Saturday, January 30, 2010

House Seating Assignments Making News This Weekend

This Saturday's Political Notebook in the Macon Telegraph has an interesting observation concerning Baldwin County legislator Rusty Kidd.
Kidd in Ralston’s seat

Speaking of the pecking order in the House of Representatives, new state Rep. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, landed an interesting seating assignment.

In offices, where legislators sit in the House Chamber often speaks to their position, Kidd’s seat has a nice bit of immediate history. Before he was elected speaker of the house this year, state Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, occupied Kidd’s new desk.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The other shoe dropping on Georgia Mental Health System

The Department of Justice has filed a motion to put a federal monitor in the state's mental health system.
From the Department of Justice press release
"The motion, filed late yesterday, seeks appointment of a monitor who will set binding targets and timetables for reducing the number of residents at the hospitals and expanding appropriate community based services."

More on what this means in tomorrow's Union-Recorder.

Update:Department of Behavioral Health Spokesman Tom Wilson just told me that the state will be fighting the DOJ motion as it asks for too dramatic of a change in the state's delivery of mental health services.

Macon to Milledgeville Rail-to-Trail? has this article about a proposal to imbue the Middle Georgia region with plenty more bicycling options for transit and leisure.
I was holding my breath about how this might affect Milledgeville until I read this:
"Of particular interest to Clark is the Macon-Milledgeville Rail-to-Trail, an effort to convert an abandoned CSX rail line to connect Macon’s Ocmulgee Heritage Trail to Milledgeville’s proposed Fishing Creek Trail."
I'll see if this is on anyone else's radar at the ole U-R, and get back to this.

Governor Reacts to DOT Board Accounting Changes

This story seems to be getting more complicated all the time. An auditor I talked to yesterday said that the change in accounting practices--from accrual to cash and back to accrual--should not be the main issue here as the two practices are really just different ways of looking at a budget and spending plan, and are commonly used interchangeably to give a more holistic view of an organization's financial well being.
Yes! That means I was wrong, I think?
But this clearly shows that the parties in Atlanta are circling the wagons and getting ready for a showdown.
From the Governor's Office:

Statement of Governor Sonny Perdue Regarding DOT Board Action on Accounting Methods
Thursday, January 28, 2010 Contact: Office of Communications 404-651-7774

ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue issued the following statement today regarding actions by the DOT Board in defying the State Auditor and voting to change the department’s accounting methods:

“Today’s action by the DOT Board exhibits a clear defiance of state law and a frightening lack of concern for our state’s financial systems.

The state’s finance team, along with SRTA, identified an opportunity to refinance outstanding bonds for road projects and save DOT a total of $22 million in debt service, including $16 million in FY 2011. Given the uncertainty that has now been unnecessarily created by the Board, we cannot proceed with the refinancing at this time.

The Board is refusing to heed the sound advice of the State Auditor and the department’s own legal and financial staff. Previous Attorney General opinions also make it very clear that the department must follow the same accounting procedures as the rest of state government.

While I am incredibly frustrated that we are forced to pass up a substantial savings opportunity, I am more concerned that this Board continues to act irresponsibly and show such little regard for the state’s conservative fiscal management policies.”


Thursday, January 28, 2010

We're hearing that a car has crashed into the Mayor's Office on South Wayne

Update: A minivan drove through the back of the building. Everyone is okay. But my colleague reports that Wilkinson Insurance employee Jim Fain says it sounded like gunshots and employees narrowly avoided being hit by the vehicle that is now inside the office.

Update 2:

It appears from this picture, that the van went through Carl Wilkinson's office.

Legislators stop to think before passing law

What is the world coming to?

I found it a little humorous this morning hearing that House lawmakers paused a moment before ushering through texting while driving legislation yesterday.
According to the AJC, the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee decided to send two bills to a study committee to determine whether or not there are ways to properly enforce the proposed laws.
Perhaps legislators just didn't want to get caught taking any cues from the federal government.
I can empathize with the concern that this might be another unenforceable law. I used to work summers for the Governor's Office of Highway Safety counting seat belt usage on the side of the roads and highways across the State of Georgia. But I think H.B. 944 sponsor Amos Amerson, R-Dahlonega, has it right on this one:
“We pass a lot of laws and we don’t try to determine how to enforce them,” Amerson said. “It is like the seat belt law. I am sure they will come up with a method.”
The thing that made me smile was the sudden need for accountability in the laws passed by the General Assembly.
The uproar from this story about tax breaks that may or may not be working (we just don't know!) quickly died down once the public could go back to talking about sexy lobbyists and how they're tarnishing the reputation of General Assembly.
Maybe I'm asking too much for the General Assembly to hastily pass legislation that would tack on an extra revenue-generating fine for people who are caught doing stupid things in the State of Georgia.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Internet, Alternate Realities and Where We're Going As a People

