- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

March 20

The Rome News-Tribune, on controversy surrounding a legislation that would regulate Georgia’s auctioneers:

Despite what some of opposite political affiliation might now suspect, it is likely that Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, is not “for sale” - although perhaps winding up looking that way in the recent to-do about an auctioneering bill she introduced. She should, however, have known better.

It is too early to assess this year’s largely irrelevant new laws. There will be the usual unexpected surprises already made via backroom deals.

Dempsey’s little measure - House Bill 1042 - sailed through that body 158-8, and then ran into a disemboweling buzzsaw of opposition at a Senate hearing where Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Floyd, was the main sponsor for the measure of his party/hometown delegate. Municipalities and counties, seeing the requirement that only auctioneers licensed by the state would be able to handle sales of their surplus property, sensed a raid on their revenue flows.

Professional auctioneers charge either hourly fees or a significant piece of the action. It appears to be 15 percent of the take … and up. That wound up being viewed as not only an attack on using out-of-state outfits, or do-it-yourself sheriffs and such, but also on the growing popularity of Internet sites selling such items from all around the country - in a sense, a government-surplus eBay.

Dempsey insists the purpose was actually to clean up language, some it not gender-friendly, and outmoded stuff (like “apprentice auctioneers” that no longer exist) in a code untouched for 40 years.

Worse - as the big-city front pages made clear - it looked like a blatant conflict of interest. Her husband is in the Georgia Auctioneer Hall of Fame; her son is president of the Georgia Auctioneers Association. This is the family business.

There is nothing wrong with having an elected representative who actually knows something about a topic proposing possibly helpful changes. To be frank, much that the General Assembly grapples with each year seems proposed by those who know absolutely nothing regarding what they’re talking about.

However, there is a right way and wrong way to do this, with the correct approach being staying away from a direct connection to something that seems to be not only close to home but actually capable of walking through the front door … with a paycheck.

Online: http://www.northwestgeorgianews.com/rome/


March 19

The Savannah Morning News, on a controversial traffic stop:

There’s an unwritten rule when you’re pulled over by a cop: Sit tight. Don’t jump out of the vehicle. It makes officers nervous. Bad things can - and do - happen.

Unfortunately, multiple mistakes were made last summer, when a Metro officer pulled over Robert Cutter during a routine traffic stop.

Mr. Cutter is the husband of City Manager Stephanie Cutter. Because he mentioned this relationship to the officer who stopped him on July 15, 2013 - out of fear, he said - this stop has attracted public attention.

Because the officer, Frank Reteguiz, claimed he was the victim of retaliation for doing his job, it rightly merited an independent investigation by an outside law firm the city uses. And because the incident became public at a time when Ms. Cutter is paying another independent company to investigate the troubled police department - her responsibility - the mess is now under a microscope.

The verdict? It’s embarrassing. But it doesn’t rise to the same level of outrage that other acts of local government have triggered.

Mr. Cutter said the officer pointed the firearm at him; the officer denied it, and another officer at the scene reported that the weapon was pointed at the ground. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. Mr. Cutter wisely followed the officer’s order to get back into his vehicle. He then got a traffic ticket for driving without a seat belt.

The fine for this offense is $15, a clerk at Savannah-Chatham Recorder’s Court said.

Simply paying this modest penalty might have been the end of it. But Mr. Cutter complained about excessive use of force, prompting an internal investigation. The officer - a cop for two years with Metro - was placed on paid leave and ordered to undergo training, as supervisors believed that he shouldn’t have drawn his gun. That prompted the officer, who had not been previously disciplined, to claim retaliation.

Conclusion: There were multiple wrongs. Mr. Cutter shouldn’t have budged when stopped.

Officer Reteguiz apparently overreacted, his supervisors ruled. Consider the liability to taxpayers if this tense situation ended badly. This is why training is essential. It protects police officers and the public.

Online: http://savannahnow.com/


March 19

The Augusta Chronicle, on government transparency:

The Obama administration has never lived up to the president’s inauguration day pledge to be the “most transparent” in history.

Sadly, it’s getting worse.

An Associated Press analysis of federal data found that the administration has grown more secretive over time, last year censoring or outright denying Freedom of Information Act access to government files more than ever since Obama took office.

More than a third of requests, 36 percent, resulted in censored materials or outright denials.

The study also found the administration has cited more legal exceptions to justify withholding materials and has refused to turn over newsworthy files quickly, and most agencies took longer to answer records requests.

The report said the government blocked urgent access in several major news stories, including the Boston bombings, the National Security Agency’s phone-records collection, health care website woes and the Benghazi attacks.

The government cited “national security” to withhold records 8,496 times, a 57 percent increase over a year earlier and more than double Obama’s first year in office. Nearly all national security denials were related to requests from the NSA and the CIA, but the report showed that even agencies such as the National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency and the Farm Service Agency cited the exception.

Matters of national security? At the Farm Service Agency?

Because of the very nature of their occupation, journalists are the most ardent advocates for governmental transparency. However, transparency should be a concern for everyone because it is essential to the American way of life. A nation whose citizens are uninformed is doomed to fail.

President James Madison, whose March 16 birthday helps mark Sunshine Week, once said: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

The 44th president could learn a lesson in transparency from president No. 4.




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