For a decade, infighting, vitriol and litigation has been business as usual at Georgia’s state ethics commission. Three executive directors have resigned or been fired since 2006. Two other employees collected $405,000 in damages for allegedly wrongful termination. Lawmakers stripped the agency of 40 percent of its funding, its power to make new rules, even its name. Much of this has come to pass, critics say, because the commission answers to the very politicians it’s supposed to regulate and investigate. Legislative leaders set its budget, control its powers and, along with the governor, decide who its five members will be. It’s time, former ethics chief Teddy Lee says, for a truly independent commission. “It’s got to be set up in a way that it can’t be manipulated,” says Lee, “by people who have no desire to be overseen or second-guessed.”
Health-care interests — including a $700 million-a-year state vendor — top a partial list of donors to Gov. Nathan Deal’s transition committee. Twenty donors gave more than $130,000, including $77,500 from health-care interests. Among the largest donors: the parent company of Peach State Health Plan, which earned $713 million in 2010 as one of Georgia Medicaid’s managed care organizations. Peach State’s contract runs out this year.
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Every two years, U.S. high school students answer questions in a CDC-sponsored survey that helps guide policy on sex education and teen pregnancy. But not in Georgia. The omission impedes public health officials trying to lower some of the nation’s highest teen-pregnancy rates, says advocate Michele Ozumba. It’s “a huge gap,” she says. “To do effective prevention, you have to have solid information.”