Dalton’s Mayor David Pennington On Ethics Reform

Dalton Mayor David Pennington sent out an email about the importance of meaningful ethics reform in Georgia government.  It’s quite a good read.

Ethical Behavior … we know it when we see it

 Georgia’s economy is hamstrung by outdated economic and education policies, resulting in too many of our fellow citizens struggling to get by and requiring long term public assistance.  Bold policy changes are required if Georgia is to regain her competitive edge, but change is hard.  While the status quo is not serving us well, it is familiar; and we will follow our elected leaders down an uncharted path only if we trust them.  That’s why ethics reform is crucial.

While not a panacea, ethics reform can provide a solid foundation to ease political ethical conflicts. The current reform effort is focused solely on monetary gifts to legislators.  While a necessary component, gift caps alone are insufficient.  There are two additional reforms that would go a long way toward fostering trust in state government.  First, require the state legislature to operate under the open meetings and open records law.  Second, require a two-year hiatus before a state legislator can accept a fulltime job in state government.

Open Meetings

 Attorney General Sam Olens’ web site headline states, “Government operates best when it operates openly”.  The Attorney General made headlines last year when he led the effort to strengthen Georgia’s open meetings law and increase penalties for non-compliance. Our legislature believes this law helps insure transparency and accountability, and it requires adherence by city councils, school boards, county commissions and numerous other entities.  But our legislature exempts its own meetings from this law – one of only 13 state legislatures to do so.  Shining a light on the workings of these meetings will help prevent abuse, especially when budget questions are under consideration. Openness fosters trust.

2 Year Hiatus

A legislator who opts to leave his elected post to take a full time state job undermines public trust. Too many sitting legislators have done this. There has been a cost not only in trust but also in real dollars since local taxpayers have been forced to pony up hundreds of thousands of dollars for special elections.  It’s telling that legislators who ran on a limited government platform were willing to take full time state government jobs.  A 2-year hiatus requirement would boost public trust.

New laws alone won’t restore trust in state government because laws cannot totally prevent unethical behavior.  We observe actions and judge accordingly.  Most disheartening is that our leaders continue to find workarounds so they can claim they are not increasing taxes.  The T-SPLOST (soundly defeated in most regions) attempted to coerce us to tax ourselves.  Last year’s birthday tax bill provided for taxing private vehicle sales and these comprise 60% of all sales.  This session’s hospital bed tax bill shifted taxing authority to an unelected board with authority to increase this tax from the current 1.45% to 6% if the state budget calls for that amount of Medicaid spending.  Our state legislators may claim that they did not increase our taxes, but in reality they did.  Worse, they violated our trust.

Georgia has wonderful assets, but our struggles continue. The economic and educational paradigms have changed, but our leaders continue to tinker with incremental changes.  If they can build a reserve of public trust, then they can make the bold policy changes required because we will support them.  But building that trust reserve will take more than enacting gift caps with loopholes.  We know ethical behavior when we see it.

David Pennington

Mayor of Dalton

7 comments

    • tdk790 says:

      You may be onto something:

      “Aside from a likely Democratic opponent, the governor could also face a primary challenge from a candidate seeking to outflank him on the right. One name that has surfaced is Dalton Mayor David Pennington, who told the AJC that legislators are in the midst of a “third consecutive do-nothing session” under Deal’s watch.

      “Any elected official that is in a state which is doing as poorly economically as Georgia is would have to be considered vulnerable,” he said. “Georgia’s economy continues to trail the nations, and our state leadership seems unwilling to articulate a vision that will get Georgia growing again.”

      http://www.ajc.com/news/news/state-regional/is-gov-deal-vulnerable-in-2014-election-hunt/nWjx4/

  1. Nonchalant says:

    WhatvI am about to say may or may not be a popular sentiment, but I actually think our state is by and large decently run, and has been for the last two generations (which thus includes the Tom Murphy, et al. era). People can complain about the state not having been some kind of Superman, doing all, being all, but I focus instead on the dogs that did not bark–the lack of disasters, the steady economic growth since the 70s (vice Atlanta having stayed like Montgomery).

    There is an old saying–better is the enemy of good enough. Never take what you actually do have for granted, because there is probably no law of physics that said you had to have had it. I give the legislature, past and present, credit for being able to say this–any scandals and malfeasance we have had over the years have been, in the grand scheme of things, irritants rather than signs of fatal rot underneath. They haven’t stopped the state from thriving. The state is basically well ran, or well set-up, or at least the state government doesn’t get in the way (and in regards to the Mayor’s comments about education policies–as someone seeing first hand new groups moving in and hearing the stories from school teacher friends since the change in demographic, I can only say it may not be the state’s fault and the state can’t change culture. When kids act like they are on the mean streets of the ghetto, killing fellow high schoolers for shoes, despite it feeling like a rural area and the area being clearly middle class, it’s the culture, not outdated policies. Take whatever offense you care to, I could care less.)

    Back to the state being basically well ran, in the sense of getting the big stuff right–this is why I have zero enthusiasm for a new breed of Democrat to take over. I’ve seen them on the national stage, and in California, and have no desire for a taste of more closer to home. We shouldn’t ever be so focused on obtaining what we don’t think we have that we screw that up which we do.

  2. analogkid says:

    Could not agree more about applying the open meetings standard to the legislature. At a minimum, there should be 24 hours notice of all meetings, including committees/subcommittees. There should also be a requirement that all bills, including substitute bills, be posted online 24 hours in advance of any meeting in which the bill or substitute bill will be discussed.

    “We have to pass it to see what’s in it” is unacceptable no matter who is in charge.

  3. Bull Moose says:

    I don’t know anything about the Mayor, but I agree 100% with him on his points. He should further expand upon this to include higher ethical standards for those serving at the city and county level as well.

  4. ddbsa says:

    Well said Mr. Mayor David Pennington. I truly beleive thats why thr TSPLOST didn’t pass in the Macon area. No one likes or trusts GDOT.

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