I awoke this morning to see this Rasmussen Reports poll in my inbox.
"...[A] new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 23% of adults think they personally spend too much time using the Internet, computers and mobile communications devices.
Seventy-one percent (71%) disagree and believe the amount of time they spend this way is appropriate.
Seventy-five percent (75%), however, believe young children spend too much time on computers and other electronic equipment.
That might not mean much to me on any other given day, but last night--after a long City Council meeting that could have been done in under a half-hour, had Council not convened an almost hour-long executive session for the second meeting in a row--I cracked open Matt Taibbi's The Great Derangement about the effects of an America that is increasingly disengaging from society to interact in isolationist online and real-life communities that adhere to the singular world view of one's choice.
What good is the World Wide Web if you use it solely to bolster your own view point?
The growing way in which many people use these information resources to cloak themselves in a smug certainty that they are right and everyone else is wrong, misguided or delusional is alarming. And it is turning us all into one another's enemies.
Take this earlier Rasmussen poll:

I take some umbrage from this as I was accused of of being guilty of this during the last election cycle. But without naming names, I think it couldn't be more ridiculous in this one isolated incident involving me because the candidate they were saying I was biased against was the one that I supported in my non-newspaper reporting life.
But the kicker on this isn't the number of people who think the press is biased or more liberal or whatever, it's the numbers about a minute and thirty seconds in that I want to emphasize.
Only 21 percent of people are going to get their political news from the Internet this election year. That's just about the same 23 percent who say they spend too much time on the Internet.
The vast majority (considering there are four options here) will be tuning into the nightly news for their political pickins, and print and radio will scour the bottom for a combined 16 percent.
So lets look at it this way.
In a year when the entire state legislature will be up for reelection--we'll see how many actual contests there are this year--three-fifths of us will be relying on the television to give them information on candidates. Just under a quarter will be plotting their own course for campaign coverage and the rest will hope that they can get what they need from local sources.
For Milledgeville that's a little disturbing. There are no local television stations, so almost 60 percent of us will not hear anything about our local races for the Georgia General Assembly. Just under a quarter of us will get to read what the candidates want us to know about them. And 9 percent of us will rely on the efforts of one person who must balance the elections with the needs of city and county governments, plus whatever church barbecues, new wing restaurants and motorcycle club poker runs that pop up during that time.
It is scary to think that the ever expanding media landscape is doing exactly the opposite of what is possible, and that we the public are the reason it's happening.
Just consider this some kind of open thread rant.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Parham Stirs the Pot

State Transportation Board member Bobby Parham showed up again in the AJC late last week. If you didn't catch that, you can check it out here. (The best part of the story, and the most illuminating, is found in the comments section.)
Parham also stopped by the Union-Recorder offices Monday to defend a State Transportation Board decision to reverse a former DOT Commissioner Gena Abraham (Evans)-era accounting change that he says has slowed the DOT's ability to keep Georgians at work building and maintaining the country's best state highway system.
Parham said the change, from a cash to an accrual method of accounting, would allow the DOT to borrow money to fund the state's portion of federally-backed road projects on the promise of the federal government making good on their end of the investment.
Evans, a perennial Perdue appointee, implemented the cash accounting procedure after a 2008 DOT audit accused a DOT treasurer of purposefully intending "to hide the true state of GDOT’s finances."
As the AJC and ATL Bizness Chronicle reports say above, the state Transportation Board has already passed a motion to move back to the accrual form of accounting in last week's meeting. But Parham said Trans Board Chair Bill Kuhlke called a special meeting for this Thursday, and he (Parham) thinks Kulhke will try to get the board to reconsider the motion, or at least postpone the change until the next fiscal year, which begins in July.
Board members are asking Attorney General Thurbert Baker to decide whether or not it is constitutional for DOT to use the accrual accounting.
Parham says there is more to this story, so watch it grow legs Friday.

Friday, January 22, 2010

In Reference to a Detailed Explanation

From my vantage point, it seemed like the joint Appropriations Committee was much more concerned with grilling Dr. Rhonda Meadows of the Department of Community Health than it was with Dr. Frank Shelp of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities yesterday. But the hearing did convey some interesting details.
In response to a question from state Senator Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, Shelp said that the state narrowly avoided a U.S. Department of Justice request to shut Central State Hospital down following Justice's first visit to the campus sometime last year.
Shelp also said that the partnership between the East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta and the Medical College of Georgia has greatly increased that hospital's ability to take an increased case load due to the diversion of mental health consumers away from Central State. Shelp said to be expecting more partnership announcements in the coming weeks.
State Representative Rusty Kidd seems to think that Milledgeville may be a party to some of those announcements.
Some of Shelp's discussion about developmental disabilities programming caused me to think that there may be plans for the state to divest itself of one of its developmental disabilities facilities.
In a conversation following the hearing, Grant told me that it would be hard for the state to walk away from the developmental disabilities program at Central State because it has the largest census of people utilizing that programming in the state.
But heed this warning:
"Daniel, I just don't know. If you'd have asked me last week, or even earlier this week, I'd have told you that I felt Central State was pretty stable. Long term, I think Shelp is right, and I've even heard it in a lot of conversations with others: The ultimate goal is to not have long term clients in hospital or institutional settings. Olmstead extends to mental health."

