Tag: Georgia Ethics in Government Act

17
Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 17, 2012

Wilma (ID 545273) is a darling little 8-month old puppy who needs a home. She is in cage 301 in the Puppy Room at Cobb Animal Shelter and is available for adoption today. She is up to date on shots, spayed & neutered, heartworm negative and will be microchipped; she is being treated for non-contagious demodex mange.

When calling the shelter about a cat or dog, please use THE ID NUMBER, the names are oftentimes made up by volunteers. This beautiful pet and many others need a forever, loving home and are available for adoption from the Cobb County Animal Shelter, 1060 Al Bishop Drive Marietta, Georgia 30008, call (770) 499-4136 for more

I am re-running the following dogs because they are still available and are in danger of euthanasia.

Rally is a 5-month old, 30 pound Shepherd mix who is available for adoption today from Walton County Animal Shelter. The adoption fee is $40, which includes full vaccinations, a voucher for reduced cost neutering and a sack of dog food. Because Rally looks just like my blind, old dog Roxy did when she was young, I will sponsor her adoption; this means that if you adopt her, I will reimburse the $40 cost. Seriously.

Dolly is a senior lab mix who looks like she was somebody’s dog, and she has ended up at Walton Animal Shelter, where she will be available starting tomorrow. She has possible arthritis, as it’s difficult for her to stand up, but in my experience with a senior Golden Retriever, it can likely be managed with medication and/or acupuncture and chiropractic. If you have questions about canine acupuncture or chiropractic, I am not an expert, but can provide a referral and tell you about our experience and how it changed our senior dog’s life. There is a place in heaven reserved for people who adopt senior dogs, and if you’re looking for a mellow, low-maintenance best friend, maybe there’s a senior for you.

Anna is still waiting for a home at Walton County Animal Shelter. Her picture has captured many peoples’ imaginations, and she has an online fan club. Maybe you’re the person for her.

Puppies are being adopted at a two-for-one rate at Walton County Animal Shelter currently, as they are overflowing and don’t wish to euthanize them.

Nat and his brother Geo are 2-month old, 15# Shepherd mix puppies who are available for adoption today from Walton County Animal Shelter.

Also available from Walton Animal Shelter are Duncan, Davie and Darla, who are three months old and weigh about 7 pounds each.


These last two puppies were turned in by their owner, which typically means no mandatory hold time, and they are immediately at risk of euthanasia, especially during this time of the year when shelters are overflowing.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Photographed 9/5/2012 in Columbus, GA

Indicted former Gwinnett County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly says that the evidence against him shows that the $1 million he accepted from a Gwinnett County developer was a routine business transaction between him and a long-time business partner, rather than a bribe.

[P]rosecutors have granted immunity to the developer who allegedly slipped Kenerly $1 million. It’s a move prosecutors call necessary, and one the defense says has all but exonerated the embattled government leader.

Jenkins was granted immunity that February in return for his cooperation and testimony regarding his business dealings with Kenerly, Porter said after the hearing.

That cooperation thus far has been a boon for Kenerly’s defense, McDonough told the Daily Post, because court paperwork that outlines transactions involving Jenkins and Kenerly makes no mention of bribery, calling the $1 million legitimate and related to another deal.

“If (Jenkins) said he bribed Kenerly, he is protected by immunity,” McDonough said. “That’s not what he said — he said he never bribed Kenerly.”

Porter said he doesn’t believe everything that Jenkins has told prosecutors, noting that Jenkins could be prosecuted if he violates his immunity agreement.

Jenkins, a residential land developer and home builder in Gwinnett, owned Winmark homes.

After 16 years, Kenerly resigned as Gwinnett’s longest-serving commissioner in 2010, when he was first indicted on bribery charges. He also faces two misdemeanor counts of failure to disclose a financial interest in two zoning cases dealing with the same developer.

McDonough argues that the $1 million that provides the basis for the re-indicted bribery charge did not involve the Dacula park, but a townhome development called Silver Oaks in Lilburn. In a commission vote on that development, “everyone concedes Kenerly followed the law by filing his letter stating he had a financial interest, walked out of the board vote and did not vote,” the attorney said.

After the hearing, Kenerly expressed relief that the arrangement between Jenkins and prosecutors was made public. He reiterated that the Las Vegas trip was merely a gathering of friends, saying he paid the group’s $20,000 tab at Ceasars Palace. He pointed to the absence of bribery allegations by Jenkins.

“That’s what confuses me — I’m trying to figure out who (prosecutors believe) bribed me,” Kenerly said.

 More from the AJC:

Court record released Friday show Kenerly has admitted he agreed to accept $1 million from developer David Jenkins to cash out of a partnership on a Lawrenceville real estate development in 2007 – just a few months before Kenerly voted for Gwinnett to buy land from Jenkins to expand Rabbit Hill Park in Dacula.

District Attorney Danny Porter contends the $1 million was a payoff for Kenerly’s support of the Dacula land purchase. Gwinnett paid Jenkins $7.3 million more for the property than he paid for it a year and a half earlier.

But Jenkins, granted immunity from prosecution if he testified truthfully, told investigators the $1 million in payments to Kenerly were “completely unrelated” to the county’s purchase of the park land, court records show.

“He says he didn’t bribe me,” Kenerly said after a hearing in Gwinnett County Superior Court. “I still get charged with bribery.”

The Georgia State Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission has lost 41% of its budget over the past five years and critics say the state legislature is strangling the agency to prevent it from doing its job.

“There is no question in my mind they are being strangled by the Legislature in order to keep them from enforcing the ethics law,” said attorney Michael Jablonski, who often represents Democratic clients before the commission. “These are people who want to do their job. They just are not given the resources to do it.”

Marshall Guest, spokesman for House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, noted last week that the commission’s budget is about $250,000 larger than it was last year — the commission’s first budget increase since 2008. Guest said the increase went to hire a new auditor, a data programmer and for computer upgrades.

Taking a longer view, Guest said the commission’s budget today is 60 percent larger than it was in 2005 when Republicans took over both legislative houses.

“Even with the commission’s added responsibilities, overall, this is a dramatic step up in state funding given the economic downturn,” he said.

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reviewed budget, staffing, revenue and case resolution records over the past decade to measure the arrhythmic pulse of the ethics commission over time. What the AJC found was a close parallel between the commission’s funding and its output.

In 2008, the commission closed 116 ethics cases, collecting $195,000 in civil penalties.

That year, the commission had a budget of $1.9 million and 18 staffers, including several investigators, a certified fraud examiner, and multiple employees dedicated to keeping the agency’s farm of computer servers humming. Using the measures of resources and production, that year was a high-water mark for the ethics commission.

In 2011, the commission closed just 15 cases, according to a database of resolved cases on the ethics commission website. On May 22, 2008, the commission closed 16 cases in one day.

On that day, commissioners assessed more than $172,000 in fines, including a record $80,000 penalty against the Georgia Association of Realtors for failing to disclose $585,000 in campaign donations made through the group’s PAC. The commission also fined two members of the Georgia Board of Regents a combined $77,750 – one for making “proxy” donations to campaigns through family and friends to get around contribution limits and another for failing to disclose his business interests, including one that got a lucrative contract with the university system. Smaller fines were levied against state and local public officials and candidates for less extreme abuses.

The commission’s executive secretary that year, Rick Thompson, said the agency had turned a corner.

The commission’s aging network of computer servers has become increasingly creaky, and officials who rely on it to file their required paperwork complain of outages during peak times. Brian Hess, a Marietta-based information technology consultant who built the system, blamed the computer system’s unpredictability on budget cuts.

“You know the Legislature on ethics,” he said. “In front of people, ‘We support it.’ And behind their backs they don’t fund it.”

Hess worked for the commission as its computer chief during Thompson’s administration. At the time, the system had built-in redundant servers and a full IT staff supporting it.

“Before I left it was just me and one other guy,” he said.

This summer, LaBerge signed contracts to spend up to $240,000 a year to acquire server space for the commission’s massive databases and to shore up the system’s operations.

That the ethics commission is perpetually underfunded is just part of the problem, Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, said. Where it gets its money is another, he said.

“It’s difficult for there to be an independent investigative agency if they are annually at the mercy of the legislators that they are supposed to regulating,” he said. “They are the only ones who are in a position to regulate members of the General Assembly… . Unfortunately they’ve been largely sidelined by the changes that have been made in the law over the last couple years.”

Tom Baxter writes that a good example set from the top may be more important than a gift ban on its own.

