Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 25, 2012

Cobb County Friends of Shelter Animals is raising funds to export 16 dogs to Minnesota, where apparently there’s a shortage of adoptable animals. Online donations are processed through Dogs on Death Row, who is matching all donations. It’s a dogpocalypse out there in the shelters, where most facilities are packed and receiving more animals every day. The only way to accomodate the influx is through aggressive euthanasia.

Gucci is a little lab mix puppy who is available for rescue or adoption from the Floyd County Animal Shelter in Rome. He should be considered in urgent need.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Robert Draper has written a long article in The Atlantic about redistricting that will be of interest to a broad audience, from those for whom it will be “Redistricting 101” to those who have been in the trenches, drawing maps with crayons on the back of an envelope, or with Maptitude. Draper was also interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air about his article, and it’s a good listen.

Redistricing led to some of the problems in Fulton County voting during the primary elections, including a precinct that reported 3300% turnout. Also a possible problem? An Elections director who thought he could serve ten days in jail without anyone noticing.

Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections has accepted the resignation of its embattled department director, Sam Westmoreland.

At a special-called meeting Monday where Westmoreland was expected to be terminated, the 5-member board deliberated in closed session for about 45 minutes before voting unanimously to accept his resignation. He sent his resignation letter Saturday while incarcerated at the Alpharetta jail.

Westmoreland just finished a 10-day stint for violating probation on a 2009 DUI charge, and he’s now awaiting transfer to the Laurens County jail, in middle Georgia, for failing to show up for court after a 2008 DUI there.

“After much reflection,” Westmoreland’s letter says, “I believe it is in the department’s best interest to have a leader that enjoys the full support of this board as we move forward toward this important general election.”

Several board members have said they were unaware their director had to serve time in jail until Sept. 19, five days into his incarceration [emphasis added]. Edmond said they knew he had received a Fulton County DUI, but thought his sentencing was complete. The board only learned of the Laurens County case last week, the chairman said.

According to the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office, a warrant was issued for Westmoreland’s arrest after he failed to appear in court there on Sept. 10 in connection with a Sept. 15, 2008, DUI charge in that county, also involving drugs.

Two pro-tips here: first, if you think you can get away with being absent from work for ten days without explanation, either your supervisors may be letting you get away with too much or you’ve already given up; second, if you fax in your resignation from jail, you can bet it will be accepted post haste.

Dennis O’Hayer has an interview with Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts about what kind of foulups issues we may look forward to in the General Election.

“I’m more confident today than I was last week, because of the actions that the  [Elections] Board took today, specifically bringing in an interim [director] and agreeing to bring in some outside consultants….and we will be taking advantage of the Secretary of State’s offer to help us.”

The AJC has more about the impending train wreck:

staffers will be adjusting to new leadership and directives as early voting begins Oct. 15. Fulton County has a recent history of elections difficulties and is currently part of nine open investigations by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

Georgia’s largest county, Fulton includes nearly 10 percent of the state population. Election problems in Fulton could affect the Obama-Romney race, casting the state and county in a negative light worldwide.

Fulton drew heat in the Obama-McCain election four years ago, when the office’s absentee ballot processing went so slow that the county had to hire FedEx to ship nearly 4,000 ballots to voters overnight, costing more than $300,000.

Then, after closing the polls, workers spent 53 hours in a warehouse counting absentee and provisional ballots. At the time, the results of a U.S. Senate race hung in the balance.

“Regardless of this unfortunate circumstance,” Secretary of State Brian Kemp said in a written statement, “Fulton County still has a legal obligation to provide safe and secure elections. Our office will work with them as closely as possible to make sure this takes place on Nov. 6.”

Serious policy proposal here for the General Assembly: consider whether there should be a mechanism for the Governor or Secretary of State to either suspend or remove local Elections Board members and administer elections where there is a history of botched voting administration and a reasonable basis to suspect the next election will be compromised.

Particularly topical given the issues in Fulton is a book signing tomorrow, September 26, 2012 from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM, with former member of the Federal Election Commission Hans von Spakovsky and his new book, Who’s Counting?: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk, at Capital Grille in Buckhead, located at 255 E. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta, GA 30305.

