- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

Aug. 2

Gainesville (Georgia) Times, on cities finding new sports stadiums:

It’s a time of year sports fans eagerly await: The start of football preseason practices, sparking anticipation for the fall nights and afternoons to come. Baseball pennant races heat up on the march toward the postseason, though sadly not for the Braves this year. And basketball lovers know their season isn’t far behind.

In addition to a popular pastime, sports are big business for pro teams and leagues. Whether they bring in the same kind of return on investment for their home cities is less certain, though most still willingly chip in every time a pro sports owner, with pockets turned inside out, begs for cash to build a new facility.

Metro Atlanta is building two new ballparks, one downtown for the Falcons, replacing the 24-year-old Georgia Dome, another in Cobb County for the Braves, who will vacate 18-year-old Turner Field after next season. It seems a waste to see buildings of such recent vintage deemed obsolete. For both, it’s more about want than need.

The Falcons want more expensive seating and luxury boxes than the Dome can provide, and to lure a Super Bowl back to Atlanta, a prize awarded to the shiniest new cathedrals with the most seats to sell.

The Braves decided they couldn’t turn the run-down neighborhood around Turner Field into an upscale, mixed-use destination. So they will abandon a site choked by highway traffic and unserved by MARTA rail, a fact that still makes no sense, for Cobb - a new site choked by traffic and with no transit, but closer, the team feels, to its suburban fan base.

Like any parent knows, if you give two of your kids new toys, the third will want one, too. Now the Hawks’ new owners want a new arena or major upgrades to their 16-year-old home, Philips Arena. Sixteen years is barely broken in, but in today’s “keeping up with the Joneses” scramble, what was state-of-the-art five minutes ago is now considered decrepit. It’s again because of the desire for more and pricier seats, which a few coats of paint can’t fix.

Though a few cities still celebrate venerable ballparks - Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and Lambeau Field, for example - the “newer is better” mindset prevails. The new fields then are surrounded by bars, shops and restaurants and enhanced with giant TV scoreboards, all to market the “experience” of attending a game at jacked-up prices.

Yet there may be a blowback building in the quest to subsidize billionaires’ bottom lines with tax money paid by many who never buy a ticket.

It is starting with the Olympics, the grandest of all sporting events, and the priciest. Boston recently scrapped its bid to host the Games because it couldn’t gather public or political support to foot the bill. Suddenly more cities are passing on the right to play Olympic host because of the staggering cost. Several still are paying that price: Montreal, Barcelona and London piled up billions in debt, and Athens struggled to put on the Games amid Greece’s still-failing economy.

Atlanta’s Games, held 19 years ago this summer, were a different story. Based on Los Angeles’ model years earlier, Atlanta organizers paid for venues with private sponsorships, not tax dollars. They broke even, and were able to donate facilities back to the communities, including Olympic Stadium, which became Turner Field. Only one of those, the rowing and paddling venue on Lake Lanier, remains in use for its original sport.

However, costs have risen to the point private funding alone can’t cover. It’s one thing to shell out for a ballpark that should last for decades (except in Atlanta, home of the temporary home), but another to incur decades of debt for a two-week tourism bump. A study last year showed few Olympic cities have benefited economically from holding the Games. As more cities bow out, organizers will have to make tough choices: Stage the Games cheaper or revisit cities with existing infrastructure.

Some U.S cities are learning to be as wary of new stadium plans. After sour deals in Miami and elsewhere, leaders are weighing whether such investments pay off. It’s a question of prestige more than hard dollars; no one wants to see a team flee for greener pastures, as Atlanta’s two hockey teams did.

That has long been teams’ extortion ploy: Give us a new ballpark or we’ll find one elsewhere. A handful of NFL teams have done so, leaving behind broken-hearted fans and city leaders desperate to build anew to attract a new ballclub.

But studies show the economic bonanza of pro sports is not as lucrative as believed. It seems all those jobs and visitors a team lures to town just wind up moving to other activities. As a result, government leaders are trying to structure stadium deals that lessen the burden on payers of local, state, sales and hotel taxes. Before long, some will just say “no.”

The Obama administration is aiming to end the federal tax-exempt status of bonds issued to build sports venues. Such a change wouldn’t impact the current Atlanta projects, but it could dampen cities’ desire to rebuild in the future if those taxes are factored into the real cost.

We all love watching Atlanta’s teams and take pride in the exposure they bring our state. And we admire and respect Arthur Blank for his success with the Falcons, Hall County’s home team. We just don’t think it’s wise to keep soaking taxpayers for new stadiums that aren’t needed while the economy remains wobbly, jobs and incomes aren’t growing and priorities like schools and roads should take precedence.

Most fans are content with the Dome, the Ted and the Highlight Factory. We wish team owners were as easy to please.




Aug. 2

Macon (Georgia) Telegraph on issue of funding and closing regional landfills:

When we talk about garbage and landfills, let’s be serious. Out of sight, out of mind. Once our trash has been picked up, we don’t really care where it goes, we just don’t want to see - or smell it - again. Government leaders know this, too, so it’s hard for them to get the electorate fired up about spending millions of dollars to close, monitor and open a new landfill or pay to ship refuse somewhere else.

The Macon Landfill has had various projections of remaining life almost from the day it opened in 1962. Due to changes in environmental standards, the unlined landfill has been a thorn in the side of city leaders for decades. In 1993, many of Georgia’s 181 municipal solid waste landfills were just big holes in the ground, according to Telegraph archives, that let liquid from poisonous garbage seep into the water supply. The federal government stepped in and almost half of the state’s landfills shut down. The new requirements of plastic-lined landfills and monitoring were beyond the financial wherewithal of many areas. Thus was born the idea of regional landfills.

Bibb County and the city of Macon were members of the Piedmont Regional Solid Waste Commission, along with Hancock, Jasper, Putnam and Jones counties, that studied the regional concept and whether it could make money. Yes, there’s gold in garbage. The regional idea never took hold here, partly because of factionalism and because no community wants to see itself as a regional dumping ground. An additional landfill proposal in east Macon took a decade to resolve. Area residents around the Swift Creek facility are still smarting from the result, whereas another landfill proposal near Mead Road in south Macon met with stiff opposition in 1998 but with a much different outcome.

In 2004, then-Mayor C. Jack Ellis said he wanted to close the landfill before he left office in 2008. To take a step back, the city did have a special fund set aside to begin financing the closing, but money was withdrawn from the fund to keep from raising property taxes in 2003.

Now the landfill is in the forefront yet again. It has failed Environmental Protection Division inspections in April and June. Heads have rolled, new leadership and procedures have been put in place and it appears that when the EPD returns this month, inspectors should be pleased with the progress. However, the fact remains the landfill needs to close. We know that. We’ve known that. The estimated cost is $9.3 million. While it’s not on the average taxpayer’s mind now, it ought to be. Our elected leaders need to lead. This can has been kicked too many times.




Aug. 2

The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on police body cameras:

Law enforcement officers are there to protect and serve.

So are body cameras on officers.

The cameras - which are arriving in Richmond County in the next few weeks and for which officers are already being trained - will protect and serve both the public and the officers, by recording what really happens between them.

Sometimes that will accrue to the public’s benefit - such as when a white University of Cincinnati officer shot and killed a black motorist in an otherwise peaceful traffic stop. The officer, and apparently his backup, claimed the motorist dragged the officer with his vehicle; video from the officer’s own body camera seemed to show otherwise - that it was an unprovoked shooting by the officer.

He has since been indicted for murder.

Other times video will exonerate officers - such as when a woman claimed abuse and even “rape” when she was actually the combative one and the officer showed Job-like patience.

That video, from California, is making the rounds on the Internet.

While her driver is being arrested, a woman’s voice on a cell phone video claims the driver isn’t subject to arrest because he is an “Article IV free inhabitant, pursuant to the Articles in Confederation. You can look it up. It’s in the United States book of codes.”

It’s complete blather, of course. And, oh by the way, it’s the Articles “of” Confederation, and they were defunct several centuries ago. And “book of codes”?

The officer asks her nicely to exit the car, since it’s going to be towed, and she refuses - one supposes because she’s an “Article IV free inhabitant.” She demands to see his superior officer, and he calmly replies, “It’s not going to happen right now, young lady.”

When told she’s impeding an investigation under the law, she indignantly retorts that the law “only applies to U.S. citizens.” A “free inhabitant,” she explains to the officer, has all the rights of a citizen without having to follow any of its laws. Nice deal!

When she continues to disobey simple orders, she repeatedly cries rape and screams. Her subsequent hysterical verbal abuse of the officer is epic, and reason enough for a stay in jail.

This is the nuttiness officers sometimes have to deal with.

Thankfully, the relationship between the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and the community it serves is infinitely better than either of the above scenarios. But without body cameras, the truth of such incidents wouldn’t be known for certain.

The cameras have been known not only to capture behavior, but to alter it. Officers report some folks straighten up after noticing they’re being recorded. That can only cut down on complaints and conflicts.

Of course, the main thing is to protect the innocent - on either side of the badge. And that means that the recordings be made public.

Ted Rall, a far-left cartoonist/blogger, was recently fired by the Los Angeles Times after his account of being roughed up in a 2001 police encounter was completely contradicted by an officer’s audio account.

The truth, whether you’re a citizen or an officer, will set you free.



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