You’d be right to be cynical about whether all this [talk about banning gifts from lobbyists to legislators] is actually going to have an beneficial impact, although positive change isn’t entirely out of the question. John Maginnis, one of the great chroniclers of what has been called “the Louisiana way,” said there has been a real change in ethics standards in his state in recent years, particularly during the tenure of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Maginnis said corruption is still evident at the local level – an FBI sting involving a bogus garbage can washing business snared several mayors recently, and former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard is under indictment. But at the state level, at least, standards have been raised, he said. The $50 limit has “kind of cleared out Chris’,” – Ruth’s Chris, a famous hangout for Louisiana politicos. And lobbyists, he added, are “delighted” with the new constraints on their credit cards.

But Maginnis noted that the improvements in Baton Rouge have come “from the top down,” and there any potential usefulness as a model for the future in Georgia starts to slide. Deal began his term as governor on the defensive from a furious attack on his ethics during the governor’s race, and the cronyism which has marked his administration has dismayed even some of those who supported him in 2010. He seems an unlikely candidate to pick up the standard for truly comprehensive ethics reform.

As for the proposed changes to be taken up by the General Assembly, it might seem impossible for the legislators to twist an absolute gift ban into insignificance, but you watch ‘em. They’re good at this. There’s a certain amount of remorse among some Republicans that they haven’t behaved better than their predecessors during their first decade in power. But without a leader that comes to very little, and the Republican most likely to fill that role, state Sen. Josh McKoon of Columbus, is still young and relatively little-known.

But for our purposes it’s worth it just to look at the core charge leveled against the 66-year-old Democrat. He was convicted of a crime for reappointing HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy to a state hospital board in exchange for $500,000 to retire the debt from an unsuccessful campaign to pass a lottery-for-education referendum. No money went directly to Siegelman. Scrushy had recently been acquitted of charges not unlike those which forced the resignation of Rick Scott, now the governor of Florida, back when he was the CEO of Columbia/HCA.

Raise your hands, everybody who thinks that wouldn’t get a pass, in a state where the Oaky Woods deal got by unprosecuted, where board appointments have become open political currency and nepotism is a commonplace on state boards and commissions. There’s a lot of buzz about ethics in Georgia, but that’s all there is.

Jace Brooks will be sworn today in as Gwinnett County Commissioner to serve out the remainder of the term of former Commissioner Shirley Fanning-Lasseter, who pled guilty to federal bribery charges and has been sentenced to 33 months in prison. Brooks will serve a full four-year term on the Commission beginning in January.

Plains, Georgia shopowner Philip Kurland predicts that President Obama will be reelected based on the sale of political buttons to tourists. Given that tourism in Plains revolves around Jimmy Carter historical sites, perhaps the sample is non-random and composed primarily of Carter fans.
Property taxes may rise this year for some homeowners as a 2008 tax hike moratorium is expiring and some home values may be creeping upwards.

For the first time since 2008, state law allowed assessors to raise tax values if they believed rising sales prices justified it. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis found that while assessors cut far more home values than they raised this year, they took advantage of the change in state law to raise values in some neighborhoods, especially in affluent areas. That likely will mean higher property taxes this year for those residents.

Assessors say they cut far more values than they raised and say homeowners can appeal if they believe their value is incorrect. They say the expiration of the moratorium on raising values has allowed them to accurately appraise properties that have gained in value but have not changed on the tax rolls for years.

Next Wednesday, September 26, 2012 from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM, former member of the Federal Election Commission Hans von Spakovsky will sign copies of 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.

Who’s Counting? will focus attention on many problems of our election system, ranging from voter fraud to a slipshod system of vote counting that noted political scientist Walter Dean Burnham calls “the most careless of the developed world.” In an effort to clean up our election laws, reduce fraud and increase public confidence in the integrity of the voting system, many states ranging from Georgia to Wisconsin have passed laws requiring a photo ID be shown at the polls and curbing the rampant use of absentee ballots, a tool of choice by fraudsters. The response from Obama allies has been to belittle the need for such laws and attack them as akin to the second coming of a racist tide in American life. In the summer of 2011, both Bill Clinton and DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz preposterously claimed that such laws suppressed minority voters and represented a return to the era of Jim Crow.

But voter fraud is a well-documented reality in American elections. Just this year, a sheriff and county clerk in West Virginia pleaded guilty to stuffing ballot boxes with fraudulent absentee ballots that changed the outcome of an election. In 2005, a state senate election in Tennessee was overturned because of voter fraud. The margin of victory? 13 votes. In 2008, the Minnesota senate race that provided the 60th vote needed to pass Obamacare was decided by a little over 300 votes.

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.