Hans von Spakovsky is a former Chairman of the Fulton County Republican Party and served on the Fulton County Elections Board. He is a graduate of the Coverdell Leadership Institute and currently serves at the Heritage Foundation as Senior Legal Fellow, where he manages the Civil Justice Reform Initiative. Please R.s.v.p. to Kathryn Gartland.

Chalk one up for Georgia Republican Party Chairman Sue Everhart. Last week she called the Obama campaign’s print of a flag with the Obama campaign logo “utterly disrespectful and outrageous.” The Democrats called her and the GOP hypocrites

“I think this is desecration, just like over in Egypt and these places that are burning our flag, stomping on the flag.  This is a symbol of our country,” Georgia GOP Chairwoman Sue Everhart told Channel 2’s Lori Geary.

The Obama campaign is selling its print for $35.

“If ever a time we should be flying old glory is now, not coming up with some sales pitch to sell the Obama flag. Does he think he is the most important thing that has ever happened to the United States of America?  I’m going to start calling him ‘King Obama’ instead of ‘President Obama,’” Everhart said.

She has called on Democrats to denounce the campaign print.

Georgia Democratic Chairman Mike Berlon said….“I think it’s a little bit disingenuous to stand up and beat your chest and say, ‘Oh my God, this is an abomination,’ when the Republican Party has been doing it for years.”

But over the weekend, the flag print disappeared from the Obama campaign website.

A page where the flag was now returns an error page. A cached version of the website still shows the product but returns a error page when attempting to add the item to the cart. An Obama campaign aide says the item quickly sold out and that sold out items are automatically removed. However, a similar item to the flag print that was also sold out was not automatically removed and appears on the site with “out of stock” below it.

Former Dougasville Mayor Mickey Thompson has been indicted for 91 counts of theft, in an indictment alleging he took more than $28,000 in payments for the city for meetings he did not attend or for which he was not entitled to payment.

As a result of the [Douglas County] Sentinel investigation, we asked the GBI to investigate and that is what I presented to the grand jury,” [District Attorney David] McDade said. “He had submitted meetings and received payments for 91 meetings that he was not entitled to under city ordinance. The way it was set up, he was the sole arbiter in deciding what was paid and what wasn’t.”

McDade said that the meetings ranged from ribbon cuttings, luncheons, bus tours, swearings in of other officials and phone meetings that are not allowed by city statute.

Unlike every municipality with a similar population in the metro area, where a straight salary is paid to elected officials, the mayor and council members in Douglasville are compensated based on meeting attendance. Council members are paid $125 per meeting, with the mayor receiving $313 per meeting. The ordinance gives a very specific list of meetings that are eligible for payment. In addition to paying by roll call, elected officials can also turn in meetings that they have attended as an invoice for payment.

That ordinance was enacted in 1997 and clarified in 2007 and a provision that reads “In Sections One, Two, Three and Four, ‘attended’ means the elected official’s personal physical presence at more than half the duration of a particular meeting or session; ‘attended’ does not mean or include participation via electronic means.”

The GBI report found Thompson asked for and received payments for 91 meetings since 2007 that did not appear to be appropriate for payment under city statute. Many of those meetings were tele-conferences, that clearly do not fit criteria for payment.

The probe also found that every Douglasville elected official with the exception of current Douglasville Mayor Harvey Persons was paid for and kept payments for meetings that did not fit the city’s defined criteria. The payments ranged from one meeting for one current council member, to more than 20 for others, meaning that council members received from $125 to $2,500 they were not entitled to under the law that they were sworn to uphold.

The council members were not indicted because some had been told to submit anything that could possibly be a meeting and a determination would be made on payment. Others didn’t turn in the “illegal meetings” but were paid improperly nonetheless.

Mike Miller was locked in a tight primary race with Bob Snelling and Thompson for the newly created GOP House District 66 seat. He agreed that even allegations cause distrust, but stressed that these are allegations.

“Its kind of an interesting set of circumstances,” Miller said. “We put this to the voters because our campaign was aware of the situation with Thompson in the primaries and we believed it was important for our constituents to know. But as a lawyer, it’s important to trust our criminal justice system. That holds that those who are accused are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

You might recall that the Republican primary election saw some nastiness between Thompson and Miller; former State Rep. Bob Snelling won the primary runoff against Miller.

The Douglas County Sentinel, which broke the story, opines that the City should be reimbursed for all incorrect payments made to officials, and fix the goofy “pay per meeting” system.

