Two weeks have passed since voters across most of Georgia rejected their region’s T-SPLOST proposals in a display of distrust in government. Unfortunately, that’s plenty of time for members of our governing class to provide new reasons to be wary of them.
The most egregious of the new bad examples comes courtesy of an organization whose project became a lightning rod during metro Atlanta’s T-SPLOST debate: the Beltline.
The 22-mile loop of trails, parks and transit ringing Atlanta’s urban core is supposed to herald yet another renaissance for the city of perpetual rebirth. Instead, a series of investigative stories by the AJC’s Greg Bluestein has uncovered an all too familiar sight: flip disregard for the public, this time in the expense reports of Beltline employees. These workers might not be public officials in the traditional sense, but they do have access to tax dollars.
And my, how they’ve used that access. Wedding gifts, a parking ticket and a dry cleaning bill, and pricey hotel stays, dinners and drinks from sea to shining sea: The public has been awfully generous to the Beltline staff, thanks to the Beltline staff.
Beltline executives, including CEO Brian Leary, filed for taxpayer-funded reimbursement of these and other expenses. Now that they’ve been caught, they’re repaying the public for some inappropriate ones. So far, taxpayers have recovered $750. Yet to be repaid, among other things, is a $2,100 charge for foods and drinks for “staff development” at a Braves game.
Who do these guys think they are, state legislators? Were all the lobbyists out of town?
Seriously, though: While the dollar amounts associated with these purchases may be relatively small, the attitude they reveal — a parking ticket? really? — bears the same sense of entitlement and disdain for taxpayers we’ve come to expect in many public, ahem, servants.
I like the Beltline in principle. But its inclusion as a project to alleviate metro traffic congestion, to the tune of 10 percent of the regional funds to be raised by the 10-year T-SPLOST, was unjustifiable. Don’t take my word for it: Take the words of T-SPLOST defenders who, when challenged about the project’s ability to ease gridlock, tended to change the topic to economic development or more popular road projects.
Now, the tradeoff for a shot at more than $600 million and a speedier building of parts of the Beltline may be the perception among suburbanites that Atlanta wanted them to subsidize its newest toy train. When it should have been working to repair its image, the Beltline now faces the task of living down its staff’s high living.
Speaking of living on high, ivory-tower types struck a blow for themselves last week when the Board of Regents of Georgia’s university system named a consolidated school after … the Board of Regents.
Georgia Regents University is the new name of the colleges formerly known as Augusta State University and the Georgia Health Sciences University, itself known until recent years as the Medical College of Georgia. This name has the benefit of appealing to the 17 regents who voted for it and, as near as I can tell, not one other person on the planet.
A branding survey conducted by Kennesaw State University for the regents, first obtained and reported by the Augusta Chronicle, found “Georgia Regents University” wasn’t even on the original short list of names. When it did appear in a second survey, it ranked fifth out of seven choices, besting only “Georgia Excelsior University” and “Bartram University,” while trailing the likes of “Georgia United University” and “Georgia Eastern University.”
(That unimpressive list of choices and the hideous new license plate leads one to conclude our government certainly can’t be trusted when it comes to creative endeavors.)
“Georgia Regents University” allegedly was chosen to avoid the regionalism that might have come with a name including “Augusta,” but three to four times as many people surveyed nationally thought “University of Augusta” better reflected the words “national,” “excellence” and “prestige.”
The Chronicle reported the president of the combined university, Ricardo Azziz, “says the name Georgia Regents University recognizes that it is the first research university established by the Board of Regents.”
If you’re not a regent and that thought either occurred or matters to you, congratulations: You’re qualified to join Georgia’s governing class. Keep that attitude, and you’ll go a long way here.
– By Kyle Wingfield