October 25, 2006

Secrecy, Development, and Eminent Domain should be on Voters’ Minds

Jasper County Water & Sewer Authority Is Getting Into Eminent Domain

It has come to the attention of TWG that the Jasper County Water and Sewer Authority is starting to flex its “eminent domain” muscle and has already had a sit down meeting with at least one property owner. Sources tell us there weren’t negotiations; it was more on the order of we can take it so you’d better cooperate. The location of the property being considered is questionable. It is “interesting” as to who owns land right up the road and wants to develop it. It would make it much more profitable to develop land with a source of “City/County” water. TWG is preparing a report on several land deals that have taken place. It appears as if JCWSA is revealing their plans to certain people and developers (more residential development) while keeping the general public in the dark. We seriously doubt that all the Commissioners know just what is going on. When water lines are run to accommodate developers and land dealers, selected people make lots of money. We hope to have a report completed soon on land being developed that can benefit from JCWSA water lines.

Since Eminent Domain has been brought to the forefront with last year’s Supreme Court case, and several bills caused much controversy in the General Assembly this year, there is a Constitutional Amendment addressing Eminent Domain on this year’s ballot. There will be similar amendments on ballots in 12 states. The summary of the Georgia amendment is as follows:
To restrict the use of eminent domain.

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to prohibit the use of eminent domain by certain non-elected authorities and to prohibit the contested use of eminent domain except for public use as defined by general law?"

This proposal provides several limitations with respect to the exercise of the power of eminent domain and the taking of private property for public purposes. The proposal provides that any taking of private property for redevelopment purposes must be approved by vote of the appropriate elected city or county governing authority. The proposal provides that any taking of private property for redevelopment purposes must be for a public use as defined by general state law. The proposal provides that the exercise of eminent domain by cities and counties can be restricted by general state law and that any exercise of eminent domain by a non-elected housing or development authority must be approved by vote of the appropriate elected city or county governing authority.

A copy of this entire proposed amendment is on file in the office of the judge of the probate court and is available for public inspection.

HB 218, the Georgia bill that would have cloaked state and local economic development negotiations in secrecy, will most likely be brought up again in next year’s General Assembly. Governor Perdue and many of the Republican legislators have pushed for this bill. The public at large (a/k/a the taxpayers who pay for it all) doesn’t like it. Not all Republicans support this bill. Casey Cagle (State Senator running for Lt. Governor) says he opposes the measure, and Perry McGuire (candidate for Attorney General) says Open Meeting and Open Records laws should not be weakened. (TWG agrees! In fact the laws need to be strengthened and have some enforcement procedures and fines.) Thurbert Baker, current Attorney General, fought to open negotiations for the NASCAR facility and let the public know what was going on.

As the saying goes, “If voters don’t like what elected officials do or don’t agree with issues they support, they can vote them out in the next election.” The next election is November 7th. Your vote is important! Please take time to read all the Constitutional Amendments and to find out where each candidate stands on issues. Campaign talk and actual votes and accomplishments are two different things! Be informed and vote wisely!

Following is an article by Bob Tribble of Trib Publications, Inc.

House Bill 218 Allows Too Much Secrecy

Most observers feel that House Bill 218, that was defeated in the 2005 session of the General Assembly, will raise its ugly head again when the House meets in January. Some say that Governor Sonny Perdue is in favor of the legislation and is committed to its passage.

Let me tell you what House Bill 218 is all about. Very simply put it will allow local and state industrial development authority officials to make deals behind closed doors with industries and businesses expressing interest in locating in the state. Under the bill they would not be required to give any information to you the taxpayer until the deal was done, even though public lands and funds could be involved.

As expected, most industrial development authorities across the state favor the legislation and say it is something needed to make our state competitive when courting new industries and jobs. This is not true, because there is a law already on the books that allows a certain amount of secrecy, but not total secrecy as HB 218 would allow until the deal is done. Over the past several years Georgia has attracted far more industry than most states in the southeast under present laws. Our state has much to offer industrial prospects in addition to economic incentives. We have an interstate system of roads second to none, two deepwater ports, fine colleges and universities, a good climate, good workers, outstanding tourism and much more.

We do not have to make deals with industrial prospects in total secrecy from the public to continue to grow from the industrial standpoint. As already stated, House Bill 218 would allow state and local development planners to keep secret almost every detail concerning any offers to industrial prospects until the contract is signed and the ink dry. Information concerning the kind of industry, the location involved, the tax breaks, or the inducements made would not become public. In other words, it will be too late for the public to protest should they wish to, and this would not be good. Those in favor of the secrecy that HB 218 offers have been unable to present credible evidence that any premature disclosure of information has ever hindered the state's efforts to attract new industry.

The governor backed off in 2005 after an outcry from the public and newspapers across the state. He should have learned from the past and back away now from his present stance on HB 218. Without a doubt the public has the right to see what tax concessions for roads, infrastructure, traffic, waste disposal, locations or other tax funded benefits are being offered to the industrial prospect before the deal is signed and sealed. After all, in most cases it is their money that will fund the project.

As already stated the state's present Open Records Act provides exemptions so developers can negotiate with the prospect in private. But the law also gives the public the right to know the details of the deal before it is finalized by local and state governments. Under the present law, if developers wish to keep the identity of an industrial prospect secret, which sometimes is understandable, all they need to do is not identify the prospect by name until the parties feel the proper time to name the prospect has come. All special concessions from local and state governments can be made public to the taxpayer without naming the prospect until the proper time.

Over the years Republicans have traditionally seemed to favor open government more than the average Democrat. Hopefully our Republican governor will change his position on HB 218. It would be better to lose an industry or two rather than give away hard earned taxpayers' dollars under the cover of darkness.

We in the media certainly want our local and state industrial developers to be successful. When good industries and businesses are brought into our communities everyone wins. House Bill 218 provides too much secrecy that is not good for the taxpayers, and is a bill that is not necessary since ample laws concerning economic development are already in place. Hopefully HB 218 will not raise its ugly head again in January.


Mission Statement:
** To keep the taxpayers of Jasper County, Georgia informed as to where and how their tax dollars are being spent.
** To keep the taxpayers abreast of local policies and laws being discussed and enacted.
** We advocate more open government, less government spending, and lower property taxes.

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