Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Can we get an answer?

Interestingly enough, I know both of the folks Blake says are considering running against Ken Mauldin. Bill Overend is a regular poster and all-around nice guy, while Eric Eberhardt is a member of my church and all-around nice guy as well. And, during my recent Grand Jury stint, I liked Ken Mauldin as well.

Any truth to any of these rumors?

Seeing how Kenny Brown, who was going to challenge Ira Edwards for Clarke County Sheriff, is reportedly serving overseas in the Middle East, this might be the only citywide contested election.

Short term answers fail long term problems

Safe to say, Matthew Yglesias (and Barack Obama) are right with regard to the suspension of the gas tax during the summer months. That isn't to say that one can't have an honest and rational ideological motivation for not having a tax on fuel, but that isn't what John McCain or Hillary Clinton are arguing.

Rather they insist that its suspension will bring much needed relief from surging oil prices, and that's rather ridiculous. Prices will continue to rise with or without the tax in place and any cost savings will be erased, by most accounts, a month into this plan. In fact, over the course of the suspension, the average American figures to save only a half tank of gas, if that much.

Of course, the problem is that politicians and, for the most part, the voting public view this as a short-term issue when, in fact, it should be examined through the long-term prism ... and that means everything from alternative fuels, more fuel-efficient cars, increased mass transit options, etc. and etc.

A short-term fix would be, say, to reinstitute the tax credit that goes to folks who purchase hybrid vehicles. With automobile producers like Chevrolet moving to make all of the vehicles - including SUVs and full-size trucks - hybrid, this would be a good time to introduce an incentive to spur that market along.

Over in Oconee

Watkinsville City Councilman Brian Brodrick offers his thoughts on Tommy Malcom challenging Bill Cowsert. It's an endorsement for Cowsert, but also pretty classy words for Malcolm too.

Weirdly enough

Randomly ... I really miss The West Wing, and case in point is this spectacular clip.

It costs more, yet the same

Making the water rates the same for businesses as they are for residents seems like common sense to me, and it appears that it will phased in an appropriate fashion to help the affected industries absorb the costs.

Plus, as Doc Eldridge notes, most large users are already conserving water so the increase will only affect them in a marginal way. Related to that, though this is a bit old, Adrian discusses and debates the new water pricing plan with District Eight Commissioner Andy Herod. Definitely worth a read.

Barnett's shutting down

This is pretty sad since Barnett's was a place I visited almost every day back when I worked at the Athens Banner-Herald and, upon most daytime visits to downtown, I'd swing through as well. It's more than a little frustrating that it'll become a woman's clothing boutique, and I'm curious to know why the offers to buy the newstand 'fell through' but whatever.

Sounds like the owners just didn't have their heart in it anymore.

Worth noting

Some folks Vernon Jones thinks are 'losers' ...

John Lewis. Tommy Irvin. Hank Johnson. Thurbert Baker. Michael Thurmond. John Barrow.

And so forth and so forth.

You really want to start this?

Gosh, why the hell is Vernon Jones even running as a Democrat then?

I know the powers that be will have to keep their cards close to their vest on this one, but if I were them I'd tell Jones to go to hell or, better yet, why not just challenge Saxby Chambliss for the Republican Party nomination since he feels the Democratic Party is so badly off the tracks? I mean all of Jones's positions parrot GOP ones anyway, so what's the point, right?

I think the only loser in the race right now is the pathetically inept, borderline corrupt CEO of DeKalb County with a self-inflated sense of worth who cares so much about the direction of the Democratic Party that he twice endorsed George W. Bush for president.

The party left him? Seems like this idiot got off the train a long while back.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hearings on millage rate increase

From the local government ...

The FY09 Mayor’s Recommended Budget has been submitted to the Commission for review as required by law. The Mayor’s Recommended Budget proposes a millage rate of 13.30 for 2008, an increase of 0.50 of a mill, however, changes in current property assessments will result in an overall increase in property taxes by 9.7 percent. Pursuant to the requirements of Georgia Law (OCGA 48-5-32), three public hearings will be held during May to comply with the Taxpayer Bill of Rights:

Hearing #1 – Thursday, May 8 at 5:30 p.m. in the Planning Auditorium at 120 W. Dougherty Street.

Hearing #2 – Thursday, May 15 at 5:30 p.m. in the Planning Auditorium at 120 W. Dougherty Street.

Hearing #3 – Thursday, May 22 at 6:45 p.m. in the City Hall Commission’s Chambers at 301 College Avenue.

The FY09 Mayor’s Recommended Budget can be accessed on Athens-Clarke County’s Web site at Copies of the FY09 Recommended Budget are also available for public inspection during normal office hours at the following locations: Office of the Manager, Room 304, City Hall; Athens Regional Library, 2025 Baxter Street; and the Clerk of Commission’s Office, Room 204, City Hall. For more information on the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, visit the Georgia Department of Revenue’s Web Site at


You know, every once in a while you get a story you honestly think is from The Onion only to find out that, well, it isn't. Today good readers, Tony Zirkle provides us with that story ...

Tony Zirkle, who is seeking the Republican nomination in Indiana's 2nd District, stood in front of a painting of Hitler, next to people wearing swastika armbands and with a swastika flag in the background for the speech to the American National Socialist Workers Party in Chicago on Sunday.

I mean, dude, go check out the picture. It's incredible in an awesomely comedic yet staggeringly stupid sort of way. I'm not sure if my favorite part is Zirkle equating appearing on an African-American radio station in Atlanta with speaking to a group of Nazis or him saying that he didn't realize they were Nazis ... as if the massive portrait of Hitler didn't give that away right off the bat.

