Sunday, December 30, 2007

That For Which I Am Thankful

The TOA family is back at home after some holiday traveling and I find myself sitting at the keyboard in a reflective mood as I compose a final post for 2007.

As I read the news headlines, I cannot help but think how fortunate we are in this country to experience a peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another according to established and accepted procedures. Yes, we argue about candidates and policies, passionately so, but in the end we do not take to the streets to overthrow the government by force or jail those with whom we disagree.

In many parts of the world, and for pretty much all of history, such lawful and bloodless political succession is all but unknown. Some contemporary examples come to mind: in Russia, consider how Vladimir Putin is poised to retain power, regardless of the specific office he may inhabit; in Venezuela, consider how Hugo Chavez tried to rewrite that country’s constitution so as to remain president for life (and do not think that he has given up), in Pakistan, consider how Benazir Bhutto was assassinated; in Zimbabwe, consider how Robert Mugabe has all but outlawed political opposition; in Gaza, consider how Hamas and Fatah regularly engage in armed conflict (and they are ostensibly on the same side); in Cuba, consider how Fidel Castro simply installed his brother Raoul as leader.

Of course, all is not lost. Democratic principles and the rule of law have made great strides in eastern Europe over the past decade and a half. I fear, though, that we in the United States have lost sight of just how unique our political system is and, despite its many flaws, how thankful we should be for it.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Of Promises Not Kept

I find myself of two minds about the proposed expansion of the current landfill operated jointly by Athens-Clarke County and Oglethorpe County – a proposal that is a fait accompli for all intents and purposes. For details of the expansion, see here and here.

Like most others, I think that expanding the current landfill is far and away the best option available in terms of practicality and expense. The alternatives, namely those of constructing another landfill elsewhere (good luck with that one) or transferring our waste to some other government’s landfill, are problematic to say the least.

That said, however, is there not a more important issue involved? I cannot help but note that, once again, an explicit promise made on behalf of the Unified Government to those living in the peripheral areas of the county has proven to be completely worthless. By expanding the landfill, City Hall will break an agreement concerning its construction reached among the mayor of Athens-Clarke County ("chief elected official" in the nomenclature of the time), the chairman of the Oglethorpe County Commission, and the area’s residents made back in 1992, just a year after city-county unification.*

What strikes me is that the promise being broken was not an afterthought or appendage to the agreement, but rather its single most important feature, as revealed by its unmistakable prominence. Those interested can read the agreement for themselves here, courtesy of the Banner-Herald (see section 1.1).

The issue is not that of a local legislative body, or mayor as the case may be, limiting the actions of their successors; I fully understand the O.C.G.A. prohibition of that practice and agree with it’s rationale. The issue is not whether the agreement was legally binding. The issue, rather, is the trustworthiness of government in general and the Unified Government in particular - and by that I mean the conspicuous lack thereof. My point is that government’s reneging on this promise is much bigger than the specific case of the landfill.

Residents of the formerly unincorporated area of the county are going to get shafted - again. Yes, I know that I harp on this point with annoying regularity, but the folks down at City Hall keep providing me examples, as when they strip sewer lines out of the Service Delivery Plan (this has already happened to the Shoals Creek line and is about to happen to the Sandy Creek line), limit development in one house per ten acres in the AR zones (thereby reducing property values), charge the stormwater utility fee (to residents who are not connected to the sewer system and don’t live anywhere near a stormwater drain), take the better part of two decades to build much-needed fire stations (years after existing in-town stations were rebuilt, and in the case of Station #3 elaborately so), etc.

I concede that the current Mayor and Commission cannot win on the particular issue of the landfill – there is simply no good option available to them. But to the residents directly involved, and by extension the other residents of the formerly unincorporated areas of the county, does that really matter? They have seen this song and dance too many times before.

*As an aside, though I cannot verify it at the moment, my recollection is that several of the terms of the agreement were included so as to stave off a threatened lawsuit by the area’s residents concerning leakage and environmental damage causes by the county’s old landfill, which was located nearby.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Brief Reflections On Broun

The TOA family had the opportunity to chat with Representative Paul Broun and his wife, Niki, at last night’s Clarke County Republican Committee Christmas party. The discussion covered many of the issues mentioned by Blake over at the Banner-Herald’s blog, thereby prompting a couple of observations on my part.

The first is that, generally speaking, I see no benefit in having Republican primary challengers to a Republican incumbent. Of course, this assumes that the incumbent is doing a good job representing his/her constituency
- RINOs need not apply - and I think Broun is performing admirably in the House of Representatives. But, of course, would-be politicians run when and where they think they can win.

