Thursday, October 30, 2008

Odd Endorsements: In The Year Of Obama, Certain Black Churches Going Republican

When a group of ministers come together to make political endorsements is God listening? Maybe, but it's hard to know for sure. When ministers come together and insert themselves into politics as a PAC, I imagine God disapprovingly wags his finger: Render unto Cesar that which belongs to Cesar, and leave that which belongs to God, unto God.

Did you know that under the "leadership" of Reverend Bennie Mitchell from Conners Temple a group called The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (The IMA) hands out political endorsements each election cycle? Yup, purportedly for the right amount of "divine contribution" a group of Black ministers will endorse your campaign. 

This year these holy men did not screen all candidates before making their endorsements. They did not interview Karen Grainey  (D) Candidate for the 6th district county commission, Steve Willis (D) 1st district county commission, Gerald Freedman (D) 4th district county commission, or myself (R) chairman county commission. But they have endorsed all republicans (myself excluded).

Remember 4 years ago when this group endorsed Pete Liakakis over Otis Johnson, Mayor Johnson offered these famous words: "Is the Black community for sale?"

You heard similar comments from Tony Center and others who wouldn't pony up and were not endorsed by the IMA. 

This year the IMA endorses Democrat Barack Obama for president, Democrat Jim Martin for US Senate, Democrat John Barrow for Congress, and Democrat Bill Gillespie for Congress. But locally the IMA has turned Republican. What? That's right, the IMA endorses Republican Helen Stone, Republican Pat Farrell, Republican Dave Gellatly, and 'FoRepublican' Pete Liakakis.

Not one of these local Republicans is supporting Barack Obama, they all support Republicans John McCain, Saxby Chambliss, Jack Kingston, and John Stone.

My, my, that's odd. One wonders how the good ministers will explain this obvious contradiction to their parishioners? That should be real interesting. I imagine every once in while they struggle with their Sunday sermon message but this is going to be really difficult.

The title of the Sundays sermon could easily be, Buy one, get three free.

I have received calls from 2 ministers who assured me that the IMA does not speak for all ministers and that what the IMA does is disgraceful. Amen.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The DNA Forum Part 2

Two nights ago at the DeSoto Hilton about 50 people showed up to hear what candidates for Sheriff, District Attorney, Superior Court Judge, and County Commission Chairman had to say concerning taxation and public safety.  Yesterday I wrote about two of those races and now I will address the other two.

District Attorney Spencer Lawton announced his decision to step down after a very lengthy tenure and that led to a very crowded race of 4 people. The July primary left two men standing, David Lock and Larry Chislom.

If I were asked to sum up the difference between these two candidates I would say this: David Lock represents the status quo and Larry Chisolm represents change.

I don't know but to me it seems that David Lock came out the earliest (April) and wrapped himself in the blanket of Spencer Lawton. He was perceived as the heir apparent to Spencer Lawton. He piled on his closeness and fondness for his boss and never missed the opportunity to espouse what a great DA Spencer was.

Well at this forum, that all seemed to be forgotten, no make that thrown overboard. Lock fidgeted with trying to explain how he had wanted to try different things over the last 10 years but according to Lock, Spencer "was the boss." What are we talking about here? We are talking about using a more modern approach to indictments and prosecutions. An approach with a filter that sifts out who are really worthy of full force prosecution and those who may benefit from alternative prosecutions. Who would be recommended for monitoring and who would not. Who would be given plea deals and who would not. That sort of attorney trial stuff.

At one point, Lock said Spencer just didn't want to do anything he (Lock) wanted to try. And at this point I had my doubts about working for anyone who stifles innovation and pushes back advances so doggedly to preserve the status quo. Personally, I'd find another boss or go it alone. I know one thing, I wouldn't be wrapping myself around the mantel of tired regime that keep me from achieving the changes I believed in.

Soft spoken and very articulate, Larry Chislom seems to want to do all the things that Lock wishes he had done but couldn't because of Spencer. Larry seems to get it. He knows that the schools, parents and business community all determine to some extent just how busy the DA will be. He gets it that those institutions play a factor in how full the jail is. And best of all, he wants them to be accountable for it. Now that sounds right to me. If this community had more accountability, criminal justice and public safety would be better off.

Pete Liakakis will tell you in an instant that he inherited a 5 million dollar budget shortfall 4 years ago when he and his "Team" took office. He blames me for that. He is correct in that prior years delinquent property taxes were mistakenly applied twice. What Pete won't tell you is that the budgeted amounts of revenue for LOST (5th penny sales tax which goes into the M&O budget) for the same budget year, FY04/05, was greater than what we had budgeted. Ironically or providentially (take your pick) the extra LOST money was almost exactly equal to the shortfall from prior years delinquent property taxes applied twice. I knew we had an excellent chance to have the budget balance because we were looking at the immediate prior quarters LOST projected vs actual (actual was outpacing projected very nicely) and thus we would end up either balanced or with a surplus.

Pete you see, ran with the budget shortfall story and raised taxes in 2005. This was something he felt he could get away with but it was something he had never done before. When the Certified Annual Comprehensive Report for FY 04/05 was released, sure enough the county had a surplus revenue in M&O of 6 million dollars. Presto. Shazam. Pow. Did Pete refund the extra money from his needless millage increase? No. He spent it on the CIP fund.

What Pete Liakakis won't tell you is now Chatham County is experiencing the worst budget crises in 70 years. And it's not going to get better for several years on the short side, and 4-6 years on the outside. We are not talking about 4 or 5 million we are looking at 30-40 million. The M&O shortfall will be around 15 million of that 30 million. That's what I said Tuesday night anyway and Pete would not comment on it except to say "things are tight right now."

That's like finding yourself in ICU and someone saying you're just having a bad day. 

Meanwhile back at the DNA forum, I pointed out that in the past 4 years a few examples of Liakakis spending:

1) Commissioners flew to Hawaii for a conference
2) Pete approved $25,000 for a one night "cocktail party" on Hutchinson Island for INC Magazine
3) $75,000 for 32 county employees to have personal trainers, dietitians and 3 custom meals prepared for them each day to improve their general heath

Pete responded by pulling out a 1961 SMN article that reported his involvement with a Civil Defense Program for Chatham County. Ah, are we talking about the cold war? Indeed. I guess Pete's point was he has been around for a while "helping" the community.

When asked what we could do to adjust for the declining local economy, I said we should look at going to a 4 day work week, stopping take home car privileges for non emergency workers, using impact fees on new construction, and getting all the new homes constructed on the tax digest the year they are supposed to be paying taxes (while they are for sale) not the year they are sold to first time buyers.

Pete's only cost savings comment was that he recently drove by a county building at night and saw that the lights were on so he asked that a timer be installed. That's good Pete.

With regard to future SPLOST referendums, I opined that they were doomed to fail unless the county commission begins to put important and popular projects on the list. Things like a real county wide mass transit system, curbside recycling capital investments for unincorporated county residents, bike lanes and context sensitive design projects.

Pete pumped up SPLOST saying how fortunate we were to be able to put a new roof on the aquatic center this year (that would be the second roof in 10 years Pete).

I reminded Pete that the Truman Linear Bike Trail was a 1998 SPLOST project that was fully funded and was to be a 4 mile bike trail connecting Daffin Park to Lake Mayer and 10 years later the county had only managed to build 1/4 mile of trail.

All in all, Pete was Pete and I was my usual critical self pointing out the failures in county management and effectiveness. I did offer solutions but no matter how you slice it, whoever represents us for the next 4 years is in for one tough time. I just don't think Pete realizes it.

My bottom line is this: If you want the status quo for the next 4 years you vote for the incumbents. Maybe their records and intransigence is appealing to you. Maybe not. I personally believe we are seeing the start to the end of a dynasty - and the beginnings of the next epoch in public policy and leadership for Chatham County. The State of Chatham is beginning to thaw.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Excuses or Realities? A Matter for Voters

Last night the Downtown Neighborhood Association held its Candidates Forum and they did a fine job. Columnist Bill Dawers from SMN tossed questions to the incumbents and challengers. The one thing that struck me as key between all incumbents is when asked what they would do to improve their areas of operations, they all said the same thing, people need to know I can't do anything about that because.... 

