gang shooting trial: guilty. The Defendant was sentenced this morning to 30 years + 5 years probation.

Meanwhile, in the Gibson case, the jury began its deliberations this morning.

More updates as well as other news later.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Gibson v. Ford et. al. update

The evidence in the case has now closed; tomorrow will be spent in a charge conference with the judge and the attorneys to figure out what law will be charged to the jury, and closing arguments are Wednesday. The jury will then have the case on Thursday.

Plaintiff has introduced evidence that the fuel tank location, seat back, and doors of the 1985 Mercury Marquis were defective. Plaintiff has also introduced evidence that Draw-Tite, the trailer hitch manufacturer, knew or should have known of the danger created by using their hitch on a vehicle with this fuel tank location, and failed to warn of such a danger. Plaintiff's have further introduced evidence of Burns' negligence in hitting Ms. Gibson's vehicle from the rear.

The Defendants have largely pointed the finger at each other, with each claiming that actions or omissions of other Defendants were the sole proximate cause of the death of Ms. Gibson. Ford has also defended itself by asserting that all of the alleged defective designs represented the state of the art at the time. Draw-Tite, against which there is only a failure to warn claim, has asserted that it did not have knowledge of the alleged defective fuel tank-hitch interaction; Draw-Tite also claims that the hitch did not in fact puncture the fuel tank as alleged, but rather that a part of Burns' truck's frame did. Burns claims that even if he was negligent, Ms. Gibson would have received only minor injuries from the impact of the wreck itself but for the product defects, and that those defects are the proximate cause of her death.

In addition to the above claims and defenses, there is the separate question of punitive damages as to Ford if the jury finds liability for compensatory damages as to it. The jury would first have to decide to award them, and then a second phase of the trial would be held to determine the amount.

Enough AlReddy!

We got our third email in five days or so from the Shyam Reddy (for Secretary of State) campaign pimping their fundraiser in Atlanta.  Ok, Shawn Mullins is playing, we get it.  

We will however note that prominent Athenian (and REM manager) Bertis Downs is ponying up a thou for Reddy.

Housekeeping

Hi kids.Just a few quick notes, and an interesting rumor to report.

We’re outta here!

Your crack editorial staff will be on vacation from December 16 through December 23, which means that posting from us will be sparse, probably non-existent. Rest assured though, that we’ve lined up some friends to blog in our stead. Among the places you’ll go:
  • you’ll hear from Andy Rusk (see, if a candidate makes nice with us, we make nice with him or her),
  • Adrian from AthensWorld will talk about something,
  • we’ll have some perspective on an issue we haven’t talked about here – the proposed hike in the local hotel-motel tax,
  • and we’ll give an opponent of La Puerta del Sol a chance to weigh in.
And some other stuff too. We’d like to extend a laurel (and hearty handshake) to our friend JMac for keeping everything running smoothly in our absence, and he’ll be posting some stuff as well, we imagine.

XPost

I’ve got a post about edumacation and the Clarke County Board of Education up on the Blogger version of AthensWorld today. Check it out.

Rumors Abound…
…that local boy done good John Barrow (D[sorta]-GA) is eying a run for U.S. Senate in 2008 against Saxby Chambliss. What do you think about that?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

WWJD

…and what would Jesus have to say about this letter?  It doesn’t really deserve a response, but the tone is so militant and intolerant, that we had to talk about it here.  We would mention one thing, however, with reference to this comment: “But the offended are extremely vocal and sometimes backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and powerful lawyers.”

You mean like the powerful Republican politicians, many of whom are lawyers, who are your elected representatives on the state and federal level?  Yeah, too bad they’re not on your side.  Oh wait, they are.

To answer our rhetorical question from above, we’d imagine that Jesus would be far less worried with how we celebrate one arbitrary day, and more concerned with how we live the other 364 days.  But, unlike Mr. Jackson, we don’t purport to speak for every Christian in the world, and we certainly don’t claim to speak for Jesus Christ.

People like Phil Jackson (who we’re sure is a pretty nice guy otherwise) and all of the other folks who are fighting the war against political correctness ought to be a little ashamed of themselves for their histrionic response to a crisis that doesn’t exist.  Don’t worry, y’all.  Fact is, you are free to say “Merry Christmas” as much as you like, anytime you like.  The First Amendment says you can, and rest assured, if any government entity tried to say you couldn’t, you might be surprised at who would suddenly be on your side – for instance, the ACLU.

