There are good secrets and bad secrets. The good ones can be found in your pocket. Harmful secrets are the property of someone else.
By now, you probably know of this story broken by my AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin:
The state Senate paid an Atlanta law firm $80,500 on July 28, and Senate leaders will only say the money was for a “personnel issue.”
There’s strong suspicion that the cash was used to settle a racial discrimination claim by an African-American secretary. To continue:
The check was made to the law firm Buckley & Klein after the Senate Committee on Administrative Affairs met in July and approved the payment. The committee, made up of five Republican senators, the Republican lieutenant governor, one Democrat and the secretary of the Senate, meets in private and is chaired by President Pro Tem Tommie Williams.
Williams, in a statement, said the Senate is not subject to state sunshine laws and that “the matter related is a personnel matter and we do not release personnel information.”
But three years ago, when it was thought that Grady Memorial Hospital was negotiating the silence of some whistleblowers, Williams was of a much different opinion when it came to hush money.
The Senate president pro tem appeared as the fourth signature of SB 503, which was designed to block those settlements, and includes this:
The General Assembly finds that:
(1) It has long been the practice and policy of the Attorney General to not litigate or settle any matter involving the State of Georgia or any state agency under seal;
(2) Confidential or secret settlements involving government agencies violate public policy and undermine the principles of open government; and
(3) The use of confidential or secret settlement agreements to obtain or enforce the silence of federally or state protected whistleblowers is an especially egregious violation of public policy.
A spokesman for the Senate president pro tem says the two situations aren’t comparable. “There’s a distinction between a whistleblower situation and an employer-employee dispute,” Nathan Humphrey, Williams’ chief of staff, said this morning. “Both in the public and private sector, any resolutions to those are always kept private for both parties’ sake.”
Although, we’re pretty sure that the Grady whistleblowers were employees, too.
Other signatures on the 2008 measure, in order, include David Shafer, R-Duluth; Kasim Reed, D-Atlanta, and Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta. We called Shafer this morning for his take. He has emailed us this:
”I do not serve on the Senate Administrative Affairs Committee and was not aware of either the lawsuit or the settlement until Tuesday evening. My view on the use of taxpayer funds in confidential settlements has not changed.”
SB 503 passed the Senate that year, but apparently couldn’t get traction in the House.
Given that the lawmaker involved is quite conservative, many are connecting the following Gainesville Times article with last night’s execution of Troy Davis. That would be a mistake:
South Hall state Rep. James Mills is leaving the Georgia General Assembly in October for a job on the State Board of Pardons and Paroles….
His open seat in the state House likely will be filled in a November election.
Gov. Nathan Deal, a fellow Hall County resident, will announce Mills’ appointment today.
However, there’s a theory that an effort to reduce Mills’ influence over local legislation was behind the portion of a new House map that divided Hall County among half a dozen lawmakers – creating a potential rift between Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston.
If that’s the case, then Mills’ appointment to the pardon and paroles board becomes a neat solution.
Number-crunching by the New York Times shows that Georgia has two of the top five counties in the nation when it comes to increases in the poverty rate since 2007. Dougherty County in southwest Georgia has had an increase of 12.4 percent. Poverty in Clayton County on metro Atlanta’s south side has soared 11 percent.
Over at the Athens Banner-Herald, Jim Thompson has an excellent retrospective on the impact of R.E.M – the band announced Wednesday that it was breaking up after 31 years — on local politics:
Not coincidentally, R.E.M. also helped local politicians see the arts and music community as something else, too – voters.
In advance of the 1998 election that would put him in the Athens-Clarke County mayor’s office, local insurance executive Doc Eldridge went to the band’s manager, local attorney Bertis Downs. Eldridge said he didn’t go to Downs for money, but for an introduction into a segment of the community that Eldridge, in a recent interview, admitted he didn’t really know.
As things turned out, Eldridge, as mayor, would be instrumental in saving the railroad trestle that had appeared as cover art on R.E.M’s “Murmur.” He did it not because of any specific request from the band, but from the recognition the trestle was a tourist attraction, one of the sites R.E.M. fans wanted to see when visiting the band’s hometown.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider