Friday, August 29, 2008

CCBOE - Call Your Office

Now that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has finally dropped the hammer on the Clayton County School District, I hope that the Clarke County Board of Education has taken notice. I hear that Clayton County is only the third school district to lose its accreditation in the last 40 years. Given the sorry state of public education across the country, that seems like far too few to me (but that is another issue).

Readers should remember that, just a couple of weeks ago, the Board summarily rejected a package of ethics policy reforms strongly recommended by SACS. The recommendations came after the local superintendent threatened to resign if the Board did not cease interfering in the day to day operations of the District, primarily regarding personnel matters.

Be that as it may, I will take the opportunity to again note that, despite the administrative and accreditation messes in which it finds itself, the Clayton County School District does just as good a job of educating its students as does its Classic City counterpart -- and at considerably less expense -- though I acknowledge that such a comparison may be damning by faint praise . As an aside, back in February I argued that public school accreditation, at least insofar as academic achievement is concerned, may be a meaningless concept.

As evidence that Clayton County compares favorably with Clarke County, for far less money, consider the following:

Per Pupil Expenditures FY 2007
Clayton County $7453.37
Clarke County $10,746.94

AYP 2007-2008
Clayton County 50.8%
Clarke County 15.8%

National Test Scores and Graduation Rates 2006-2007

ACT Composite
Clayton County 17.2
Clarke County 18.2

SAT (verbal and math)

Clayton County 866
Clarke County 961

Graduation Rate
Clayton County 71.8%
Clarke County 58.4%

Like I said, I hope that the folks over on Mitchell Bridge Road are paying attention.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Some Thoughts On Bob Barr

I just watched Glenn Beck’s interview of Bob Barr. The candidate impressed me with his comments and his answers to Beck’s questions. Of particular note was his admission that he is trying to transform the Libertarian Party from a debating society into a real political party.

Barr and I have traversed the same ground, but in opposite directions. He went from conservative Republican to Libertarian, whereas I went from Libertarian to libertarian Republican. I left for the very reason that Barr cited as being characteristic of the “old” LP; I found it fixated on abstract political theory and ideological purity rather than the practical realities of electoral politics (granted, this was circa 1990s). If you can’t get your candidates elected your policies are irrelevant, even if you are right - as the Libertarians frequently are.

For what it is worth, Barr and I met several times at various Georgia GOP functions in years past. He sometimes came across as a bit of a flake (unlike me, of course - not that he should have any recollection whatsoever of me). Even so, I saw no indications of any “flakiness” on the Beck program.

If Georgia were a slam dunk for either Barack Obama or John McCain, I would consider voting for Barr as an act of protest. If, as I keep hearing, the state’s 15 electoral votes are up for grabs (with the caveat that the claim may just be wishful thinking on the part of the Dems), that won’t happen. If the race is that close, any vote for Barr would mean one fewer vote needed for Obama to win – therefore I must vote for McCain.

Even so, I think that Barr should be included in the upcoming presidential debates.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Turn Out The Lights (the party’s over?)

Those who do not live in Athens-Clarke County may be unaware that the Commission is debating a plan to eliminate 1216 of the Unified Government’s 6094 streetlights (just under 20%) in what is touted as a cost savings move.

As is my wont, I have some observations on the matter:

1) Doesn’t such a plan undercut the primary functions expected of a local government, namely the provision of basic services (police, fire, sewer, etc.)? According to my math, the proposed savings to the county comes out to approximately 1/10 of 1% of the FY ’09 budget. Given the public safety implications in terms of both nighttime driving (remember all of those sparkly new - and expensive - street signs that were sprinkled around the county a while back?) and crime prevention, does eliminating streetlights to save a single penny on every $10 make objective sense?

2) The specific streetlights to be eliminated originally were to be selected through a set of criteria developed by Transportation and Public Works staff and approved by the Commission earlier this month. So far, so good. Once the actual locations of streetlights slated to fall under the budget ax came out, however, the inevitable grumbling about how the proposed deletions were distributed ensued
(see the locations by either map or list). Of course, this means that the debate will in all likelihood degenerate into yet another juvenile political squabble leading up to the Commission’s vote next month.

3) Some are blaming the darkening of our fair city on “mindless tax-slashing.” Would that it were so. I understand that point that the writer tries to make, but he errs in a important regard – the simple fact is that the Commission’s action is not based on anything even remotely resembling a tax cut. Property taxes went up substantially this year by virtue of both increased reassessments and a millage rate increase. While it is true that the eventual amount of the millage rate increase is not as high as originally proposed, to characterize it as a “cut” is absurd. The problem with government, at all levels, is not a lack of revenue, but unrestrained spending. The Unified Government’s budget for FY ’09 is many millions more than that for FY ’08. I assure you that “tax slashing” is not the culprit here.

Yes, I know that I am a broken record on these points – but so be it. And I will once again take the opportunity to note that my family lives in what is euphemistically called the “general services” district (i.e. the formerly unincorporated area of the county), getting precious little in the way of basic services. The only street light near our house is the one for which we pay Georgia Power Company every month out of our own pockets.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

We Don’t Need No Stinking Ethics

I must confess my utter astonishment upon reading that the Clarke County Board of Education voted down all five of the proposed ethics policy revisions stemming from Superintendent James Simms’ threatened resignation of two months ago.

Quite apart from the public and editorial calls for the Board to address these issues, its votes are all the more disturbing because such revisions to the Clarke County School District’s policies are integral to the recommendations made by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to repair the "rift" between the Board and the District’s administration
(and yes, the specter of the Clayton County School District accreditation debacle grows by the day).

The proposed revisions, which strike me as entirely uncontroversial (see section F under Old Business, pages 27-35 of the PDF), concern the specific areas of:

Board Ethics
Board Member Conflict of Interest
Administrative Personnel Positions
Professional Personnel Transfer
Administrative Personnel Transfer

My reading of the proposed revisions is that they would be relatively minor in nature, merely serving to bring local policies more in line with the Standards for Local Boards of Education as developed by the Georgia School Boards Association. By that, I mean drawing a distinction between policy adoption and general oversight, which should be the responsibilities of the Board, and day to day personnel and administrative decisions, which should be the responsibilities of the Superintendent.

Given the consistent academic underachievement of the Clarke County School District’s students, the scandalous amount of money required to purchase that underachievement, and the administrative chaos that continues to reign on Mitchell Bridge Road, I advise voters to carefully consider their choices this coming November.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Nonpartisan Elections in The OC (and elsewhere)

I thought that I has penned my last concerning nonpartisan local elections years ago. Alas, it was not to be. The reason for dredging the matter up again is that shifting voting patterns and growing frustrations over having to choose one primary ballot over the other have prompted calls for county commissioners to be elected on a nonpartisan basis in some of the “regular” counties in the area.

This is a bandwagon on which I have been for years (in the immortal words of Bruce Willis’ John McClane, “Welcome to the party, pal.”). What follows is a reposting of comments I made over at Jmac’s in response to his take on the issue:

We were able to institute nonpartisan elections for the Athens-Clarke County Commission due to the fact that we have a unified (or "consolidated") city-county government.

I wrote three articles on the issue of nonpartisan elections back in 2003-2004 for Athens Weekly News, in which I detailed the lengthy history of the idea in Clarke County and demolished some of the hysterical arguments against changing from partisan to nonpartisan elections for the Commission (contrary to what some would have had you believe, it was not a recent plot devised by the evil GOP). Also, with all due humility, I wiped up the floor with the Democrat Party and Green Party representatives at a forum concerning nonpartisan elections held at Athens Regional Library prior to the local referendum (I was in favor of nonpartisan elections and the other two were not).

Contrary to what many believe, the Constitution is silent on the matter of partisan versus nonpartisan elections for county commissioners. Instead, the state’s code governs; says O.C.G.A. 21-2-139(a), in part:

"Notwithstanding any other provisions of this chapter to the contrary, the General Assembly may provide by local Act for the election in nonpartisan elections of candidates to fill county judicial offices, offices of local school boards, and offices of consolidated governments which are filled by the vote of the electors of said county or political subdivision."

The presumption is that, since county governments generally are not specified in the code section, they must hold partisan elections for their offices by default. Thus, for a regular county government, such as that in Oconee County, to change to nonpartisan elections, the state’s code would have to be changed to allow for county governments generally to pursue the change through local legislation in the General Assembly.

Of particular relevance to the current discussion are the final few paragraphs from the Banner-Herald’s write-up of the forum. Unfortunately, Athens Weekly News is defunct and its web site is no more. After their initial appearance it print, the three articles were posted on the web site of the Committee for Nonpartisan Elections, a local group pushing for the referendum's adoption.

For what it is worth, the ACCG included a plank in its legislative agenda for some years calling for the nonpartisan elections of county commissioners, only dropping it after something approaching unanimity among its members could not be attained. As noted by Scott Berry in the Banner-Herald, the GSA has similarly advocated nonpartisan elections for the office of county sheriff.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Shafer For Lieutenant Governor?

There has been speculation in the blogosphere of late concerning a possible run for the state’s number two office by State Senator David Shafer (Republican – 48th District, which encompasses parts of Fulton and Gwinnett Counties). See Erick’s post at Peach Pundit and Jmac’s at Safe As Houses.

I’ve chatted with Shafer at various Republican Party of Georgia functions, finding him to be a intelligent and personable fellow. He shares my limited government, fiscally conservative philosophy - traits evidenced by his early and continued involvement in the Georgia chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus.

As validation of that philosophy, consider that in the most recent legislative term Shafer sponsored SB 12, a measure calling for the “periodic application of zero-based budgeting” to state government agencies and SB 29, which would provide for a dedicated web site designed to make the state’s budget more accessible to the public.

Those (pitiful souls) who keep up with such things will immediately recognize that these ideas are near and dear to my heart. I advocated zero-based budgeting for the United Government as part of my platform for Commission back in 2006 and, as my blog postings will attest, have routinely urged the Clarke County School District to make its budget more available for public scrutiny.

Thus, should the political constellations align as anticipated, I will fully support Shafer for the GOP’s lieutenant governor nomination in 2010.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been contacted about lending a hand to a potential Shafer campaign - a request to which I readily agreed. Given our ideological affinity, though, I daresay that I would have supported his candidacy in any event.

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