Saturday, February 27, 2010

Accepting or Rejecting Web site: AP's Perspective

"I would say it's a little bit art and a little bit science, but we're mindful of the fact that we don't want the Stylebook to be a 9,000-page thing that hits your desk with a thud."
Read this delightful story about how the changing world looks to the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Buzz From the Capitol: Supplemental Budget Edition

The following is a newsletter distributed by state Senator Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, and the Senate Press Office:

As the General Assembly reached the midpoint this week, the Senate took a major step forward and passed the amended FY 10 budget. It will now sit in a conference committee so that we can reconcile our differences with the House. While I know there is much work left to do with FY 11 budget, I m proud of what we have accomplished so far.

It would be nearly impossible to find a Georgian who has not felt the effects of the current financial crisis. January brought additional sobering revenue news, making it more difficult for the Senate to produce a balanced budget. (Note: The sobering news is that January revenues were down 8.7 percent from January 2009 figures. With January numbers recorded, Georgia's revenue collections have been sliding for 14 straight months. This is especially troubling because Governor Sonny Perdue's recommended 2011 budget was written on the expectation of four percent revenue growth.)

The Appropriations Committee diligently went through the House version of the FY 10 amended budget and changed very little. However, one of the significant changes we made was regarding the Quality Basic Education formula. It was increased by $92.8 million to account for K-12 enrollment growth. This is partly offset by the $203 million saved by teacher’s furlough days.

During budget negotiations, I worked closely with the Department of Corrections, ensuring Middle Georgia receives fair consideration in the planning process. We worked collectively to address the pressures placed on county jail programs by closures of state prisons. I helped secure $9.8 million to assist with jail backlogs across the state, and particularly in our area.

Working alongside the Department of Behavioral Health, I combed through the extra $20.3 million allotted for mental health in Georgia. We continue to work and ensure every penny is spent for improved patient care. The largest portion of the increase in funding will be spent on hiring personnel to improve provider to client ratios. Mental health is a very integral part of our district, so we must be vigilant in our efforts to maintain and improve Central State Hospital and our other mental health facilities.

Apart from the budget, Baldwin County has been a big focus of attention. News broke recently that a new prison facility is likely to be constructed in south Baldwin County. Upon the final approval processes, construction will begin and the prison is planning to open as early as 2011. More than 200 jobs will be created as a result of this new prison and it will hopefully ease the pain of the Scott and River’s state prisons closing earlier this year.

It is exciting that in the face of major budget cuts within the Department of Corrections and throughout the state, we will get a new facility that better suits the needs of correctional officers and inmates. It will host 1,000 beds but that could become 2,500 beds in the future, meaning an additional increase in jobs as well.

As always, it continues to be an honor to serve in the General Assembly on the behalf of my constituents throughout the 25th district. I look forward to the remaining days in session and I vow to work tirelessly ensuring all legislation that comes across my desk works for you and all Georgians.

# # # #

This is the second One Capital Removed edition of state Senator Johnny Grant's semi regular newsletter. I'm posting this now, while waiting to get back in touch with Grant to ask him questions about said AFY2010 budget. Check out The Union-Recorder's print edition to find out how that conversation goes.

"Perishable items produced in the state do not even have to be reported"

Last Friday, the AJC had this delicious vignette about culinary culture under the Gold Dome.
"Whoever said there is no such thing as a free lunch never stepped inside the Georgia Capitol when the state Legislature comes to town.
Not only lunch, but breakfast, brunch, dinner and an endless array of artery-clogging snackage are heaped on lawmakers’ plates every day -- and night -- during the annual 40-day session.
I guess they were simply trying to whet readers' appetites for this hearty main course in the paper's Sunday edition.
"New House Speaker David Ralston has advocated for ethics reform at the state Legislature, but that doesn’t mean he’s steering clear of meals with lobbyists.
Reports to the State Ethics Commission show lobbyists spent about twice as much on Ralston in January as they did on Glenn Richardson, the man he replaced, during the same month last year.

Monday, February 15, 2010

If You Know He Has the Solution, Why Didn't You Tell Us to Hire Him Before?

The Telegraph's Travis Fain gets the skinny on the newest state partnership to get Georgia's Mental Health Delivery System up to snuff.
Get the details about the plan, the man--including a good background about National Mental Health Czar Dr. Nirbhay Singh--and legislators' thoughts here.
Reading the piece, it seems the state may have jumped the gun on this one as it sounds like Singh's contracted scope of work centers on the hospitals.
The U.S. Department of Justices' January filing clearly requests the proposed monitor to oversee the process of putting the state in compliance with the Olmstead Decision by making the hospitals a last-resort service provider, as opposed to the front door--if not only entrance--to the state's mental health delivery system.
You can read more about Olmstead here.
Note Johnny Grant's concerns at the end of Fain's story:
State Sen. Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, said he’s criticized the state for spending money on private consultants instead of patient care. But he said the Department of Justice, with its difficult demands for a quick turnaround in a massive system, “changes all of the equilibrium,” Grant said.
Said Grant: “I don’t know where all of this will take us.”
As a side note: Georgia's Old Capital Museum will present a lecture by mental health advocate and local historian Bud Merritt at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Old Capitol Building's Legislative Chambers.
"Silent Witnesses: Cemeteries at Central State Hospital" explores the strange relationship between the Milledgeville community and one of the nation's largest mental health institutions, focusing on the discovery and restoration of several of the hospital's nearly forgotten cemeteries.
I recommend this as a must hear for those who want greater insight into this watershed moment in the community's history.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Shorter Terms for Transpo Board Members?

Apparently last month's mutiny by DOT Board members is fueling more legislative proposals curtailing the governing organization's grip on the Transportation Department.
Read more--well not much more--at AJC Political Insider.

Monday, February 8, 2010

From the Desk of Senator Johnny Grant

State Senator Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, has been providing our newsroom with these weekly updates from the Upper Chamber of the Gold Dome. In keeping with the mission statement, I'll try to disseminate them here when they are forwarded to me.

The Buzz from the State Capitol

By Senator Johnny Grant

As the weeks have moved along, the Senate has turned their focus to other pertinent legislation while we wait for the House to pass their version of the FY 10 amended budget. In the meantime, the Senate has continued Appropriations Sub-Committee meetings in an effort to prepare for the version we will get from the House.

At these appropriations sub committee meetings, agency heads come and present their budgets and agendas, much like the joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee meetings a few weeks ago. This is a more in-depth look at agency budgets. Two particular agencies I have been working closely with are the Department of Behavioral Health and the Department of Corrections.

Central State Hospital is a vital element of the economy of Middle Georgia. It is the largest mental health treatment facility in the state and is a source for many jobs. It is also called home by many Georgians. As most of you know, under an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, the state has an obligation to improve its mental health facilities. Dr. Shelp, head of the Department of Behavioral Health gave his presentation to the committee, vowing that he would transform his department into a more effective, functional service organization. To make this possible, there is a significant increase of almost double the mental health funding in the FY 10 and FY 11 budgets and we intend to see that every dollar is effectively used for improving patient care.

Another major sector of the Middle Georgia economy is the correctional facilities. Coupled with Central State Hospital, the jobs at these facilities represent a big chunk of the work force in Middle Georgia. It is hard to imagine prison facilities closing, as was suggested right before the governor’s budget was released. In dealing with an amended budget of about $36 million less than the original FY 10 budget, we must work even harder to ensure that instead of closing facilities, we eliminate waste and create efficiency.

We have to be proactive and work with legislators, the governor and the agency heads to ensure these vital pieces of the economy remain fully functioning. There is no doubt that it will take work. We have a long road ahead of us, but it’s worth all the time and effort to see a thriving community.

As always, it continues to be an honor to serve in the General Assembly on the behalf of my constituents throughout the 25th district. I look forward to the remaining days in session and I vow to continue to work tirelessly to make sure all the legislation that comes across my desk works for you and all Georgians.

# # # #

note: Grant is a Georgia Tech graduate, I imagine the title of his newsletter is some reference to that as the Georgia Tech College Republicans publish a newspaper titled The Conservative Buzz.

A Few Notes about the City of Milledgeville

With a new Council seated this year, one of their first tasks will be to place a permanent City Manager. Water and Sewer Department Director Barry Jarrett is manning the helm on an interim basis, and back-to-back personnel-issue driven City Council executive sessions would lead one to believe that Council is at least talking about naming a replacement for Milledgeville's first City Manager, Scott Wood, who took a job in Canton last year.
But the City of Milledgeville may be posting another job opening in the coming months as City Planner Russell Thompson appears to be looking to take on more responsibility.
The Summerville News in Summerville, a north north west Georgia town of about 4,500 people in Chattooga County, reported last month that Thompson was one of two finalists for the Summerville City Manager position.
Thompson played an integral role in helping launch the city's municipal wireless broadband network, and Wood had attempted last year to have Council approve an Assistant City Manager position for Thompson to reflect the role he played in city administration. That initiative failed to come to fruition, with Council citing budgetary concerns.
Thompson also recently began a term as a member of City Council in neighboring Gray.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Framers' Intent

Freedom of speech issues gone awry. This line from an AP story in the Washington Post made me guffaw:
"Half the pickup lines in bars across the country could be criminalized under that concept," he said.

The Plight of Local Governments

The AJC has a good, long sign-of-the-times piece about how Atlanta bedroom communities are handling the first major hiccup of their nascent existences.
Despite the apples-and-oranges ATL-centric focus of the story, it has some points that are just as applicable for Micropolitan Baldwin County:
‘Squeezing blood’

It’s a given that people who best weather rocky financial times are those who diversify their investments. A professor at Kennesaw State says public agencies are similar: Those with diverse revenue sources aren’t as hard-hit as single-industry towns.
And the article does good by highlighting some of the cost-cutting measures and progressive steps local governments are taking to weather the economic storm.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Transportation Board Comes Full Circle

Kiss any major federal transportation money goodbye until voters can decide on a constitutional change in November.
I have yet to hear what will probably be a brusque retelling of how this went down, but I'm sure it will be excellent.
From the AJC:
“I had never been over to the state capitol where I saw so much consistency in the disbelief of what the board did, and anger,” Transportation Board Chair Bill Kuhlke told his fellow board members.
No Parham quotes in this one.

Friday, February 5, 2010

DOT AccountingGate Keeps On Moving

AJC has the details from Thursday's state Senate Transportation Committee meeting in which senators railed on state Transportation Board members about the vote to go back to a form of accounting that would allow GDOT to begin multi-year federal transportation contracts without having the entire amount of money needed to pay for the project on hand when the project is let.
The thing that is getting me at this time is legislator's insistence that GDOT is right to be accounting that way, but anger that the board voted to actually go forward with it.
Per my discussion with transpo lobbyist Chuck Clay, this really is a race to get back in the federal highway/transpo money game.
"For the good of Georgia—not GDOT, the Governor or the legislature—please let these people sit down and get behind the effort [to resolve this issue]. Because once that [federal roads] money goes to Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina, it cannot go back to Georgia. It is not simply sitting in an envelope in Washington with Georgia’s name written onto it."

As the AJC article states at the bottom--where they always put his quotes: "Board member Bobby Parham, who first raised the issue last month, said he did not plan to change his vote."

Lame Duck or Not, Perdue is Swinging for the Fences

State Representative Rusty Kidd turned me on to this article in the AJC this morning.
It seems Governor Sonny Perdue has some more far-reaching plans to expand power in the Governor's office by proposing a constitutional referendum to allow subsequent governors the ability to appoint the Agriculture, Insurance and Labor commissioners, as well as the state School Superintendent.
The change, should it be adopted by two-thirds majorities in the state House and Senate and a majority of voters in the November election, would go into effect in 2014.
AJC is reporting that the Governor is looking to other states in his decision to move to appointing these state officers.
"Georgia is one of only five states that elect a labor commissioner and one of only nine states to elect its agriculture commissioner. Twelve other states elect an insurance commissioner and 14 vote for state school superintendent."
The measure is being sold as a way of ensuring that commissioners are staying focused on state issues and not out chasing higher offices.
Kidd wonders whether the Governor has the political capital to move forward on a sweeping change like this his last year in office. But he added that House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, told him he is contemplating the idea of packaging Perdue's proposal with Kidd's proposed constitutional amendment to limit the governor to one six-year term.
Expect to hear more about this in the coming week

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Westsiders Best Be Boiling

This was just sent out by the City of Milledgeville Water Department:

Public Notice to Boil Water

Due to a major line break and reduced pressure, the City of Milledgeville water system has issued“Notice to Boil” water for the residents of Meriwether Circle, Pine Lane, Stevens Drive and Central Georgia Technical School.
To ensure destruction of all harmful bacteria and other microbes, water for drinking, cooking, and making ice should be boiled and cooled prior to use. The water should be brought to a vigorous, rolling boil and then boiled for two minutes. Children should be monitored closely during this time. In lieu of boiling, you may purchase bottled water or obtain water from some other suitable source.
When it is no longer necessary to boil the water, the water system officials will notify you that the water is safe for consumption. The water system officials are anticipating two to three days. The City of Milledgeville water system officials are sorry for any inconvenience that this may cause.

If you have any question concerning this matter, you may contact the Water and Sewer Department at (478) 414-4052.
Barry Jarrett
Interim City Manager

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Donate to the Bostick State Prison Book Club

GCSU Professor Douglas Goings is looking for copies of last year's Big Read title "A Lesson Before Dying" by Ernest Gaines to provide to the Bostick State Prison Book Club. If you have a copy that you'd be willing to donate please contact him at

Democratic Goobernatorial Debate Tonight

Per Lucid Idiocy and David Poythress:
We wanted to remind you that tonight the Democratic Party of Georgia is hosting the first televised Gubernatorial Debate of the 2010 primary election.

It will be held in Athens at the PJ Auditorium, located in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. Some last minute seats may be available, but you must arrive no later than 6:30 PM to be seated, and the debate begins at 7:00 PM.

For those of you who can't be in Athens tonight, it will be aired live on WNEG-TV (Athens), WGCL-TV (Atlanta) and WALB-TV (Albany). It will air on WRDW-TV (Augusta) at noon on Saturday. WMAZ-TV (Macon) will air it online tonight, as well as on Saturday at 7:00 PM. We encourage you to check your local listings.

Related to the Post Below: Ox is at it Again

At least Oxendine has the courtesy to hit the flashing blue lights when he's cruising around you on Georgia highways.
The Georgia Interblogs are lighting themselves up with this story in yesterday's AJC about Oxendine politicking down and dirty with Congressman Lynn Westmoreland.

From the AJC:
"U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland said Monday that he believes Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine used an investigation into a failed insurance company in an attempt to pressure him to take a low profile in the governor’s race.

"Westmoreland said Oxendine never said anything explicit, but the congressman said he felt a message was being sent. He said Oxendine said to him repeatedly that he would try to keep his name from becoming public as a favor."
As you can tell by the fact that you're reading this here, Oxendine didn't keep his word.

Rasmussen: Voters Trust Collective Conscious of American People More than U.S. Government

Again I say, what is America coming to?
Maybe it's just the city slicker who grew up in Atlanta traffic in me, but I've never had an abundance of confidence in the sprawling masses zooming by me, eating their cheeseburgers and shouting into cell phones at 75 mile per hour.
Not to say this is some kind of binary relation where the balance of that confidence was placed in phony on the left or the phony on the right who just happened to have convinced 50 percent plus one of area voters to send him or her to swampland, or the Gold Dome for that matter.
From the story on Rasmussen Reports:
"Polling conducted from January 18 through January 24 found that 76% of voters generally trust the American people more than political leaders on important national issues. Seventy-one percent (71%) view the federal government as a special interest group, and 70% believe that the government and big business typically work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors. On each question, a majority of Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters share those views.
These results help explain why most voters are angry at the policies of the federal government, and most think that neither political party understands what the country needs.
“The American people don’t want to be governed from the left, the right or the center. The American people want to govern themselves," says Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports. “The American attachment to self-governance runs deep. It is one of our nation’s cherished core values and an important part of our cultural DNA.”"