Lets start with Judge Brannen. When his challenger, Gwen Forston Waring made reference to her goal of stopping the revolving door of justice, Brannen responded by saying he sends convicted people to state prison by the boat load - but Governor Purdue lets them out early and sends them back to our community. Further, the Judge says that Purdue doesn't even tell us when he lets them out early so when they revolve back to Savannah he is as shocked as anyone. It is clear there seems to be a correlation between length of service and the capacity to blame someone else, or, the longer you serve the less innovation you manifest.

While there may be some truth to this notion, the Judge missed Ms. Warings point that "more effective sentencing  innovations coming from the other superior court judges" could make all the difference particularly in the long run.

Then came Sheriff Al St Lawrence. His opponent did not show up but then never accepted the invitation to begin with either. Oh well. At these forums, questions keep coming up about jail over crowding which drives the need for more very expensive jail expansion. What I keep hearing from this salty old school career politician is, "I ain't gonna tell you again, I run a pre-trial facility and I got 1810...."  If I have heard that once I have heard it a hundred times. Al just seems to think his entire job is to keep people locked up. In my opinion that is the minimum a Sheriff should do.

I would think a smart sheriff would start asking and caring about why his jail is always full not just for the sake of those incarcerated but how about for the tax payers who have to pay through their teeth to keep building additional jail beds at a cost of $143,000 per bed? Hello, are you listening Al? I know it's late in the game and all but since you are "the highest law enforcement officer in the county" couldn't you use your position to put a little pressure on the others who actually do have some control over our crime levels? This would require a "proactive" and "integrated" approach to the problem.

Ergo: If schools would teach students (resulting in a higher graduation level than 50%), if the courts used more effective sentencing options earlier in first time offender cases, if the business community started paying people a real wage (hospitality industry are you listening?) and if parents would for God's sake start being parents for a change (that means first setting a good example, being home to help with homework, joining PTA) then we might one day stop building new jails. I'm sorry but Al St Lawrence just never modernized his thinking about jailing. It's not 1956 anymore Al and, yes, you run an extremely secure facility however taxpayers would like you to not lust over larger and larger jails. In fact, that should be somehow written into the job description for the next sheriff.

Tomorrow I will comment on the DA candidates and my close encounter with the anachronism, Pete Liakakis.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tom Barton Gets It Right & Why Doesn't Pete Liakakis Support Black Candidates In County Elections?

Editorial Page Editor from the Savannah Morning News, Tom Barton, was the guest speaker this past Saturday at the Chatham County Republican Party second Saturday breakfast. Tom was dressed comfortably, shorts, sandals, and red UGA golf shirt. Part of his message was chilling though clear... with this years dramatic decline in housing value across Chatham County, next year's county budget is going to be rough going. I hope Commissioner's Gellatly and Farrell were listening. Their Republican (sic) loyalty is with Democrat Pete Liakakis who raised property taxes in 2005 and then failed in 06, and 07 to roll the millage back 100% after revalue was calculated. (BTW that's called a backdoor property tax). Essentially, Dave, Pat, and Helen are all supporting a democrat in Pete Liakakis.

Well, I guess my support for Obama makes me a democrat in the wings but since Pete I hear is not supporting Obama, maybe that's the reason Dave, Pat, and Helen are supporting Pete? So if Pete is a closet Republican, that would explain why he is not supporting Larry Chislom, Mike Jones or Gewn Fortson Waring. Pete claims to be a man beloved by the black community and maybe he is but why doesn't he support black candidates? Pete you really need to explain this.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Declining Sales Prices

If anyone doubts that next year's tax digest will be down, read on. This year the tax digest went up 8% in value while many people believed Savannah Chatham was basically flat in value . Let's remember 2 things: First, the tax digest accounts for around 75% of all revenue coming into the county treasury, and secondly, that the value of any digest must be built on sales information from the PRIOR year.

