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    Staffing, mental health care cited at teen suicide’s prison

    Staffing, mental health care cited at teen suicide's prison

    Aug. 26, 2015 — Severe understaffing and failures in training and mental health procedures appeared to be factors in the Easter Sunday suicide of a 14-year-old at an Atlanta area youth detention center. A state Department of Juvenile Justice probe, while drawing no direct connection, found dozens of violations of DJJ policies in a 78-page report on the death of Jimariya Davidson. The findings illustrate what some observers see as a frequently found gap between carefully considered policies and everyday practices in youth prisons across the country.

    Response slow to apparent youth-detention suicide

    Response slow to apparent youth-detention suicide

    April 20, 2015 — The GBI is investigating the apparent Easter Sunday suicide of a 14-year-old boy at an Atlanta-area youth detention facility, reportedly after a guard did not respond to calls for help.

    Two juvenile witnesses said they warned a correctional officer beforehand that the youth was threatening to kill himself, but the guard did not respond, according to documents released this afternoon by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.

    The unidentified youth “was calling me & telling me to tell the officer he was going to kill his self. But the officer wouldn’t go see what he wanted. At 11:45 [a.m.] they put us up & seen the body hanging.”

    Another juvenile, asked what the staff could have done differently, responded: “Listen when a youth says something.”

    ‘Incumbent-protection’ plan dies with 2015 ethics bill

    April 3, 2015 — It was a simple little bill, meant to offer local politicians relief from a dysfunctional state ethics commission. In the end, though, lawmakers added enough baggage, stripped it out, then restored it that the bill died Thursday in the Georgia Senate.

    So which is the more dysfunctional arm of state government?

    The Legislature’s inaction underscores the dangers inherent in its reliance on last-minute backroom deals. Thousands of political candidates will remain in limbo over payment of more than $1.5 million in late filing fees, and the ethics commission — given the likelihood that lawmakers will revisit the issue in 2016 — has no incentive to press for collection.

    The bill’s demise also spells the end, at least for now, of two controversial add-ons: Letting House and Senate party caucuses spend unlimited amounts to protect incumbents, and making outside agitators like Grover Norquist register and report their spending.

    Lawmakers down to wire on ‘Incumbent Protection Act’

    Lawmakers down to wire on 'Incumbent Protection Act'

    UPDATE: Early this afternoon, the House Rules Committee amended the Senate bill (SB127) to delete any changes in early-voting procedures. The House then passed the amended bill on a 167-7 vote. The Senate stripped this language from a similar last week and now must decide whether to stand firm or let the House have its way. After dinner tonight, senators voted to stand firm. 

    March 31, 2015 — Once again, Georgia enters the final week of a legislative session with the prospects for an ethics bill up in the air.

    The Georgia House and Senate have two business days left – today and Thursday – to act on a bill that would allow waivers of late campaign disclosure filing fees for thousands of local candidates.

    Both chambers have passed similar versions of the bill. Twice, though, the House has tacked on a controversial amendment that could help re-elect legislators facing primary challenges from within their own party — earning it the nickname “the Legislative Incumbent Protection Act.”

    New transparency rules: A little more, a little less

    Georgia lawmakers made history, of a sort, two years ago when they imposed a $75 limit on the value of gifts that lobbyists may offer public officials.

    But the devil’s in the details, and it’s never been clear exactly how the limit would be enforced. Now, the state ethics commission is considering an interpretation so broad that it would allow gifts of $1,000 or more in some circumstances.

    Former ethics top cop admits to corruption

    By JIM WALLS March 23, 2015 — The state ethics commission’s former top investigator pleaded guilty today to federal corruption charges. Robert Bentivegna, as a Dunwoody police detective in 2011, misused his access to the Georgia Crime Investigation Center’s database in exchange for valuable gifts for himself and his family, federal prosecutors said. He pleaded […]

    House bill could open floodgates for caucus PACs

    House bill could open floodgates for caucus PACs

    March 9, 2015 — A bill making it easier for political caucuses to help incumbent Georgia legislators get re-elected may be headed for a House vote this week.

    The change would come just in time to protect the 70-some incumbent Republicans who could be targeted for Tea Party primary challenges for their votes last week for Rep. Jay Roberts’ $1 billion transportation funding bill.

    Senate GOP PAC raised $276K over 20 months without disclosure

    Senate GOP PAC raised $276K over 20 months without disclosure

    Feb. 10, 2015 — A 2005 amendment to Georgia’s campaign finance law was meant to give smaller donors a break on filing public disclosures. A decade later, though, Senate Republicans applied the law to their own PAC, raising $276,000 over a 20-month period before disclosing even a penny of it.

    “It’s incredibly disappointing that the law is so weak that $250,000-plus can be raised without being reported for so long,” said William Perry, executive director of the good-government advocacy group Common Cause Georgia. “This is a glaring example of how far we have to go in Georgia for fairer disclosure.”

    ATL fire chief, 2012: ‘Cannot tolerate’ anti-gay slur

    ATL fire chief, 2012: 'Cannot tolerate' anti-gay slur

    Feb. 6, 2015 — Before Kelvin Cochran condoned his own anti-gay slurs, he condemned a much milder one made by an Atlanta firefighter under his command.

    “We cannot tolerate this type of behavior from our members,” Cochran wrote in an August 2012 email about a firefighter’s use of the term “fags” in a Facebook comment. As fire chief, Cochran later suspended the firefighter for 30 days without pay.

    Mayor Kasim Reed fired Cochran last month for unauthorized publication of a book that compared homosexuality to pederasty and bestiality. He’s filed an EEOC complaint alleging his firing violated his right to freedom of religion.

    3 reasons why Real PAC deserves a closer look

    Dec. 9, 2014 — A complaint against a political committee supporting Gov. Nathan Deal may be dismissed without investigation tomorrow by the state ethics commission. An attorney for Real PAC, founded by two longtime friends of Deal’s, contends it didn’t have to file financial disclosures for the $970,000 it raised and spent in Georgia, nor did it have to operate independently of the governor’s re-election committee.

    A review of campaign filings and other public documents, however, suggests the issue is not so clear-cut.

    5 questions the Nathan Deal ethics investigation never answered

    Oct. 22, 2014 — Ethics complaints against Gov. Nathan Deal were officially resolved in 2012, when he paid $3,350 in administrative fees for filing defective campaign and personal finance disclosures. But a review of the state ethics commission’s files shows the investigation leading to that settlement was never really completed. Staffers abandoned inquiries into tens of thousands of dollars spent on air travel and credit card charges, and questioned no one but lawyers for the campaign accused of wrongdoing. Rather than ensuring transparency in a state with a legacy of graft and corruption, the ethics commission settled for the easy answers, and sometimes none at all. Read the full story.

    Braves stadium critic: “Constitution … like a speed bump”

    July 8, 2014 — A Cobb County judge will decide by the end of the month whether Cobb County can sell revenue bonds to finance a new stadium for the Atlanta Braves. Cobb’s lawyers say it’s all perfectly legal, while critics accuse the county of making an end-run around the Georgia Constitution. “We’ve treated the Constitution as an obstacle,” said one, software developer Chris Peters, “just like a speed bump that we can just climb over.”
    Here are links to my latest story and my other recent posts on the topic for Atlanta Magazine’s Daily Agenda: