Monday, May 27, 2013

Proposed Facilities Ordinance Is Threat to Civil Liberties

Read the column here.

When I started writing this column, I composed a (depressingly) long list of actions from which I could choose to highlight City Hall’s questionable behavior. In the event, I settled on just a couple of things that have been foisted off on us by our betters in the Unified Government, ones that have dealt with constitutional questions and generated some push-back on the part of the judiciary.

Readers desiring more on either of the incidents mentioned can simply enter some reasonable search terms and read all about them in the Banner-Herald archives.

And seeing as how I keep penning columns protesting government actions and (directly or indirectly) concerning constitutional issues, I guess that I should expect a letter from the IRS any day now, huh?

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It's Still Government, It's Just More Expensive

Read the column here,

I didn't have room to delve into it in the column, but the two millage rate reductions by City Hall in 2004 and 2005, both long since obviated by later hikes, are deceptive.

In 2004, growth in the tax digest during the housing boom resulted in substantially more revenue for the city-county government. The folks down at City Hall were simply going to spend the new "free" money. A group of local citizens (and by that I mean Clarke County Republicans) studied the budget and recommended some specific reductions which, to its credit, the Mayor and Commission adopted and were thereby able to lower the millage rate. Readers should remember, though, that taxes can go up even as the millage rate goes down because of higher assessments, which is what happened in this instance. And don't forget that, prior to the public outcry, local government was quite content to simply spend the new revenue.

In 2005, City Hall's own budget documents made plainly clear that the millage rate reduction was not a tax decrease at all. With the implementation of the stormwater utility fee, what money was "lost" via a millage rate reduction was simultaneously gained via the new source of revenue. Clarke County residents were still paying the same amount (actually more), it was just coming out of one pocket as opposed to another.

Unified Government

FY2013 Budget (see page A-8 and A-9):

FY2014 Budget (see pages A-3 and A-4):

Charter (see Section 1-105(b)):

Public hearings on the Unified Government’s budget and millage rate increase will be held in the Governmental Building Auditorium at 5:30 on May 14 and in City Hall’s Commission Chambers at 5:30 on May 21 and at 6:30 on May 23.  Final approval of the budget and millage rate will take place at the Commission’s regular voting session, slated for 7:00 on Tuesday, June 4, at City Hall’s Commission Chambers.

Clarke County School District

FY2013 Budget (see page 1):

FY2014 Budget (see slide 17):

Public hearings on the CCSD’s budget and millage rate will be held at Gaines Elementary School at 6:00 on May 14, at Alps Road Elementary at 6:00 on May 16, and at the CCSD’s administrative offices at 6:00 on May 21.  Final approval of the budget and millage rate will take place at a special called meeting before the Board of Education’s work session June 6.


Clarke County Millage Rate Chart (graciously complied and provided to me by Tax Commissioner Mitch Schrader; most of this information used to be available on the old departmental web site, but did not make onto the “new and improved” version):

Clarke County Tax Comparison Report:

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Monday, April 29, 2013

People Of Hope and Wishful Thinking

Read the column here.

First, a nod to my colleagues over at Flagpole; the entire People of Hope thing has been below the radar for a good while, save these recent pieces by Blake and Allison:

Second, I must admit to being surprised at the lack of response to this column in the Banner-Herald’s online comments section – I was expecting some rather intense blowback – though I guess something may appear as a letter to the editor at some point.  Not that I write things so as to be intentionally contrarian; on the contrary, I write what I really think (for good or ill).

Concerning “affordable housing” generally see this, lifted verbatim from my 2006 campaign web site:

“The Commission should establish a separate and dedicated zoning category specifically tailored to mobile homes, which comprise the best market-based solution to the issue of affordable housing. Unfortunately, since city-county unification, the Commission has all but excluded mobile homes from most areas of the county. Class A mobile homes (multi-sectional or doublewides) are limited to existing parks or large lots in the AR zones. Class B mobile homes (single-wides) have been restricted to existing parks for years. While recognizing that mobile homes may not fit in with traditional stick-built home neighborhoods, we have done the low-income among us no favors by excluding from the county the best housing option available to them.”

“I feel that efforts to mandate ‘inclusionary zoning’ in the county are misdirected. The resulting housing would not be “affordable,” it would instead be subsidized. Someone other than the person paying the submarket rate mandated by government will be required to make up the difference, whether it is the other residents of a given development or the taxpayers.”

“For what it is worth, I remain convinced that the rezoning of land for the People of Hope, contrary to the recommendation of the Planning Commission and requiring alteration of the Comprehensive Plan, not to mention the subsequent sanitary sewer line extension to that park, would not have been approved for any other petitioner. The Commission did the right thing, but for the wrong reason.”