Barnes Polling Neck and Neck with Ox and Handel

Oh yeah! Don't forget Nathan Deal--I always do.
Polling people Rasmussen Reports just released this polling information about a survey pitting former Governor Roy Barnes against the top three Republican frontrunners in this year's goobernatorial election.
Barnes comes out on top by razor-thin margins in all but the Ox contest in which he is down by two percentage points. No candidate pulled a majority in any of the races except if you match Ox up against Attorney General Thurbert Baker.
Baker is running a distant second to Barnes in polling for the Democratic nomination.
Read the full report here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

View from the Newsroom

We didn't get yesterday's news until approximately 4:45 p.m. I don't know how to contextualize that fact.
I feel that Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities spokesman Tom Wilson went out of his way to make sure we got the information before we read about it in someone else's paper. But as we got the news, we began to notice that other Middle Georgia media outlets were already posting incomplete stories as we were just hearing it.
As you may well be able to imagine, when news like this breaks at 5 in the afternoon, it is hard to get people on the phone to talk about it. Central State Hospital spokespeople had already gone home--and that didn't matter much anyways because Atlanta had put a gag order on them. And the legislative delegation was either incommunicado or wasn't saying anything until they had more details.
But the eeriest part about the afternoon was overhearing the phone calls people were making from other departments of the paper as the news filtered throughout the building.
I heard the phrase 'they're closing the Powell Building' ring out repeatedly through the next two hours as we rushed to try and write stories for today's front page.
Milledgeville has gone through a lot of blood letting in the last two years, but this may be the biggest blow of all of them.
The dome of the Powell Building is as much of a symbol of the City of Milledgeville as the north and south gates of the Old Capitol. Central State Hospital is synonymous with the community that hosted it, and now the focal point of that institution will be moth-balled like the rest of the historic campus around it.
And to add insult to injury, the state is going to disrupt the lives of another 200 people in 'giving them the opportunity' to follow their job to where ever it is needed.
Some People Need Their Jobs Right Where They Have Them.

Central State Coverage from Here and There

Because the Union-Recorder doesn't put much of their content online, I thought I would use the blog to connect local readers to more information about the symbolic end of Central State Hospital.
And you might want to read what some senior reporters have to say about this complex issue anyways.
The AJC has this report that delves deep into their back pages to chronicle the many times that Central State has wound up in their paper. It also details the 1960's coverage by the late Jack Nelson.
The Telegraph gives a good testimonial from a Macon-area mental health advocate about the struggle to get Middle Georgians with mental health issues assistance since Central State started diverting clients to other hospitals in November. That part of the story comes four paragraphs down.
The story also quotes state Sen. Johnny Grant about the closing.
"Two more area prisons are on the chopping block, and a partial shutdown at Central State is “not what Baldwin County needs to hear right now,” state Sen. Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, said Wednesday."

Although not strictly related, Lucid Idiocy posted this earlier in the day about the exodus of correctional jobs in Milledgeville.

Below is the text of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities press release announcing the closure.


ATLANTA - Adult mental health services at Central State Hospital in
Milledgeville, Georgia, are being permanently moved to other hospitals within the state’s behavioral health system, the state agency in charge of the hospital announced today. The hospital will continue serving people with developmental disabilities, those in its nursing home, and those in its maximum security forensic facility, which serves people referred for treatment by the courts. Since November 2009, people in the areas served by Central State who needed hospitalization have received care at other state facilities instead. Based on their needs and the clinical assessment of their doctors, planning has begun to move the remaining few adult mental health consumers at Central State to other hospitals or discharge them back to their communities by March 1.

“While we originally stopped new admissions to Central State to fix problems related to safety and treatment at the hospital, what we’ve found through that process is that other hospitals have been well able to accommodate those individuals,” said Dr. Frank Shelp, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD).

The move to consolidate hospital services where possible is part of the department’s larger strategy of improving the state’s behavioral health system so that it’s more weighted towards community-based services while still retaining a role for hospitals in providing acute care. Under its Voluntary Compliance Agreement with the federal government, the state of Georgia has worked to move more people out of institutions and provide them with services to help them live independently in their own communities.