Some musical advice

OK, since I talked about my disappointments with the state of country music, a handful of readers asked if I would suggest some good current country artists to follow since, sadly, their knowledge was limited to Rascal Flatts or Toby Keith.

Fair enough, though the best of the best remains Waylon, Willie and Cash. Still, if you wish to venture into today's landscape, most of the artists I favor are career club bands who belong to the Texas/Oklahoma scene.

A few worth mentioning include ...

Cross Canadian Ragweed
Songs of Note - Alabama, Boys From Oklahoma

Shooter Jennings
Songs of Note - Some Rowdy Women, Fourth Of July

The Ryan Bales Band
Songs of Note - Moonshine, Outlaw

Adam Hood
Songs of Note - Play Something We Know, Million Miles Away

The Lost Trailers
Songs of Note - Holler Back, I'm A Country Man

The Casey Donahew Band
Songs of Note - White Trash Story, Back Home In Texas

Miranda Lambert
Songs of Note - Kerosene, Gunpowder And Lead

Reckless Kelly
Songs of Note - Wicked, Twisted Road, Seven Nights In Eire

Brantley Gilbert
Songs of Note - My Kinda Party, A Modern Day Prodigal Son

Granted, there are plenty of more mainstream artist I will admit to liking. You can never go wrong with Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt is sitll one of my favorites, Craig Morgan puts out a good song here and there and I have no shame in acknowledging that, yes, I do like Carrie Underwood.

Just an odd and end

In Don's story on the tax rebates is the fact that vast majority of recipients will use the stimulus money to pay down debt which, in turn, won't really do much to stimulate the economy, though it will provide a welcome reprieve for many folks.

Nothing really more I'd like to add on that aside from the fact that we, as a society, need a massive dose of financial literacy shoved our way. You can't keep putting things on credit and expect for it not to catch up with you.

You know ...

... Donna Pahl asks a pretty interesting question.


I haven't watched an entire quarter of an NBA game in roughly five years, opting to instead catch bits and pieces here and there, but the final quarter of Atlanta's 97-92 win over top-seeded Boston garnered my undivided attention.

And I have to admit ... I was more than entertained, and nervous toward the end. Despite evening the series at 2-2, it's still a longshot for the Hawks to pull off the upset in the opening round. Still, it's been fun to follow the past few nights and good to see the city embrace this team they had left for dead just a year or so earlier.

Monday, April 28, 2008

OK, almost done ...

Rich wisely notes that the Leann Rimes video that was of much email discussion last Friday isn't really country, and I don't disagree (as an aside, those posts produced weird results in that they yielded only one comment, but tons and tons of emails full of rather interesting comments).

But then again, it isn't as if much of today's mainstream country is really all that country to begin with. A twang in one's voice doesn't mean you're all of a sudden Johnny Cash, and case in point would be Taylor Swift. By all accounts, she's a really talented young woman, but to call her country and not pop is maddening to me.

Then again, look at the winners of the most recent CMT Awards and compare them with the nominees and you'll get an idea of the state of country music.

I mean, how does I Got My Game On by Trace Adkins win Best Male Video? It's an awful song and an equally as awful video. It lacks the catchy riff, humor and originality of Brad Paisley's Online (though it ain't like that's a good song either).

And Our Song by Taylor Swift over Nothing Better To Do by Leann Rimes and So Small by Carrie Underwood? Not only are the latter two better videos, but Rimes's song is one of the better and more authentic country tunes to come out in a long, long time.

Staying competitive

Granted I don't know much about the Clayton County School Board aside from the general chatter about it being rather inefficient, but I don't see why Andre is so upset over this.

While the fax machine in the home might be a little excessive, I would think that it's appropriate for the employer - be it public or private - to provide its employees, particularly high-ranking ones, with the most up-to-date technology and enable them to do their jobs. During my brief time at the Franklin College, I was provided with a Blackberry because it was essential for my work there.

He can make a funny!

Who knew that John McCain had a sense of a humor? I mean, that's what it's got to be when someone who favors maintaining the tax breaks for oil companies and the top one percent of income earners equates Barack Obama's opposition to a temporary removal of the gasoline tax to being insensitive to poor people.

Yep, the guy who spent his years out of college working as a community organizer in impoverished communities is out-of-step with poor people. I needed a good laugh in the morning, and I appreciate McCain providing me with one.

Pretty much status quo

It's qualifying season, and there's only one real surprise which is that Tommy Malcolm, currently a member of the Oconee County Board of Education, will challenge State Sen. Bill Cowsert in the GOP primary.

Cowsert has been, by most measures, a rather good state senator. Despite some differences, I really like the guy and think he's been very responsive to the communities he represents. Logic would dictate that he should win pretty easily, but Malcolm is young, conservative and has connections to both Walton County and Oconee County. With a smart campaign, he could make this an interesting race, though I'd still prefer Cowsert to be in that seat.

Friday, April 25, 2008


OK, in the random 'I Get Emails' department, an astute reader pointed out in an email that the Leann Rimes video was actually No. 25 on the CMT 'Sexiest Videos' Countdown.

While this merely reaffirms the fact that I recognized that Leann Rimes was, well, sexy in that video, I also would urge you to look at the rest of the list and its complete absurdity. I mean, two Toby Keith videos in the Top 20? Good Lord ...

Music for the moment

Life Goes On by Leann Rimes*
This Ol Wheel by Shooter Jennings
Where The Blacktop Ends by Keith Urban
Alabama by Cross Canadian Ragweed
Pencil Thin Mustache by Jimmy Buffet

* While I do like some Leann Rimes songs, I'm not really that big of a fan and, until yesterday, I wouldn't have been able to distinguish this particular tune from any other generic Leann Rimes song. But I heard it back-to-back on different radio stations and now the damn thing is stuck in my head, hence its inclusion in the list. Plus, um, did you see her in the video?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The great generational divide

Now, this is hardly the primary reason I'm backing Barack Obama, but this letter from a young couple in their late 20s to Andrew Sullivan on the generational divide sums up my feelings about as good as anything I've read in a long time ...