The thing is, people like Phil Jackson have willingly allowed themselves to play the part of Chicken Little in a story written by the steely-eyed conservative zealots that have taken over the Republican Party.  The people who call the political shots have essentially invented a controversy that doesn’t exist for crass political gain.  The moneymen in the GOP don’t care about saying “Merry Christmas,” except to the extent that it’s another (nonexistent) issue that they can use to get more votes in November.

ABH Executive Editor Jason Winders has a few things to say about this whole (nonexistent) issue as well, especially in regards to the hypocrisy exhibited by the Republican leadership.

We’ll close by saying this.  We personally wish that instead of wasting time writing letters about the nonexistent battle to save Christmas, people would be writing letters about the economy, or the more than 40 million American citizens who cannot afford to go to the doctor when they’re sick, or the need to do something about public education.  Those are real controversies, and they play a much larger role in the future of America.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Chambiss: Sort of Not a D-Bag, At Least on This Issue

We got something of a terse note from Saxby Chambliss’ press secretary yesterday, with respect to the Congressional pay raise which we discussed here.  
Here’s the email.
“Hello I wanted to share the attached information with you and the contributors to your blog. 
 The following floor statement offered by Senator Saxby Chambliss can be found on Page S11458 of the Congressional Record on October 18, 2005.
 Chambliss voted against the Congressional Pay Raise he supports freezing the Congressional Pay Raise.
 If you have additional questions on this or any other matter, please do not hesitate to contact me using the information below.”
We assume that Senator Chambliss’ office has a specific problem with this quote from our post: “How many of Saxby Chambliss’ constituents would like an extra $258.33 a month?  We know we would.”  
And we would, you know.  But, if you read our post carefully, you’ll note that we make mention of the fact that the leadership bundled the pay raise in with funding for the Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and some other stuff.  Indeed, the bill’s official title is: “The Departments of Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, District of Columbia, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2006”
In the end, you’ll be glad to know that Saxby found it in his heart to vote for the appropriations bill, with pay raise attached, so that the government could remain funded.  And to be fair, he would have voted for the amendment which froze the pay raise, had he not been junketing around Georgia with the Secretary of Agriculture.  

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Legal Briefs (I know...lame...what can I say)

Two big trials going on simultaneosly in the ACC Courthouse now. Besides the Gibson v. Ford et. al. products liability trial that has been previously blogged about on here, in which Ford is now putting up its defense, there is the gang trial in front of Judge Stephens. I don't know much about that one, so I'll refer to the article about it in today's ABH.

Back to work...more soon...

In the News

Ivey

The big news in politics today is actually kind of non-political.  We mention it here mostly because the person involved was, at one time, a candidate for State Senate.  Of course, we’re talking about Jim Ivey and the ongoing GBI investigation into whether he more or less embezzled $40,000 from funds earmarked for the construction of a veterans’ memorial in the OC.

For once, we’re not going to jump to conclusions, but we will say this.  One of you crack editorial staff has had the somewhat dubious pleasure of dealing with Ivey in the past, and the allegations are definitely not outside the bounds of possibility.  In any event, if the GBI rounds up enough evidence, and the authorities bring actual charges, look for this to be a pretty messy case.

We would note however, that Ivey more or less owned up to doing it last night before the Oconee County Commission.  

“Ivey has publicly admitted that he may have used funds meant for the memorial inappropriately, apologized to donors and residents of the county and pledged to repay the money he withdrew from the account,” says the ABH.  (full story here)

LPDS

Maybe one of the most interesting facets of the whole La Puerta del Sol mess is that you’ve got representatives from the two camps arguing over something that can easily be proven – namely, whether Cedar Shoals Drive is actually a commercial area or not.  In a letter Tuesday, Taco Bell fan Margaret Wood said, “Cedar Shoals Drive is not a business corridor, as you would have people think, as there is very little business on it at all, and what business there is down there exists near Gaines School Road. Near the proposed restaurant site there are only private businesses, such as real estate offices, dental offices, etc.”  A few points here, if you will.  Wood is pretty much right in asserting that most of the business on CSD is on the Gaines School Drive end, but guess what?  So is the proposed site for LPDS!  

And we’re not sure what the distinction is between “private businesses,” which Wood admits exist, and LPDS.  It’s privately owned, not a franchise, not a big box, so what’s the diff?

