Monday, July 23, 2007

Like I Said Last Week

See these two items concerning the election of Paul Broun. One is an opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal and the other is a letter to the editor of the Banner-Herald, both making the same point. - Broun’s election does not necessarily mean bad things for the GOP. What it does mean is that Republicans are more likely to win when they govern (or campaign, as the case may be) according to the values their base expects; it is when they stray from the limited government, lower taxes and spending philosophy that they lose. I think that James Whitehead, by virtue of being the establishment candidate, suffered from a backlash among the Republican faithful (of course, that is not an observation unique to me) in addition to the various faux pas committed by his campaign.

In a related vein, I find it amusing that the "progressives" in Athens are playing up Broun’s electoral debt to themselves (not without justification, mind you), even as they intend to work feverously to unseat the good doctor next year.

Also, kudos to John Marsh for continuing to keep up with all things educational.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Impertinent Observations

So, James Whitehead is refusing to throw in the towel just yet. I fully understand the rationale, but think that the strategy will just reinforce in many voters’ minds why they did not vote for him in the first place.

Regarding a possible Brenau University school of medice, see articles from yesterday and today in the Gainesville Times, as well as the related editorial in today’s Banner-Herald.

Finally, I note that the Oconee County School District can actually lower its millage rate (from 17.7 to 17.5 mills), even as its enrollment and budget increase, because of growth in the tax digest. Of course, the same dynamic is at work in Clarke County (20 mills), we simply spend the extra money - and then complain that the state does not give us even more.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

10th Congressional District Runoff

I have known Paul Broun for a few years now and am glad that he won for a variety of reasons (or at least appears to have emerged victorious with 98% of the vote counted as of 9:30 this morning). But, the fat lady has yet to make an appearance, so we shall see.

Broun is more conservative than am I (as opposed to my more libertarian leanings), but promises to employ a “strict constructionist” view of the Constitution if and when he carries out his duties as a congressman. To my thinking, that covers about 90% of the issues I may have concerns about right there.

I still think claims that the good doctor was acting in an improper manner by raising funds prior to Norwood’s death were unsupportable; Broun started preparing to run for this seat, upon Norwood’s vacating of it for whatever reason, a number of years ago – and he made no secret about it.

My support of Broun, quiet though it may have been, may put me at odds with some of my establishment GOP brethren, but so be it. Whitehead was the choice of the Republican establishment. I am part of that establishment, serving as a member of the state committee from the 10th congressional district, but will note that no one asked me my preference. The establishment apparently got cocky . . . and paid for it.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Orkin Tract

Check out Banner-Herald associate editor Don Nelson’s mention of my comments last year concerning development of the Orkin tract, or rather the conspicuous lack thereof.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Local Land Use

I have been mulling over a “land use” post for a good while. By the time that I finally got around to writing one, this piece by Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute, "Debunking Portland: The City That Doesn't Work” came out and makes the same points I would have made, though better. Of course, the particulars between Portland and Athens-Clarke County differ, but the gist of the analysis is applicable in spades.

Regarding our experience locally, consider the following:

The one-size-fits-all stream buffer ordinance (you know, when the Commission completely ignored a year’s worth of work by the Stormwater Advisory Committee, which resulted in its recommended three-tiered approach, by simply making the supposedly “temporary” restrictions permanent - and never even bringing the recommended ordinance up for a vote)

The ordinance limiting development in the AR zones, the hallowed “green belt,” to one house per ten acres (one of my neighbors is considering asking to be annexed into the City of Winterville for the sole purpose of evading this ordinance, his family had planned for years to build a home for a family member on the couple of acres adjoining the family’s existing home – not any more!)

The conservation subdivision ordinance (in the several years since the adoption of the current ordinance in 2003, not a single conservation subdivision has been built in the county – and none is likely to be built in the foreseeable future because the requirements are so onerous and economically prohibitive)

Transferable Development Rights (we’ve been going around in circles on TDRs for years and no workable plan is in sight; on one hand we have down-zoned the potential “sending areas” to the point that they have little to no development value and on the other hand any attempt to increase density in the obvious “receiving areas” are fought tooth and nail)

Affordable housing (we have no shortage of rhetoric proclaiming our desire for it, but the fact of the matter is that our land use and development ordinances have all but driven affordable housing out of the county – the only solutions posed by the activist crowd is subsidies paid by the other residents of a given development or, better yet, the taxpayer)

The Comprehensive Plan/Future Land Use Map (recently, we have seen how rigid adherence to supposed “guidelines” can have detrimental effects in the real world, see specifically the denied re-zonings of ACTION, Inc., the Boys & Girls Clubs, and even the attempt of Emmanuel Episcopal Church to move its own housethat was thwarted by the historic preservation folks)

Public utilities (contrary to the explicit promises of unification, the Unified Government has reneged on it commitments to providing basic services to the formerly unincorporated areas of the county; those areas have had to wait for years for fire protection while folks in town got the Five Points Taj Mahal to replace an existing fire station just down the street; water lines will be extended along public roads – eventually - but if your property does not border a public road, as if often the case in rural areas, you are out of luck; 35 linear miles of sanitary sewer line were removed from the Public Utilities Department Service Delivery Plan in about 1999 or 2000 for the sole purpose of limiting development in the newly-christened “green belt;” see Chapters 8 and 9 of the Charter and the original Service Delivery Plan from 1995)

To my thinking, land use policies are first and foremost a function of property rights and government’s treatment thereof. As one would expect in a self-consciously “progressive” community, our betters have made the decision that “smart growth” and “new urbanism” collective rights outweigh individual rights, regardless of the consequences for property owners. The Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County continues to enact the same flawed policies as did Portland; we should expect the same results.

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Impertinent Observations

It appears that Pete over at the Flagpole has decided not to sit out the 10th District runoff altogether, favoring Paul Broun over Jim Whitehead, though holding his nose in order to do so. I cast my advance ballot for Broun Tuesday morning.

Though I disagreed with David Lynn recently over restricting public input at commission voting sessions, I fully concur with him about the utility, or lack thereof, of the downtown surveillance cameras, and have since the issue first came up a few years ago.

The other commissioner who opposed the cameras way back when was Carl Jordan. Apparently, Jordan abruptly resigned (scroll down to find it) from the Athens Public Facilities Authority in protest of its approval of a Wachovia loan to the Regional Development Center. If you are out there Carl, give readers a rundown on how this loan, to be repaid through a per capita fee from member governments, is supposed to work. I am familiar with the workings of the DAUGACC on which I sit, but would appreciate clarification as to this authority and the fee (about which I am not happy, but what else is new?).

Our fair city is one of five finalists for the Department of Homeland Security's National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility. That would be quite a feather in our cap, but landing such facilities is as much an exercise in politics as it is of the site's suitibility, so we shall see. And Richard DeRose just put his house up for sale.

Also, we hear that Belgian durg company Solvay is considering locating a new vaccine manufacturing facility at the Orkin Tract. Again, this would be a great addition to our local economy. However, I will believe it when it happens, as we have been down this road a few times before with other big name manufactures that did not pan out.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Clarke County School District AYP '07 (reprise)

In this post, I am following up on the debates concerning the Clarke County School District’s annual AYP debacle, graduation rates, and per pupil expenditures.

Here are the graduation rates for Cedar Shoals High School and Clarke Central High School for the last five years:

Cedar Shoals
2003 53.0%
2004 49.2%
2005 65.7%
2006 69.7%
2007 55.7%

Clarke Central
2003 53.4%
2004 51.4%
2005 56.5%
2006 62.3%
2007 62.3%

Cedar Shoals experienced a two-year spike in graduation rates, but has since plummeted back into the depths of mediocrity . On the other hand, there appears to be a general upward trend at Clarke Central, however slight. Nonetheless, I think complaints about the AYP standard for graduation rates increasing from 2006 to 2007 miss the point (the purpose of raising standards being to raise standards) because even an “improved” dropout rate of 37.7% is patently indefensible.

I’ve reviewed the AYP reports for each of CCSD’s schools. While the District’s claim that each met the academic performance goals for “all students” may be true, a closer look reveals significant shortcomings. Several schools did not meet academic standards based on the performance of certain subgroups - and a big problem is looming regarding those subgroups.

The demographic breakdowns are telling. Asian/Pacific Islander and White kids do okay in Clarke County, but Black and Hispanic kids do not. Apart form the immediate concerns raised by this dichotomy, it bodes very poorly for the future. The graduation rates in 2007 were 90.0% (18/20) for Asian/Pacific Islanders, 75.9% (145/191) for Whites, 60.9% (14/23) for Multiracials, 47.4% for Blacks (173/365), 43.8% for Hispanics (39/89), and 19.4% (21/108) for Students With Disabilities. I am using the categories per the AYP reports, so don’t jump on me about terminology.

My recollection of something that I read not too long ago is that the CCSD’s student population is mostly Black (almost 60%), despite the fact that Blacks make up less than 30% of the county’s population. The next largest group is White (at a little more than 20%; despite being a majority of the population, there are no majority white schools in the District), and then Hispanic (also a little more than 20%). Asian/Pacific Islanders make up a miniscule percentage of both the District’s student population and the population at large. In the very near future, though, Hispanics will overtake Whites as the second largest demographic group in the District, with the overall academic performance and graduation rates probably declining as a result. And no, that is not a racist assumption.

As to the CCSD having to ratchet up spending due to a lack of funding from the state, I have my doubts. Here are per pupil expenditures for the state and the District for the last few years:

State Average
2002 $6978.87
2003 $7279.82
2004 $7261.37
2005 $7425.53
2006 $7896.50

Clarke County
2002 $8225.14 (+ 17.86% of state average)
2003 $8740.89 (+ 20.07% of state average)
2004 $8902.00 (+ 22.59% of state average)
2005 $9038.05 (+ 21.72% of state average)
2006 $9616.96 (+ 21.79% of state average)

The problem is not that the state is inadequately funding Clarke County’s schools; it funds them to the exact same extent that it does those of other counties. The problem is that the CCSD spends significantly above the state average, a gap that appears to be widening, and has increased local taxes to compensate.

Anyone can verify this information; it is all available directly from the AYP and Finance and Business Operations sections of the Georgia Department of Education’s web site.

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Monday, July 9, 2007

Clarke County School District AYP '07

Though it may seem otherwise, I do not particularly enjoy beating up on the Clarke County School District. It is just that the District’s continued poor academic performance, despite profligate spending, leaves me no reasonable alternative.

The good news is that the District does somewhat better at the elementary level, with 11 out of its 13 schools meeting AYP standards. The bad news is that none of its four middle or two high schools manages to do so. The District’s comments concerning 8 of its 19 schools not meeting AYP standards, in true bureaucratic fashion, essentially amounts to quibbles over how the numbers were calculated for a couple of specific schools.

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Commission Voting Sessions (part 3)

This article in the Banner-Herald indicates that the Commission voted down a proposal to require pre-registration of those wishing to offer public comment at its monthly voting sessions. Unfortunately, the article does not give the details of that vote. Nor has the “unofficial summary” of the session been posted by the Clerk of Commission’s office yet.

I am curious to see the details of the vote. I sent an e-mail message in opposition to the proposal to the mayor and commissioners on Tuesday (10 of 11 anyway, one commissioner does not have e-mail). By about lunch time on Thursday, I had received four responses (three expressing opposition to the proposal and one thanking me for my comments without expressing a view one way or the other). I also received one of those automated I’ll-get-back-to -you messages (Mr. Abbe has made his views at that subject known in another forum). I had already discussed the proposal with one commissioner who did not support it, so no response was expected from that individual. In fairness, I sent the message about noon and perhaps not everyone received and read it by Tuesday evening’s voting session (though I must say that most commissioners do not respond to my messages on pending agenda items, or even when I thank and/or compliment them for specific votes). Oh, well.

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Impertinent Observations

Last week, the Clarke County Board of Education adopted a budget of $118,290,754 for the 2007-2008 school year. That represents an increase of $641,248 over the tentative budget as originally proposed just a couple of months back. And so it goes.

Both Athens 101 and Athens World have taken note of a post I put up a couple of weeks ago, “Your Tax Dollars at Work,” concerning a specific property tax appeal and the Unified Government’s handling thereof. As I understand it, one of the county commissioners circulated the post to the others. It is nice to know that somebody is reading :)

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