(The Baby Boomers) were narcissistic and short-sighted; all too willing to view an ascendant, powerful America as their personal reward for being born at the right time and place. Perhaps the greatest metaphor for this generation's attitude is the prevailing belief that the American consumer (and government) spent their way to a victory in the Cold War.

Now that it appears we've reached the limit of unrestrained consumption, they appear more than willing to take their social security checks and medicaid benefits and ride into the sunset, leaving in their wake a bankrupt, increasingly desparate younger generation. They even have the gall to claim that we're the generation of narcissists! In my mind, the struggle between Clinton and Obama lays bare this generational conflict.

It is rather blunt and somewhat harsh, but I also think it's the unspoken concerns by many who are under the age of 40 and have been so mobilized by the Obama campaign. I had a long discussion this morning with a friend regarding this unfortuante generational divide, and I see it clear in some arenas in my church, in my profession, in politics and in my personal life. And, quite frankly, it's something we need to be honest and discuss more openly if we're to move past it.

Rumble at the UGA corral

Blake and Grift offer their takes on last night's debate featuring the Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Saxby Chambliss. Both Vernon Jones and Jim Martin opted not to show up, which of course left them open to ample criticism from the trio that did attend (Rand Knight, Josh Lanier and Dale Cardwell).

Cardwell appears to be, well, a bit out there as he repeatedly accused Jones of being paid by Republicans to run. I don't know about that, but Jones's repeated support of Republican candidates troubles me (then again, Cardwell's repeated embrace of some Republican policies troubles me as well).

Judging by the write-ups, it looks like Lanier had a solid night, which makes me happy. And, gosh, though I know this will draw scorn from many ... Knight impresses me more and more. I do think he still trots out a weird faux Southern-accent, but his positions and policy proposals make sense to me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It's still plausible!


In the 'Awesome Because It Involves Two Musical Artists I Like' department, Miranda Lambert is accused of assaulting a woman who desired an autograph ... all while being at a CD release party for Adam Hood.

"I walked back over there to tell Miranda that she shouldn't treat her fans like that and she jumped up and started cussing me saying I was in the VIP section and needed to go back with the other trailer trash," (Aisha Esbay) said.

Absolutely tremendous.

To play it up, here are songs by both of them I'm digging right now ... Gunpowder And Lead and Bayou Girl.

Couple of things

- Because rather than have a rational discussion about the efficiency of our non-profit organizations, it's easier to say this whole thing is about race.

- You know, Blake is right on this. This notion of Paul Broun wasting millions of dollars on mailings and phone calls isn't grounded in reality and, quite frankly, I kind of like the fact that a sitting congressman wants to stay in touch with his consituents. I don't share Broun's political views and will vote against him come this fall, but at least he's letting me know what he's doing, where he stands and how I can touch base with him. If you don't like the mail ... throw it away.

- Speaking of the 10th Congressional District, Erick lets us know how Barry Fleming will go after Broun, and I think both are dishonest (though that's not shocking seeing how Fleming is just resorting to the Georgia GOP establishment handbook for his election run). Broun made perfectly logical and rational decisions on his votes for medical marijuana and against the restrictions against internet pornography, and it's easy to see why he would vote the way he did. There are perfectly legitimate ways to counter Broun, but the ones pushed by Fleming are craven.

- There is a debate for the Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate seat tonight at the University of Georgia.

- In the Democratic primary, today is so much like yesterday.

- My boy Chaz sent me this, and I agree with the argument over voter demographics for younger evangelicals (seeing how I'm one of them just, well, not Republican). Of course, I don't think Jesus would vote for anyone quite frankly.

-Listen, I don't like Clarence Thomas's political views either but he's still a friggin' Supreme Court judge which more than qualifies him as someone who can speak at the University of Georgia.

- This is a bummer, so with that in mind enjoy this.

- Just a quick word to say that I got out to the Athens Regional Foundation Classic last week, and it's a bang-up event. Followed Ryan Hybl around for a few holes (interesting to note that until the ninth hole, he had made only birdies or bogies), and then watched some groups make their approach at the 14th hole. Also saw Tim Bryant in the clubhouse, and I sheepishly admit to not recognizing him until he spoke.

On racism

It's not terribly shocking this turned to race, though it's disappointing nonetheless. While I can completely respect the notion that many in the African-American community perceive this as a racial decision, I would argue that it's up to those leaders which acknowledge that it's only a perception to spread the word.

If it is merely a perception, then it serves no benefit to have a discussion where everyone attempts to repeat said perception over and over again until it becomes a reality in the minds of some. The point has to be made - over and over again - that the vote to deny funds to East Athens Development Corporation and Hancock Corridor Development Corporation was based on efficiency and performance and not because of some nefarious racial plot by the local government.

And let me defend Heidi Davison here for a minute ... while I don't think Evelyn Neely was directly accusing the mayor of being racist, she was being less than subtle in saying that racism was what 'you had to look at.' Racism is alive and well throughout our nation, but it's foolish to throw that down at the feet of the Athens-Clarke County Commission. I think the mayor was right in defending herself, and I think James Washington must be living in another world if he wants to chastize her for 'not respecting an elder.'

Racism would not have helped convene OneAthens. Racism would not have redirected funding to a pair of projects that benefit the same African-American neighborhoods. Racism would have not led members of the local government to vigorously campaign for NBAF and the possible positive impact it could have on our local economy. Racism would have not led to establishment of the Athens Resource Center for the Homeless.

