- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Nov. 4

The Brunswick News on members of a men’s college basketball team kneeling during the national anthem:

College of Coastal Georgia’s men’s basketball team brought a tiresome ongoing national story to the Golden Isles this week when all 12 members knelt in a line across the court Wednesday during the playing of the national anthem.

It took little time for a post on social media to prompt hundreds of comments and reactions before it was removed from the Facebook page where it was publicly viewable.

The players’ right to protest is not in question. They, like the professionals in the NFL and other leagues who have been doing this now for the past two seasons, wanted to make a political statement about what they see as the mistreatment of minorities by police officers and others in this country. If they feel compelled to protest a perceived injustice, they have the right to do so because of the rights of free speech we all enjoy.

But the players should think twice before joining such a politically charged act before a basketball game that has absolutely nothing to do with politics.

The protests have created a nationwide uproar, primarily for the NFL, to the point that they have had negative impacts. Viewership is down. Fans have reacted in some cases by not attending games in person. Even Papa John’s Pizza, a major television advertiser with the NFL, has said its pizza sales are down because of the weekly protests.

For a small Georgia college with already meager basketball-game attendance, kneeling during the anthem, it seems, can only hurt. The team should consider that many people who are angry about the protests are upset at the act itself, not necessarily true purpose of the protest - to shed a light on perceived injustices. Instead, they are mostly mad that players are not respecting the American flag and our country’s national anthem.

The message has been so bastardized by the act itself that the protests no longer are make the intended point. The protest now only divides and offends.

If the players want to make a succinct and pointed protest, they should plan a day and a time, make signs, get a permit and march. This way, their point can be clearly made and their views can be widely shared. Better yet, give us here at The News a heads up and we are happy to publish a notice about it and interview protesters and counter protesters about their views as it happens.

Free speech is a cornerstone of what we do and we will protect it however we can. But we also must recognize when a disrespectful and unwise use of free speech only serves to drive stakes deeper between the political property lines behind which so many of us have retreated.

These players are young, energetic and have strong opinions in a politically charged time. We hope they chose in the future to express those opinions somewhere else.

Online: http://thebrunswicknews.com/

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Nov. 4

The Savannah Morning News on the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling on open records laws:

Thursday’s long-awaited decision from the Georgia Supreme Court about whether certain records about public enterprises should be available to the public is a victory for Georgians who believe in open government and holding their public officials accountable.

The justices found merit to the argument that when a public agency, like a county hospital authority, transfers its job of providing health services to a new, private corporation and leases its property for the new group’s use, then the new group is still performing a public function and should be subject to Georgia’s Open Records laws.

The question before the Supreme Court is an important one for all Georgians and for those of us across the Coastal Empire. In the case before the court, a lawyer for an unnamed client had been trying to get information from Atlanta’s Northside Hospital regarding that hospital’s $100 million purchase of four medical practices in 2011 and 2012. Northside and the medical practices have argued that such information is no one’s business but theirs and allege that the lawyer’s mysterious client is a competitor.

They say the records are private because the hospital is and has been a private entity since 1991. That’s when the Fulton County Hospital Authority created a private, nonprofit corporation and handed over Northside’s operation to the corporation. Until then, the authority ran Northside as a public hospital.

So are Northside’s records public and thus available to the people it serves? Or to frame it another way: Does the state’s Open Records Act require the hospital to disclose them?

According to the Georgia Supreme Court, records are public unless they fall under an exception of the Georgia Open Records law. Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr agrees and submitted a friend of the court brief in favor of open records. This case is much bigger than Northside and has statewide application. It affects any public agency that might consider “going private,” so to speak, to shield their inner workings from public scrutiny.

For example, Savannahians have every right to know what’s going on at Memorial University Medical Center, which has been run by a private nonprofit entity operating on land owned by a public agency, the Chatham County Hospital Authority, and using funds partly from a county-issued bond. Memorial, which is in the process of being sold to the Hospital Corporation of America, has been bleeding red ink. Under the terms of the proposed sale, the county hospital authority would retain control of revenue from the sale and use the proceeds to help cover indigent care costs and other health care expenses it deems necessary for the citizens of Chatham County.

