Who you going to believe—me or your lying eyes?

If you want to know a person’s true character, pay attention to what they do not what they say. A person’s actions tell the real story of their values, their principles and their truth. Today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution story on Atlanta City Council members who received transportation campaign funds challenges the core principles public servants take the oath to honor.

The story is one of the most interesting of this local campaign season. The Citizens for Better Transportation 2016 was funded to advocate successfully for passage of the city’s T-SPLOST. Businesses large and small heeded the Mayor’s call for funding that ponied up $1.2 million. The Committee was established by a respectable Georgia lawyer, Robert Highsmith, who has close political ties to the Mayor and to the Georgia Republican Party. Highsmith served as the Committee’s treasurer. The Committee relied on seasoned campaign staff including the mayor’s brother, Tracy Reed, to manage the campaign. The referendum passed and all was well except instead of spending all of the $1.2 million, the team spent less than it raised. Now the integrity test is what do you do with the funds that were not spent. Should the Committee adhere to the law and return the funds on a prorated basis to the donors, donate to an IRS approved charity or create a slush fund? It seems as if the Committee decided on the latter.

Integrity is what you do, when no one is watching. The Committee decided the donors wouldn’t care if they returned the funds back to them. After all, big corporations have more than enough money to spare in the robust economy City Hall has created. And there aren’t any worthy charities that are struggling to fund their social or educational services for the sick, unemployed, students short of college funds or seniors in need of help to pay their utility bills. I guess the homeless are all sheltered and the hungry can do without a meal for the night. The Westside Future Fund must be fully funded. So is United Way of Greater Atlanta and Hosea Feed the Hungry. All the children who want to attend early learning centers and schools must be accounted for. Grady Hospital must have all the money they need for indigent patients and the Atlanta Police Foundation has funded all the houses necessary for police and firefighters.

According to today’s AJC, the Committee decided it was best to use the extra $700,000 for political campaigns and not the needs of Atlanta’s residents. That may be a moral dilemma but choosing to fill out the required state disclosure form in a way that indicates there were no remaining funds, is a question of character.

This case is similar to the actions of Councilmember Michael Julian Bond whom I have known for many years and I am an admirer of his parents and grandparents.

Bond accepted a contribution for the maximum amount allowable by the law from the Committee, and is rumored to be receiving additional financial help in the form of anonymous mailers and other campaign services. This shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who’s paying attention, since Bond accepted $12,800 from a city contractor that has been ensnared in the ongoing federal corruption probe, and before that he racked up 300 ethics violations for which he promised to pay a $45,000 fine — the largest in Georgia history!

Bond has yet to make the first payment…and if he’s able to hold onto his council post, I wonder if the Citizens for Better Transportation committee can find a legal justification for covering his debt.

You decide. Is it a mere oversight and a lapse in judgement? Or is it an intentional illegal act to gain power and influence no matter the law?

It all reminds me of the punchline from comedian Richard Pryor’s joke about him getting caught cheating on his wife and he says, “baby who you going to believe—me or your lying eyes?”

Let the Games Begin

The Olympic flame has arrived in Sochi as the Winter Olympic Games are set to open on Friday. The competition will include alpine Sochiskiing, figure skating, snowboarding, bobsledding and new events like women’s ski jumping and the luge team relay. We are told snow conditions are almost perfect for certain sports. Though star American snowboarder Shaun White has withdrawn due to competition conditions, opening the door for other star athletes to take center stage. It appears we are in for an exciting and let’s pray safe Winter Olympic Games.

The parallel of the Games to Georgia political competition beginning in March is not lost on some of us. Like Sochi, the conditions here in Georgia are almost perfect for the right candidate to upset the incumbent governor who, according to recent polls, has an approval rating well under 50%. Governor Nathan Deal faces serious political challenges including the botching of the recent snowstorm and charges that he influenced the state ethics board investigation into his 2010 campaign.

Even though Georgians overwhelmingly support expanding Medicaid, Governor Deal has refused to consider it leaving Georgia with the sixth highest number of uninsured residents in the United States. Ebenezer Baptist Church’s Reverend Warnock chose the 85th birthday celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. to highlight the Medicaid disparity and income inequality in his comments.  Georgia State Senator and Gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter recently made the point that Georgia families today make $6,000 less than they did 10 years ago. PolitiFact deemed the statement true.

Today, the Georgia graduation rate is below the national average and the per capita spent on education is below the national average. The governor has appointed a task force to assess emergency response and let’s hope they start with reading the current plan (which if my memory doesn’t fail me is submitted to FEMA annually or quarterly) and talking to experts in the field beyond meteorologists. More importantly, Atlanta has a wealth of experts at colleges and universities like Morehouse, Spelman, Georgia Tech and Georgia State who have decades of experience in educating, evaluating and teaching leadership, they should be invited to the table as well

Thank You for the Random Acts of Kindness

USA TODAY photo credit

USA TODAY photo credit

Cheers and thanks to the dozens of business owners, teachers and everyday folks who went out of their way to help stranded strangers and neighbors across Atlanta and Georgia. They and the first responders, public works employees and volunteers by their selfless acts helped save lives and kept serious injuries down to a minimum, while they helped move vehicles, offered a blanket or hot chocolate, opened their doors for tired drivers to sleep in their aisles and other random acts of kindness. While there will be much written and even more discussed about what went right and what went wrong in the city and state’s preparation and execution of the emergency response plan, we shouldn’t lose sight of the courageous acts of our neighbors, families and friends.

Again, thank you all.

Does Ohio Know Something Georgia Should Know?

BWBOhioRepublican Governor John Kasich of Ohio used to chair the House of Representatives Budget Committee.  He is widely known as a fiscal conservative.  As he unveiled his budget last week, Ohio became the fifth Republican state to support President Obama’s plan to expand Medicaid. Kasich made it clear that while he was not a fan of Obamacare, his decision made practical, fiscal sense for Ohio. He can apparently see the advantages of expanding the program and saving Ohio millions of dollars.

Now what does this say about Georgia not accepting the expansion?  I’d say it means we are leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table.  If Medicaid expansion is good enough for Kasich in Ohio, shouldn’t it be good enough for Deal in Georgia?

On key areas of state policy Georgia lags behind and on Medicaid and job creation efforts are lethargic at best.  What is even equally amazing is the deafening silence in this urgent policy debate.

How are we doing? Well, we are failing in these areas: [Read more…]

Plan B – After the T-SPLOST

An edited version of this blog post appeared in the August 12th edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Now, that voters have overwhelming rejected the T-Splost for the metropolitan Atlanta region, now is the time to take stock of our situation and determine our options. Since the status quo isn’t acceptable, a viable and workable “Plan B” is essential to the economy and working people all across the region.

The failure of the T-Splost can’t deter us from making big and bold plans. The solution has to make sense to the voters, address the priorities they have, be fair for Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb voters, as well as MARTA the backbone of regional transit, and it should increase connectivity and enhance mobility. Projects must be linked to outcomes that have the widest and most significant regional benefits and all funding options should be on the table. Nothing will change for the better without:

A COMPREHENSIVE REGIONAL PLAN: The City of Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb Counties have built the basic backbone for a regional hard rail, light rail and bus system. It is called MARTA. While politically unpopular, the Greater Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) has the most transit development and management experience.  The state could expand MARTA’s authority to the region incorporating the power and authority of GRTA and designate state funding for the expansion creating a new 10-county regional entity. With appropriate planning, the proposed multi-modal station in downtown Atlanta, could incorporate ALL forms of transportation, streetcars, bus, rail, taxi, roads and trails and serve as a model for similar integrated transportation hubs in all 10 counties.

[Read more…]

WHAT THE T-SPLOST MEANS TO ME

Like you, my friends and family have differing perspectives about the effectiveness of government and the necessity for more or less taxes to support local government, infrastructure investments and quality of life concerns.  Hardly anyone that I know believes the traffic congestion and air pollution in Atlanta is an acceptable living standard for a great city like ours.  Yet some of my friends voted for the T-SPLOST and others didn’t.

Now that the vote is over I have been asked what I think. Before I even begin to offer an answer to such a heady question, I should probably do a recap on what the T-SPLOST vote means to me.

It means almost 670,000 metro Atlanta voters have been paying attention to the mailings, e-mail blasts, radio, and television coverage. Most of them weren’t passive or uninformed. They differed in their views but they cared enough about this region, about the cities they live and work in to vote.

It means metro voters listen but don’t automatically follow business, civic or political leaders. Social media, smart phones and global internet access puts information at the fingertips of everyday voters, which allows them to conduct their own facts check and rally their “friends” and associates around their beliefs.

[Read more…]