The second is that, regarding Broun specifically, I am eagerly looking forward to his reelection. During the recent campaign, the good doctor instituted a “Four-Way Test” regarding his role as a congressman. Says Broun’s official web site:

I will apply the following four-way test to every piece of legislation that comes before the House for a vote:

1) Is it Moral/Right?
2) Is it Constitutional?
3) Is it Necessary?
4) Is it Affordable?

Broun is living up to his billing as a small-government conservative, or a classical liberal if you prefer. That being the case, he will contnue to have my full support.

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Taking Care Of Business – with Mike Huckabee

The TOA family trekked over to South Carolina last Saturday to see Mike Huckabee at a campaign appearance held at the University Center of Greenville (thanks to David Ballard and the UGA College Republicans for letting us tag along).

Upon taking the stage, the Governor joined the band, made up mostly of local high school students, that had been entertaining those assembled, and played bass for a rendition of the 1970s BTO classic mentioned above (and yes, I had that album).

Huckabee delivered a good stump speech in which he displayed his trademark wit and humor. It was a campaign appearance designed to rev up his supporters, not a policy address, so he did not really get into details, save for his new nine-point “
Secure America” plan dealing with border security and immigration issues.

After pressing the flesh with the crowd following his talk, Huckabee was kind enough to spend a few minutes with the UGA College Republicans for pictures and autographs (and yes, we got to say a few words to him and shake his hand).

My wife lovely, Ann, took the video featured above that highlights the Governor's affable demeanor (sorry that I took so long to post it, but I had some codec/format problems).

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Whither Preemption?

The Unified Government’s ordinance prohibiting the carrying of firearms in local parks is facing a legal challenge. The practice is specifically prohibited by §1-10-4(3) of the Unified Government’s Code of Ordinances.

On the other hand, Georgia’s statewide preemption law is clear: O.C.G.A. §16-11-173(b)(1) explicitly states:

No county or municipal corporation, by zoning or by ordinance, resolution, or other enactment, shall regulate in any manner gun shows; the possession, ownership, transport, carrying, transfer, sale, purchase, licensing, or registration of firearms or components of firearms; firearms dealers; or dealers in firearms components.

The Attorney General’s office issued an unofficial opinion in 1996, U96-22 (it used to be here - but apparently no longer - so try here instead), in response to an inquiry from a member of the state legislature. The opinion says, in part:

The provisions of O.C.G.A. Section 16-11-127, which prohibit the carrying of deadly weapons to or at public gatherings, while not limited in application to the enumerated places and functions in the statute, do not apply to every place in which the public may be present, but only to those places in which the public is gathered.


You have recently written my office with a query regarding the scope of O.C.G.A. Section 16-11-127. Specifically, you relate that a constituent has apparently been informed by various officials that this Code Section prohibits the possession of a handgun by an individual (even with a firearms permit issued under O.C.G.A. Section 16-11-129) in any place open to the public because, if members of the public are present, this constitutes a "gathering" of the "public" and is thus prohibited. For the following reasons, I do not believe that this construction is the appropriate one.

Code Section 16-11-127 prohibits the carrying of any deadly weapon (not just a handgun) at or to a public gathering. The Section enumerates five areas which are, by operation of law, public gatherings. Those are athletic or sporting events, churches or church functions, political rallies or functions, publicly owned or operated buildings, and establishments at which alcoholic beverages are sold for consumption on the premises. The Code Section also indicates that the definition of public gathering is not limited to these five specific areas. O.C.G.A. Section 16-11-127(b). Therefore, your inquiry turns on this question: what other places are public gatherings at which the possession of a deadly weapon is prohibited? In State v. Burns, 200 Ga. App. 16 (1991), the Court of Appeals, when faced with this very question, held that the focus should be on the "gathering" rather than on the "place." Thus, the Code Section applies when people are gathered or will gather for a particular function, but does not apply simply because a weapon is otherwise lawfully carried to a public place where people may be present.

I would assume that the defense of the local ordinance would be that a publicly owned park is analogous to a publicly owned building. It would be interesting to see if any case law supports such an interpretation; a quick search revealed no such cases. Unless a public park is considered to be the same as a public building, the Attorney General's opinion, unofficial thourgh is may have been, would seem to run counter to the local ordinance.

For what it is worth, GeorgiaCarry
has an excellent record regarding its challenges to local ordinances. Given the clarity of the state Code, that should not be surprising. I am hoping that the Unified Government will see the handwriting on the wall and not fight the court challenge to its ordinance – but I’m not betting on it.

This is not a new issue; most of this information was originally posted over at
Athens Chat more than a year ago.

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Here Comes The Judge (at long last)

Last week, after months of anticipation, former Municipal Court Judge Ethelyn Simpson was named to the second judgeship for the recently expanded Athens-Clarke County State Court, a position in which she occasionally subbed for the current lone judge, Kent Lawrence.

Though I harbor no animus toward any of the other three finalists, I found this appointment by Governor Perdue particularly gratifying because Judge Simpson had been sacked by the Mayor and Commission back in 2005 in the concluding act of the rental registration debacle, ostensibly because - contrary to the Unified Government's wishes - she was not a sufficiently reliable part of the "enforcement team."

Gotta love it.

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Executive Decisions

One observation that was missed by pretty much all of the politicos and commentators concerning last year’s local legislative elections was the fact that every county commissioner and school board member who ran for reelection did so unopposed.

Regarding the Athens-Clarke County Commission, two candidates ran for an open seat in District 1 (including yours truly) and four ran for the open seat in District 9 (with one subsequently dropping out), but the incumbents in Districts 3, 5, and 7 were returned to office merely by qualifying for reelection. The same held true for the Board of Education, with the only contested race being for an open seat in District 5, which drew two contestants. The incumbents in Districts 1, 3, 7, and 9 were reelected without opposition.

The sole incumbent who ran for reelection with opposition was the mayor, facing four challengers (one of whom dropped out prior to the election). Note that I’m concerning myself with major local offices, not judicial or other arcane ones.

The reason for bringing this up can be found in today’s Banner-Herald. Blake has a story about Commissioner Carl Jordan calling for the mayor’s position to be elevated from a part-time one paying $45,000/year to a full-time one paying $75,000-85-000/year, ostensibly to attract qualified candidates.

I frequently agree with Carl, particularly on fiscal issues, and I understand his reasoning. However, given our most recent election, I’m not so sure about the rationale on this one. On the other hand, I think that Carl is entirely correct in that implementation of the Step F drought management plan will be problematic (at best).

If, as the article states, the mayor’s power, responsibilities, and salary all fall in the middle of the statewide spread, then there doesn’t seem to be a problem. Even so, I realize that it requires quite a bit of time and effort to be a good mayor or commissioner and that perhaps we have moved beyond the time when a part-time government sufficed. On the other hand, of course, a cynic may argue that if the Unified Government did not try to regulate, ban, or otherwise micromanage every issue with which it came in to contact, perhaps the workload on the mayor and commissioners would not be so great (sorry, I just had to get that one in).

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Party with the Party

Everyone is invited to attend the Clarke County Republican Committee’s annual Christmas party. Festivities run from 7:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, 13 December. The location is the Athena Room of the Holiday Inn on Broad Street. Light finger food and non-alcoholic beverages will be provided free of charge. A cash bar will be available.

By the way, the TOA family will be at the Georgia Republican Party’s annual holiday soiree at the InterContinental Hotel Buckhead tomorrow evening. Any of you other (evil) GOP types who may be there, look us up and say “hi."

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Monday, December 3, 2007

Georgia at #6 (and I don’t mean football)

Instead, I mean relative delegation strength at the Republican National Convention slated for next September in St. Paul. According to the formula prescribed by the RNC, Georgia’s allocation to the 2008 Convention totals 72 delegates, meaning that it will be the sixth largest state delegation in attendance (along with 69 alternates; national committee member slots do not get alternates, thus accounting for why there are three fewer alternates than delegates).

Had some other states (Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Wyoming) not been penalized delegates by holding their primaries too early, Georgia would have had the seventh largest delegation.
Though it is not quite the seventh largest state in terms of population, Georgia gets the maximum allowable number of “at large” delegates, thereby elevating the delegation’s strength accordingly. By opting not to jump the gun, Georgia moved ahead of Florida (which dropped from third to a tie for eleventh).

By my reading of the Convention’s Preliminary Call, the breakdowns are like this:

Original delegate allocation by Rule 13
1. California 173
2. Texas 140
3. Florida 114
4. New York 101
5. Ohio 88
6. Pennsylvania 74
7. Georgia 72
8. Illinois 70
9. North Carolina 69
10. Virginia 63

Final delegate allocation after Rule 16 sanctions
1. California 173
2. Texas 140
3. New York 101
4. Ohio 88
5. Pennsylvania 74
6. Georgia 72
7. Illinois 70
8. North Carolina 69
9. Virginia 63
10. Missouri 58

Those so inclined can review the applicable Rules for themselves: the appointment of delegates and alternates is covered by Rule 13(a) and (b), the timing of primaries is dictated by Rule15(b), and the penalty for violations can be found in Rule 16(a).

Speaking of football, I’m not really disappointed. If someone had told me after the Tennessee game that we would finish the season 10-2 and ranked #5 in the BCS, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. And as a two-time Georgia alumni I know that you can’t spell sugar without UGA. Go Dawgs!

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