Needless to say, these were/are not the dominant opinions in the Classic City.  Also needless to say, the manner in which local ordinance serve to drive up housing costs is all but universally ignored (except by me and a couple of others): conservation subdivision ordinance; “green belt” ordinance; one-size-fits-all stream buffer ordinance; tree cover ordinance; grading ordinance; definition of family ordinance, etc.  I’m not arguing that all of these ordinances are inherently bad, but rather that their roles in driving up housing costs are never acknowledged by the powers that be.

Be that as it may, see this letter to the editor in which I actually defended the Commission against a charge of “ethical” criminality for not foolishly going the moratorium route:

See this news article about a particular Commission meeting, where I explicitly told City Hall that its treatment of People of Hope was rooted in politics and that no one else would get approval to put a trailer park in peripheral Clarke County (much less one necessitating a rezoning, an amendment to the future land use map, a sewage pump station, and a sewer line extension):

Note that I spoke against both the rezoning/future land use map amendment and the sewer line extension, not because I thought that they were the wrong things to do in and of themselves, but because People of Hope got approvals that no one else would have.  See the minutes for the cited Commission meetings:

December 2003
See pages 30-32.  Ironically, at this same meeting that the Commission approved the People of Hope rezoning, by another unanimous vote it also approved an ordinance that explicitly banned Class A mobile homes (doublewides and multi-sectionals) from the county’s agricultural residential, single family residential, and commercial zoning classifications. Placements of Class B mobile homes (single-wides) have been limited to existing mobile home parks for many years.

October 2004
See pages 2 and 5.

That news article review of funding includes (and I daresay that it is incomplete):
-Federal housing grants – $377,500 (as best as I could determine this included $175,000 in
-HOME funds and $202,500 in CBDG funds)
-Presbyterian Church (USA) – $150,000
 -Affordable Housing Program of the Federal Home Loan bank – $446,443
-Governor’s Discretionary Fund (Roy Barnes) – $10,000
-Georgia Community Loan Fund – $25,000
-Other private donations from individuals, business, and churches – $200,000

“HOME” would seem to indicate an acronym, just as CBDG stands for Community Block Development Grant, but all I could find was HOME Investment Partnership Program.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Whatever Its Flaws, Constitution Integral to Our Lives

Read the column here.

The column I started to write concerned how specific amendments in the Bill of Rights (the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 9th, and 10th come immediately to mind) have been all but eviscerated (or at least are in the process of being so), and how a couple of other amendments (the 16th and 17th) have seriously undermined the concept of federalism on which the county was founded. And , of course, the rampant perversion of the "commerce clause" and the employment of judicial fiats have been used to justify all manner of government activity. But, sometimes in the writing process, the one you intended to write morphs into something else, so this is what I ended up with.

To read Wagner’s supposedly inflammatory essay, “As American as . . . Compromise,” for yourselves, follow the link
 link. Just use something like “Wagner,” “Emory” and “three-fifths” as search terms and you will find plenty of media coverage. 

To the best of my knowledge, those states that have passed some sort of bill concerning alternative currencies, or that have at least expressed interest in studying the idea, include Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. Just use something like “state alternative currency” as a search term and you will again find plenty of media coverage.

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Issuing Bonds Isn't Routine Matter

Read the column here.

Note that, according to whom one is speaking, the terminology concerning a school district’s sales tax levy varies.  The technically correct term is “SPLOST,” just like with a county’s sales tax levy, though the two are (sometimes) governed by different O.C.G.A. sections.  The terms “E-LOST” and “E-SPLOST” are similarly used, but all three means the same thing.

Remember that, legally speaking, school districts cannot levy taxes; they are “requesting” authorities.  The actual imposition of taxes falls to county governments; they are “levying” authorities.  Of course, case law leaves essentially no leeway for county governments not to approve whatever the4or respective school districts request, assuming that the requests are otherwise legal.

Some of my concerns about the CCSD’s SPLOST 4 bonds actually began with questions I had about the SPLOST 3 bonds – questions to which no one seemed to know the answers.  After very long and circuitous investigations through quite a number of local and state bureaucracies (CCSD, Department of Education, Department of Revenue, etc.), I eventually found the answers to a couple of them.  The first listed below, about exceeding the 20 mills limit, is courtesy of the Attorney General’s office.  The second is the result of a conversation I had with a bond attorney over in Atlanta (because the AG’s office clammed up on me):

Seaboard Air-Line Railway Company v. Wright, comptroller-general, et al.
I could not find the text of this decision online, but I am told by the AG’s office that this is the case that exempts bond debt service form any constitution limit on a school district’s millage rate.