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fight Over Transportation Spilling Out of state Capitol Complex

AJC's Political Insider is saying that Perdue is now colliding with Congressman John Lewis over the state's inability to lockdown federal monies for high speed rail.

Forgoing Critical Thought on Regina Thomas' Chances in the Primary, Savannah Morning News Picks Barrow in 010 General Election

I had meant to say something about the John Barrow political mailer I received just about first thing in the new year. It gave a county by county breakdown of the federal grants he has locked down for the 12th District.
But this came up in my Google Alerts and I think it'll be just as easy to link to this.
The piece takes a look at his voting record and comes to this conclusion:
"Republicans grouse about liberal GOP officials they call RINOs - Republicans In Name Only. These days, as least, Barrow is almost a DINO - or Democrat In Name Only.
Sure, that miffs liberals, who backed former state Sen. Regina Thomas against him in the 2008 Democratic primary, as they do this year.
She got 24 percent in 2008, so that base looks covered. And the more she attacks his positions, the better he may look to general election voters.
It will take a dynamic challenger to knock off Barrow, who, by the way, soon likely will report a $1 million-plus campaign till. So far, neither GOP candidate is being confused with the Charisma Kid."

Right now, it appears that Barrow's likely Republican challengers include Carl Smith and Jeanne Seaver. It appears Republican COL. Wayne Mosley, M.D. has dropped out of the race.

A Transportation Blunder?

Although you can't read the story without penetrating the paywall, you can see from Insider Advantage's homepage that Dick Pettys thinks the state Transportation Board's action to reinstate accrual accounting may be a sizable miscalculation.
Now I haven't read Pettys' story either, but some conversations I had last week (before the other shoe dropped on the state's mental health system issues) led me to the same perception.
I don't gather that many under the Gold Dome disagree with the desired outcome, but it is the way the Board is going about doing it.
Chuck Clay, a former state Senate minority leader and current lobbyist for one of Georgia's largest transportation contractors C.W. Matthews, said the state's leadership cannot delay in finding a way around this constitutional question because it wants to argue about why it happened in the first place.
"We cannot jeopardize this because we are getting into a dispute," he said. "For the good of Georgia—not GDOT, the Governor or the legislature—please let these people sit down and get behind the effort [to resolve this issue]. Because once that [federal roads] money goes to Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina, it cannot go back to Georgia. It is not simply sitting in an envelope in Washington with Georgia’s name written onto it."
I had seen this earlier Friday, and Clay mentioned it when we talked. There is a Senate Resolution to place a referendum on the ballot to amend the state constitution to allow the practice of signing multi-year transportation contracts without having the entire cost of the project in the treasury at the time.
This seems like the best thing, but on an issue like this, I imagine it's going to take quite a get-out-the-vote effort for people to mash yes on this one.

Another unexpected expense under the Gold Dome

In another interesting, yet not exactly germane, note from Macon's General Assembly bureau, it appears that the walls are falling down in the Capitol Building.

ATLANTA — Large pieces of plaster from a top floor of the state Capitol came crashing through a tile ceiling last month, smashing a computer and table in a legislative office below.
The chunks of plaster fell during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, and no one was in the office at the time. Legislative secretaries returned to work to find state Rep. Mickey Channell’s office in a shambles — gaping holes in the ceiling, smashed furniture and plaster on the floor.
At least now we know that Milledgeville isn't the only thing state government is allowing to crumble these days.