Georgia editorial roundup

By: The Associated Press
May 25, 2016 Updated: May 25, 2016 at 1:50 pm
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Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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May 24

The Augusta Chronicle on the VA secretary:

We happen to think today's society jettisons people too quickly, over too little. One wrong move and it's off with your head. We just shouldn't give up on people so easily.

But there have to be exceptions. There simply are a few times when something that is said or done is so completely contemptible and unacceptable that there's no choice but to cut ties with someone.

Such is the case with Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald - who dismissed our veterans' wait times for health care as akin to waiting for a ride at an amusement park.

"When you go to Disney," he told reporters this week, "do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what's important? What's important is, what's your satisfaction with the experience? And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure."

Wow. Just wow.

This is very clearly a fireable offense. A man with such an attitude toward the delivery of health care toward anyone — much less our veterans — has no business being employed at any level of the VA, much less at the very top of it.

Does this man truly believe there's any similarity between waiting in line for Space Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean and waiting to be seen by a doctor? For life-saving, life-extending care? Care that our veterans have fought and worked for, and are more than deserving of?

And, by the way, how many people in line at Magic Kingdom die because of the wait?

What a vile, odious, ignorant, abominable thing to think or say.

And how ignorant can this man be? Does he really think the wait time is not an important part of the health-care experience? Has this guy never been in a waiting room — or waited months to get there? Has he not seen the horror stories of veterans who've died waiting to be seen at the VA?

Going forward, how can anyone go to a VA hospital — or even work for one — without calling to mind that this is the view of the top leadership?

Apologies are not enough. "Clarifications" are unnecessary. There's no way to explain or excuse this away. There's no way to atone, retract or withdraw such a statement. The toothpaste is out of the tube.

No apology will be sufficient. No clarification can change what was said. And what was said is reprehensible and disgraceful.

If the head of security for the Transportation Security Administration, Kelly Hoggan, can be axed for wait times at airports, then surely the VA secretary should be fired for cavalierly disdaining the wait our veterans experience for health care — which is infinitely more important than an inconvenience. This man is unfit to serve our veterans.

We should measure his wait time before he's out the door.

And it had better not be very long.

Online: http://chronicle.augusta.com/

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May 25

The Rome News Tribune on tax refunds for local governments:

Rome and Floyd County officials can take some solace — and credit — for a new law protecting local governments and school systems from being blind-sided by surprise tax bills involving business overpayments of sales taxes.

The story began in July last year when our local governments and school systems got a shocking $4.5 million "bill" out of the blue from the state Department of Revenue for refunding excess sales taxes paid by an unidentified local business from 2005 to 2012. Included in the refund was 12 percent interest totaling $1.3 million. To pay the refund, the DOR took all local sales taxes for a full month except for a small portion due the Rome school system, which got $450,000 less than expected. The county, its two cities and the county school system got zero.

To make matters worse, the Revenue Department provided no information to local officials concerning how much more taxes would be taken. The City of Cave Spring was never officially notified of anything by the state agency. On top of all that, Floyd County commissioners had to raise the property tax by almost one mill to make up for the sales tax collections taken by the state.

Our local officials were guilty of nothing, as we pointed out at the time, but were forced to pay for someone else's mistakes including the 12 percent interest rate on the refund to the unidentified local business — and the same punitive interest rate if local governments or school systems opted for an installment plan on the balance due the state.

In the wake of the debacle, The Rome News-Tribune called on the General Assembly to fix what went wrong. This has been done, to a large extent, with enactment of HB 960 introduced by state Rep. Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown, and co-sponsored by Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome. The new law, officially Act 488, sets the interest rate on refunds at the prime loan rate plus 3 percent accruing monthly and provides some common sense procedures for informing local governments about major sales tax refunds.

The law creates a new category of "refund of local significance," defined as a refund that is equal to 10 percent or more of the yearly average of sales taxes collected and distributed to any single political subdivision (county), based on the average of the latest three calendar years. Now the DOR must notify the local government within 30 business days of receiving a refund claim of local significance, including the date the claim was filed and the amount the local government would be responsible for if the claim were approved. When the final refund amount is determined, the DOR must also transmit that to the local government.

In turn, counties are allowed to inform their municipalities of the claim of local significance. Additionally, the new law provides for the Department of Audits and Accounts to review the DOR's final determination of such claims to assess whether "proper procedures" and "appropriate methodology" were used in reaching the final determination on a claim. Any refund claim pending for two years will be automatically transferred to the Georgia Tax Tribunal to determine who was at fault. If it is the DOR, the agency must pay all interest due the taxpayer.

This is good law. The requirements of Act 488 would have prevented the shock and awe visited on Rome and Floyd County by the DOR's unexpected and disruptive taking of $4.5 million in sales taxes. We commend Reps. Kelley and Dempsey, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jay Powell, R-Camilla, and other members of the committee for their leadership in passing this legislation for the benefit not only of our community but the entire state of Georgia.