In today’s ABH, Jeff Scarbrough wonders the same thing.  Here’s what he’s got to say: “To say, as the letter did, that ‘Cedar Shoals Drive is not a business corridor’ and then say ‘Near the proposed restaurant site there are only private businesses, such as real estate offices, dental offices, etc.’ seems contradictory. Granted, there are no big-box retailers along that street, but business is business.”  (Full letter here)

Read the Scarbrough letter carefully, because he does as good a job as we’ve seen of isolating and answering most of the criticisms we’ve heard recently about LPDS.  

Just one other thing, though.  We’ve been meaning to touch on this for a few days.  If States McCarter has heard of other businesses interested in the site, doesn’t he owe it to the community to let us know who they are?  It would help the residents out, and as it is, it reeks of the same type of closed government we’ve been seeing up in Atlanta with respect to business development.

Day Laborers
Just one quick thing about the letter in today’s ABH about the day laborer roundup in the OC.  The writer hits the nail on the head, but in some ways, this debate kind of reminds us of one aspect of the whole poverty debate.  Everyone agrees that government, the private sector, and non-profit groups have a share in working towards a solution, but everyone is waiting for someone else to step up and start the ball rolling.  Somewhere, someone needs to show some real leadership on this, and many other issues.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Politics of Personal Insomnia

Hi kids.

Y’know, insomnia sucks, unless you’re a reader of AthPo.  Then, it positively rules.  You’ll see lots of new stuff today.  Enjoy.

  • We’re talking immigration, at least until Chip Rogers figures out how to shut us up.

  • Happy errrr….Sparkle Season?!

  • Thank God someone got those homeless Congressmen off the streets.  Now if we could only help out the real poor people.

  • Pete McCommons hearts John Barrow and Michael Thurmond, but wouldn’t go to the prom with the Chamber of Commerce if they were the last quasi-political business organization on earth.

Flagpole, the COC, and Johnny B

Pete McCommons rejoins the world of current events this week with a piece on last week’s imbroglio concerning Ralph “Daddy Needs a New Pair of Shoes” Reed and the Chamber of Commerce.  Interestingly, Pete comes as close as we’ve seen to vilifying the Chamber on this one.  (It’s tough, Lord knows we tried.)  Sez Pete:

“At week’s end, some were still scratching their heads over the affair and wondering if it wasn’t a fund-raiser why it was canceled.”

Hmmm.  Perhaps because the shitstorm that resulted from reporting that was, to put it mildly, inaccurate had turned the whole thing into a three-ring circus anyway?  Also, because Ralph Reed is a douchebag.  Anyway, the whole Chamber of Commerce thing turned out well for Pete, since it gives him an opportunity to wax poetic about his favorite Congrescritter, John Barrow, who subbed in at the last minute for Reed.

Pete also raises speculation about Michael Thurmond jumping in the race for Lieutenant Governor, but we don’t see that happening.  Not that it wouldn’t be nice, but every time an office in Georgia comes open, Thurmond’s name gets bandied about by all the wishful thinkers in Georgia democratic politics.  Remember when he was supposed to run for Senate in 2002, or for Congress in 2004?  You get the point.  Also, we should point out that while he enjoys an almost godlike status in ACC, throughout the rest of the state, Michael Thurmond’s name recognition is roughly equal to that of Jim Martin or Greg Hecht.  (Don’t know who they are?  Our point exactly.  They’re the two announced Democratic candidates for Lieutenant Governor.)  Still, we’d love to see Thurmond run.

Please Help the Homeless Shelter

Two pieces about the homeless shelter, one letter in the ABH from the people in charge, and a fine writeup from Ben Emmanuel at Flagpole.  If you haven’t sent in a check yet, please do so.  

As Ben puts it, “AAHS is the only long-term transitional shelter in Athens. Other shelters provide emergency housing - stays of short duration - for men and women, and the Interfaith Hospitality Network typically houses, long-term, a few families at a time. But AAHS is a critical local resource for single homeless women and for homeless families with children. Residents can stay there for up to several months, and the focus of the shelter’s programming is on finding work and getting one’s family out of homelessness.”

By the way, does anyone know if there’s an online way to donate?  We’d be more than happy to link.

Pay Raises

The ABH has its panties all in a wad about Congress’ last-minute pay raise.  Beating up on legislators who vote themselves a raise is an easy and convenient straw man, but sometimes you have to look at the story behind the story.

First, you’ve got to know that the pay raise was bundled in with an appropriations bill that funded the Department of Justice, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and a handful of independent agencies.  Obviously, it was bundled in for a reason, but the question is, what was the reason?

