State legislators say they welcome transparency regarding their personal finances — corporate and real estate holdings, government contracts and the like. But who decides what constitutes transparency and how diligently to check whether they’re truly telling us what we’re entitled to know? They do. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, transparency is too important to be left to the politicians.
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Here's the plan... The Internet brims over with opinion. Facts? Not so much. We want to restore the balance. We dig up & share public records on ethics and transparency in public institutions. Tips, documents & feedback are welcome. We also offer tutorials (we know, it's geeky) so you, too, can dig up public records.
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Feb. 26, 2014 – As Cobb County proceeds with plans to subsidize a $672 million stadium for the Atlanta Braves, questions continue to surface about the transparency of county leaders’ deliberations and the accuracy of the projected public benefit and cost to taxpayers. Here’s what I’ve written on the subject recently for Atlanta Magazine’s Daily Agenda:
- Neither snow, nor sleet, nor taxpayer objection keep Cobb from fast-tracking stadium plans
- Proposed law could cloud spending details on Braves, Falcons stadiums
- What Cobb businesses might be taxed to help cover Braves stadium costs?
- Did Cobb commissioners’ briefings on Braves violate Open Meetings Act?
- Braves may seek even more millions in public assistance
- Who knew about Tim Lee’s ties to turf company before Braves deal?
- Reuben McDaniel hasn’t been much for filing political disclosures since his 2009 election to the Atlanta Board of Education, racking up $750 in unpaid late or non-filing fees as a result. He’s skipped six campaign finance filings and three annual disclosures of his personal finances that are required by law.
- His apparent lassitude regarding filings with securities regulators could prove more problematic. McDaniel, who’s registered as both a securities broker and an investment adviser representative, has made no disclosure of two liens and an IRS tax obligation, each for $11,000 or more, or a $715,000 loan default. Securities brokers and investment advisers must notify regulators about unsatisfied liens as well as foreclosures and other “compromises with creditors” so that potential investors can access and review them.
A first-time political candidate, Cynthia Briscoe Brown has raised $19,000 in campaign donations this year, compared to opponent Reuben McDaniel’s nearly $60,000.
Nov. 13, 2013 – Don Balfour was suspended from the Georgia Senate today over expense account discrepancies first reported by Atlanta Unfiltered in February 2012. Our examination of the senator’s 2011 expense account found Balfour had claimed per diem and mileage reimbursements for several days when he was out of state and therefore ineligible for them. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution later dug up similar examples from prior years.
The Senate Ethics Committee order Balfour to pay a $5,000 fine over the discrepancies, and a Fulton County grand jury indicted him in September for 18 counts of making false expense claims. Records show Balfour’s campaign committee last year paid nearly $80,000 in legal fees to defend him in those cases.
Before announcing his bid for governor, Sen. Jason Carter had raised an astonishing $468,000 in campaign donations in just three years, much of it from attorneys at Atlanta law firms. His grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter, other family members and fellow board members of the Carter Center kicked in nearly $41,000.
Carter’s campaign committee for governor registered with the state ethics commission on Nov. 6, 2013. The campaign’s treasurer is Bess Weyandt, executive director of Startup Atlanta.
The Georgia Department of Human Services paid Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, the law firm that employs Carter, nearly $10.5 million in fiscal years 2010 and 2012. The firm also did $188,500 of legal work in FY2012 for the University of West Georgia. Carter does not hold a fiduciary position at the firm, so he is not required to disclose the payments.
Jan. 2, 2014 — Georgia’s juvenile correctional officers, frustrated by low morale, stingy pay and thin staffing, quit their jobs three times as often as other state employees, state auditors say. Some 57 percent of DJJ’s entry-level officers resigned in FY 2013. A self-perpetuating downward spiral might best describe personnel practices outlined in the just-released audit. The constant turnover weakens staffing levels, so the remaining officers will have to work extra hours for which they won’t be paid immediately, if at all. Most don’t hang around for the two years necessary to qualify for promotion.
Nov. 25, 2013 — The Georgia Supreme Court agreed unanimously today that the removal of six DeKalb County school board members did not violate the state’s constitution. Gov. Nathan Deal suspended former board chair Gene Walker and five other members in February as the DeKalb school district faced an imminent loss of accreditation. In an opinion released today, the high court upheld Deal’s power to remove local school board members and the Legislature’s right to get involved to that extent in local school systems’ affairs.
Sept. 27, 2013 — Sen. Don Balfour was indicted today, based largely on Atlanta Unfiltered’s February 2012 report on sketchy entries in his expense account, for claiming per diem and mileage that he wasn’t entitled to.
Over at Fox 5, Dale Russell reported Wednesday night on an allegation that politics is behind a push to reopen an ethics investigation of U.S. Senate candidate Karen Handel. The state ethics commission settled three complaints against Handel in April with dismissals and her payment of a $75 late filing fee. Now, Russell reports, ethics […]