Online: http://www.northwestgeorgianews.com/rome/

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May 25

The Savannah Morning News on how police handled the Westside rapist:

During an 18-month period between August 2014 and February of this year, 11 girls between the ages of 13 and 17 reported being grabbed or sexually assaulted as they walked through secluded areas on Savannah's westside. Yet it wasn't until April 15 this year, after five girls had reported being attacked, when the public was first alerted to the danger by Metro Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin, who sounded the alarm.

Until then, citizens were unaware of the gravity of the situation so families and young woman could protect themselves from a sexual predator that police investigators believed was on the prowl.

This failure by Metro police and the school district's police department, which issued mostly routine bulletins that didn't fully spell out the risks, represents an epic fail by Metro and campus police to protect and serve the public.

Citizens deserve to know what threats they face in a timely fashion because they need such information to keep themselves and their families safe. Most people understand the need by law enforcement agencies to withhold certain information so as not to damage ongoing criminal investigations, but that need must be balanced against the public's need to know that a sexual predator may be on the loose and stalking and attacking young women who are walking to and from school.

In such cases, the public's ability to protect itself and prevent more innocent girls from being assaulted trumps the police department's desire to protect an investigation.

It's unclear why the city's police department and the school district's police department seemed to soft pedal the danger. If they were afraid about alarming citizens, they should know that it's not being an alarmist to tell people what they need to know to protect themselves from becoming crime victims. If the house next door was on fire, most people would appreciate anyone who sounded a warning.

Metro police issued seven public bulletins about these ongoing attacks. While many of them made reference to a tall, slender black male as the suspect in these assaults, not one of the bulletins suggested that a serial rapist or sexual predator may be on the loose. Fortunately, Chief Joseph Lumpkin apparently pulled rank on April 15 this year, shooting straight and putting this horrifying situation in the spotlight, saying it "demands the immediate attention of his officers."

Also mind-boggling was the apparent lack of inter-agency police cooperation in dealing with these 11 assaults. It makes no sense that Campus Police Chief Terry Enoch and his department reportedly never issued warnings at special school assemblies or mailed fliers home about the threat of a rapist in the neighborhood in and around Beach High School. Instead, it was left to often unreliable social media to spread the word. It demanded the attention of all officers, not just Lumpkin's.

Fortunately, there was one cop who was paying close attention — Metro Police Maj. Rick Zapal. After four westside school girls were attacked, Zapal realized a serial predator seemed to be running amok. Zapal had some of the female officers under his command dress as students in a failed effort to lure the predator from his lair. "Obviously we knew we had a serious problem," he said. "In my mind, I said this guy lives somewhere within five blocks." Turns out, he was right. The prime suspect, who is now in custody, lived just one block from Beach High School.

Unfortunately, six other attacks occurred after Zapal started connecting the dots that eventually led to the arrest of Theron Hendrix, a 23-year-old Beach High dropout. Hendrix has been charged with rape in connection with a Feb. 16 assault of a teenager near DeRenne Middle School. Officials are analyzing DNA and other evidence to determine any links between Hendrix and the other sexual assault cases. Zapal and his investigators deserve credit for their hard work.

So why wasn't the severity of the situation that Zapal uncovered shared with Chief Enoch and campus police officers? After all, Enoch and Zapal are former colleagues at Metro, where Enoch served as assistant police chief for a time. Enoch replaced former campus police chief Gary Moore, who was fired last November after only four months on the job.

Chief Enoch said his jurisdiction is limited to school campuses. "There is a line of delineation," he said. "Public property is the domain of the municipality. When things are occurring near our schools we have to follow that protocol. Patrol of the neighborhoods belongs to the responsibility of the Metro police department. ... I don't know that we've had information from Metro that put us on alert."

If not, that suggests that a major communications problem exists between the two police agencies. It's unacceptable and must be fixed. Chief Enoch may be technically correct about the formal jurisdictions. But the campus police is a state-certified police agency. If it doesn't have the power to make arrests or work on ongoing cases off campus to better protect the 38,000 students in public schools, in tandem with Metro police, then the school board and Superintendent Thomas Lockamy should take steps to make this happen.

This artificial division between Metro and campus police makes no sense and seems to be more a case of turf-guarding than protecting public safety.

When there may be a dangerous predator on the loose, all bets are off. That includes the "protocol" that Chief Enoch mentioned.

What matters, above all else, is student safety and getting dangerous criminals off the streets. In that regard, City Alderman Van Johnson is spot on. "In cases where our children are being attacked, I don't give a damn about jurisdiction."

The entire school board and City Council should share Mr. Johnson's sentiment, and they should make sure it is shared by the police agencies they control and manage.

But even more chilling is the fact that predators are still on the loose in the community. So the work to protect local women from sexual predators is far from over. Since Hendrix was arrested on Feb. 26 this year, five additional attacks or attempted assaults on young girls have been reported from one end of the county to the other. All areas are vulnerable. Thus parents and students must be vigilant at all times. So must Metro and campus police, who need to cooperate and share information.

The official protocol must be to keep the public informed and to trust citizens with information they need to protect themselves. There must never again be such an epic failure to communicate that leaves so many children vulnerable to sick creeps who prey on them.

Online: http://savannahnow.com/