Many Georgia students have enrolled in public school in recent years without ever attending class, solely to take advantage of a 2008 state law creating tax-subsidized scholarships for pupils in private schools. Legislators have described that practice as a legal but unintended consequence of the statute, which was purportedly intended to give children in failing public schools the chance for a private education that they otherwise couldn’t afford. But, in a report released today, critics charge the law creating so-called “student scholarship organizations” (SSOs) was crafted specifically to help pay for students to remain in private school.
Rep. Earl Ehrhart knows how to take care of his own. Ehrhart — CEO of a non-profit group that helps donors get state tax credits for gifts to religious schools — sponsored a new law in 2011 that raises the limit on those credits and eases restrictions on how contributions may be spent. The Cobb County lawmaker has never disclosed his role with the non-profit on disclosure forms mandated by state law.
Controversial bonuses paid to Georgia Lottery employees could be whacked by 90 percent or more under Georgia’s new HOPE scholarship law. But there’s nothing to stop the lottery board from jacking up executives’ base salaries to make up the difference. In fact, the board did so just last year, giving CEO Margaret DeFrancisco a $67,000 raise.
Picture a few Georgia legislators in a karaoke bar, swaying back and forth and belting out the Stone’s “Under My Thumb.” Or maybe a little Cee Lo. That should give you a good sense of the message that lawmakers sent last week to the State Campaign Finance Commission. Gov. Nathan Deal has already signed an ethics bill that gives the commission more work and more expenses and rebuffs a bid to restore some of its power.
March 14, 2011 — Georgia’s ethics reformers have a bill to push, but they’ll be pushing uphill if they want to restrict politicians giving large sums to each other, a practice sometimes described as “empire-building.” A case in point? Three top Senate Republicans, as they maneuvered to strip Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle last year of some of his power, donated $45,000 to 12 Senate freshmen. Caucus Chair Bill Cowsert said the contributions were part of his obligation as a party leader, not an effort to sway votes.
March 7, 2011 — Beginning today, lobbying takes on a whole new meaning in Georgia. In essence, anyone who’s seeking to influence legislation now must file papers as a lobbyist if they’re being paid while doing so. That includes corporate executives or school teachers visiting the Capitol, or witnesses at legislative hearings. Patrick Millsaps, chairman of the State Campaign Finance Commission, warned: “I think we are coming dangerously close to putting up barriers to prevent people from petitioning their government.”
Local governments in Georgia can use paper or computer software to comply with Georgia’s Open Meetings Act, which requires that government agencies keep records of official meetings. DeKalb County schools are in the education business, but they haven’t learned to adhere to that basic principle. School officials can’t produce minutes of two meetings where a controversial salary audit was discussed, nor the audit’s executive summary that was supposedly kept in the official file of a third meeting.
Legislative leaders are in discussions to hire a prominent lobbying firm to help redraw district lines for the Georgia House and Senate this year. Under the proposal, Troutman Sanders Strategies would work on reapportionment maps for the Legislature and the state’s delegation to Congress. The firm recently hired former House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, and chairman Pete Robinson serves on Gov.-elect Nathan Deal’s transition team.
The site of the Oaky Woods wildlife area sold for such a sweet price in 2004 that the sale cannot be used to determine a value today, state appraisers say. The state last week forked over $2,860 an acre — 75 percent more than the ’04 price — for a portion of the tract. A subsidiary of Synovus Financial, the Columbus-based banking giant that’s lost a pile on bad real-estate loans, pocketed about a third of the proceeds.
Atlanta City Council member Cleta Winslow just paid an ethics fine for spending $5,420 of taxpayers’ money to boost her 2009 re-election campaign. But taxpayers also picked up the tab for nearly $29,000 more in spending that promoted Winslow’s name in the final weeks before last year’s voting. The payments blurred the line drawn by the city’s Ethics Code to separate city-sponsored events and campaign activities. Winslow collected reimbursements from her city expense account for jazz musicians, a disc jockey, an inflatable bouncer, a popcorn machine and other equipment, plus $8,000 worth of barbecue and side dishes. Click here for my full story on ajc.com. Click here for supporting documents for this story.
A flawed bidding process indirectly allowed Nathan Deal’s Gainesville auto salvage business to nearly double its annual income from state inspections. Procurement records contain nothing to suggest that Deal, then Georgia’s 9th District congressman, or any of his staff members influenced the state’s decision to overturn the bidding. Losing the state contract — and the flat fee paid by vehicle owners — allowed Gainesville Salvage Disposal to earn an extra $415,000.
Fulton County Commissioner Nancy Boxill and a county employee who was under investigation for fraud attended a professional conference in Rio de Janeiro this year shortly after officials allegedly shelved the inquiry. Boxill and Cheryl Estes, a program manager in the Human Services Department, were among five Fulton County officials at the U.N. World Urban […]