Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
The Brunswick News on the decision to allow a county commission to decide on changes to a local law enforcement agency:
Two members of Glynn County’s delegation to the Georgia General Assembly have had a change of heart. They announced on Feb. 23 that they are putting the fate of the county police department back in the hands of the Glynn County Commission.
A prudent move on the part of Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, and Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island. It would be best for all involved if major decisions — in this instance, whether to pass all duties of law enforcement to the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office — was made by the seven individuals elected to the commission rather than the state legislature. The last thing any of us wants or needs in Glynn County is disgruntled police officers patrolling our streets, a likely scenario under a state-forced marriage.
Of course, measures sponsored by Sen. Ligon and Rep. Hogan still had to win over the full House and Senate and gain the signature of the governor. Now, it doesn’t matter. It is no longer a major bone of contention between the two legislators and the Glynn County Commission.
At the same time, The News steadfastly supports the idea of giving the public a chance to weigh in on the issue, even if it is just a straw poll.
Commissioners could do what they wanted with the results. They could paste them on the wall of the commissioner chambers, keep them around for fodder for future debate or act on them sooner rather than later.
The News has always been in favor of a single police force. We continue to maintain that a single police force would be more effective and efficient.
Since the sheriff is a constitutional office, the person holding the elected post would automatically be the chief law enforcer in Glynn County. He or she would be directly hired, via the ballot box, by the voters and answerable to them, not just seven county commissioners.
Put the question on a ballot and see what residents think about a unified police force for all unincorporated Glynn. Truth is, we doubt any commissioner would be surprised by the outcome of the vote.
The Savannah Morning News on the importance of paying attention to local government decisions:
A popular refrain among followers of local news lately goes something like, “Sure I’m glad I don’t live in (pick a municipality). At least their problems don’t affect me.”
Such thinking is flawed, as dysfunction anywhere has the potential for fallout everywhere. The closer your proximity to the troubles, the more likely you are to feel an impact.
Port Wentworth proved that again last week.
As most area residents know by now, this West Chatham town has been in governmental chaos for much of the new year. A shift in power on the municipality’s city council led to a stalemate that ended only after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed a resident to fill a vacant seat.
The appointment meant that two members, Thomas Barbee and Mark Stephens, could no longer gridlock council simply by not showing up for meetings. Prior to the addition of the new official, the Barbee-Stephens boycott meant council fell short of the quorum necessary to vote on city business.
Vendors couldn’t get paid. Agreements couldn’t move forward. And, as we learned last week, a site plan for a project that will bring more than 1,000 new jobs couldn’t get approval.
More than 1,000 jobs. Still think what happens in Port Wentworth doesn’t impact those in Savannah, Pooler or anywhere else in this area?
The would-be new employer is Amazon, and the project is almost certainly a fulfillment and distribution facility. Locating near the Port of Savannah is strategically beneficial to Amazon but far from a must-do move.
It’s fair to say the foolishness displayed by the Port Wentworth council in recent months put the project in jeopardy. Thankfully, officials with the Savannah Economic Development Authority, the Georgia Ports Authority and Gov. Kemp’s office kept the deal together.
EGOS, AGENDAS RUN AMOK
Let’s hope that reality is not lost on elected officials, both in Port Wentworth and elsewhere, or on the public at large.
From the U.S. Capitol to City Hall council chambers, we are witnessing the danger unchecked egos and interest-driven agendas pose to the rest of us. Too many of our leaders seem to have lost a semblance of when to compromise and when to dig in their heels — and when standing firm is called for, how to do so without alienating their fellow decision makers.
Port Wentworth is but a case study: A group takes power; makes drastic changes unilaterally; unexpectedly loses the majority when one member quits and another dies suddenly; takes advantage of a procedural loophole by skipping meetings and denying council a quorum; and finally returns to do the job they were elected to do when their absence no longer matters.
They argue these tactics were necessary to best represent their constituents. They don’t seem to grasp that they were elected to serve, and to do that they need to attend meetings, present their views and cast votes — even losing ones.
And that’s just a baseline. Good leaders work to build relationships, even with those who might not show the same interest in return.
LESSONS FOR OTHERS
This theme is not confined to Port Wentworth.
The Savannah City Council has shown a concerning level of divisiveness, of disrespect for each other and the city staff. Many of them campaigned — and won — on restoring unity to the council after the last group splintered due in large part to personality conflicts.
They are becoming what they supposedly abhorred.
As for the parallels to Washington, D.C. — the swamp gets more toxic by the day.
The takeway for the average citizen is to take notice and pay closer attention to what is going on in and around your community. Contentious meetings and surreal town halls and press conferences make good theater, but they often carry significant consequences.
You can’t oust an elected official from a jurisdiction in which you do not live, but you can give voice to concerns and educate others, including those with the power to affect change.
Remember, what happens next door almost always leaves a mark on your front stoop.
The Augusta Chronicle on challenges facing Georgia's foster care and adoption systems:
Georgia’s foster care and adoption systems, as in other states, have problems. Ask a child, parent or caseworker who’s had to navigate them.
An investigation by an Atlanta television station last summer found more than 800 employees with the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) were disciplined over acts of negligence, records-tampering or just flat-out lying.
The Georgia Department of Education has reported that just a little over one in three foster children statewide complete high school, chiefly because their frequent moves often discourage sustained academic success.
And even when it’s working at its best, the system is glacially slow, to a point where people eager to adopt are hesitant to dive into the tangling bureaucracy.
So hopes were high when Gov. Brian Kemp promised last month in his State of the State address to ease the process for adopting a child in Georgia.
“Our goal is simple: to keep our kids safe, to encourage adoption and to ensure that every young Georgian — no matter where they live — has the opportunity to live in a safe, happy, loving home,” Kemp said.
Pieces of legislation have been moving in earnest through the General Assembly, and so far they all show promise.
One Senate bill would lower the minimum age for prospective adoptive or foster parents, from 25 to 21. Another bill would boost the state adoption tax credit from $2,000 to $6,000.
Still another bill calls for deservedly harsher penalties for the lowlife foster parents who sexually abuse the children they’re supposed to be nurturing and helping.
Senate Bill 335, which sailed through a Senate vote 53-1 on Feb. 20, packed a lot of change into one piece of legislation. Among the highlights: The bill would create a database to track juvenile delinquents through foster care, and create a training program for foster parents.
Why on Earth hasn’t the state formed these resources before now? The database, if administrated to stay current, would keep much fewer children from falling through bureaucratic cracks. And the training program would better equip moms and dads to deal with foster children who are often emotionally troubled.
Another welcomed feature of S.B. 335 is designed to lessen the burden of overworked DFCS employees. If passed into law, the bill would allow DFCS to contract with private firms that could help state child welfare caseworkers.
This new legislation is a solid follow-up to measures that were passed in the 2018 session. Lawmakers then made out-of-state adoptions simpler to process; reduced adoption waiting times; legalized the reimbursement of expenses for private-adoption birth mothers, and did away with the opportunistic middlemen who arrange adoptions for profit.
Stubborn critics of the pro-life movement try to needle conservatives by accusing them of turning their backs on children once the babies are born. These welcomed pieces of legislation should definitively put the tie to that ill-informed nonsense. We can hardly wait to see these bills pass into law so they can start improving the future of Georgia’s at-risk children.