Mike Klein Online

Open Meetings, Records Act Rewrite Pushed by Attorney General Olens

Mike Klein

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet on August 30 to discuss a rewrite of the state Open Meetings and Records Act that has become a priority for Attorney General Sam Olens.  House Bill 397 was filed late in this past spring’s session and a vote is possible next year.  “My goal is to pass the bill,” Olens said.  “I’m not putting myself out here for failure.”

Making public records easier to obtain, opening more meetings to citizen eyes and cracking down harder on those who prevent that from happening has become a goal for the first-term Attorney General.  He made that clear during a recent presentation to the Atlanta Press Club.

“While the press continues to spend much energy on ORA – the Open Records Act – which I totally understand and appreciate – I would suggest to you that most abuses occur with regard to the Open Meetings Act,” Olens told about 115 Press Club guests during a panel discussion.

“When you go to a public meeting and they cover 20 topics in 15 minutes please don’t think that the meeting’s agenda was handled at the meeting.  So the most meaningful changes in this rewrite relate to the Meetings Act rather than Open Records.”

Attorney General Sam Olens

Olens noted one particularly egregious recent Open Records Act request case.  A citizen who requested information from the Cherokee County School District was told it would take several thousand hours to produce the work, only after he submitted a check for more than $324,000.

“My office called the lawyer for the Cherokee County School board and said, you really don’t want our letter do you?  The next week the individual got the documents he wanted,” Olens said.

House Bill 397 would address how much governments can charge in advance for records requests, set guidelines for  providing them electronically, and it would mandate which records public agencies must keep and for how long.”

The legislation would also introduce the possibility of civil or criminal penalties for Open Meetings or Records Act offenders, and steeply increased fines.

“When you look at other states that are considered (to have) model Sunshine Laws, they all have strong legislative intent that you’re supposed to give the public government information.  We don’t have that in our law at all, and that’s in (the legislation),” Olens said.  “We are trying as best we can to strengthen the law and get it passed.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

During Talk About Quest for Peace, A Reminder Violence is Never Far Away

Mike Klein

“Security inside Kabul today is provided by the Afghan security forces.  You’re going to have the occasional suicide bomber.  You’re going to have the occasional suicide vehicle get through.”

When he addressed the Atlanta Press Club on Tuesday the United States three-star general who commands the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan almost certainly could not know about events that would unfold thousands of miles away.  Within an hour of his presentation militants attacked the Hotel Inter-Continental in Kabul. At least 19 died, including the militants.

Again, there would be reason to question whether Afghan military and police forces will be capable to defend their country when all U.S. fighting forces are withdrawn in December 2014. More than 30,000 will leave before next year ends, as announced by President Barack Obama.

Lt. General William Caldwell commands the multi-national NATO Training Mission.  His job you don’t want: Create an army, an air force, a police force and install government and economic infrastructures into a country in which fewer than three in ten people can read or write their own name. This initiative is the job that you don’t read or hear about in most accounts.  This money — 92 percent funded by the United States — is being spent to bring a country from backward, illiterate ways into something akin to modern society.

Lt. General William Caldwell, Commander, NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan (U.S. Military Photo)

“When I first arrived there in November ’09, the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke told me, hey, General, you’re going to need to take on this literacy thing,” Caldwell said.  “Here I am a three-star General, I’m a fairly senior guy, and I’m sitting here telling the Ambassador, you’ve got it wrong, that’s USAID or State Department or somebody else, but that ain’t my mission.  In about 60 days, I was eating my words, telling him, Ambassador, you were exactly right.

“I can produce the greatest army, the greatest police force but it will never endure if they don’t have the education, basic level, I’m not talking about college level, I’m talking about basic level education to account for equipment, to maintain the equipment. We’ve taken that on full force.”

When the literacy effort began 14 percent of Afghan military and police recruits could read.  That will improve to one-in-two by year’s end.  The NATO Training Mission currently employs 2,600 teachers, more than any entity in Afghanistan other than the Education Ministry.  One hundred thousand Afghans have been taken from illiteracy to some literacy in twelve months.

Caldwell is a former Columbus, Georgia native whose many worldwide U.S. commands included the 82nd Airborne Division when it evacuated more than 6,000 New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina.  He served as the Multi-National Force-Iraq spokesman before 28 months in command of the U.S. Army at Fort Leavenworth.  That preceded his NATO assignment in Afghanistan.

Afghan National Army 9th Kandak Storm Commandos (U.S. Air Force Photo)

“If you go back to December 2009 when our president made the announcement about putting additional surge forces in one of the three things that he said he wanted to do was help set the conditions that would enable the Afghan security forces to grow and develop so they could take on this responsibility for security inside their country and not be reliant on coalition forces,”

“We also understand there are still challenges ahead of us as we move forward.  All we have to do is look around Afghanistan.  We call it seeing the Echoes of the Past.  If you look at what the Soviets did when they were there they in fact did build an incredible army and air force and a government that was functioning, well-equipped, well-trained and yet within two years after their withdrawal it fell into complete disarray, disintegrated, did not work.”

Afghanistan, like any conflict zone, is an imperfect place.  Incidents like the Hotel Inter-Continental attack this week are likely to be repeated.  Militant forces sympathetic to the Taliban, al Qaeda and ethnic groups that often do not share values will no doubt continue to test coalition forces and the internal government that many Westerners believe is inept if not corrupt and you can find support for those views inside the country as well.

Caldwell described the Afghanistan state of mind as being “thirty years of civil war where all they did was worry about survival. There was no nationalistic view.  There was no idea of serving others.  It was about survival for 30 years.  Now we’re trying to change that to serving something greater than yourself.   That’s taking time.”

