Connecting state and local government leaders

Georgia Lt. Gov. Jeopardizes His State’s Business-Friendly Reputation

The Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta

The Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta Shutterstock


Connecting state and local government leaders

STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Michigan county surrenders to potholes; Chicago closes sexual harassment ordinance loophole; and a public records blowback continues in Washington state.

Here are some state and local government stories that caught Route Fifty’s attention …

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT | Following Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines’ decision to end a special discount for members of the National Rifle Association following the Parkland, Florida high school shooting, Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who presides over the state Senate, said earlier this week that he would “kill” any tax break that would benefit the state’s largest private employer. On Thursday, state lawmakers eliminated a special jet-fuel tax exemption as part of larger tax measure. Following the Republican lieutenant governor’s threat, the Democratic governors of New York and Virginia encouraged Delta to relocate its headquarters to their states. Although Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, has frowned on the political “squabble” involving Delta, he has said that he’ll sign the larger tax package, which would reduce taxes for Georgia residents and businesses. But he warned, in a statement: “If we truly wish to remain the No. 1 state in which to do business… if we want to attract more companies to our communities and more jobs for our growing populace… if we want to remain a truly competitive hub for global commerce and not be overshadowed by neighboring states, then we need to address the concerns of all in a dignified manner and with a maturity that our people deserve.” [CNBC; Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal]

POTHOLES | One solution is to fill them. Another is to just surrender and close down the roads, which is what’s happening in Michigan. In York Township near Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County road officials have opted to indefinitely close a several-mile stretch where “the pavement is falling apart," in the words of Emily Kizer, communications coordinator for the road commission. "We've been trying… but the patching isn't working." Kizer said the clay beneath the surface is rising through the patching. [Detroit Free Press]

Indianapolis is similarly plagued, spurring Mayor Joe Hogsett to go forward with an emergency $14.5 million pothole-filling plan even as the City Council members decide if they want to pay for it. Work crews on Monday and Tuesday dropped 800 tons of asphalt and filled about 17,000 potholes. City and state researchers may have landed on a major technological assist. Engineers at Purdue University and the Indiana Department of Transportation have helped create Superpave 5, a new asphalt mixture that has fewer air pockets—a “concept first developed in France.” [IndyStar, 13 WTHR]  

In Washington, D.C., an increasing number of motorists whose vehicles have been damaged by potholes are getting paid. The District of Columbia government has paid dozens of claims to individuals and to insurance companies in amounts that range from $35 to $6,354, according to data provided to the D.C. Council. The District’s government denied several dozen claims, one of which was filed by a pedestrian who claimed to have injured themselves tripping on and falling into a pothole. [WTOP]

ENERGY | Another dispatch from the evolving utility sector: The Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. is expanding its Thunder Spirit Wind farm near Hettinger, North Dakota from 43 turbines to 59 turbines at a cost of roughly $85 million. The move is expected to boost the percentage of renewable energy delivered by the company from 22 percent to 27 percent and at lower cost than energy purchased on the market. [North American Wind Power]

CITY COUNCILS | The Chicago City Council moved Wednesday to close a loophole in a sexual harassment ordinance it passed in the fall, which added alderman and other elected officials to rules barring sexual harassment. That proposal covered city employees, but it left out many non-government people who also work with officials, such as lobbyists, constituents, contractors and developers. [Sun Times]

The Phoenix City Council this week swiftly approved new anti-harassment policy language that would allow members to remove harassing colleagues. But, because the language amends the city charter, Phoenix voters will have to approve it next election. [New Times]   

The New York City Council is investigating two of the state’s largest health insurers suspected of defrauding taxpayers of roughly $1 billion. “The scope of what has been alleged is shocking,” said Councilmember Justin Brannan, referring to documents in a recently unsealed lawsuit. Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat, is looking into claims that Empire Blue Cross-Blue Shield and Emblem Health exaggerated benefits and understated out-of-pocket costs. [New York Post]

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday supporting a bill introduced by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg that seeks to create a California-chartered bank that could be used by the marijuana industry. [City News Service]

LAW ENFORCEMENT | Since 2012, New Orleans has driven down its frightening murder rate, which hit 200 that year. The effort has been built upon a big-data project that law enforcement has carried out in partnership with PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel’s Palantir Technologies— a similar project to those carried out in Chicago and Los Angeles. Palantir, whose clients have included the CIA and the U.S. military, offered New Orleans its services free of charge. One of the pitches was that law enforcement would be able to “identify people likely to either commit gun violence or be the victim of it.” Murders fell by 25 percent over the next three years. But the private-public project in New Orleans has been characterized by a less-than-full transparency, and observers are concerned that officials and Palantir may be trampling civil rights. Journalists have filed records requests that have delivered emails and reports that have stoked anxiety. "I'm not saying these tools can't be utilized. But no one gets to be part of the discussion," said Ursula Price, deputy monitor in the city’s Independent Police Monitor's office. "At the very least, independent oversight should have some information. Had they shared some info with us, we might be able to allay some fears. Instead, everything is in a box and it's suspicious."  [The Verge; The Times-Picayune]

Asheville, North Carolina Mayor Esther Manheimer and City Council members expressed outrage after police video from an August incident surfaced this week depicting a white officer beating a black resident, Johnnie Jermaine Rush, after confronting him over allegedly jaywalking. The mayor promised to “review the violent acts” and the response taken by the police department. “We will have accountability and, above all, transparency,” she said in a release. [Asheville Citizen Times]

San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell and Police Chief Bill Scott are at odds over a controversial ballot measure that would arm San Francisco officers with electronic stun guns or tasers. San Francisco is the last major city in the country where officers don’t carry tasers. [San Francisco Chronicle / SFGate]

PUBLIC RECORDS | Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s office has been deluged with messages asking him to veto a bill that would exempt the state legislature from the Public Records Act. Lawmakers passed the bill in record time and without public debate last week in response to a court ruling in January that found individual legislators subject to the open records requests. The bill notably seeks to retroactively block records sought by news organizations that sued the Legislature last year. “You can be a good representative and still be transparent about your communications,” Inslee told MSNBC host Chris Hayes recently. The bill passed with a wide majority, but the intense public reaction might prevent lawmakers from voting to override a veto. Some believe Inslee simply will allow the bill to become law without signing it, but the governor vetoed the bill on Thursday night. [The News Tribune; Gov. Jay Inslee]

John Tomasic is a journalist who lives in Seattle.

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