Don't mistake me as I think there is considerably more we can do to serve all our populations in this community, particularly the black community, but stoking the racial fears is off-base.

Please end this

Safe to say, I share Andrew Sullivan's sentiment, and the fact that party leaders put on a happy face and say this ridiculous farce of a primary election is 'good' for Democrats is preposterous to me. It's dividing the party, big-time, and while that may be absolutely necessary in order to pass the baton from the previous generation to the next one, it's hard to argue that such a battle is a positive thing in the short-term.

So, with that in mind, I endorse "Matthew Yglesias's suggestion because, well, Pennsylvania changed nothing and the ensuing primaries will change nothing as well. This whole thing is in the hands of the superdelegates - rightly or wrongly - and it's time they step up to the plate and let folks know who they're for.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Junk it

While I'm not particularly crazy about the concept of amending our policies to help out folks who are brazenly defying existing policy, I do think Kathy Hoard's proposal isn't a bad one. The reality is that not everyone is going to make the effort to haul their trash to and from the curb and if you really want to address it, sometimes you have to meet people halfway. Particularly since fines won't achieve much in the sense that it harms the landlord more so than the renter.

And let me take this opportunity to once again advocate for opening up our in-town trash services to private competition. Not that I have anything against the work done by the folks working for Athens-Clarke County, but I've long believed it's more than frustrating to have large portions of the community afforded with the option to choose the trash provider they want while those inside Athens proper lack that opportunity.

How about working on health care?

Um, why are we doing this? Granted, I think we need a limited playoff system in college football, but why does Congress have to implement it? I mean, the BCS has been somewhat unfair over the past couple of years, but unfairness in pairing up appropriate teams hardly constitutes a federal crisis.

I don't think the trio of congressmen are wrong in that money and profit drives the BCS rather than this fanciful notion of matching the best teams up, but it's up for the NCAA to put pressure on the BCS and not Congress.

Music for the moment

Monday, April 14, 2008

Recapping the week that was

Growing up in Augusta, I would tell everyone that the loneliest feeling in the world was the Monday after The Masters and, even though I'm back in Athens-Clarke County now sifting through a variety of emails and catching up on some work, that sentiment remains true. It was a good tournament, though Sunday's final round was rather anti-climatic since Trevor Immelman decided to run away with it on the back nine, and it was a good time with my family as well.

- I'm not terribly stunned that Immelman won since I've always figured that he was a strong enough player to push his way into that top tier of golfers. Health problems last year derailed him after he won Rookie of the Year honors in 2006, but if can play at even a modicum of the level he played at the past week, he'll be a force to reckon with.

- I had already become a Brandt Snedeker fan earlier in the week seeing how his manager and some of his family and friends decided to park at my grandmother's house for the entire tournament, but after watching the poor guy just get all broken up in the post-tournament press conference after shooting 77 on Sunday was enough to push him into that small group of 'Jmac's Favorite Golfers.' My cousin Stephen and I were hoping that he'd win so we could get invited to the victory party, but I guess we'll have to wait a bit longer.

- After another financially successful endeavor with parking cars - 30 to 35 cars per day at $30 a car over a seven-day period - I have to wonder why I don't opt to add sports hospitality to the list of services provided by Front Porch Consulting.

- Want to know why Tiger Woods is ridiculous? Because folks think he struggled this past weekend, and he still finished in second place.

- Seeing how I'm an only child, I always look forward to this week because we have tons and tons of family staying under my grandmother's roof (on Saturday night we had 10 people crammed into a three-bedroom, two-bath house ... with me crashing on a love seat in dining room since The Kid was taking my spot in the bed with The Wife). I told Stephen that I'd have to call him this morning since I've spent, like, the past six days with him non-stop.

- Also connected to that ... it's been a long time since I've drank an average of five-or-more beers per night for five straight night. Safe to say, I'm not as young as I used to be.

- What I love about the parking cars aspect is the amount of fascinating and, in some cases, really odd people I get to meet. We had a car full of Canadian businessmen who parked everyday with us and absolutely loved Hooters. A pair of identical twin grandfathers who owned competing car dealerships in Jacksonville, Fla. A guy from New York who told us that if anything happened to his car he'd track us down and kills us ... and we didn't think he was kidding, though it was weird since it was he was driving a 2001 Yukon. A gentleman named James from Scotland who liked to give us a down payment to hold a space for him, despite the fact that it wasn't necessary at all. And lots of people from Wisconsin and North Carolina.

- My cousin-in-law-to-be Eric tried to educate Stephen and I regarding NASCAR on Saturday night, but it was lost on us. Apparently the race that night featured a pretty exciting ending, but to Stephen and I it looked a lot like the previous portion of the race.

- The best comment of the week came from a client of my uncle's who said that the only difference between the Daytona 500 and The Masters was that at one of those events everyone wore a hat with the No. 3 on it. I'd quibble with some particulars, but that's about right in some cases.

But you ain't from here!

In news of the awesome variety, loyal reader and good friend Brian Brodrick penned a letter to the editor last week discussing NBAF, and it's one of the few print pieces that has garnered a ridiculous number of comments at the Athens Banner-Herald's web site.

Most of them, understandably, are preposterous, but, then again, so is much of the hysterical opposition from the folks involved with FAQ. Apparently the fact that Brodrick lives in Oconee County and the value of his home is enough to cancel out any opinions he has.

Of course, it shouldn't ... seeing how the long-term economic and research impact of NBAF is something which extends throughout the region (and I, for a long time, have been saying that we need to approach many of our economic development issues through a regional prism). Plus, I don't know why it matters that Brodrick lives in Oconee County. I mean, dude, the guy grew up there.

Interesting (again)

More emails regarding the CDBG information, this one from a former housing counselor from East Athens Development Corporation ...

Dear A-CC Mayor & Commission,

As a former EADC housing counselor, I never thought I’d see the day when anyone would give serious consideration to reforming EADC. I’m glad the M&C is willing to challenge EADC and I’d like to share some observations that might help guide your inquiries.

According to EADC’s 2006 tax return (attached) $54,386 was spent on travel and no independent fundraising costs were incurred nor were any funds collected. If I’m reading it right, Winston Heard’s salary exceeded $60,000.

Winston Heard’s lack of commitment to neighborhood resident is evident by his lack of attendance at community events. In recent years, EADC conducted two large food bank distributions, neither of which Winston Heard attended. EADC hosted two spring festivals (2005 & 2006). Winston Heard did not attend those either. He did not come to the gym when EADC helped host the book-bag give-away/service fair last summer. Volunteers from UGA’s VITA tax assistance program came on two Saturdays this February; and guess what, Winston Heard did not stop by to greet or thank them. Winston was similarly missing at Homebuyer Club graduation events. He does not attend neighborhood group meetings or Human Service Advisory Board Meetings.

Winston Heard and Julia Menefield (EADC’s Neighborhood Revitalization staff) recently returned from a trip to China with Governor Perdue. I am curious to see how this trip will benefit East Athens.

EADC has had a house on the market for nearly a year. It is priced at $120,000, although most of EADC’s clients can barely afford a $100,000 home. EADC had an offer from a buyer who was wiling to pay less than $120,000. Winston Heard refused to negotiate the price with him. That buyer is moving into a new Habitat for Humanity home.

EADC’s downpayment assistance is funded through American Dream Downpayment Assistance Funds granted by HED. EADC has chosen to provide the assistance as a 6% deferred loan. As a housing counselor I could not recommend EADC’s program as the loans create a future debt burden for the homebuyer rather than permitting them to accumulate equity or save for the future. If a refinance is needed, it is very hard to find a lender because the anticipated additional payments on the downpayment assistance cause the borrower to exceed the allowable debt to income ratio. We very nearly had a foreclosure on one of the homes EADC sold due to an escalating first mortgage ARM coupled with EADC’s downpayment assistance.

Catherine Hogue, HED staff, sent a monitoring letter to EADC last fall stating that the organization’s Neighborhood Revitalization Plan needed to be updated. Rob Trevena informed me that when it gets updated, census tract 302 should not be included because it no longer meets HUD’s low-income neighborhood criteria. When I resigned at the end of February 2008, EADC had not begun the process of updating the plan.

When EADC hosted community forums (with food bank giveaways in order to ensure adequate attendance), residents repeatedly indicated the need for a Laundromat. This business opportunity was scoffed at by EADC’s economic development staff. Now a private developer, who purchased commercial property at a tax auction, is responding to market demand to build a Laundromat in the Triangle. One might conclude that EADC’s economic development programs are not responsive to neighborhood input or new opportunities.

When EADC’s full-time Housing Programs Coordinator resigned at the end of September, my hours increased from 25 to 35 hours per week. No additional staff was hired. When I left at the end of February, there was one remaining housing counselor-office manager. No additional staff persons have been hired, although there is a consultant who teaches monthly classes. Winston Heard indicated that he plans to serve as a housing counselor, and he did attend a week-long training in Portland, Oregon in December 2007. He had not met with any clients while I worked at EADC. It would be interesting to know if he met with any clients during March or April. Even if Winston meets with a few clients, with the greatly decreased staff, if does not seem likely that EADC’s client counts will improve.

Board minutes from meetings and the retreat last summer should be available for review, along with monthly reports from each of the program areas. I hope you will take the time to look these over as a double check on what you hear from Winston.

Hopefully you are hearing from some east Athens residents and you have come to realize not all of them support EADC and that quite a few have complaints. My read on the neighborhood is that they would like black organizations to be empowered, but they would also like public funds to be spent wisely. Hopefully that’s not asking too much.

Thank you for your patience with this long email. I was EADC’s housing bean-counter from September through February and I wrote the current version of the housing counseling plan. Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have questions.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

This is interesting ...

This email from Athens-Clarke County District 10 Commissioner Elton Dodson to an unspecified number of individuals was forwarded to me by a non-government-connected anonymous tipster. In the email, Dodson discusses the possibility of restoring partial funding to both East Athens Development Corporation and Hancock Corridor Development Corporation ...

Friends and Colleagues:

Obviously, I am very disappointed in the vote last Tuesday to gut EADC and HCDC in that manner that we did. As I said that evening, I know for a fact that each of you had the best of intentions and certainly meant no harm to our community or trust in our government. I defended Commissioner Kinman's integrity then and would do it again any day of the week.

Nevertheless, I fear we have done great harm to public trust and confidence in us and in the OneAthens process. I believe all of us agree that both the EADC and HCDC need to change and become more effective, perhaps even radical reformation. However, as I stated at the meeting, that change must come through proper democratic process. This was an ambush, end of story. We all knew these organizations expected no problems because we never indicated there were any.

However, I believe there can be a happy ending to this. Approximately two weeks before our voting meeting, the board of EADC held a retreat where they admitted to each other that there were some serious issues that needed to be addressed within the organization. They began to structure a plan to fix those issues. Had we not proceeded in secret and informed EADC that we had issues with them, I am sure they would have shared their progress. That is why public deliberation is so important.

You already know how I feel, so I will not belabor the point. I would suggest only this: within the next 30 days I believe these organizations can demonstrate their resolve to become leaner and more effective. I hope that you will consider a vote to reconsider our funding cuts. I am not advocating the status quo. Just that we make some lemonade out of this mess and work to restore the public's faith in our integrity and commitment to open government.

