- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Dec. 21

Savannah Morning News on the state’s parole process:

If Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and state lawmakers are genuinely concerned about improving public safety, they should pay less attention to gun laws and more attention to the state’s broken pardons and parole board.



Twice in a week, local prosecutors were forced to go to extraordinary lengths to prevent the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles from releasing two dangerous convicted felons back onto the streets of Savannah and aggravating this community’s violent crime problem.

The five-member parole board, which is appointed by the governor, must be more aware of the consequences of their actions, which has been outrageous of late. While state prison inmates may be entitled to parole hearings and reviews, that doesn’t mean they are entitled to parole. That’s a privilege, not a right. Yet board members seem oblivious to facts, reality and their job duties. There’s no other way to explain their recent alarming decisions to free two dangerous felons:

- Willie Doyle, convicted of a heinous murder and sexual assault of a 64-year-old woman here. During his trial, Chatham County Superior Court Judge George Oliver sent the case to a jury for sentencing, and a jury of Doyle’s peers recommended life in prison. Oliver sentenced him to life plus two 20-year terms to be served consecutively, giving him a huge break, as then-District Attorney Andrew J. Ryan was prepared to ask for the death penalty, as this murder was vicious and horrific. Doyle and four others were charged with burglary, armed robbery, aggravated sodomy and murder of Ms. Franklin in her home. After being robbed of $1.50 at knife point, she was repeatedly sexually assaulted, stomped to death and her body was left naked and smeared in lipstick.

Prison doesn’t appear to have changed Doyle’s bad behavior. Doyle entered prison on Aug. 1, 1978, and nine days later began a pattern of misbehavior that has continued for the last 37 years. His inmate disciplinary records run for 663 pages, including 146 instances of prison misbehavior and violent assaults on guards and fellow inmates. If anything, Doyle has become more unruly since he was locked up. That should disqualify him for parole - he hasn’t earned it.

- Brian Anthony Bowen, a convicted felon, pleaded guilty just two years ago to theft and drug charges and possessing a firearm. Part of the plea deal he accepted called for him to serve five years in prison on the illegal weapons charge. Yet the parole board made a mockery of the court and gun safety laws, deciding to cut Bowen loose after serving just 18 months of his sentence.

Fortunately, neither Doyle nor Bowen will be enjoying freedom anytime soon. After parole officials in Atlanta notified law enforcement officials here, the board got earfuls of protests and their scheduled releases were cancelled. “These cases will go back before the Board for reconsideration,” parole board spokesman Steve Hayes said. He added that in Doyle’s case, the notification to prosecutors about the inmate’s impending release was made five days before the scheduled release and that local officials appeared to have “adequate time to review and respond prior to the scheduled release date.”

The local cases “will be reconsidered by the board to determine whether or not to extend executive clemency to these individuals in light of the protests received,” Hayes said.

“This is my formal request that the board never release Willie Doyle back into society,” Chief Assistant District Attorney Greg McConnell fired back by e-mail on Saturday. “I further request that he be returned to a more secure place of confinement other than the Coastal Transitional Center which allows inmates to be free in our city.”

We agree wholeheartedly.

That’s another alarming bombshell that merits more investigation. Just who is being released from this state-run facility, and why? Where are these inmates going, and what, if anything, is being done to prevent these inmates from escaping or committing more crimes?

Mr. Hayes’ argument that this result proves that the current process is working is ridiculous. If anything, it suggests the opposite. If an inmate with a clearly documented pattern of dangerous and criminal behavior both as a free man and behind bars is approved for parole, then something is broken in Atlanta. The same goes for booting a convicted felon who agreed to serve five years in prison for carrying a gun. Are the standards for parole so low that nearly every prisoner can qualify? That appears to be the case, if the Doyle and Bowen decisions are representative of the parole board’s thinking.

Law-abiding and crime-weary Georgians must wonder about the type of people that Gov. Deal is appointing to this executive level board. Either a thorough house-cleaning is in order, or board members must be reschooled on their responsibilities.

It’s tough to understand why the board members would free a killer who stomped an elderly woman to death or another man who is part of Georgia’s gun problem. Veteran Chatham County prosecutor Greg McConnell got it right: “The board process is not working.”

He said that while the citizens of Georgia “should be able to depend on the board to make sound decisions and to work cooperatively with other law enforcement agencies . The board seems to take the position that parole is the default result absent vocal criticism from the public in response to their 72-hour statutory notice requirement. The Willie Doyle case is illustrative.” And not in a good way.

“This was a horribly senseless and vicious murder,” McConnell said.

We hope Gov. Deal agrees and pushes for a remedy, either shaking up his board’s membership or educating current members about their duties. We also hope state lawmakers consider legislation to fix things if Mr. Deal fails to act.

Online:

https://savannahnow.com/

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Dec. 27

The Augusta Chronicle on Augusta banker R. Daniel Blanton, the new chairman of the American Bankers Association:

It’s not unusual to hear someone referred to as “a leader in his industry.”

What is unusual is when the statement is unequivocally true, as it is in the case of Augusta banker R. Daniel Blanton, the CEO of Georgia Bank & Trust.

He’s not only a leader in the banking industry, he’s the leader of the banking industry.

Blanton recently was installed as 2015-2016 chairman of the American Bankers Association, the nation’s largest trade association for the $16 trillion banking industry.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization is the main voice for an economic sector that employs more than 2 million Americans at nearly 7,000 banking companies, ranging from major national corporations to small community-based banks.

That’s quite an honor for the Augusta area, which hasn’t had an area banker chair the organization since M. Monroe Kimbrel of Thomson, Ga., in 1962.

Blanton had been in line for the chairmanship since his election as vice chairman two years ago, but his leadership in banking advocacy goes back more than a decade. The Augusta native served on the national association’s board of directors since 2010 and was chairman of its state affiliate, the Georgia Bankers Association, in 2004.

He started on the ground floor as a teller in 1976 for Georgia State Bank, a community bank that was acquired by Georgia Railroad Bank.

Blanton was one of Georgia Bank & Trust’s first employees when the company started in 1989, and has been its CEO since 1997. Today, he also serves as CEO of the bank’s Augusta-based holding company, Southeastern Bank Financial Corp., which also operates in South Carolina under the name Southern Bank & Trust.

His service on the boards and committees of area civic and charitable organizations is too extensive to list. Suffice it to say, Blanton is the kind of civic-minded executive any community would be fortunate to have.

Augusta should be proud to have this homegrown business leader representing it on a national stage.

Online:

https://chronicle.augusta.com/

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Dec. 29

The Brunswick News on a proposed training facility for the U.S. Department of State

Kudos to U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia, and U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1. The two - Perdue speaking for the entire state of Georgia and Carter representing the coast - slammed the brakes on a proposed training facility for the U.S. Department of State until certain discrepancies could be cleared up.

The two believe the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center can handle whatever training needs the State Department has. All it has to do is specify what those requirements are and let the existing, consolidated federal training center hammer out an effective training program. This would spare the taxpayers the expense of having to build an all-new facility in Blackstone, Va., at Fort Pickett.

The last word on the proposal has yet to be uttered publicly. In September, a Senate committee on Homeland Security, of which Sen. Perdue is a member, asked all involved government agencies to reevaluate the plan to construct a new training facility in Virginia in light of the fact that FLETC is just down the interstate.

The State Department is said to have the finished report in its hand, but it has not released its findings. Meantime, taxpayers are having to pay $10,000 a day in fines on contracts awarded contractors at Fort Pickett. This, too, is a waste of tax-dollars, albeit a small amount compared to the nation’s multi-trillion dollar debt, but a substantial sum of money nonetheless and one that is adding to - not subtracting from - what the country already owes.

It is imperative that Congress get this project moving right away, provided, of course, that discrepancies and questions members of Congress have about the project are explained to their satisfaction, politics aside, of course. There is no need to pile up fines when this new report will supposedly put to rest any doubts about the proper way to proceed.

There is also no need to hold up training that might save the lives of State Department personnel in the future, regardless of who provides it.

In the future, though, Congress should make it perfectly clear to the State Department and all other federal agencies that contracts for multi-million dollar projects should await a full vetting by the men and women elected to represent the folks at home.

Online:

https://www.thebrunswicknews.com/

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