Your morning jolt: Three years ago, the Senate considered hush money wrong

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

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36 comments Add your comment

john bolton

September 22nd, 2011
10:25 am

Jim Galloway…have you identified the miscreant Senator yet? My sources say it is an arrogant white male GOP State Senator, but that doesn’t narrow the search too much.

sintrist

September 22nd, 2011
10:44 am

Now this is an agreed settlement.Paid for with taxpayer money.The aggrieved settled.This is none of the peoples business.Only if the guilty person is a democrat then should be named in public.

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

September 22nd, 2011
10:45 am

That it was the Senate’s settling a suit pointing out some documented racism is just as troubling as it’s being essentially “under the table,” out of the sight of the sovereign People; but what can we expect of our lawmakers who stand silent as Bush, proven to have committed 9/11, not only yet breaths our air but has, out of view or press coverage, been “comped” the oil and gas pipeline distribution network supplying 11% of America’s needs, formerly owned by the Queen of England and the Rockefellers, as a payoff for his 9/11 treason.

Righteousness doesn’t just “happen:” the People, by G-d, must establish it. This is America, after all.

Death for Treason

NameRequired

September 22nd, 2011
10:53 am

No other public entity (city, county, MARTA, GDOT, school board) is permitted to settle claims with a confidentiality agreement – why is the State Senate? This confidentiality agreement should be challenged and would be ruled unenforceable by any competent court.

DEA

September 22nd, 2011
11:06 am

The only people guilty of treason are Democrats, Will. And all of them should be rounded-up and killed for what they’ve done to our country over the past 100 years.

Jon Lester

September 22nd, 2011
11:17 am

It’s no accident that poverty rose that much in Clayton County after its public transit system was eliminated.

As for our famous trestle: it may be iconic, but it’s also a carcinogenic firetrap, too dangerous to leave standing but coated with too hazardous a chemical for simple demolition. Doc Eldridge was supposedly a more conservative CEO/mayor, as far as that goes on the local level, yet he basically gave $25,000 of county funds to the railroad to help them wash their hands of the liability. You might remember someone recently got through the fence, climbed up on the thing and then fell off of it.

Racist Georgia

September 22nd, 2011
11:18 am

The republicans are against the middle class and working class and we need to vote the teabaggars/republicans out of the office.

Independent voters for Biden/Obama 2012

Jon Lester

September 22nd, 2011
11:19 am

Will, I haven’t thought to ask it of you before, but are you a LaRouchie?

Hall County Mafia

September 22nd, 2011
11:22 am

Have to have someone to pardon Deal down the road.

JSH

September 22nd, 2011
11:26 am

When I read it was probably a racial discrimination suit, I saw wasted taxpayers money. Don’t do a good job, get fired, and if your black it’s a racial thing. Don’t do a good and be white, you’re fired. End of story.

R U Kidding Me?

September 22nd, 2011
11:28 am

Name Required:

The short answer is because they are the Georgia State Senate. They demand openess is every office of state government, and then EXEMPT themselves from the same requirement. It truly is a “Good Old Boys Fraternity”. Despite their internal squabbling, members will not squeel on another member because of the fear of exposing their own dirty laundry. Drunken shenanigans, sexual encounters with staff and lobbyists are all kept quiet and not one Senator has the courage to expose their direct knowledge of this behavior.

Like a certain rather obese Senator from far north Georgia, who was so drunk at a lobbyist paid dinner at an Atlanta Japanese steak house, that he threw up on the grill, scattering lobbyists and several other Senators. Or like a former Senator and recent candidate for Attorney General who was so drunk on the last night of the 2009 Session, that Eric Johnson expelled him from the Senate floor. At least 50 fellow Senators saw this happen, but NOT A SINGLE ONE will report this behavior. It’s “Hear No Evil, See No Evil” at it’s finest.

So the Senate uses $80k of taxpayers money to settle a suit caused by the actions of one of their own is really no big deal in their eyes. It’s just the way things work in the Legislature. And it will never change as long as Tommie Williams, Chip Rogers, Cecil Staton, Don Balfour and all of the other ethically challenged folks are in charge

td

September 22nd, 2011
12:17 pm

I am for 100% sunshine, unless a matter involves a personnel matter of a state employee (Elected officials do not count).

clem

September 22nd, 2011
12:26 pm

don’t need the name of the state employee, but if an elected official was contributing factor to the case it should be disclosed and the general nature of the issue…..taxpayer money was used

B. Thenet

September 22nd, 2011
12:35 pm

We have one of the most corrupt state governments in the country. This is not a GOP/Dem thing either, as most of these crooks just changed their D to an R after their names in the last 15 years.

Perhaps next time the GOP will try harder to not nominate a known crooked politician for Governor.

The Ghost of Lester Maddox

September 22nd, 2011
12:38 pm

As for the witnesses who “signed affidavits recanting their testimony” in the Troy Davis case….

….do some work Jim and ask some seasoned Judges who have death penalty experience….they will tell you in a heartbeat that death penaly opponents’ are experts at getting witnesses’ signatures on affidavits saying something very, very, very different from what those witnesses may have told the death penalty opponents.

To say a witness signed an affidavit recanting testimony…..years after the fact…shows only that a slick death penalty opponent talked sweetly to that witness….and nothing more.

jd

September 22nd, 2011
12:45 pm

So, an elected official(s) behaved in a manner to cause an employee to file a grievance. The employee successfully proved their claim and we, the taxpayers, must pay for that behavior. Yet, we may not be told who that elected official(s) was/were, and the body will not take action against such behavior.

Time to vote em all out!

clem

September 22nd, 2011
12:48 pm

dea, nice post you dunce

honested

September 22nd, 2011
12:48 pm

Super secret hush money payout…..hmm…….

Why can’t casey tie his shoes?

Double Zero Eight

September 22nd, 2011
1:09 pm

AG Sam Olens had no problem stating since taxpayer money
was used, the APS cheating summary report with names should
be released to the public.

No group practices hypocrisy better than politicians!
Sam, where are you now? Cat got your tongue?

mike

September 22nd, 2011
1:13 pm

Don’t you just love these people who blame the victims for people discriminating against them. The way it works is put the public institutions from the Atlanta City in the paper. However when it is the elected officials then you hide their identities. However from top down the Georgia State government is looking like it did back in the 50s and 60s. Are we sure there are no axe handles and American flag bow ties in some of those closets under the gold dome.

double

September 22nd, 2011
1:15 pm

Think the Braves gone ways of Democrats in GA.

honested

September 22nd, 2011
1:51 pm

mike

An astute observation!

DEA

September 22nd, 2011
2:02 pm

Clem,

I meant every word, commie.

Ashley

September 22nd, 2011
2:55 pm

In Georgia the comb-overs and bloated bellies will always reign supreme ……when they are left unchallenged.

Disgusted

September 22nd, 2011
2:58 pm

The senators grandstand for open government and transparency — for everyone but themselves. This taxpayer funded cover up should be DENOUNCED by every member of the Senate. And, no, Sen. Shafer’s tepid comments do not count. If his views about secret settlements are “unchanged” as he claims, he should be outraged, and he should express that outrage as loudly as he did against Fulton County and Grady Hospital.

Denise Caldon

September 22nd, 2011
3:14 pm

In response to “Disgusted” who stated, “The senators grandstand for open government and transparency — for everyone but themselves,” I know firsthand that you are correct. Attorney General S am Olens is quoted in the press frequently that he mandates Open Records for others; yet, his office have sealed the facts in my Whistleblower case which confirm serious violations by HIS defendants – the Board of Regents of the USG – for years. Fulton Cty. Superior Court 2009CV165267. Olens is trying so hard to keep hiding the facts from the public, that he and his office filed an Objection 11 August to the Motion that would have finally lifted the Protective Order. And now this AG is the legal voice for the new Ethics Commission Director – a major “Conflict of Interest!”

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

September 22nd, 2011
5:03 pm

Jesuit-trained Lyndon Larouche was/is? a shill for the Roman Anti-Christ in America, coming up with every unprovable conspiracy theory except the proven, fulfilled Jefferson-intoned prophetic truth that his own Roman Catholic Church’s Fifth Column, led by the Rockefellers and the Bushes, is the source of all our troubles: “an engine for enslaving mankind.”

For those approaching a place where Truth shall be a comfort in their lives, “The New Pearl Harbor” can be downloaded and read for free from Google Scholar, just enter the book title in the search field. It is a sedulous, inarguable, incontrovertible, peer-viewed proof of Bush’s and Cheney’s 9/11 treason by a gentle academic of probity, David Ray Griffin.

An excellent video by Ph.D. psychologists, trauma experts, among others, helping us understand why so many good and decent Americans are unwilling or unable to fathom the truth of 9/11 can be founder here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEGgAk1AbA4&feature=player_embedded#!

Aaron Burr V. Mexico

September 22nd, 2011
8:57 pm

DEA openly advocates something right out of the Nazi playbook and you let him Jim. Yeah, I said it. The N word. About DEA.

Stay classy Jim. Way to police your blog here.

Question Man

September 22nd, 2011
10:30 pm

Is [a foolish] consistency the hobgoblin of small minds?

Question Man

September 22nd, 2011
10:32 pm

Isn’t DEA’s comment about Democrats out of order?

javon

September 23rd, 2011
7:44 am

more racism against African-Americans by the white racists in the georgia senate—-they got off easy by only paying $80,000–it should have been a lot more. I’m getting tired of all the racism down here and may move back to Jersey next year if the economy improves.

Big Hat

September 23rd, 2011
8:57 am

Once again, the GA Senate gives professional sex workers a bad name.

Shar

September 23rd, 2011
10:10 am

There is no excuse for hiding the crime and forcing the public to pay for the consequences. Time for the AG to force this issue. It’s unconcionable and illegal.

I am so sick and tired of these backwards good ol’ boys covering each others’ behinds.

Joel McElhannon

September 25th, 2011
8:35 pm

I’m so proud of Tommie and Chip I could just cry! Cowsert and Mullis have been a disappointment, but my Senate Leadership plan is just going great! Now if I could just find a few more clients to pay my new exhorbitant mortgage next month then I should be fine. Anyone interested in hiring me? I’m giving deep discounts but I am really good, just ask me!

[...] As Jim Galloway pointed out last week, Senate Bill 503 from the 2007-2008 Session would have opened at least some currently-secret settlements. But that bill only would have affected state- or federally-protected whistleblowers and the only public agencies affected would have been county and municipal hospital authorities. [...]

James Names Names, and Why I Didn’t

September 29th, 2011
5:31 am

[...] As Jim Galloway pointed out last week, Senate Bill 503 from the 2007-2008 Session would have opened at least some currently-secret settlements. But that bill only would have affected state- or federally-protected whistleblowers and the only public agencies affected would have been county and municipal hospital authorities. [...]