Approximately 200 employees at Central State will be affected by the change in services. DBHDD’s Office of Human Resources and the hospital’s leadership will work with staff to identify other opportunities at Central State and other hospitals that remain understaffed in key areas.

Hoping for a detailed explanation

Behavioral Health Commissioner Dr. Frank Shelp will give his departmental budget presentation today at 11 p.m.
When I talked with state Rep. Rusty Kidd yesterday about the closing of the Adult Mental Health Services Program at Central State, he said that he would reserve all comments until he had heard it from the horse's mouth (Shelp). So you might want to hear it all yourself.
You should be able to watch via GPB here, but I'll tell you, I haven't been able to view any of these hearings there. It may be because I'm an apple egghead, as "Bubba" Williams said.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Out of My League

I think you'd be surprised to hear that I'm blaming my recent absence from the blogosphere on the fact that I was not One Capital Removed this week, but actually reporting for The Union-Recorder from under the Gold Dome. Well not so much Thursday, but definitely Wednesday for the Governor's final State of the State Address.
But maybe that's in keeping with the witty blog title.
Either way you look at it, I'm not sure if we're much more informed following the news items of the week.
Governor Perdue delivered his final session-opening speech Wednesday and the verdict from the peanut gallery was all about the same.
I think this sums up my take on the speech:
"In a 37-minute-long speech that was long on style—quoting at liberty from the works of great thinkers such as Thomas Paine and Alexis de Tocqueville—and short on substance about how he would like legislators to tackle the challenges facing Georgia in the here and now, Perdue gave the General Assembly a pep talk to send them into the session."
But the real meat of the thing won't come out for another hour, when Perdue drops his proposed budget.
I unfortunately missed Perdue's press conference about his proposal for transportation funding because I was in a Georgia Press Association conference across the street from the Capitol. But much like his proposal to tie teacher pay to student performance, most of the heavy lifting will be done by his successor.
As I said above, today is going to be the big news day, and it is already delivering, with Perdue's budget at 11:45 a.m. and, possibly, the announcement of House Speaker David Ralston's committee assignments. Not the committee's he'll be on, of which I think tradition holds that there will be none, but the committee assignments he'll be doling out because he's got that right.
We'll, of course, be interested in this because Rep. Rusty Kidd will be getting his first assignments today.
I'm hoping for Appropriations and Health and Human Services assignments, and maybe State Institutions and Property, but that may make him too much like state Sen. Johnny Grant.
In other news of the day, I'm glad to hear Speaker Ralston has kept his promise to do away with the hawks system. I know I was a doubting thomas on this, but being a contrarian is my job.
I'm off for the rest of the day, so check in with my One Capital Removed approved bloggers (scroll to the bottom) for up-to-the-minute updates on everything that's going on in Georgia Politics, and I'll tell you something you already know later (please keep reading).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chandler for Kemp

AJC's Political Insider is reporting that Interim Secretary of State Brian Kemp has put together this election year's first statewide grassroots organization.
Former Baldwin County High School Principal Lyn Chandler is Baldwin County's organization representative.
Kemp will be running to retain the Secretary of State seat through the next cycle.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hit the Ground Rolling

I had two conversations with freshman legislator Rusty Kidd today.
Kidd called to say that he and state Senator Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, met again Tuesday with the Governor and the heads of several state agencies that have facilities in Milledgeville to discuss ways of coordinating budget cuts so as to not heap punishment on any one Georgia community, i.e. Milledgeville.
But we also talked about the legislation for which Kidd has wasted no time putting in the hopper.
I've got to hand it to him, he's addressing some serious issues in this first batch of proposed legislation.
Kidd tackles the en vogue issue of ethics reform in House Bill 919, which saddles legislators with the onus of reporting expenditures made on them by lobbyists and anyone else who is providing them with gifts, meals, rides, etc that total over $100.
Kidd also put forth two proposals for raising additional revenues to meet the challenge of Georgia's budget crunch. House Bill 915 would change the definition of taxable nonresident to include entertainers who make more than $5,000 during any given year in the Peach State, and H.B. 918 would add two cents to the state sales tax, and provide for an automatic repealer once state revenue collections are equal to or greater than state revenues for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2006.
The grandest piece of legislation would constitutionally amend the way we elect our governor.
House Resolution 1090 would put forth a voter referendum to change the governor's term from a four- to a six-year term and cancel out a sitting governor's ability to succeed them-self.
Kidd said he got the idea to propose H.R. 1090 following a discussion with the late Tom Murphy, long-time Democratic Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, who told him that the worst piece of legislation he saw pass through the House let a governor repeat himself.
Overall, Kidd said these were all things that he has thought about during his almost four decades-long involvement in Georgia politics. With initial proposals like these, especially, potentially unpopular ones like the proposal to raise taxes, I can't wait to see what he'll think of next.

Idiocy @ Eggs and Issues

Lucid Idiocy has two posts covering today's Eggs and Issues breakfast, which brings the state's administration together with the leaders of the legislative branch for a preview of the session ahead.
LI's Travis Fain reports that Governor Sonny Perdue focused on education, rolling out a new plan for teacher pay, and said that the state's beleaguered mental health system will receive the only budget increases this year.
"Perdue told reporters that the mental health funding would "probably be the only budget news you'll get out of me this week," signaling that the final state-of-the-state speech of his two terms in office, scheduled for tomorrow morning, will not focus on the budget."

The View From Here

Day one of the new legislative session is over and all of the things we’ve been presuming have come to pass—and a few other things.

“Personal integrity is the very touchstone of public responsibility.”

The Glenn Richardson era is over. Jim Galloway of AJC’s Political Insider told us that Speaker Temporary Mark Burkhalter brought in a Catholic archbishop in to lay the rules of engagement. You can see that rule quoted above.
Burkhalter also did other things. He welcomed all new members of the House, including 141st District Representative Rusty Kidd, and he, again, paid tribute to outgoing Speaker Glenn Richardson, who was not there to hand deliver his resignation letter to Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Again from Political Insider:
“He’s a great man, and he’s getting better,” Burkhalter said. “He wishes he could be here today, but doesn’t think that was the best thing to do.”

History in the Making

The House had two real—somewhat—leadership elections yesterday.
The House elected Jan Jones, R-Alpharetta, Speaker Pro Tem. The former House Majority Whip, Jones is the first woman to hold the Lower Chamber’s number two position.
And the history making didn’t stop till the top yesterday either.
House Republicans, and some Democrats, voted in David Ralston as the new Speaker.
House Democrats decided to resume their role of opposition party yesterday by putting forth the same opposition candidate for Speaker for the same reasons they should have run an opposition candidate last year.
House Minority Leader, and goobernatorial candidate, Dubose Porter, D-Dublin, nominated House Democratic Caucus Leader Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, saying that Smyre has connections to the White House and will end the hawks system.
I noticed some backlash to Porter’s comments that Smyre would end the hawks system, which allows the Speaker to stack committee meetings with representatives that will ensure votes reflect the Speaker’s wishes on a bill.
Pundits reminded everyone that David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, ran for the Republican nomination for the Speaker’s gavel saying he would end the hawk system as well. But I didn’t see any reports indicating that Ralston reaffirmed those promises in his acceptance speech.
Although Ralston did adhere to Ronald Regan’s 11th Commandment, “Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican,” he didn’t go farther, as Burkhalter is quoted as doing above.

One Last Ride?

AJC’s Political Insider, which I guess wins my award for most information on day one, also reported hearing murmurs that Gov. Sonny Perdue will once again try to use his powers to move the legislature forward on transportation funding.
Now I want to think I remember some pictures of Perdue, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and now defunct House Speaker Glenn Richardson huddling up on some transportation plan last year. If that is true, I might also be able to trust my memory to think that Richardson was the one who broke rank late in the session, effectively scuttling any possibilities last year.

So there you have it. I culled this information from AJC's Political Insider, AJC's Gold Dome Live, Georgia Legislative Watch, Peach Pundit and Lucid Idiocy.
So now you know where I go.

Monday, January 11, 2010

2010 Session: Day One

I believe the impetus for this blog should be convening sometime about an hour ago.
I'm actually out of the office today enjoying my Sonday, baking biscuits and taking care of business.
Things will be fairly ceremonial today.
We can finally move forward from last month's Glenn Richardson saga with the House voting in presumptive Speaker David Ralston.
AJC's Gold Dome Live is reporting one last twist to that story, saying that outgoing House Speaker Pro Tempore Mark Burkhalter, R-Johns Creek, may resign the House altogether to start a real estate development and consulting firm.
Burkhalter had been next in line for Speaker--and said he would accept the challenge--then decline the gavel to, reportedly, remain in the running to become executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center. This move will take him out of that pursuit.

Lucid Idiocy has this post about last night's Wild Hog Supper, somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek kick off to every session.

And it looks like AJC's Jim Galloway will be live blogging throughout here.