I have asked staff and HED to prepare some information for us that would outline an action plan for these organizations that would result in more accountability for their spending and more apparent success in their programs. I believe it is only right that they be given the opportunity to serve as best they can, especially considering the history and importance of EADC. If they cannot prove they can effectively serve our citizens by the next block grant cycle, I believe that the Commission will be just in stripping away all or a substantial portion of these funds.

Finally, I think you all know me well enough to know that the elitist quote from Sunday's paper was taken out of context. I explain that quote and all my feelings on this on my blog:

Thank you for your consideration,

Another voice in the mix

Athens-Clarke County District 10 Commissioner Elton Dodson joins the blogosphere. His first post, not surprisingly, deals with the CDBG funding debate from the past week.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Um, really?

Well, Jeffrey Moss is easy to refute seeing how the OneAthens health coverage plan is open only to Athens-Clarke County residents. And, seeing how most folks living in poverty struggling to find a home anyway, I don't think one should worry about an influx of the poor swarming our streets (though we act as if that's a horrible thing ...).

Also, if the neighboring counties would, you know, decide to actually provide some basic services for their impoverished, we wouldn't have this argument anyway.

A clarification

With all of the discussion going on about the Community Development Block Grant revisions, I do think it's important to point out that I don't feel that East Athens Development Corporation or Hancock Corridor Development Corporation are 'wrong' in any sense. Likewise, and I've seen this in some comments and gotten a few email messages indicating this, but I don't think Alvin Sheats - or anyone else employing a similar argument - is racist. That's silly to me.

I think Sheats is making a foolish argument that isn't reflective of the realities of the situation, but he's hardly a racist. And, as I've said many times before, EADC and HCDC are good organizations that have noble missions. Their problem is not their intent or their people, but rather the execution of their job and their lack of results despite such large funding chunks.

And it's because of their noble missions and good people that I hope they're able to turn things around and deliver their services with more efficiency and better results.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

We're going there now

It was expected, but according to Alvin Sheats this is all about race. It's not that his organization had a budget of more than $1 million and have assisted a disturbingly low number of individuals. Or that East Athens Development Corporation and Hancock Corridor Development Corporation have no mechanism to raise private funds and rely solely on the uncertainity of public grants.

No, this is clearly because they are an African-American-operated non-profit doing noble work in an African-American neighborhood.

Again, while not shocking the conversation would devolve into a banal discussion like this rather than what it was (a logical decision based on an analysis of the two group's successes and expenditures), it is nonetheless terribly disappointing. But, and this cannot be shouted from the rooftops loud enough ... it wasn't about race.

This was a decision made by a funder to deny funding to a fundee who hadn't produced sufficient results. It's as simple as that. No more, no less.

And still, for the second time this week, J.T. says they didn't deserve the money, but it was inappropriate how the money was taken away. For the life of me, I'm still puzzled by this one.

One cannot logically sit by and say 'it was terrible how they did this' and then, just two seconds later state 'but, you know, EADC and HCDC weren't producing the necessary results with public funds and that money really could put to better use elsewhere.' If the two organizations were not utilizing public funds in an appropriate and effective, then the timing of the decision has no relevance to the issue.

But J.T. picks up on a disturbing - and patently ridiculous - narrative that was parrotted by Elton Dodson as well ...

What the commission did Tuesday - with the notable exception of Commissioners Elton Dodson, Kelly Girtz, George Maxwell and Harry Sims (Maxwell and Sims represent the districts including the Hancock Corridor Development Corp. and the East Athens Development Corp., respectively) - was to signal the minorities and the poor that their voices and their views just didn't matter all that much.

I love J.T., but this one of the dumbest things I've read in a long time. Coming off the heels of the OneAthens meeting in which a diverse collection of individuals from varied income brackets, races and ages gathered together to push forward a comprehensive plan of action to address poverty in our community - an organization headed by an African-American man - I don't know how one can actually put that opinion forward. It absolutely defies logic.

Look at the populations that benefit from the majority of the smaller grants from CDBG, and you'll find they are overwhelmingly African-American and Hispanic. Look at the boards and staff of those funding non-profits, and you'll see a diverse mix of whites, black and Hispanics. Look at the volunteers and supporters of these groups, and you'll see varied races, ages and levels of wealth present.

The calling of OneAthens is to mobilize this community to fight poverty in the most effective and appropriate way possible. And while I still have reseverations regarding the competition of funding (though much less so now), this mobilization means more than just confronting the business community and the University of Georgia, but also examining who we allocate public funding too.

Listen, ineffective public spending is ineffective public spending whether it's done by the Department of Defense or a minority-operated non-profit dedicated to addressing poverty. I don't doubt for one minute the sincerity or committment from the folks at either EADC or HCDC, but the cold, hard truth of the matter is that they couldn't justify their data with the large amount of funding they received.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Looking at the numbers

Blake is supposed to have an in-depth feature on what he has deemed 'Blockgrantgate' coming up tomorrow, but I've been digging around a little more in some of the tax returns of some area non-profits to give you an idea of the revenue and expenditures of some of them.

East Athens Development Corporation, for instance, had receipts of more than $1 million for its most recent tax filing and, as I noted earlier, it featured $753,817 in public sector grants. It also had $270,007 in program revenue but no direct (or contributed) income, which is absolutely shocking to me. How any non-profit can expect to operate without some measure of private giving mechanism is beyond me.

What was interesting was to see that their income in grants soared in almost unhealthy manner in a four year-span. In 2001, EADC brought in $292,027 in grant money, but, by 2004, that total was more than $1 million.

To put this in perspective, the Athens Boys and Girls Club had a total income of $1,135,451 in 2005, but $664,839 of that was from direct support and another $149,323 from indirect support. Only $145,269 was from public sector grants. Likewise, the Athens Area Homeless Shelter had more than three-fourths of its 2006 income of more than $500,000 come via direct support.

This is important to note because diverse sources of revenue are essential for a strong and healthy non-profit. If you rely on one measure more than another, you open yourself up for a shortfall if, say, contributions are down or a grant is denied. The ability to hone several streams of revenue is something that, quite frankly, should be common sense if you're in the non-profit industry.

If you're curious about here all of that income went ... EADC spent $642,854 on program services and $312,189 on management with more than $273,000 being dedicated toward salaries for a staff of six. Occupancy was more than $18,000 and $54,386 was spent on travel.

You get what you pay for

So what exactly did the Republican-controlled Georgia General Assembly deliver for us this year? How about, well, absolutely nothing.

- No tax reform of any kind despite Glenn Richardson's barnstorming all over the state in a vain attempt to push his sales tax scheme. After Democrats stood firm in the House, we got a rational compromise that removed the car tag fee (which I was rather indifferent on) and then Casey Cagle, in a fleeting desire to not be forgotten, decided to push an income tax cut. In the end, both sides were too caught up with a pathetic personal rivalry to actually deliver any sort of tax reform.

- All of that said, is there a more loathsome figure in Georgia politics than Richardson?

- Sunday Sales, of course, died because Cagle was too busy being Sonny Perdue's lap dog, albeit a timid one. I would point out how maddening this is but, well, I think you all already know that.

- We also didn't get the approval for a transportation sales tax to fund much-needed projects for highways, mass transit and the like. Ditto for a funding mechanism for our state trauma care system.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Local control whittled away again

Um, yeah, I agree with the other local governments in thinking this is atrocious. While I sympathize with the notion that water planning is regional, my quibble would be that, well, we already know that. The Upper Oconee Water Authority has been working diligently on our water woes for quite some time, so for the Georgia General Assembly to swoop in and say 'what you guys need is another level of bureaucracy and approval from the EPD to do anything' is absurd.

Why in the world should the state tell local communities how and when they can conserve water? We're not talking about them not restricting, but exactly the opposite. Here we have state officials telling local communities that they know best how the latter should conserve, which is preposterous (though right in line with almost everything else the state has advocated since the GOP took over underneath Gold Dome).

We do we even have cities and towns and counties anymore? Let's just become the Unified Fiefdom of Georgia and be done with this whole charade.

Kind of a mea culpa

A week or so ago, I said that Jim Martin would struggle to raise $500,000 for his entire campaign, and he very well may have a hard time reaching that point. But, with word that he raised $350,000 in less than two weeks, I have to say that he's definitely got the ability to attract some donors.

I still think he doesn't raise enough to be competitive, and there is reason to believe that he maxed out a good bit on some donors off the bat who were very loyal to him, but I also can't sit here and tell you he doesn't figure to be the strongest fundraiser in the bunch.

I'm still with Josh Lanier in this thing, but I did want to point this out.

Music for the moment

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Efficiency, not timing

Though obviously an honest criticism of Alice Kinman's changes to Community Development Block Grant allocation, I think there's also a glaring obvious weakness to this editorial.

That is, if the editorial staff concedes that there are legitimate reasons to deny funding to both the East Athens Development Corporation and the Hancock Corridor Development Corporation based on inefficiency and a lack of effectiveness, then why does it matter when such revisions were proposed? If an organization is not utilizing public funds in the most appropriate way - and the data cited by Keith McNeely clearly showed that - then it shouldn't really matter anyway, should it?

The government is called to be good steward of our public money, and it seems rather apparent that both EADC and HCDC were receiving rather large sums of money but producing less-than-adequate results with said money (again, EADC has placed only one individual in a home this year). This alone should be enough for at least a reduction in funding, if not a denial of funding. The timetable discussion is pointless then unless we want to employ the polite police on how commissioners should notify others of potential projects, but I don't think that's a useful venture for anyone to get involved with except for the commissioners themselves.

Or consider it this way ... if an independent contractor was clearly wasting money and not producing the intended results the agreement stated, it would be perfectly appopriate for the government to terminate that contract without discussion and find the right contractor to perform the tasks.

And that's what this is. The local government, through allocation of CDBG funding, is entrusting non-profit organizations to perform extensions of services throughout our community. EADC and HCDC were not holding up their end of the bargain, and they saw their funding cut and distributed to other organizations.

Again, I don't mean this in a critical way of the staff or mission at either oganization, nor does it mean that I think we should work to 'eliminate' certain non-profits based on their efficiency and results. The point is that if you receiving funding from a particular funder, then you have to show what you're doing with that money. Private foundations do similar reviews with those they fund, and, in this case, the funder is the government.

Hopefully this denial of funds will spur both EADC and HCDC to reconsider how they deliver their services, as well as how they raise money for their organizations.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A tough vote

This, quite frankly, is a misleading headline for this article. It implies that the commission, without any regard for the well-being of the community's low-income citizens, randomly took money away from housing counseling.

The truth of the matter is that, again quite frankly, this has been a long time coming. Both Hancock Corridor Development Corporation and East Athens Development Corporation epitomize organizations which have grown too dependent on public funds that are designed to be seed money and, in turn, have done way too little with said funds. I'm not saying they're not staffed by good people who are acting with the best of intentions, but I think it's fair to scrutinize and even withhold public funding if they're not performing their job in an effective manner ... particularly when their continual receipt of funding is denying other organizations from performing similar functions.