O.C.G.A. §48-8-121(c) – Use of proceeds; issuance of general obligation debt:
“General obligation debt issued under this part shall be payable first from the separate account in which are placed the proceeds received by the county or qualified municipalities within the special district issuing such debt from the tax authorized by this part. Such debt, however, shall constitute a pledge of the full faith, credit, and taxing power of the county or qualified municipalities within the special district issuing such debt; and any liability on said debt which is not satisfied from the proceeds of the tax authorized by this part shall be satisfied from the general funds of the county or qualified municipalities within the special district issuing such debt.”

Readers can follow the progress of the SPLOST 4 bond resolution for themselves below (note that the agenda items in January concerned the SPLOST 4 “schedule and plan,” not the bond resolution itself, so I have omitted those meetings):

December 2012 – Board Regular Meeting Agenda (no agenda meeting in December)
See page 88 PDF.  Note that the memorandum had to do with initiating the bond issuance process only, having nothing to do with the bond resolution itself or any other links or background material.

December 2012 – Board Regular Meeting Brief
See page 4 of the PDF.  Concerning the SPLOST 4 bonds under New Business, it notes “The Board approved the authorization to initiate the process to issue bonds for the upcoming SPLOST 4 construction projects.”  That’s it; no other information or links to background material are provided.

December 2012 – Board Regular Meeting Minutes
See page 5 of the PDF.

March 2013 – Board Regular Meeting Agenda (no agenda meeting in March)
See page 1 of the PDR.  Under Superintendent’s Report, all that is mentioned is “SPLOST Bond Resolution.”  No additional or background information or links are provided.

March 2013 – Board Regular Meeting Brief
See page 2 of the PDF.  Note that the paragraph pertaining to the Superintendent’s Report merely says about the SPLOST 4 bonds that “After that, attorney Terrell Benton introduced a presentation on a SPLOST Bond Referendum that will be voted on at a called Mar. 20 Board of Education meeting.”  Note also that no time or place is given for the special called meeting nor are additional or background information or links are provided.

Calendar of Events
Note that the finance committee and full Board meetings on 07 March are clearly indicated, but that the special called meeting on 20 March is notable by its absence.

“This Week in the CCSD”
It is true that the email message forwarded to me by a member of the local new media did contain notice of the Board’s special called meeting in the text of the email message itself.  Note, however, that three is no mention of the special called meeting in the document.  Had one not received the email directly and relied on the attached file, one would not have known of the special called meeting.

For a further critique and timeline of the hurried process used to pass the bond resolution and the stunning lack of public notice, see my first comment following this news article:

I received three responses to my emailed inquiries about how much money would be saved by issuing SPLOST 4 bonds and how such savings could be calculated, which were sent to Board members (as elected officials) on purpose so as to establish that I had concerns about the SPLOST 4 bond issue.  One indicated that the Board member had forwarded my questions to the appropriate CCSD administrative personnel, which was a fair enough response, as I knew that Board had no idea.  The second merely was a “reply all” that sent my questions to all of the other members of the Board, the email addressed of whom I had purposefully included in the address line (not the CC or BCC line) specifically for the purpose of letting the Board Members know that I had sent my questions to all of them.  The third response was to ask me if I had received any other responses.

Finally, I must thank Denise Spangler and Ted Gilbert.  When I asked the former, after the Board meeting on 20 March, where a member of the public could get a copy of the various resolutions just approved, she graciously gave me her copies.  That is the only reason I have them – to my knowledge, they are still not available anywhere else.  The latter, with whom I have had amicable dealings in the past, has indicated that he will try to come up with some numbers for me as to how much money the CCSD ostensibly saved by issuing bonds under both SPLOST 3 and SPOST 4.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Rush To Gun Control Producing Bad Laws

Read the column here.

Of course, the primary effect (so far) of the call for more restrictive gun laws is panic buying on the part of the public.  I routinely browse the local gun shops – and by that I mean those area retailers selling guns, the big chain stores and the locally owned ones – and the trend has been apparent since December across them all, showing no sign of lessening: rifle and shotgun racks that used to be full have been seriously depleted (especially of anything that could be remotely considered a “black gun;” pistol cases are virtually empty; and ammunition shelves are noticeably bare (particularly of .22LR, .223Rem., .25ACP, 9mm, .40S&W, and .45ACP).  Whenever a shipment from a distributor comes in, the wares are immediately bought out.  In fact, retailers have resorted to moving their racks, displays, and remaining merchandise around so as to disguise the empty spaces.