Before we get to that, we’ll briefly play the blame game.  Who’s to blame?  The Republican majority in both houses.  The majority party controls which legislation hits the floor, and they can put the kibosh on procedural moves meant to amend the legislation once it makes it to the floor for a vote.  

Now, why was the pay raise bundled in the first place?  We see two possibilities.  First, you’ve got the necessity for political cover.  Congressional pay raises aren’t the most popular thing back home under any circumstances, and especially not in an economy like this one.  How many of Saxby Chambliss’ constituents would like an extra $258.33 a month?  We know we would.  So, if you want to pad your check, the best bet is to do so very stealthily, and preferably within the bounds of an appropriations bill that keeps the government in business.  Of course the media is going to notice anyway, so it helps to have the political cover afforded by not wanting to screw over the FBI or HUD.  

The other possibility, which can co-exist peacefully with the first, is that voting for a pay raise puts incumbents in a bind.  It’s a legislative Catch-22.  How would you prefer the direct mail piece attacking you read?  “Congressman Phineas Q. Windbag voted against funding the Department of Justice and keeping the FBI on the front lines in the War or Terror,” or “Congressman Phineas Q. Windbag voted himself a fat pay raise, while Americans are barely scraping by”?

Of course, that one can be used against incumbents of both parties, so it’s kind of a wash.  We would mention however, that legislation is a two-way street, so we humbly offer a suggestion to Congressman John Barrow.  

Want to be a legislative hero, Mr. Barrow?  Here’s how.  You’ve got some time off, so put your brain trust to work on a new bill, giving Congress a $5,000 per year pay cut.  While you’re down here in the district, publicize the hell out of it, make it your legislative raison d’etre.  Don’t worry, the media eats this stuff up.  And don’t just tout this thing in the 12th, it’s got national media legs.  (For some help on how to do that, talk to John Linder about how the GOP turned the Fair Tax Act into the best faux-populist cause since free silver.)  With a decent press effort, you’ll end up on at least a few of the second-tier cable shows, and maybe get a hit in the WaPo.  Then, when it’s publicized enough so that your colleagues know that there’s at least a chance their constituents have heard of it, tie it in to a bill on your committees (Small Business, we’d suggest.  No one wants to screw small business.)  Shake gently, sit back, and watch the fun.

Would it pass?  Not a chance.  Would Johnny B. get some good PR out of it?  You betcha.  

Sparklicious!

Are people really throwing around “sparkle season?”  Because if so, I’m going to laugh at them.  

We don’t really know what to make of this letter, so we’ll leave it with this quote.  “The courts have never ruled you can't say ‘Merry Christmas,’ or sing Christmas carols, or hand out candy canes in public places.”

So shut up about it, already.  Jeez.  Next thing you know people are going to get all bent because some folks say “Gesundheit,” while others say “bless you.”  The pro-Gesundheit forces are going to claim a lack of cultural tolerance from the bless-you-ites, while the blessers are going to claim that the Gesundheitistas are beating up their right to religious expression.  And meanwhile, millions of sneezes go unrecognized.

Happy holidays, however you celebrate.  And go drink some OJ, because the last thing you want is a cold when the great snot controversy blows up.

Immigration

J. Paul Clark, who writes a lot of letters to the ABH, weighs in on immigration today.  Suffice it to say, he’s no fan of brown people who sneak into the US.  In the interests of afflicting the comfortable, comforting the afflicted, and cleaning the snarky puddle of distortion from the pillow of rhetoric, we’ve got to clear a few things up.  Mostly, what we want to address with reference to J Paul’s letter specifically, is his contention that, “Theft by conversion can be applied to any legislator who takes tax money from the constituency that put them in office and converts it to the upkeep of illegal immigrants.”

How so?  Is he asserting that legislators who use my tax dollars to support expenditures I don’t like are also guilty of theft by conversion?  If so, I’d like to file charges against whoever voted to give the Gubner a helicopter.  Seriously, I’m not sure if I trust Sonny on a Big Wheel, much less a few million dollars worth of high-quality chopper.  And you know he flies it.

We assume, although J. Paul doesn’t cite a specific bill, that he’s referring to the proposed legislation by State Senator Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) that seeks to bar illegals and their children from enrolling in any public college or university in the state.  He could also be talking about the blatantly unconstitutional bill being introduced next year by Rep. Roger Williams (R-Dalton) that wants to deny – well, pretty much everything to illegals.  (Background can be found here and here.)

