Couple of political things to note

Mayoral candidate Andy Rusk is having his kickoff party on Friday Jan. 6 at Tasty World. He's got some bands lined up, and the soiree begins at around 8:00 pm. Check it out.

On Thursday night, January 5, Candidate for Superintendant of Schools Carlotta Harrell is coming to hang out with the Oconee County Democrats at their monthly meeting. The shindig will get crunk at 7:00 pm in the Board of Commissioners Chamber in the Oconee County Courthouse. Questions? Email Dan Matthews of the Oconee County Democratic Party. Here's Carlotta Harrell's website.

Happy New Year!


Let's Talk About Edumacation

Say what you will about the School Board here in Clarke County (and we’ve definitely said our piece at AthPo), they’re at least representative of the students they purportedly serve – in the sense that, like the students, the board seems to have the critical thinking skills of Kevin Federline after a six-day bender.

Actually, I’d put the students’ critical thinking abilities up against the school board’s any day of the week. I’m pretty sure that your average 6th grader, even the ones educated in Clarke County, could tell you that it’s a good idea to screen the people who will be spending large amounts of time around students, you know, just to make sure they aren’t child molesters or anything.

Of course, I’m just singing backup to what Jim Thompson wrote yesterday. Sez Jim:
“There's still something you can do to directly affect the quality of public education in Clarke County.
“You can vote.”
Not that Jim would be encouraging people not to vote if he were happy with the Board of Education, but one can still safely presume that, like many of us, he’s just a skosh displeased with the way the Board has been handling the business of educating our kids.
I’ve been giving this one a lot of thought lately, and while there is middle ground with respect to voting most, if not all, of the Board out of office, the first thing you do when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging.
The problems with the Board of Education go deeper than taking two years to come to a conclusion on background checks, as the ABH editorializes today. It goes deeper than the need for arts education, as the ABH reports today.
The problem is Chernobyl-style failure of leadership.
Now, you can’t pin those leadership failures entirely on Board President Jackie Saindon. There’s plenty of responsibility to go around among the other eight members of the Board, not to mention the Superintendant and his underlings.
Of course, ousting the BOE en masse is not going to happen. We know that. In a year where ACC voters have to deal with competitive races for governor, lieutenant governor, various state legislative seats, and what might be a barnburner of a non-partisan mayor’s race, school board seats are not going to sucking away much time or energy. Also, it goes without saying that finding good candidates to run for local office against entrenched incumbents is slightly more difficult than herding cats. Wet, pissed off cats who forgot to take their lithium.
Is it too late for the Board of Edumacation to turn things around? No, not at all. But unless the elected officials and the school district administration start showing some leadership, the students and teachers and the community as a whole will continue to suffer.
Time to stop digging.


Ben Epps Intergalactic Airport

...who says service in the airline industry is dead? I actually got a Christmas card from the U.S. Airways Express operation here in Athens, which, trust you me, is far better than the "Baggage Irregularity Report" I usually get from other U.S. Airways stations at various times during the year.

But, to make this a "slice of life" type post, I'm really quite surprised at how many people around here don't realize that Athens truly does have commerical air service. And while it doesn't thrill me that Ben Epps Airport is named for someone who went to the North Avenue Trade School (at least he had the good sense to drop out), it absolutely delights me that I can save about 90 miles each way plus time, effort, hassle, frustration, traffic and parking costs by flying in and out of our own little field.

In the last six to nine months or so, I've noticed that the rates from Athens to most major east coast and mid-west destinations to which I've flown have harmonized with the fares out of Atlanta (at least on 14-21 day adavance fares). But even if Atlanta is pricing out less, once you factor $.42/mile for your car, $9/day for parking plus the time driving to and from the south side of Atlanta (and leave enough time to go through security and ride the train to your gate), the bottom line starts to even out pretty quickly.

One caveat: you need to be able to walk out onto the tarmac and board a Beechcraft 1900-D "airliner." Think of it like the Krystal of airplanes...it's a bit on the small side. But once they let you off in Charlotte an hour later, you get on a real plane and end up where you need to be.

So, SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! This is just between you, me and corn. Don't tell anyone else about one of the Classic City's best kept secrets.