I'll be checking in during the day, and will probably try to get a hold of the local delegation this afternoon.
But as this is my Sonday, my main focus will be on red beans and rice with andouille sausage from Patak.
Thanks Dad!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

"45% Say Random Group From Phone Book Better Than Current Congress"

If only there was some alternative universe where we could put this assertion to the test.
Rasmussen Reports determined this figure in a December poll.
"A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 45% of likely U.S. voters now think a group of people selected at random from the phone book would do a better job addressing the nation’s problems than the current Congress. That’s up 12 points from October 2008, just before the last congressional elections. Thirty-six percent (36%) disagree, and another 19% are not sure. "

And it also appears that a majority of voters think our elected officials are paid too much--and with figures like they're quoting, I agree:
"Members of both the House and Senate are paid $174,000 per year. The political party leaders in both houses and the president pro tempore of the Senate earn $193,400 annually. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is the highest paid member of Congress, earning $223,500."

Friday, January 8, 2010

December Revenues Figures Not So Bad

Yes, Georgia, there is a Santa Claus!

The Governor announced December revenue figures today and there was not the double digit damage we've become accustomed to in the last year.
The state pulled in $1,402,181,000, only $86,967,000 or 5.8 percent less than December 2008.
That brought the year-to-date totals up to negative 13.7 percent as compared to last year.
I would imagine that the presents we couldn't afford not to give had something to do with this, though sales tax revenues were down 10.6 percent from Christmas month last year.
Or maybe we're actually pulling out of this bad economy?
Yeah right.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Year's Wishes

At the end of last year I asked a number of local people to provide me with their hopes and wishes for the Milledgeville/Baldwin County community in the New Year.
As of today, newly elected state Representative E. Culver "Rusty" Kidd is the only person to reply--and to Rusty's benefit I'll say he did it in the timeframe I asked him to do it in.
Because not enough people shared their thoughts with me to feature it in The Union-Recorder like I had wanted to, I'm going to post them here. I'll post more as they come in.
Thank you Rusty.

The wish list I have for 2010 are simple but ones I wish for everyone:

1. Bellies would be full
2. Warm shoes and dry socks for our feet
3. Warm and Dry jackets when its rainy and cold
4. When you walk down the street you hear extra change rattling in your pocket
5. Children whose parents truly love and care for them
6. That our city & county jails have vacancy
7. Georgians with disabilities or mental health illness are properly cared for at our State Mental Institutions
8. That jobs become plentiful with relocation of industry to Baldwin County.
9. Our city & county revenue increases without additional property tax increase
10. Our Military troupes that are in the 16 foreign countries fighting for our freedom and the freedom of those oppressed in foreign lands finish their mission and are able to return home safely and no longer will be in harms way
11. That mankind in our county and around the world look at each other and treat each other as you would have them treat you.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year's Reading

Having started One Capital Removed on a whim almost a year ago in January 2009, I thought it appropriate to recognize the New Year with some dispatch of subconscious ramblings proofed on excessive intake of ham sausage biscuits and other fine holiday fare.
Fighting the desire to recap the year by organizing it into top-ten lists, I’ve decided instead to focus on the future and write down some predictions and promises to provide readers and haters alike some kind of objective yard stick with which to judge One Capital Removed during the next 360.

To start on the positive side—because there’s not much positive to talk about looking ahead from this vantage point—Baldwin County has about the best representation on all levels of government that it could hope to have moving forward. From the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. to City Hall on Hancock Street, local electors can be confidant that there are many good men and women working hard to help this community achieve its best possible tomorrow.

The next year will challenge all of those people and I expect to be writing about many of their efforts throughout 2010. Not all of its going to be good, and not all of it bad. Let’s hope everyone respects the gravity of the situation at hand and decides to put their best efforts toward making the hard decisions that will put Milledgeville-Baldwin County on a road to success in its third century of being.

Before we begin blocking out everything else to focus on the Goobernatorial throw down destined for our July and November ballots, let’s remember that Milledgeville City Council’s first order of business will be to recruit and put in place a professional city administrator per the 2006 revision of its City Charter.
Whoever the majority of City Council puts in place to be the city’s second professional executive will have the benefit of not being the first person to take that seat, but the challenge of maintaining momentum toward efficient and effective city government. Milledgeville has a number of dedicated employees who will help make that transition a smooth one, let’s give them the leadership they need to make this city the best possible place to live.

Both the City of Milledgeville and Baldwin County will be subject to the immense pressure of maintaining a balanced budget throughout the ongoing economic recession (I mean it in how we’re going to look at this time in the future, not its academic definition).

Baldwin County will give us our first glimpse of the hard decisions to be faced by local governments in this second year of economic malaise when it begins putting together its budget three months ahead of schedule.
Just before the end of the calendar year, Baldwin County Commission voted to shorten Fiscal Year 2010 by three months, ending March 31, and begin budgeting a nine-month ‘tween’ year before moving to a calendar year-fiscal year. This paper change will allow the county to allocate a larger portion of its 2009 property tax levy to paying off debt obligations.
County Finance Director Linda Zarkowsky said in an interview at the time the change was proposed that Baldwin County has spent their revenue entire shortfall reserve and this accounting change allows them a one-time opportunity to effectively erase their debt. But the use of all those property tax dollars will put all county departments, including the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, on a budgetary tight rope, with no room for unexpected occurrences or growth.

The City of Milledgeville has seemingly yet-to-be affected by shrinking revenue collections. City coffers benefited from several renegotiated contracts with Baldwin County during the last round of service delivery agreements, freeing city funds and guarding against any immediate need to raise the millage rate. Milledgeville even created new revenue streams by raising the local hotel/motel tax and renegotiating the city’s contract with the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
But no one knows the depth of the current economic crisis, and any forecasts culled from the national media don’t figure in the decimation of the local state employment base and the outsourcing of the community’s manufacturing base to cheaper locations across the hemisphere and globe.

Don’t expect the Georgia General Assembly to be any help in balancing these shaky city and county spending guesstimations, or even in providing a level footing from which to make them.

Whether singled out for individual bloodletting, or cut across the board with the rest of the state, Milledgeville will have to bear more of the brunt of the state budget crisis. State employees I’ve talked to say the recent budget cuts announced by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities have equated to as many as 12 furlough days for some employees. And with Mens and Bostick state prisons on the Department of Corrections list of non-enduring facilities, the pendulum will always swing low in Baldwin County as legislators look for places to cut down to the bone.

I expect state legislators will not only hold the line on any new taxes and/or expanded bureaucracy, but look for more ways of making Georgia business friendly by sweetening the pot with whatever kind of tax incentive/break they can think up.
Presumptive Speaker of the House David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has already gone on record saying the Georgia General Assembly will not raise taxes (in an election year, even) to get out of this mess, and that leaves only one other course of action: Cutting the budget proportionate to the decline in revenues.
Revenue collections in November 2009 were down $230,664,000 or 16.2 percent from November 2008 figures, and year-to-date collections were down 15.4 percent. And don’t forget that the current spending plan benefited from large sums of federal dollars in the form of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus plan.
So as we commentators repeatedly punch leads with some play on ‘It’s all about the budget,’ it is all about the budget, the same way it is every year, but more so this year than any time in any living person’s memory.

Unless there are any other Gov. Roy Barnes-era tax rebates left on the books, I can’t imagine the General Assembly will pass anything that could possibly be perceived as a tax increase, unless it comes in the form of a Constitutional Amendment approved by voters in a ballot referendum this November.
After years of flirting with the idea, a referendum may be the way that legislators finally consummate new transportation funding. For at least the last two years the debate has been between a statewide penny sales tax and allowing groups of cities/counties to band together to levy a penny sales tax to fund improvements in their neck of the woods. The referendum, which I think is only necessary for the regional plan, would allow legislators to return home from Atlanta saying that it is in voters’ hands to do what must be done.

On the other side of the ledger, I think legislators will continue to look at the way property taxes are assessed and levied. Don’t think legislators won’t upset the apple cart just because the state’s coffers are drying up.
But property tax reform really should be rallied around as an openness in government type issue; if you’re going to tie tax assessments to fair market value, then I feel those assessments really should reflect what homes and cars are selling for in this economy.
Again, this will make local governments out to be the villains, because they will then be forced to jack the millage rate up through the roof of that house you just bought at January 2010 fair market value.
I think the rumors about axing the inventory tax will grow louder. But I don’t expect legislators to come together on a way of allowing local governments to take more control of sales tax collection—just sounds too complicated.

It was too late of a realization to save anyone from running for office in 2008, but after a whole year of hard times it amazes me that people still want to run for office. These last two years in Milledgeville have afforded me more opportunities than I would have liked to observe people on the campaign trail. And on the state level, 2010 will be the biggest year yet.
I expect that the New Year will not be replete without several more political scandals ala November-December 2009.
Expect to hear more about Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine’s lavish, campaign donor-financed Oscar vacations and former state Senator Eric Johnson’s hand in the dismissal of the ethics complaint filed against former state House Speaker Glenn Richardson. House Minority Leader Dubose Porter will say more things about how everyone in the Capitol knew about these things, but was too honor bound by the culture of corruption to do anything about it.
Georgia Democrats won’t be able to capitalize on these revelations as they have a long history of using leadership to their advantage under The Gold Dome.
David Poythress will continue to ram home the point that Democrats aren’t communists.
I hope more candidates will create their own spin-offs of Perdue’s King Roy commercial. But try as they might, I think that name recognition alone will give Barnes the Democratic nomination. Though I hope to hear more from small town mayor Carl Camon and Attorney General Thurbert Baker.
I’m going to play it safe and go with former Secretary of State Karen Handel on the Republican ticket. Scandal seems to follow the Ox like a pack of buzzards; I perceive Nathan Deal and Eric Johnson as too closely associated with disgraced Republican leadership; and the rest of the candidates—Republican and Democrat—who remain in elected office won’t be able to make up the funding gap.

And one final thought on partisan politics in the Peach State:
There is no way I think that Georgia and the state’s Republican Party won’t benefit from the 2010 U.S. Census.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently published the final set of population figures completed before the 2010 Census, and Georgia grew by 1,642,758 people between April 2000 and July 2009.
According to sources far more credible than I, Georgia is one of eight states that will gain a Congressman in the next round of redistricting. Inside the Peach State, that will mean a process of the Republican Party drawing strange shapes on a map of Georgia and state Senator Johnny Grant explaining to me how and why Baldwin County is being cut up into three U.S. Congressional Districts.

And the Most Pressing Issue (why I’m putting it toward the bottom), the U.S. Department of Justice will observe Central State Hospital again this month and release its verdict on whether or not the State of Georgia is in substantial compliance with Justice Department recommendations and findings in reference to violations of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.
This is particularly embarrassing for the State of Georgia as it was defendant in the landmark Olmstead Decision that led the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the right of persons with disabilities to receive the care they need in their own communities.
This will be a particularly tight rope for Georgia as the violations affect more areas of the state’s mental health system than just its ability to reintegrate consumers back into their home communities; there are documented deficiencies in treatment and the physical conditions of the state’s network of regional hospitals.
New admissions to Central State Hospital recently were suspended because of concerns with the physical environment at the aging state mental health facility. And the entire system has long been accused of poor and improper administration of care.
Recommendations could include hiring more staff, renovating aging facilities, creating new ones and reengineering a network of community mental health resources statewide, and all at a time when Georgia doesn’t have available funds to do any one of those things.
To cut to plain English, Georgia is fighting to retain state control of its entire mental health system. The federal government is one step from coming to Georgia and mandating improvements without consideration of other areas of state responsibility.
How Milledgeville makes it through that will be one of 2010’s stories of the year.

Because there is always more than one.

As I said above, Twenty-ten is a make or break time for the City of Milledgeville, Baldwin County and the entire State of Georgia. I would need a whole other blog to begin understanding why this could be said of the nation and the world at large.
But my hopes for humanity are the same as my hopes for the community I call home.
Let’s all take a moment to calmly assess the situation at hand; don’t solely look at the danger and cost of what lies ahead, but think about the opportunities to improve our situation and how we will define our communities in this century, not just in the next decade.
(Mot—the shortened form of Bon Mot, or a witty remark—is the first new word I learned in the New Year.)

Even in the last week, I talked with city residents who want to throw an artistic coat of paint on the downtown commercial district. Their ambition that Milledgeville be another cultural jewel of Middle Georgia should most certainly align with the aspirations of the artists behind the Creative Expressions, Crazy W Creations and the now-defunct Wyndham Quinn galleries that opened in the last few years. And the state’s Public Liberal Arts University must help lead the way by continuing to showcase young and emerging artists.
The State of Georgia’s investment in Milledgeville’s Municipal Wireless Broadband Network puts this community at the forefront of modern communications technology. We must look at this as a challenge to blaze a new way forward in the next century.
Milledgeville Community Connections: Digital Bridges…Bringing People Together debuted last year and will be opening its John S. and James L. Knight Foundation-funded digital innovation center in downtown this month; I encourage anyone who has any ideas about how technology can be used to change the way do things to become a part of this platform for reimagining Milledgeville.
And I am always inspired by the residents who work to remind everyone that natural beauty is one of the things that make Baldwin County such a great place to live. Let all of us, both young and old, work to make the physical appearance of this community match the image that we carry in our hearts and minds.

I know this is a couple of days late, and it is surely a couple of topics short, but I hope it’ll help us all get attuned to the year ahead. Please keep me in the loop of the things you are interested in, and invite me to things that you think are important and underappreciated in the Milledgeville-Baldwin community.
Wishing you the best in the New Year,
Daniel McDonald

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Grant Named Public Health Hero

I've been neglecting One Capital Removed lately to try and enjoy a paper-cut free holiday, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to give state Sen. Johnny Grant a hand for being named one of Georgia's Public Health Heroes.
The Macon Telegraph reports that the Georgia Public Health Association named Grant a Public Health Hero last year for devoting “a great deal of time and effort to understanding the implications of maintaining a healthy state population,” outgoing GPHA President Russ Toal said in a news release.
“His thoughtful and pragmatic approach balances the long-term consequences of the public’s overall health with the difficult budgetary constraints our state faces,” Toal said in the release. “We are pleased to recognize his outstanding leadership on public health issues at the Capitol.”
Thank you Senator Grant for standing up for those who must work harder than the rest of us to stand up for themselves.