Here’s the thing though.  The only people being hurt by these bills are the only ones who can’t defend themselves – the children.  You’ll pardon us for generalizing here, but we’re betting that the mother of two who endured God knows what kind of hardship to get into the US is not thinking about an advanced degree in economics.  But she’s thinking about it for her kids; America is, after all, the land of opportunity.

And about those kids.  If they’re born in the US, then they’re free to enroll in any college they want to.  DiDDY or Adrian or someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but a child born in the US is a US citizen, and thus exempt from any provisions of Rogers’ bill.  If the child is not born in the US, then chances are, they didn’t have much say in the decision to come to America.  What’s an eight-year-old kid in Honduras going to say to change his parents’ minds?

So why punish the kids?  Because there isn’t much else you can do to the parents.

Look, we’re not saying that there’s an easy fix to the immigration issue.  We do believe that it’s an issue for the federal government to have primacy in, but we also believe with any issue if the feds aren’t getting the job done (they aren’t) then the states and localities have to step up to the plate.  We’ve got to wonder though, about the efficacy of Rogers’ and Williams’ bills.  

Punishing kids who didn’t have a choice about immigrating illegally after the die is cast?  There’s an element of closing the barn door after the cows get out to that idea.  The legislative focus on illegal immigration should be on prevention before the fact, not punishment after the fact.  Anything else is just mean-spirited, spiteful, and a waste of resources.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Filling our hole again, and a question for everyone

Another slow news day in the ACC, but here’s the news in brief; most of it is following up on stuff we discussed yesterday.

Cedar Creekian Margaret Wood writes in to question whether the ABH has a stake in the success of La Puerta del Sol.  Maybe they just think it’s a good idea.  Is that so far outside the bounds of reality?  Well, if you live in Cedar Creek, it probably is.  In any event, Ms. Wood’s letter is at least more rational than the last one she sent in about this.  Read it here, and our response here.

Concerned parent writes in about the state of the public schools in Clarke County.  Her take: teachers rule, administrators suck.  Also, some of them are apparently “unstable.”  We’re not sure what that means, but we’d certainly like to know.

Why is Walter Jones apparently the best pundit Morris News has to offer?  Seriously.  Anyway, today Jones is talking about the 65-Cent solution, whereby 65 cents of every education dollar must be spent in the classroom.  Sounds good on the surface, and heaven knows that there are probably a few too many bureaucrats floating around the school systems.  But, on the other hand, we need counselors and school buses and nurses (oh my!).  We’re going to wait and hear both sides on this one, but our early take is that if something sounds too god to be true, it probably is.  This sounds like an overly simple solution to a really complex problem.  But, we’re keeping an open mind.

And, since our news hole is gaping this morning, we’d like to pose a question to the masses for your argument and speculation.  In Chicago it’s anyone named Daley, in Atlanta, it’s Sweet Auburn.  How about in Athens?  Which people, groups, etc, have the largest amount of control over Athens politics (the concept, not the blog), and who is getting left out in the cold?

We’ll be back tomorrow, with more news from the Classic City.  I’ve got 3 to 1 that Pete McCommons writes something about three-laning Prince, and 5 to 1 he does something about the holidays.

Monday, December 05, 2005

SOS Stuff

Democrats

Hey, in case you forgot, we’ve got a pretty crowded Democratic Primary for Secretary of State this year.  We thought we’d mention that, and mention this as well.  Candidate Shyam Reddy is holding a fundraiser in Atlanta on December 13.  Here’s the pitch email we received recently.

Dear Friend,
Are you Reddy to Rock and Roll? The Reddy for Secretary of State Campaign is having its “Reddy to Rock n’ Roll Bash” on Tuesday, December 13, 2005(image placeholder) at the new Hilan Theater in the Virginia Highlands district of Atlanta (800 N. Highland Avenue), beginning at 7:00 p.m.
We are pleased to announce that Grammy-nominated recording artist Shawn Mullins will be performing live that night! This will be our last fundraiser of the year and with your help, we can end 2005 with a bang. As many of you already know, the campaign is going very well. We’re working hard to keep the momentum going as we enter the election year.
Please consider sponsoring the “Reddy to Rock n’ Roll Bash” at one of the following levels:

If you would like to sponsor or attend this event, please click here. Please be sure to include your occupation, employer and telephone number when making your contribution. You may also call Anna Beck at (404) 949-5659 or email her at abeck@shyamreddy.com to RSVP for the event or if you have any questions. Thanks again for your interest in the Reddy for Secretary of State Campaign. We appreciate it and look forward to seeing you on December 13th.