This is a verbatim quote from the New York Sheriffs Association web site concerning the method used to pass the SAFE Act: “It is the view of the Sheriffs’ Association that anytime government decides it is necessary or desirable to test the boundaries of a constitutional right that it should only be done with caution and with great respect for those constitutional boundaries. Further, it should only be done if the benefit to be gained is so great and certain that it far outweighs the damage done by the constriction of individual liberty. While many of the provisions of the new law have surface appeal, it is far from certain that all, or even many, of them will have any significant effect in reducing gun violence, which is the presumed goal of all of us. Unfortunately the process used in adoption of this act did not permit the mature development of the arguments on either side of the debate, and thus many of the stakeholders in this important issue are left feeling ignored by their government. Even those thrilled with the passage of this legislation should be concerned about the process used to secure its passage, for the next time they may find themselves the victim of that same process.”  See

Last time I checked, the count of counties that have either passed resolutions opposing the SAFE Act or are contemplating such measures is at 52, out of 62 in the state, and the list of such municipalities is almost as long.  The Sheriffs Association has been joined by the New York State Association of Counties and the New York State Association of County Clerks in opposing the law.  Ditto the New York State Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors.  Granted, some of this opposition has to do with the state passing unfunded mandates down to the county and municipal levels, but not all.  Even the Department of Veterans Affairs has indicated that its doctors will not comply with the law’s “mental health” provisions for fear that veterans will not seek treatment if they think that their Second Amendment rights may be at issue.

Be that as it may, this past week a single member of the Albany County-based Supreme Court denied a request for a temporary injunction of enforcement of the SAFE Act on the basis of jurisdictional grounds.  That ruling is under appeal and as far as I know the 29 April deadline is still in effect for the state to demonstrate to the full Court how the law is constitutional.

And that bit about unfunded mandates is important.  As states dump more and more and paperwork, background check mandates, and licensing requirements on county and municipal governments, just who is supposed to fund the new bureaucracies and increased workloads?  Gun owners, that’s who, by virtue of myriad new fees, fines, and taxes.  If showing a free government-supplied ID to vote is analogous to a poll tax, as so many assure us, how is charging taxes and fees to citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights as a matter of policy any better?

From a civil libertarian point of view, many of the proposals under consideration in the various states are rife with constitutional problems as they: shred any pretense as to a right to privacy; potentially create de facto, and in some cases de jure, databases of who owns guns, what kind of guns they own, and even if they have ammunition for them; allow warrantless law enforcement searches of gun owners’ homes to routinely conduct “safe storage” inspections (though any definitions of safe storage are conspicuously absent); rendering private property unusable or illegal without due compensation (either by rendering guns and/or magazines inoperable or removing them from the state); slow-motion confiscation by grandfathering current gun owners in and allowing them to keep their weapons, but forbidding them to sell or otherwise transfer them to anyone else, even through inheritance; and yes, even outright confiscation.

Here is just a small sampling of such proposals:

Dianne Feinstein’s Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 (S.150)

New York SAFE Act (S2230/A2388)

Maryland SB281 – require digital fingerprints to obtain a license for all gun purchases

Missouri SB124 – would require parents to notify their child’s school district (public, private, or charter) if they own guns

Missouri HB545 – confiscation

Colorado SB13-196 – makes users, owners, sellers, distributors, and manufacturers of firearms liable for harm caused by any firearm that was under their control at one point in time, but is later misused by someone else
(it is easy to access the other Colorado bills from this link)

Colorado HB1224 – bans magazines with a capacity of more than 15 rounds, magazines owned prior to the ban can be kept but cannot be transferred or sold.

Colorado HB1226 – prohibits concealed carry on public college campuses; this is important because the Colorado Supreme Court has already ruled that a previously enacted state law that did the same as this proposed one was unconstitutional

Colorado HB1229 – requires a background check to be conducted by a licensed firearms dealer before any sale or transfer of a firearm, “transfer” includes lending a firearm to a friend or family member on a temporary basis.

Washington SB5737 – The exact language of this bill as introduced language read as follows: “In order to continue to possess an assault weapon that was legally possessed on the effective date of this section, the person possessing shall ... safely and securely store the assault weapon. The sheriff of the county may, no more than once per year, conduct an inspection to ensure compliance with this subsection.”  Once word of this provision leaked out, two of the three sponsors of the bill claimed that they had no idea the provision was in the bill (the third admitted nothing one way or the other) and it was stricken.

Washington HB1588 background check and fee for any transfer between non-dealers including family members, meaning something as innocuous as the gift of a shotgun from father to son has to go through the state’s regulatory and permitting bureaucracy

Oregon HB 3200
Storage inspections as above; gun owners allowed only one such weapon
Finally, of course, the lists of “military features” used by the various states to denote “assault weapons” are arbitrary and completely devoid of meaning insofar as the actual functioning of the firearms at issue is concerned.  But what else is new?

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