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Bryant's bill veto is a big deal
by Wyatt Emmerich
Apr 26, 2015 | 38 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Governor Phil Bryant is proving to be quite the champion of transparency in government. This week he vetoed a local bill simply because it tried to circumvent our state’s longstanding public notice requirements. In doing so, the governor sent a bold message that will not be lost on our legislators. Senate Bill 2269 seemed harmless enough. It restructured the commission overseeing the coliseum on the Gulf Coast. Both chambers of our state legislature passed it unanimously. But in conference committee, a few legislators sneakily altered the bill so that public notices involving the new commission would be posted to an unspecified government website rather the local newspaper. With millions of websites in the world, that is akin to asking a citizens to find a needle in a haystack. This is not a money issue for the Mississippi press. Legal rates haven’t been raised in 20 years and are far lower than the lowest rate newspapers would ever accept from private advertisers. The money to publish a public notice is minuscule. This is about openness in government, something fundamental to the newspaper business and dear to the hearts of publishers and editors. Most Mississippi newspapers operate the dominant local websites in their markets, yet 95 percent of their advertisers prefer print. There is a reason for that. Print means visibility. Visibility is crucial for public notices and open government. Mississippi Press Association(MPA) keeps a watchful eye on proposed legislation that undermines our state’s open meetings, open records and public notice laws. That’s why the legislators tried to sneak it through conference committee, knowing it would not go back for a vote on the floor, forcing Bryant to veto a bill a perfectly good bill on principle. When an MPA delegation left a last-ditch meeting with Bryant this week pleading for a veto, nobody had much hope. But veto the bill he did. Kudos to our governor. In retrospect, Bryant’s veto is in keeping with a long history of dedication to transparency, both during his tenure as lieutenant governor and now governor. Bryant played a major role in passing the incident reporting law, which compels law enforcement to notify citizens of crimes occurring in their neighborhoods. Bryant helped give the Mississippi Ethics Commission the power to enforce violations to the open records and open meetings laws. Bryant’s leadership was crucial to increasing fines for violation of transparency laws and making violators personally responsible for payment. Bryant worked to ensure public hospital boards are open. The list goes on. Government is big business in Mississippi. Those seeking to profit from government are constantly devising ways of staying under the radar. They especially want to stay out of the newspapers, which are read by 1.4 million Mississippians. They would love to be able to post important public notices deep within the menu layers of some obscure website. Hiding in the shadows, money can be made and taxpayers can be fleeced. Layne Bruce, director of the MPA, called Bryant’s action “a big deal. Governor Bryant has stood by his promises about transparency. When you add up all the changes, we really have made a lot of progress of the last few years.” We must be vigilant in protecting transparency and honesty lest we devolve into the kind of corrupt kleptocracy that plagues much of the world. This is not a right wing or left wing issue. This is an issue that all Mississippians can agree on. Open, transparent government is the linchpin of accountability. It is crucial to preventing corruption and maintaining the kind of honest government all citizens want to see.
Politicized prosecution run amok in Wisconsin
by Rich Lowry
Apr 26, 2015 | 0 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The knock on the door in the dead of night is the stuff of "Darkness at Noon," and of the state of Wisconsin. To the question of whether armed police can storm your house and take away your personal effects and tell you to shut up about it, based simply on your political advocacy, Wisconsin answered for years, "Why, yes, they can – now please, shut up about it." The so-called John Doe investigations into Gov. Scott Walker and conservative groups in Wisconsin have been an ongoing travesty that – now that Walker is entering the presidential stage – should be considered a national disgrace. Walker's opponents weaponized campaign-finance law, literally. Journalist David French has talked to families targeted in the John Doe raids for the first time, and their stories are harrowing. Shouting officers at the front door in pre-dawn raids, at least once with a battering ram. Armed police rifling through and carting off their belongings, down to and including a daughter's computer. And warnings to stay silent. The targets were told not to tell their lawyers, or their friends, or their neighbors. When armed cops storm the house next door, people often wonder why, but the targets were forbidden from discussing what happened. As French points out, this wasn't the right to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination, but an order to remain silent and not to make any professions of innocence. They had a keener sense of due process in Salem, Mass. The investigators were, among other things, fishing for campaign-finance violations, on dubious grounds. So, for exercising their First Amendment rights, some targets were denied their First Amendment rights. This is the Bill of Rights, via Kafka and Inspector Javert. The investigations have been such a long-running farce that there is John Doe I and II. As Scott Walker's first campaign for governor got underway in 2010, the Milwaukee district attorney, John Chisholm, opened the initial John Doe investigation under a proviso of the law that allows officials to keep their targets secret and to compel them to hush up. A partisan Democrat whose wife was a shop steward for a teachers union, Chisholm investigated everything possible related to Walker for a couple of years, without really laying a glove on him. It was in the run-up to Walker's re-election campaign that, with the help of a compliant judge, John Doe entered its next phase of harassment of conservative groups. Investigators swept up personal emails, and issued wide-ranging subpoenas, including information on donors. The Wisconsin Club for Growth describes in court filings how its activities were hindered, as people began refusing meetings, donors got nervous, and one of its key officials, Eric O'Keefe, wasn't allowed to explain the nature of the investigation. O'Keefe, who has been courageous in resisting the investigations, has said, "The process is the punishment." And the offense was backing the wrong side in a highly contentious political dispute. It's one thing for kids with bongo drums to register their opposition to Scott Walker; it's another for armed agents of the state, operating with the force of law, to be used as essentially a political cudgel. The John Doe investigation has bogged down under the weight of its own ludicrous unfairness, and various court challenges. The Wisconsin Supreme Court could soon rule to halt the investigations altogether, and the United States Supreme Court is set to decide whether it will consider a federal lawsuit brought by Eric O'Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth. Wisconsin legislators are considering scaling back the law enabling John Doe investigations to prevent future abuses. The John Doe process might make sense for unraveling a dangerous criminal syndicate; it isn't appropriate in a tenuous campaign-finance investigation, let alone as a tool of intimidation against people on the wrong side of a political argument. The politicized knock on the door in the night isn't right for Wisconsin, or anywhere else in the United States of America. (Daily Corinthian columnist Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.)
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Revision protects downtown trees
by Jebb Johnston
Apr 25, 2015 | 33 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Almost 100 years ago, some Corinthians dug up young oak trees from the Bridge Creek bottom to plant along the city streets — so the story goes. Helping preserve the tree canopy along downtown Corinth’s oak-lined residential streets is the goal of current proposed revisions to the historic tree preservation ordinance, which regulates the cutting or removal of trees in the city right-of-way within certain boundaries. The revisions would add new requirements and specify certain tree species for replacement of removed trees. Many of the trees are near the same age and, in 1996, were declared to have about 25 years left in their lifespan, according to the City of Corinth Hazardous Tree Evaluation and Recommendations study prepared by Southern Urban Forestry Associates after the devastation of Ice Storm ’94. “The concern has been for a while: What are we going to do to replace these,” said Director of Community Development and Planning Dave Huwe. The tree-lined streets often get praise from visitors to the city, he said. The 1996 report said not many trees had been planted to replace the canopy. The tree ordinance, which went on the books in 1992, established a tree preservation district and requires approval of the Board of Aldermen for a resident to cut or remove a tree more than 4 inches in diameter and located between the street and sidewalk within the Mitchell and Mask Survey. A larger area beyond that survey requires approval by a city official. “If it’s a healthy tree, we don’t usually give permission,” said Huwe. The stated purpose of the ordinance is to protect property values and to protect trees which possess a living association with the traditions and historic events of the area. MSU Extension Service Agent Patrick Poindexter was consulted on the revisions. “From what I’ve seen, there are several of the trees downtown that are on their way down,” he said. “Having a plan in place to replace existing trees is a smart thing to do. That way, people can still get the enjoyment out of them on down the road.” Safety is also a concern. “A lot of these big trees that are old are starting to lose some limbs, which is part of the natural process and sometimes becomes a sped up-process due to insects and disease,” said Poindexter. When a tree is removed, the revision calls for property owners to plant a replacement tree in the immediate vicinity of the old tree at a point mid-way between the curb and the sidewalk. The proposed list of species approved for planting includes the Shumard oak, pin oak, willow oak, red maple, sugar maple, fruitless sweet gum and tulip tree. In limited circumstances, such as a spot where power lines may be an issue, it allows for planting of a dogwood, crepe myrtle, red bud or little gem magnolia, with the requirement to prune the tree so that visibility is maintained through the lower part of the tree. The proposed revisions also call for the property owner to repair the sidewalk if the root mass or removal process has caused the sidewalk to break or buckle. The revisions would also prohibit the planting of a tree within 10 feet of the nearest crosswalk or 20 feet of the nearest cross street. The 1996 report included an inventory of trees that counted 1,421 in the city’s right-of-way in the study area. Of those, 37 percent were willow oak, 12 percent were dogwood, 11 percent were water oak and 9 percent were red maple. The ordinance change will possibly go to a vote at the next meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on May 5. The proposed amended ordinance can be viewed on the city’s website at cityofcorinthms.com.
The Kendrick Road bridge gets stripes on Wednesday morning. Although not officially open, motorists are using the bridge near the Tennessee stateline.
The Kendrick Road bridge gets stripes on Wednesday morning. Although not officially open, motorists are using the bridge near the Tennessee stateline.
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