Thus all county citizens and taxpayers have a keen interest in knowing how Memorial has been run and how money has been spent. And that means getting access to its records

David Hudson, who filed a friend of the court brief in this case on behalf of the Savannah Morning News, said, “the court rejected the idea that a public authority could create a private entity to carry out its business and be exempt from the Open Records Act because the trial court in Fulton County rendered a decision based on Northside’s argument that it was not subject to the Open Records Act.”

During oral arguments before the Supreme Court in April, the attorney arguing in favor of open records called it “recognized law and wise policy in this state for decades that records of the state’s public authority health system are subject to disclosure under the open records act.” That was Jones Day lawyer Peter Canfield of Atlanta, a longtime First Amendment lawyer who represents the other lawyer, Kendrick E. Smith, who was seeking the Northside records for the unnamed client.

Unfortunately, the state court of appeals saw it differently than did Canfield, Smith, and this newspaper. The court ruled 4-3 that for Northside’s records to be public, Smith would have to show that the authority was involved in the operation of the hospital. Adopting that rule that these records can be kept secret would be a huge setback for transparency and would basically re-write the definition of public records. Instead, the key question is whether the records were prepared and maintained in performance of a public function, like providing health care to the public or on behalf of the public through a hospital authority.

Northside’s records are. So are Memorial’s. “Everything that Northside does it’s doing for the authority,” Canfield rightly argued. While the case was remanded back to Fulton County Superior Court after the court rejected the arguments of both sides, the court was clear that the standard is the Georgia Open Records Act and that Northside will have to meet an exemption in the act or prove that the requested information had nothing to do with the agreement to operate a hospital for the local hospital authority.

As the court said, “how closely the transactions are tied to operating the leased facilities will determine whether documents are ‘public records.’” We’d argue that information about the financial health of the area’s safety net hospital - operating on facilities and with supplies and technology owned by the county authority - would be vital to public knowledge.

For over a year, the Savannah Morning News has requested basic operational and financial information from Memorial under the Georgia Open Records Act. This newspaper has been rebuffed at every turn as the hospital’s high-powered Atlanta attorneys cited the Northside case and denied our requests.

It is now clear that Memorial is subject to the law and its attorneys and agents can no longer hide behind the Northside case in denying information to this newspaper or the public.

Online: http://savannahnow.com/

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Nov. 8

The Valdosta Daily Times on low regional voter turnout:

Democracy failed Tuesday evening.

Our constitutional republic depends on open and free elections.

Elections depend on voters.

Voters, the lion’s share of them, stayed away from the polls in droves in Tuesday’s municipal elections.

We congratulate the winners, both the incumbents and newcomers.

We do not mean to put an asterisk on your election victory, but it is common to say following an election that the voters have spoken.

In this case, the voters have not spoken, at least not many of them.

We commend the handful of you that went to polls, but Tuesday evening, it was apparent that in this local election the silence of the electorate was deafening.

The turnout was something quite a bit worse than abysmal.

The vast majority of people in Valdosta and Lowndes County had absolutely no say in the future of local government.

So, to residents we say: If things don’t go your way during the next few years, you have nothing to complain about.

Or perhaps we should more clearly say that by sitting out this election, you relinquished your standing to moan and groan about taxes, regulations, under-representation, blight, a lack of openness and transparency, poor services and just about anything and everything else.

This may very well be the lowest voter turnout in the history of local elections.

The irony is that voter turnout for last year’s presidential race, while not great, was respectable.

It is, however, at the local level where government impacts our lives the most.

Decisions by city council, the board of commissioners and the board of education have direct bearing on our property tax rates, zoning and regulation, property values, trash pickup, the cost of water and sewer, emergency services, law enforcement and the education of our children.

Yet, it seems voters care far more about the drama of national political races and who sits in the White House than they do about their own neighborhoods and quality of life.

There is some kind of disconnect.

Perhaps we in the media do not do enough to educate voters about the importance of local elections and inform them about candidates in local races.

Perhaps civics lessons in public education focus more on federal and state government than local jurisdictions.

Perhaps the public has lost confidence in the power of the vote, believing the proverb that you can’t fight city hall.

The problem with voter apathy is nothing new, but it does seem to be getting worse.

As a region, a county, a city and individual communities or districts, we can do better.

We must do better.

Democracy depends on it.

Online: http://www.valdostadailytimes.com/


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