More on the arrested day laborers

Many Athenians are concerned about the mass arrest of Hispanic day laborers at the Home Depot parking lot on Thursday, December 1 by the Oconee County Sheriff's Department. See "31 seeking day labor arrested in Home Depot lot", Athens Banner-Herald, December 2, 2005. The article reported that the sheriff's department had been receiving many complaints about the conduct of certain day laborers for a long period of time. It was said that they have verbally harassed customers in the parking lot, and the December 1 newscast of News Source 15 showing the arrests also reported there had been complaints of some urinating in public. The icing on the cake was that a shelter adjacent to the parking lot was erected for the use of waiting day laborers, but many continued to stand elsewhere and generate complaints, despite many verbal warnings by deputies and fliers posted at Home Depot. (I did not see any fliers as I drove by the Home Depot storefront today.)

The first thing that Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry wanted me to know was that the arrest was a very open process accompanied by a reporter from the University of Georgia's News Source 15, something the Athens Banner-Herald did not report. He also emphasized that his office was not interested in the men's immigration status and that he does not have authority over immigration.

The men were not identified nor were they questioned before they were arrested, said Sheriff Berry. However, before a police officer may arrest someone under the charge of loitering or prowling, Georgia's loitering statute requires a police officer to "afford the person an opportunity to dispel any alarm or immediate concern ... by requesting the person to identify himself and explain his presence and conduct." Ga. Code Ann. § 16-11-36 (West 2005). Berry responded to this by saying that the men were charged under Oconee County's loitering ordinance which does not require this questioning before an arrest may be made, and the magistrate handling the charges will decide how to proceed. But both Oconee County's ordinance and Georgia's ordinance are worded very similarly since they are based on Model Penal Code § 250.6, and they include the requirement for asking the person to identify himself and explain his conduct. The text of the county ordinance appears at the end of this article.

However, the deputies did speak to the men before arresting them, and they brought translators to help, said Lynnsey Gardner, the News Source 15 videographer at the scene. She described the process as "peaceful" and gave an account showing that the operation was conducted professionally. She said that the parking lot was staked out for a while beginning before 7:00 a.m. in advance of the arrests. She said that some day laborers waiting at the shelter and thus not arrested actually approved of the roundup, though some with poorer English thought it was unjust.

Sheriff Berry said that of the 31 arrested, two were juveniles who were released from the jail facility without charges. Of the remaining 29, one was wanted by Athens-Clarke County on previous charges and another was additionally charged with giving a false name. He provided a copy of the incident report supplemented by 24 complaints on loitering by Hispanic day laborers documented since August 21, 2003. The dispatch report from Thursday's operation shows that deputies entered the scene at 8:11 a.m., 14 units of personnel were involved (including the sheriff), and 30 people were transported.

A lot of the complaints dispatched were described as a "neighborhood complaint" or "suspicious person," and most were reported from 1720 Epps Bridge Road. Some of the remarks recorded are "30-40 men in front of the cafe on the corner," "Hispanic males loit[er]ing in the parking lot," "H/M standing outside their business," "Mexican man ... soliciting bank and pedestrians to sell CD's and credit card," "day laborers out in parking lot outside of the area set aside for them," and "white 4dr truck that conducting business and the daylaborers are in the rd."


Oconee County's loitering ordinance:

Loitering or Prowling.

(a) A person commits the offense of loitering or prowling when that person is in a place, at a time or in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals, under circumstances that warrant a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity or under circumstances which cause a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern that such person is involved in unlawful activity.

(b) The circumstances which may be considered in determining whether alarm or concern is warranted include, but are not limited to, the following: taking flight upon the appearance of a law enforcement officer; refusing to identify oneself; or manifestly endeavoring to conceal oneself or any object. Unless flight by the person or other circumstances makes it impractical, a law enforcement officer shall, prior to arrest for an offense under this section, afford the person an opportunity to dispel any alarm or immediate concern which would otherwise be warranted by allowing the person to produce satisfactory identification and an explanation of that person's presence and conduct.

Oconee County, Ga., Criminal Ordinance § 10 (undated copy).

Holiday safety message

I'm glad I was home to answer the phone. The police department's Reverse 911 system called us with a holiday safety reminder message. Something about locking doors and taking portable valuables if leaving town. The last message I heard was something about a community meeting in East Athens.