EADC was slated to get $185,000 from Community Development Block Grant funding to offer housing counseling, but, in the past year, had only moved one individual into homeownership and offered the service to a mere 76 individuals. And, a look at the 2006 tax return filed by EADC shows that their budget for the entire year was more than $1 million, including $753,817 in public sector grants.

That's a lot of buck for a little bang.

Compare that with the organization I'm affiliated with, the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Athens. Our entire budget is approximately $100,000 (and we receive only $10,000 in CDBG funding), and we provide shelter, counseling and case managerial services to anywhere from 25 to 50 individuals a year.

Granted the comparison is somewhat apples and oranges, but the numbers game is interesting since those served are somewhat similar yet the expenditures are tremendously skewed upward for EADC (and HCDC too).

Though I sympathize with the concerns voiced by Elton Dodson, as well as the other three who opposed the denial of the funds, regarding the lateness of this proposal, I still support the commission's actions.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Water reads

Blake's got a pretty candid look at the upcoming discussion over the water conservation plan which is slated for some conversation tonight at the Athens-Clarke County Commission meeting. It's a good read, and I concur that this thing could get pretty ugly.

From my observations, it appears that Kathy Hoard takes her projects very personally. This isn't meant to be a criticism at all and, in fact, such a determined attitude is laudable in any environment. My only concern, however, woudl be that it might mean that she, as well as others on her subcommittee, put the blinders on and barrel through to the finish line. Based on what I've seen and heard, I agree wtih Blake and favor Carl Jordan's plan that focus on a more universal allotment of usage with tiered rates to follow.

Quite frankly, it seems to not only be the more pragmatic and simple approach, but it's also the fairer one. While I respect the argument that's put out there which says that those who have conserved in the past would still pay less because they would never approach the consumption levels of the higher users, I don't agree with it. The potential remains for what was once a conserver to become a higher user (say if they have triplets or want to put in a rockin' water pond), and the possibility is they would be hit unfairly by the new tiered system.

Jordan's plan makes the most sense and, as a result, I hope the commission follows suit.

Couple of things

- Gosh, I've got to say that Sen. Roger Williams is my legislator of the day. That's a devestating counterargument to Sonny Perdue's nonsense. Not only does it ridicule the governor's arguments, but it also points out that the main piece of evidence Perdue used - the New Mexico study - was flawed and that, in actuality, alcohol-related traffic arrests went down.

- R. Thomas Trimble is grasping at straws and rewriting history in the process. While I'm racking my brain trying to remember a preacher who derailed a presidential candidate's campaign, it's also worth noting that Trimble's argument amounts to 'guilt by association should apply here solely because I don't like Barack Obama.'

- Here's my wrap-up of the OneAthens meeting.

- I don't necessarily disagree with Jessica Sterling, but if the forecast for the next week holds true we might emerge from the drought by next Saturday. I mean, I'm all for replenishing rain but now? We can't wait until April 14? We have to be swamped during Masters week?

- Not that I disagree with this in principle, but does Erick really think local governments have credit cards they regularly use at Dunkin' Donuts? And, quite frankly, I don't really care if, say, the Tax Assessor's office has to go Office Depot to buy paper and pens.

OneAthens wrap-up

Lots of interesting and promising things coming out of last night's OneAthens meeting. Blake has a good summary of the events, and here are some of my thoughts ...

- While I do still have some marginal concerns about unnecessary competition for funding, Delene Porter worked to alleviate many of my prexisting ones. She said that the foundation would only be pursuing large grants that either haven't been accessed yet by the community or are unfeasible for existing non-profits to pursue. This, in turn, would then enable the foundation to funnel the money to the local providers as needed. I'm still somewhat concerned about competion for local dollars through, say, donations or an annual giving campaign, but I feel much better after last night.

- Porter also said she intended to meet with the existing service providers to complement their services rather than duplicate or compete. I think some of the former is inevitable, but that's to be expected on some level.

- The big thing, arguably, is the proposed basic health coverage for the 14,000-plus uninsured in Athens-Clarke County, and I think they're taking an innovative approach to this. It will be a health care plan, but will receive funding through grants, as well as support from the existing hospitals in town. Plus, at the outset, the plan will only be valid at the existing clinics. Coupled with the move to have the Athens Neighborhood Health Center designated with a Federally Qualified Health Center Status which would free up untapped federal and state funds, as well as attract new physicians to serve. Out of all of the proposals, I felt this was the most thorough and the best one.

- UGA Director of Community Relations Pat Allen - 'If this is to succeed, you have to realize that this is going to be the most difficult thing we've ever done ... but it will be worth it.'

- Lots of questions from the audience, mostly dealing with transportation with Mayor Heidi Davison noting that SR 845, which is currently before the Georgia General Assembly, could open up additional revenue sources. She also noted positive work by MACORTS in the direction of expansion of service into the surrounding areas and added that Athens Transit would soon sell advertising on the buses and bus stops to increase revenue. I've wanted them to do the latter for some time now, so that's good to hear.

- Red Petrovs noted that OneAthens convened a GED summit last week to discuss how those which offer those tests and education can extend and expand their training opportunities.

- Judge Steve Jones - 'There are 155 ideas that were suggested in this process, and those things still need to be done, but this is where we start.'

- The Living Wage crowd was out in force, though the honest answer to why it wasn't factored into the final plans was that, quite frankly, the Georgia General Assembly has banned the local communities from enacting one. Again, I've got some disagreements with some of their arguments with the primary one being that if you increase access to child care, health care and job training, you'll see individuals save money and develop the potential to earn more money. Suggesting that it's the cure-all for our economic woes is misguided to me.

- Doc Eldridge noted that the Regional Economic Development plans are underway, and they are currently awaiting the completion of some studies of the region done by some outside sources (including the state, but I may be wrong about that). Coupled with health care and child care, this is the key initiative to me.