The Georgia General Assembly is once again going to debate ethics reform, at least create the appearance of a debate. It is remarkable that there is resistance to limiting what lobbyists can spend on our elected officials in order to “inform” and keep them abreast of issues. Recall that House Speaker David Ralston took his family to Europe during the Thanksgiving holiday in 2010. Ralston defended the $17,000 trip, paid for by a lobbyist with an interest in transportation projects, by saying that he was there to look at different countries’ systems to provide some ideas for Georgia. Ralston responded, when asked why his wife and children accompanied him, by saying that he wasn’t going to spend Thanksgiving away from his family. I have always wondered what our American fighting men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan thought about Ralston’s hardship. But the best news stemming from this trip is that none of the cost of the trip and largess lavished on Ralston and his family had, or would have, any influence on his decision making. At least that’s what he said. Ralston maintains that the citizens should decide whether a legislator is being influenced and vote him out of office, but that no laws should limit how much is spent on legislators, who presumably do their best thinking over steaks, lobsters, lavish country clubs, sporting events, and the like.
Angela Spier, a former Public Service Commissioner, I presume would disagree with Ralston. She took money from no special interests whatsoever. If a lobbyist wanted to dine her, my understanding is that she would tell him to bring his bologna sandwich to her office, and she would bring hers, where the two would eat in and discuss issues. I wonder how many lobbyists took her up on that offer. Angela Spier represents the high water mark for ethics, and I hope that better judgment than David Ralston’s prevails at the capitol.
In a MDJ story dated 1/10/2012, “Grand jury suggests higher pay for police officers”, there were 22 comments underneath it at the time I wrote this, almost all negative, and all written by anonymous writers. Admittedly, I have a more positive opinion about paying police for the job they do for us, so at least I shouldn’t fear a knock on my door by one of Cobb’s finest for being on the wrong side of this issue. But it baffles me that even in responding to innocuous newspaper stories, most commentators hide behind anonymity and make some of the nastiest personal attacks about the subjects of an article or column. It would be nice to know who these folks are so that the readers can determine if the writer has a personal agenda, if it is a political opponent, or if there is something else driving the attacks. Same for those writers who support the people named in a story---we should know if they too have some personal interest or connection. I don’t like a lot of our elected officials at all levels any more than most other people, but I give them credit for putting their names out there when they float something controversial. I give them credit for letting the public jump on them and their ideas, for not hiding in a bunker when they say something likely to generate controversy. I think more of us would like to see some names behind the comments. Somehow I suspect that the nasty tone of many of them will become more civilized; they might not want their children, spouses and friends to see the kind of personal attacks that might otherwise be made on them. Perhaps too, some of these anonymous writers, who so often seem to be closet pundits on any subject, should give the rest of us the benefit of their knowledge, wisdom and experience, and run for office themselves.
Tim Lee’s explanation for his trip to Israel on the nickel of a special interest group is more than laughable; it is contemptible. He says that it will help him deal with issues related to the Jewish community. I wonder if he has reached out to some of Cobb’s Jewish leaders and members to first identify what particular issues they have that other religious groups don’t have. Since when does a county commissioner deal with problems that are usually found on the national level? One exception, that does not apply to Lee or other locally elected officials, is the specialized training that Israel provides to local law enforcement to fight terrorism. Lee made a weak attempt in his MDJ interview to stress the importance of understanding Israel’s immigration issues. Perhaps if he studied a little of Israel’s history he would know about the Law or Return that gives every Jew in the world the right to immigrate to Israel, that under the law they are conferred automatic citizenship. There is no analogy to the illegal aliens that are found in Cobb County. The problems are hardly the same.
The other issue that should be of concern to all Cobb citizens is why Project Interchange would pay for Lee’s trip. Does PI have a special interest that Lee could potentially help them with on a local level? Does PI only offer to pay for elected officials or those in government that can dispense some kind of largesse or favors? Surely PI wouldn’t fund these trips if there wasn’t something in it for them. If they are so generous, perhaps I or anyone else can sign up for the opportunity. Lastly, Lee admits that his re-election campaign picked up the $350 that he was required to apply to the total cost. Are you kidding? He couldn’t pay for it himself? Do his donors know that he is using their money for this kind of “business?” A review of his past campaign disclosures also reveals that his Kiwanis dues have been paid from the same source. At a salary of $135,000 from the taxpayers, does the chairman ever spend his own money?
We now have three announced candidates running for Cobb Commission Chairman, and a fourth will soon announce according to the MDJ. The latest to jump in, Mike Boyce, is a retired marine colonel. So for now we have two candidates from New York, the incumbent Tim Lee, and former chairman Bill Byrne. Boyce doesn’t claim a state because he grew up in a military family that moved around a lot. He has strong leadership experience, did budget analysis work in the Pentagon, and used his military experience to govern an entity in Iraq. Let the New Yorkers go back to New York and run for office! :) (I confess to being from Brooklyn and Staten Island, but I have no interest in running for office. I just want to enjoy the good southern life under the leadership of someone home grown, or at least nearby.)
If this story is true as reported to me, have some people reached a new low? I get the MDJ and the Atlanta newspaper delivered each morning and welcome the sound of their cars knowing that the newspapers are waiting for me. These carriers get up at an ungodly hour, and make their rounds in the dark and all kinds of adverse weather while most of us sleep comfortably. And they don’t make the money that those in gated communities do. Perhaps the homeowner in this instance, instead of calling the MDJ to complain, could have shown some seasonal spirit and offered to help defray the cost of the repair. I imagine, though, that the homeowner never experienced hard times and wouldn’t appreciate the plight of the less fortunate.
Cobb County has had a commission chairman for the past 20 years or so that is either from New York or New Jersey. If no one else jumps into the race next year, we will have another four years of a New York transplant. (I am a native of Brooklyn and Staten Island.) Aren’t there any home grown folks that feel up to governing?
Originally published November 11, 2011.
On Monday, November 7th , Don (the Godfather) Jenacova and I hosted a Q & A meeting with Congressman Tom Price at Panera Bread near the Loop on Upper Roswell Road. We had sixty people attend, the outer limit of what we hoped for in order to keep it manageable. The format was for Tom to take five minutes to provide his overview of the problems our nation faces and what he is trying to do about it. After that the meeting was turned over to the very eclectic audience. Questions were drawn from a hat of those who submitted their names. Most got their question asked. There were no softballs. Tom handled some tough questions respectfully, and while not everyone agreed with him, I think it’s safe to say that all were pleased with his effort to address the issues. This format allowed for the voters to decide what is important, and to put their elected representative’s feet to the fire. It also alerted Tom to some things that are bothering his constituents, and I suspect that he may have been surprised by some of the questions.