Speaking of ethics, Governor Nathan Deal’s campaign is seeking attorney fees from George Anderson, who filed ethics complaints against Deal

On Sept. 20, Governor Nathan Deal filed for attorney’s fees against George Anderson, claiming that Anderson “filed unsubstantiated, as well as, frivolous accusations concerning payments to Southern Magnolia LLC, alleging kickbacks to Respondent, untrue allegations of personal profit from campaign funds, as well as, allegations regarding good friend and appointee Patrick Millsaps to the State Ethics Commission.”

Local businessman and concerned Gwinnett County resident Kenneth Stepp believes the complaint and others like it are indeed frivolous, and take up taxpayer money and time in the courts. He has launched a nonprofit called Gwinnett Ethics in response to what he sees as a series of frivolous ethics complaints by Ethics in Government Director George Anderson and others like him.

Stepp’s nonprofit is pursuing a change in law that would require an “under oath” amendment. The proposed amendment would require those who file ethics complaints to divulge who, if anyone, is paying them.

I guess we’ll file this one under “Ethics” too. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle says Republicans don’t have to cheat to win in November.

Members of the state Senate Republican Caucus and some of their very best friends will spend two days in Adairsville this week to play golf and display their expertise with shotguns.

One can pay $500 for a dinner-time chat, but the main events on Wednesday and Thursday are open only to those willing to give $2,500 to $10,000 to the caucus’ campaign arm, the Georgia Republican Senatorial Trust.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has sent an email to Republicans to inform them, in very strong language, that he’s not going.

He has problems with the way $140,000 of caucus money was handed to an allegedly independent committee – based in North Carolina – to defend GOP senators from primary challengers this summer.

But most specifically at issue is the Trust’s decision earlier this year to put its cash in the hands of the independent political committee.

In a July email to their fellow senators, three Republican senate leaders – Rogers, Bill Cowsert of Athens, and Greg Goggans of Douglas – explained that they had given the committee not just the cash, but the message to voters that they wanted delivered, and a list of the incumbents to be protected.

“This is completely legal and does not violate any finance campaign laws,” the three wrote.

Cagle apparently thinks that there’s a high probability that they’re wrong.

In a surprise to no one, campaign signs are being stolen everywhere in Thomas County.

Did you hear the one about when the Savannah City Council tried to hold an illegal meeting  but messed up and inadvertantly complied with the law?

SAVANNAH CITY Council got lucky last week. Each of its members could have been nailed with up to $6,000 in fines if state officials determined that the local group violated Georgia’s open meetings law on Sept. 2

But because one council member was late in arriving on that date, a quorum wasn’t present. Hence, no technical violation occurred, according to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.

Yet that Sept. 20 finding from the state is of little comfort. Just because city officials attempted to hold an illegal meeting, and failed, is inexcusable considering City Hall’s history.

And it hardly “affirmed” the city’s actions on that date, as City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney said.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Stefan Ritter spelled it out in plain language in his Sept. 20 letter to Ms. Small-Toney. “From this Office’s review of the materials provided by Mayor Jackson, it is evident that an attempt was made to hold a meeting in violation of the Open Meetings Act, since a meeting was called without notice or an agenda and without making it open to the general public.

“Were this meeting to have occurred, it would have been a serious violation of the Act, potentially subjecting the City, yourself, and the council members to fines up to $6,000. It would also have been a substantial breach of the public trust, since the public and the press rely on transparency in government to know what their officials are doing.”

He stated the attorney general’s office was willing to accept the city’s claim that, though five council members attended, they were not all in the room at the same time. “Thus, under the circumstances, an illegal meeting was narrowly averted only by happenstance, not by plan,” Mr. Ritter wrote.

A group of solar advocates and vendors has proposed a solar utility that would set up a solar farm and sell electricity directly to end users via the interstate electrical grid.

To proceed with its long-range plan of developing 2 gigawatts of solar power, the start-up, Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., wants to start by building an 80-megawatt “solar farm” near Milledgeville as soon as it gets a green light from the Georgia Public Service Commission.

“There are obstacles. There’s no question there are obstacles, but you have to look at the rewards,” GaSU President Robert E. Green said at a Capitol news conference. “We don’t know what it’s going to take, but we are prepared to go through legislative action if necessary.”

Legislative action is indeed likely to be necessary, according to observers. A 40-year-old law divides the state up and gives regional monopolies to Georgia Power, the electric-membership cooperatives and nearly 50 cities.

GaSU could build its solar farm without action by the legislature or the PSC, and existing federal law would require Georgia Power to buy its electricity. But it would only pay GaSU an amount equal to what it could buy electricity from its cheapest, wholesale supplier.

The start-up wants instead to sell its electricity directly to retail customers who would be billed by Georgia Power or the other existing utilities, similar to how natural gas is marketed here. GaSU would pay the utilities for the use of their wires in the electric grid and any profits would be shared with customers like a cooperative.

Not mentioned in the article are requirements that electric power producers register with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Commission (“SkyNet”).

Polling Report

Polling analyst Nate Silver of the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog was referring to competing polls that showed contradictory findings:

I’d just seen a Marquette University poll of Wisconsin, which put President Obama 14 points ahead of Mitt Romney there. This came after a Rasmussen Reports poll of New Hampshire, published earlier that day, which had given Mitt Romney a three-point lead in the Granite State.

but he could easily have been speaking of the Peach State, where local “pollster” Insider Advantage showed Romney with a 21-point lead over President Obama, while a competing poll by YouGov showed only a 6-point Romney lead.

A little over two weeks ago, we released our own polling on the Charter School Amendment. At the time, we did not include the Presidential Ballot question that we asked in the same survey, but our results at that time were Romney 50.7% to Obama with 42.2%, and Librarian Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson 4.2% and Undecided 2.7%. I’m not convinced that Undecideds are that low, but I think the Romney-Obama matchup is plausible. If you want the question wording or statement of methodology, email me.

So, what’s going on when different “scientific” polls show vastly different results? Silver has one set of plausible explanations.

There are also going to be some outliers — sometimes because of unavoidable statistical variance, sometimes because the polling company has a partisan bias, sometimes because it just doesn’t know what it’s doing. (And sometimes: because of all of the above.)

The San Francisco Chronicle has an article out that discusses factors that may explain differences in polling outcomes.

At this time of year, the difference between poll results can be explained by everything from who is being surveyed (are they “likely” voters or just “registered”) to how many cell phone users (who are generally younger and from more diverse backgrounds) are contacted to how the questions are worded.

And while top pollsters try to adhere to common standards and best practices, there is a lot of room for interpretation in the way each constructs their universe of respondents.

“It’s a mixture of magic and science and research – and there’s more magic now because we have less science to guide our decisions,” said Oakland pollster Amy Simon, who is a leading expert in public opinion on same-sex marriage.

They also have suggestions for how to interpret polls, given the variance that is out there.

Consider the respondents: “Likely voters” are more credible, as they’re, well, more likely to vote. “At this point, don’t look at anything from registered voters,” said Oakland pollster Amy Simon. See if the poll includes cell phone users, who tend to be from more diverse backgrounds, younger and more likely to live in urban areas.

Examine the wording of questions: UC Berkeley Professor Gabe Lenz often teaches his students about a poll from the 1970s where 44 percent of Americans said they would not allow a Communist to give a speech, but only 22 percent would “forbid” it. The difference: Many people are often reluctant to sound harsh to a live interviewer, which “forbid” implies.

Treat a pollster like a movie critic: “Pick a poll and follow it,” said Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center. “You can follow its nuances and learn its tendencies.” Others, like Lenz, said peace of mind can be found with those who aggregate the major polls and incorporate them into a trend, like Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog and RealClearPolitics.com

At the end of the day, here’s my recommendation for public consumers of polling data. Take the Olympic scoring approach, where you toss out the highest and lowest numbers, and average the rest based on the sample size. In statistical terms, you’re removing the outliers, and broadening the sample size. That’s not precisely correct, but it’s a pretty good back-of-the-envelope method that might help you make some sense out of competing polls.

1 Comment

  1. On the Fulton elections supervisor:

    What I’d like to know is how someone with at least three DUI arrests and convictions was able to get a job with such responsibility in the first place. Of course, I know the answer: political patronage (most likely, though I admit I don’t know in this guy’s case). Is it normal for Fulton County government to be filled with drunks? It seems like they have someone busted every other week…

    Perhaps they should re-evaluate their hiring practices.

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