Republicans
On the Republican side, candidate Bill Stephens sent out a press release/email about paper trails and voting.  Here’s the rhetoric:  

ATLANTA – State Sen. Bill Stephens Friday pre-filed legislation to finally give Georgia a verifiable paper trail (V-PAT) on all the electronic voting machines used in the state. Stephens pre-filed the 2006 Georgia Accountability in Elections Act, which is the culmination of years of work by Stephens against determined Democrat opposition to give Georgia a uniform system of voting that can be audited to ensure all votes cast are accurately counted.
Stephens’ legislation already has the announced support of the Governor, the President Pro Tem of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House. Ironically, the concept behind Stephens’ bill is now supported by Democrat Secretary of State Cathy Cox, who has been the main reason V-PAT has not already become law by fighting this legislation in previous sessions."A safe, secure voting system is the foundation of our democracy, and voters must be able to verify their electronically-cast vote doesn’t just disappear into cyberspace," Sen. Stephens said. "I have been working to pass this legislation since Republicans took control of the Senate in 2002, and I am staying in the Legislature this coming winter to complete certain important tasks, and this was one of the most important. Democrats blocked us each step of the way in the past, but now we will finish the job." "We have even gotten the Democrat Secretary of State who has always killed the bill to support the concept," said Stephens. "Now that’s leadership!"
Under Stephens’ legislation, V-PAT will be implemented in stages. It will be implemented first in a three county test region during the 2006 election cycle to consist of Cobb, Columbia, and Decatur counties. These counties were chosen to give geographic variety to the test pool.This will lead to statewide implementation by 2008, which will coincide with the next presidential election in Georgia. By first testing the V-PAT system, the state will have time to work out any system kinks before going statewide.Sen. Stephens first proposed using V-PAT in 2003 when he was Governor Perdue’s Adminstration Floor Leader. He joined with then-State Senate Majority Leader Tom Price to mandate a permanent paper record of all votes cast.Stephens’ call was echoed earlier this year when the Carter-Baker Commission, a bi-partisan commission led by former President Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker, called for V-PAT on voting machines as a way to restore integrity to the current election system in every state.# # #

Just one thing about this, from a political (as opposed to a partisan) perspective.  Generally speaking, when one is running for office, criticizing one’s opponent is acceptable.  Problem is, Cathy Cox is actually Sonny Perdue’s opponent, not Stephens’.  So that’s just message dispersion, and not in a good way.
Anyway, props to Stephens for supporting a paper trail, but we still think his Voter ID is a crock.

    

Filling our (news) hole.

Not much in the news today, but we will highlight two things.  Both are issues we’ve mostly tried to stay out of thus far, but hey, it’s a slow news day, and we’ve got to fill our (news) hole with something.

Day Laborers in the OC

First off, you’ve got the ABH editorial board sounding off on the OC’s mass arrest of some 30-odd Hispanic day laborers in the Home Depot parking lot last week.  The ABH supports the Sheriff’s Department’s actions, but that’s not too surprising.  After all, as Jason Winders said a few weeks ago, “undocumented Hispanics are the new black.”

What might surprise you is that your editors here agree as well.  

Now, those who read AthPo regularly might think that the crack editorial staff, raging liberals that we are, stand ready to spring to the defense of any group that gets picked on, regardless of how silly the claim.  Not so.

You see, we’re ok with day laborers hanging out waiting for work.  We’re even ok with them doing so at Home Depot or Lowe’s.  We’re happy that they’re being proactive and looking for work.  But there’s a certain give and take involved in situations like this.  Oconee County and the businesses nearby did the right thing; they built a shelter and put out tables and facilities.  The day laborers didn’t hold up their end of the de facto bargain.  They harassed Home Depot’s customers, and interfered with Home Depot’s business, despite having perfectly acceptable (better than most counties or businesses would willingly provide) accommodations nearby.  

To be honest with you, we’d probably be singing a different tune if the county and the nearby businesses hadn’t actually tried to make the wait for work easier.  But it is what it is, and while we believe in giving everyone who deserves one a leg up, we also believe that if you’re getting a hand, you should show your gratitude by following the rules too.

One other point about the ABH editorial.  We couldn’t agree more strongly with this statement: “it might be time for local Hispanic advocacy organizations to step in and offer their help.”

Intelligent Design, Not so Intelligent Letter

Another issue we’ve tried to steer away from lately is the whole intelligent design/creationism/evolutionism debate.  It’s pretty tied up with your personal religious beliefs, and to be honest, no one knows the answers.  Not James Dobson, not the Preznit, and not the guy in the lab coat with the test tubes and the Darwin-esque fish with legs tattoo.  Heck, there’s disagreement amongst your crack editorial staff about the whole thing.  

(For what it’s worth, we would refer you to an interesting sermon given at Athens’ own First United Methodist Church recently, wherein it was postulated that creationism and evolution can live in harmony, because science seeks to answer the question of how we got here, while religion seeks to answer why we’re here.  But we digress.)

We will say this.  If you’re going to stump for one position or the other, at least get your facts straight.  Case in point, today’s letter from a proponent of the intelligent design theory, who unfortunately seems to feel he has to stoop to distortion and hyperbole to bolster his side.

Sez our writer: “…a book about how Galapagos finch beaks become enlarged or shrink when the seasons are dry or wet proves that rocks turned into people.” [emphasis added]  Hmmm.  As far as we know, there’s no credible evolutionary theory that says that rocks had anything to do with humankind other than (a) providing a useful means for bashing critters over the head in the Stone Age, and (b) being a useful answer to the fill-in-the-blank question: “Jessica Simpson is as dumb as a _______.”  

However, we will give the letter writer some cred for the statement, “I certainly don't want creationism taught in our schools, when churches can't even agree on what happened or when.”

Anyway, not to start a whole spiritual debate here.  But we would suggest that before writing in on an issue that is this important, kill the exaggeration and be an honest and effective advocate for your side.  Leave the rhetoric for the pols.

    

Sunday, December 04, 2005

We're Back!

Hi Kids.

Hey, sorry we’ve gone quiet the last few days.  I’ve been swamped at work, as has my co-editor, but as you can see, there are new posts below.  We’re talking about the Clarke County School District, who isn’t running for Mayor, why Jason Winders is on our good side, and LPDS is back with a new plan and the same old opposition.  And, as always, you can find the poverty thread here.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe...

It’s baaaaaaaaack!  Once again, La Puerta del Sol makes an appearance in the ABH and here at AthPo.  The ABH reports it here and editorializes about it here.

Y’see, the LPDS guys have resubmitted their plans for the site.  Compromise is king here, as the live music is gone, and the architecture is somewhat blander.  Hopefully this will be enough of a sop for the east side residents (especially Cedar Creekers) who opposed it.  More importantly, we hope that this will convince enough commissioners that the folks who oppose it, led by ACC’s favorite windmill tilter States McCarter, are opposing it more and more out of spite, rather than out of legitimate objections.  Some folks just don’t like to be wrong, which, come to think of it, might be why States had has panties in such a wad a few months ago.

Our only question is this: Will Bruno Rubio be able to produce the same tasty cuisine as he has in the past, or has he suffered permanent and debilitating spinal injuries as a result of all the bending over backwards he’s done in the last three months?

Also, please note the delicate race dancing that the ABH does in the editorial.  Basically, they say, “Oh yeah, States is a good guy and definitely not a racist.  But yeah, he kind of is.”

Hey! We're not running for mayor either! Where's our press?

Harry Sims gets Loop’d in today’s ABH, as Blake Aued speculates without speculating, with respect to Sims’ not running for mayor.  Apparently the field of candidates is so underwhelming to Blake that more news is to be made by talking about who’s not running.  We’ll give Blake a few tips, free of charge.  Here is a list of people who are officially not running for Mayor.
  • Publius

  • DiDDY

  • Doc Eldridge

  • Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)

  • Tom Brady

  • Triumph the Insult Comic Dog

  • Mark Richt

  • The Muppet who sang the “Ma-nam-ah-nah” song

  • Upshaw Bentley

  • Hot Dog Man

  • Mike Adams

  • Samuel Becket
Hope this helps!

Winders Gets It Right

You know, as much as we diss on him occasionally, we’re going to give Jason Winders some mad props for a well-written column this week, with respect to the “How the Jackson County School District and the ACLU Stole Christmas” controversy.  Give Windy some credit; he usually hits on an angle that we hadn’t thought of, and this week is no exception.  

Sez Winders, “I do wonder: When the American Civil Liberties Union came into Barrow County to fight the Ten Commandments display, I heard numerous cries from folks branding them as ‘outside agitators.’ So, does that hold true when the ACLU antidote comes to town?”

Time to Trim Some Fat From the Schools

Jim Thompson is not exactly pleased with the Clarke County School District, and with good reason.  We’ve known for some time that the CCSD has something of a discipline problem, and that our children are not being particularly well-served.  The big question is: Who do we blame?

Jim does a good job of highlighting the sociological factors that lead to problems in the schools; we would humbly refer you to this thread with reference to those factors.  But those problems are not unique to the CCSD by any means.  And there is one thing going on in the CCSD that, if it isn’t the primary cause of our local district’s problems, is certainly exacerbating them.  It’s also a pretty easy problem to fix.

Here at AthPo, we’ve pretty much had enough.  We’re big supporters of public education.  One of us used to teach, for Pete’s sake.  We’re also both proud to be graduates of public schools in Clarke County.  There’s no reason why, with what is probably the state’s best-educated citizenry, and with the State’s flagship university in our backyard, that our public schools should be this deplorable.

You might recall some months ago, when we put out an open call for folks in the CCSD, especially teachers, to get in touch with us and answer a few questions anonymously.  We were trying to track down the truth behind some persistent rumors that we keep hearing.  According to our sources, the administration of at least one middle school in Clarke County is actively encouraging its teachers to file less disciplinary reports on students (for instance, sending the kid to the principal’s office) in favor of handling most, if not all, discipline problems in the classroom.  

You see, if a teacher sends a student to the principal’s office for breaking the rules, that creates paperwork.  And said paperwork is a matter of public record.  It’s also one of the first things that is checked when a school is being evaluated for Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.  But, if you handle the problems in the classroom, without taking the administration’s time away from their busy schedules of surfing the internet, then – voila! – no pesky disciplinary referrals to show up when the authorities show up to check on AYP.

Call us na├»ve, but we’d prefer that teachers actually – oh gosh, we don’t know – teach.  The administrators’ job is to preserve discipline, so that teachers can actually do their jobs.  

As we mentioned earlier, we’ve had enough.  If you’ve had enough with the tailspin that is the Clarke County School District, then here’s what we suggest – a two-pronged approach.

First, throw the bums out.  That means the school board, initially, and with a new board, hopefully the superintendent and the top administration as well.  Sorry to sound draconian, but our schools have gotten worse on your watch, guys.  We appreciate your service, and don’t let the doorknob hit you where the Good Lord split you.  Next, with our new school board, we need to pass new local rules about accountability.  Not for teachers; we humbly believe that most of our Clarke County teachers are doing the best they can with what they’ve got to work with.  Accountability rules for the administrators of each school are the way to go.  Our new accountability rules shouldn’t be based on some contrived yardstick, like No Child Left Behind, but on measurable results based on previous years’ performance.  As an example, if 10% of the 9th graders at a school had to repeat, then the next year, anything more than 5% is unacceptable.  If a school reported an average of 50 disciplinary referrals per month in 2005, then anything more than an average of 40 per month is unacceptable in 2006.  

You want to get serious about education?  So do we.  But things aren’t going to get any better until we cut the tumor out of the system.  Throw the bums out.  

Friday, December 02, 2005

Coming Soon: The Big Brains at AthPo Win the War on Poverty

[Editors' Note, part deux: Back at the top of the page, for your convenience. Who says we don't give the people what they want? By the way, if any of you fine folks have contact with any of our local candidates, you might invite them to participate as well. We bet Elton Dodson would enjoy this discussion.]
[Editors' Note: We've gotten such a great response in the comments section, and since the comments continue to roll in, we're moving this post back to the top of the page, temporarily. Please note, however, new posts continue below, so please check them out too.]


Frequent commenter Fishplate weighed in on one of our earlier posts about poverty, and gave us a pretty darn good idea. Sez the Plate:

“You think Iraq or Viet Nam are quagmires? The War on Poverty makes them look like an eyeblink.I would like to hear some new, practical solutions to the problem.”

Well, here’s your chance. You know, as much as we disagree, there are a lot of smart people reading this here blog, so, if you’ve got an opinion, here’s your forum. Let’s start putting out some ideas.

Maybe we’ll even forward them on to the proper local, state, or federal electeds for their perusal.

One thing though. This thread is about the future, about policy solutions. We know that there are poor people, and we know that some of them are poor through their own action or inaction. So, keep the focus on how we help, and keep the poor-bashing to a minimum.

I’ll kick the discussion off below. The more ideas, the better.