Thus, this years 2008 tax digest was based on sales activity from 2007. The 2009 tax digest will be based on 2008 sales. Now let's take a look at some recent sales from today's Savannah Morning News "Property Transfers" keeping in mind that these sales and others like them will be what is used to figure next year's tax digest.

144 Rommell Avenue 2008 tax value = $161,500
Sales price = $135,000

Decline in value = 16.4%

152 Lewis Ave 2008 tax value = $382,000
Sales price = $259,000

Decline in value = 32%

116 Longwood Drive 2008 tax value $244,500
Sales price = $237,500

Decline in value = 3%

312 E Hall Street 2008 Tax value = $227,500
Sales price = $219,600

Decline in value = 3.5%

1601 E 51st Street 2008 tax value = $255,500
Sale price = $246,000

Decline in value = 3.7%

I have not cherry picked low sales, this is what you too will find should you look. Bill Dawers has written about this in his City columns and the sales numbers confirm his theory.

Essentially, what this means is that the next commission term, 09-012 will be facing declining revenue and since Pete Liakakis raised your property taxes in 2005, you can pretty well expect him to do it again. This of course would not be necessary if Pete would take a position and lead on Impact Fees on new construction.

I don't know about you, but if on one hand I have to choose between major property tax increases, or, my government could choose to assess a one time fee on new home construction paid for by the buyer who wanted to move here, I choose Impact Fees.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pete Liakakis: Please Stop Playing Politics With Public Safety

Tomorrow it starts (8/29/08). I have decided to run a series of large ads in the Savannah Morning News to help explain the need for better public policy. There is no doubt that Pete Liakakis is standing in the way of better public policy and tomorrows ad will  explain how Pete is holding onto CNT as some bargaining chip with the City of Savannah. 

Playing politics with public safety is wrong and our community suffers while Pete schemes. Pete refuses to honor the 2003 police merger agreement which calls for CNT to be at theMetropolitan Police Department. The Chamber of Commerce also stands behind the agreement to transfer CNT as outlined in the 03 merger.

Pete wants CNT run by a bureaucrat, the county manager, while the experts say we can accomplish much more in fighting drugs in our schools and community by allowing the merged police department to use this vital tool, CNT, effectively.

Pete is acting like a King when he should be acting like a leader who wants the best for Chatham County. I will work hard to build a consensus on the commission (just like I did in 2002-2005) and we will do what Pete refuses to do.

Playing politics with public safety is bad public policy. Please join me and 4 other candidates as we begin to tell the truth and take a stand for better public policy.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pete Liakakis Will Raise Property Taxes (Part 3)

When this commission took office 3.5 years ago, the entire county budget was around $350,000,000. Today right now the current budget is $502,000,000. That's unbelievable and any incumbent candidate who calls themselves a Republican ought to be ashamed. Oh I know you didn't vote to raise our property taxes in 2005, it was Chairman Pete Liakakis who cast the deciding vote.

What these Republicans, Stone, Gellatly, Farrell and Kicklighter have done is vote for the $152,000,000 in new spending that ran the cost of government up to its current $502,000,000. They can not have it both ways, "I've never voted to raise taxes" gets zero credibility after they admit to spending $152,000,000 additional each year. So if you enjoy higher property taxes and less in return from county services, then your choices should be to return the incumbents.

Consider what has happened to our economy in 2008. Locally and statewide sales tax collections are down 15-17% - this effects LOST and SPLOST money budgeted higher but will certainly be less. Next, since 75% of the entire county budget is from property taxes (which were increased by this commission) and that the average property has declined in value by 5-10% this year, what do you think is in store for next years budget?

Can you say "oh no, please don't raise may property taxes again." Ask your commissioner what he or she has against impact fees because impact fees are the only way out of this nightmare unless you are willing to accept somewhere in the neighborhood of a 3 mil property tax increase.