Support for this 10-year war and the two-year NATO Training Mission is waning at home, especially with Osama bin Laden now killed.  Sixty-two percent who answered a CNN poll oppose continued U.S. forces in Afghanistan.  Fifty-one percent answered the same way in a CBS News poll.  Just 45 percent told the Pew Research Center that the United States will “probably succeed” in Afghanistan.  NATO’s Training Mission will be on the ground until at least the year 2016 because it will take that long to install a capable Afghan Air Force.

“I recognize there is some weariness back in the United States about the ongoing efforts,” Caldwell said.  “Our job is to make this thing last.  It has to endure. We have to receive return on our investment that we have made both in terms of human life and in monetary resources.”  Additional source:  NATO Training Mission website.

July 1, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. Justice Will Decide Whether to Challenge Georgia Immigration Law

Mike Klein

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano side-stepped whether the White House will challenge Georgia’s new immigration law in federal court when she spoke to an Atlanta Press Club luncheon on Saturday, but the secretary left no doubt President Barack Obama has no interest in state-by-state immigration reform.

“Those legal determinations will be made in consultation with the Department of Justice, but I think these efforts at the state-by-state level, first of all, they are predicated on a falsity,” Napolitano said at The Commerce Club.  “The falsity is that there has been nothing done and the border somehow is out of control.  That is incorrect,” she said in response to a question.

Napolitano listed several homeland security improvements during prepared remarks, among them, doubling the number of border patrol agents to 21,000, an increase in analysts who focus on Mexican cartel violence, a fivefold increase in the agents who work directly with Mexican enforcement, and screening all southbound trains for guns and cash.

Napolitano is a former U.S. prosecutor in Arizona where she also served the state as attorney general and for six years as governor before she took the Homeland Security job.  Arizona enacted Senate Bill 1070 immigration reform legislation last year and it was challenged by the U.S. Justice Department.  A federal Court of Appeals upheld part of the government challenge..

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s office says he will sign House Bill 87 which is similar but not identical to the Arizona legislation.  Georgia legislation was passed by the General Assembly this year as a statement that state legislators are tired of waiting for federal immigration reform.  The Department of Homeland Security says Georgia has 480,000 illegal immigrant residents.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

Napolitano told the Atlanta Press Club, “This is what the President has said and what I’ve been saying.  State by state won’t cut it.  It’s got to be a federal reform of immigration laws if we are really going to deal with this issue.  Look at the way our system is set up.  Read the case law.  Read the Constitution and you will realize immigration is fundamentally a federal issue.”

The secretary said reform should update enforcement– particularly where fines and penalties are not substantial; update visa laws for temporary workers – she named the agriculture and high tech industries; pass the Dream Act that would create a path to citizenship for illegals who were brought here as children; and decide how to proceed with millions more who are in the country illegally “so they can come out of the shadows.”

The Homeland Security secretary’s Atlanta public appearance came six days after President Obama announced a successful hit on Osama bin Laden.  “There really is no doubt that al Qaeda or an al Qaeda affiliate or those inspired by its ideology continue to focus their attacks on the West and their thoughts and attacks on the United States,” Napolitano said.

“What does that mean?  That does not mean that we live in fear or we walk around in a constant state of alarm.  What it means is that we just have to remain ever vigilant against these threats and others from those who would see to attack us and our way of life.”

Napolitano predicted airport screening changes over the next several months or couple years should make getting to the gate less intrusive for low-and-no risk passengers.  She said security officials would like to “reduce the number of things you have to take off,” and Napolitano said, “No one wants to see a 6-year-old being patted down.”

The secretary spent Sunday morning in tornado-stricken Ringgold, Georgia near the Tennessee border. FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency – has nine Georgia disaster relief centers open 12 hours per day, seven days per week.  Napolitano said the agency has paid $23 million to some 50,000 southern states tornado victims.   FEMA‘s current focus includes Mississippi River floods that are devastating several states.

Napolitano will deliver the Emory University commencement address on Monday.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

May 8, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Speaker Ralston: State Prison Inmate Population Can Be Reduced 50%

Mike Klein

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston predicted significant criminal justice reform could reduce the state adult prison population by perhaps half and he said a resolution to HOPE scholarship funding might be near.  Ralston discussed two of the state’s most pressing financial challenges during a sold-out Atlanta Press Club luncheon on Thursday at The Commerce Club.

Ralston spoke about criminal justice reform one day after Governor Nathan Deal said a special council will make recommendations to reduce the $1 billion per year that Georgia now spends on adult corrections.  The Governor opened the door to serious consideration of mental health, DUI and drug courts along with day-reporting centers and mandatory sentencing changes.

Georgia currently incarcerates about 60,000 adults.  Governor Deal did not estimate how many non-violent offenders could be handled in other settings when he spoke Wednesday but one day later Ralston said, “I think with the right reforms we could reduce our prison population by half.  It’s long past due and I look forward to that conversation moving forward.”

The House Speaker also said, “We’re frankly locking a lot of people up who really don’t need to be in prison because they are more of a threat to themselves than they are to others.  It’s time now to have the courage to say we’re going in a new direction.  We’re going in a new direction.”

Speaker David Ralston

Ralston described the HOPE scholarship as a “victim of its own success” which was negatively impacted by more bright kids, tuition increases and Georgia Lottery revenue that flattened out.  Expenses already are greater than revenue and reserves could be exhausted next year.

HOPE was conceived to help place more students in higher education but Ralston said, “We added a lot of bells and whistles that weren’t there in 1992 and the bill has come due.”  Pre-K programs may be among those bells and whistles; they were not in the original legislation.

Ralston did not predict how HOPE would be saved or when a proposal would be ready.  “I think it’s going to be much, much sooner rather than later …We are very, very close to being able to announce a proposal that I think Georgians will recognize immediately is realistic and is fair.”

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.


February 17, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment