Wednesday, November 28, 2012

117 ALEC Members Voted Out in 2012 Election; Sadly None are From Georgia

117 ALEC Members Voted Out in 2012

  • Topics: Politics
  • Projects: ALEC Exposed
  • From:

    In primary and general elections in 2012 and recall elections in 2011 and 2012, a total of 117 members and alumni of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) were voted out of office, according to research and analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), ColorOfChange, and others.

    Arizona Down 14 ALEC Members

    ArizonaAs reported by CMD, former State Senator Russell Pearce was voted out of office in November 2011 in what was widely seen as a referendum on Senate Bill 1070, the anti-immigration legislation Pearce introduced. Pearce was a long-time ALEC member and was on the public sector executive committee of the task force that adopted SB 1070 as a "model" bill.
    In addition, ALEC state legislators Representatives J. Ted Vogt (R-10) and Amanda Reeve (R-6) lost in the general election. Representatives John Fillmore (R-23), Nancy McLain (R-3), and Rep. David Burnell Smith (R-7), and Sen. Lori Klein (R-6) lost GOP primary elections in 2012. Representatives Cecil P. Ash (R-18), Steve Court (R-18), Jack W. Harper (R-4), Peggy Judd (R-25), Terri Proud (R-26), and James P. Weiers (R-12) and Sen. Sylvia Tenney Allen (R-5) retired or were ineligible for reelection due to term limits.

    Wisconsin Down 11 ALEC Members and Alumni

    WisconsinIn Wisconsin, six known ALEC members have been voted out of office since 2011, and prominent ALEC alumnus Tommy Thompson did not win his bid for U.S. Senate. Thompson had been a popular Wisconsin governor and United States Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. He said in a speech at an ALEC event in 2001 that he became involved with ALEC in 1974, a year after its founding. Thompson ran for U.S. Senate against Rep. Tammy Baldwin, an unabashed progressive, and lost.
    Representatives Joseph Knilans (R-44), Roger Rivard (R-75), and Evan Wynn (R-43) also lost their races this month. Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald (R-39) lost the GOP primary for U.S. Senate seat to Thompson and was not eligible for reelection to his Assembly seat. Former Rep. Randy Hopper (R-18) and former Senators Dan Kapanke (R-32) and Van Wanggaard (R-21) lost their seats in recall elections in 2011 and 2012. Sen. Rich Zipperer (R-33) resigned to join Governor Scott Walker's administration, and Representatives Karl Van Roy (R-90) and Michelle Litjens (R-56) retired.

    Minnesota Down 11 ALEC Members

    MinnesotaIn Minnesota, 11 of the state's 26 known ALEC members will not return to office in 2013, thanks to retirement, redistricting, and voter rejection, according to Bluestem Prairie. Those out include Rep. Carol McFarlane (R-53B), Sen. Chris Gerlach (R-37), former ALEC state chairSen. Gen Olson (R-33), Sen. Gretchen Hoffman (R-10), Rep. Ron Shimanski (R-18A), Sen. Ted Daley (R-38), Rep. Connie Doepke (R-33B), Sen. Mike Parry (R-26), Sen. Amy Koch (R-19), Sen. John Howe (R-28), and Rep. King Banaian (R-15B).

    Other States' Reduced ALEC Membership

    New HampshireIn New Hampshire, five of the state's 31 known ALEC members were not re-elected to their seats for 2013: Rep. Jennifer Coffey (R-6), Rep. Beverly T. Rodeschin (R-2), Rep. Will Smith (R-18), Rep. Joseph Thomas (R-19), and Rep. J. Gail Barry (R-16).
    In Rhode Island, both of the state's "ALEC State Chairmen," Rep. Jon Brien (D-50) and Sen. Frank Maher (R-34), were voted out of office.
    A list of ALEC legislators who were up for election on November 6, updated with wins and losses, is available from ColorOfChange here.

    What's Ahead?

    In state legislative campaigns in MaineMinnesotaNew HampshirePennsylvania, and Washington State, membership in and support of ALEC has become a public campaign issue in the last year and a half. During that time, 70 state legislators nationwide have publicly cut ties to ALEC.
    Many ALEC legislators, however, were reelected, and it is unknown how many newly elected state legislators will be drafted by ALEC this coming year. In 2010, Republicans gained "trifecta" control (meaning members of one political party hold the governorship as well as the majority in both bodies of the state legislature) over 21 states. After the 2012 election, there are now 23 states with Republican trifectas.
    Although ALEC claims to be nonpartisan, its legislative membership is overwhelmingly Republican. As CMDhas reported, after the 2010 election a flood of nearly identical bills emerged from statehouses under Republican control. When CMD launched in July 2011, the public was able to view over 800 "model" bills directly attributable to ALEC for the first time, and link many of these proposals to their ALEC templates.
    It is expected that 2012 will generate a new raft of ALEC legislation, including bills to roll back taxes and starve state government, bills to privatize public schools, bills to privatize public pensions and other government services and, of course, bills to defund and dismantle unions. What has changed is that now there are active citizen groups across the nation tracking ALEC members, bills and conferences and helping to shed a light on this organization that allows corporate lobbyists to vote as equals with legislators behind closed doors on proposals to change your rights and obligations under the law.

    Harriet Rowan and Katelin Lorenze contributed to this report.

    Friday, November 23, 2012

    Cell Towers and Our Rights for Local Control: U.S. Supreme Court May Provide an Answer in 2013


    Cell Phone Towers: Supreme Court To Tackle Key Case Determining If a Federal Agency Can Trump City, County Decisions
    A wireless service provider wants to put a new cell tower in your city. A vocal segment of the community is outraged. The tower is big, disruptive and dangerous, they contend. The provider, meanwhile, threatens to sue your city. The issue is now on your desk. You have reviewed the application, and you have important questions. How quickly must we act? Do our community’s policies control the outcome? Can the Federal Communications Commission say otherwise? A U.S. Supreme Court case to be argued this January may begin to suggest answers to these and other important questions that cities in California and across the country are asking. 

    The case, Arlington v. FCC, asks the nation’s high court to resolve whether a court must accept a federal agency’s determination of its own jurisdiction when, under the controlling statute, that question is uncertain. The case arises out of the FCC’s effort to impose “shot clocks” limiting the time that local governments can consider wireless facility applications, under a statute that does not directly grant the federal agency this authority. Local government officials and staff interested in wireless facility siting and the limits of a federal agency’s authority should watch the case closely. The decision may clarify how far the FCC — or any federal agency — may expand its authority into matters of concern to your community.

    Local Zoning Authority Preserved  

    In 1996, Congress adopted the chief statute addressing local zoning authority over wireless service facilities as part of a major update of the Communications Act. For advocates of preserving local government authority over cell tower placement, the statute was a significant victory. Two years earlier, the situation looked dire. An industry trade group, the Cellular Telephone Industry Association, had petitioned the FCC to make rules to bar state and local governments from “interfering with the build out” of wireless infrastructure through zoning and other similar regulations. The House of Representatives then passed a bill that would have empowered the FCC to create a policy about state and local regulation of wireless facilities and require that local governments act within a reasonable period of time.

    But Congress rejected this “national” model, and replaced it with the 1996 statute that most local government advocates found vastly superior. The statute, Preservation of Local Zoning Authority, prevented FCC preemption of local and state land use decisions and preserved their authority over zoning and land use matters except in limited circumstances. The statute provided a role for the FCC in one (and only one) respect: the Commission may resolve disputes regarding radiofrequency emissions concurrent with the courts.

    Local advocates had little reason to doubt this view for the next decade. Local governments and industry frequently clashed over whether and where facilities may be placed, but these disputes were not resolved by a federal agency in Washington D.C. Instead, they were resolved by a state or federal court that would often give substantial deference to a local government’s decision so long as it did not defy the statute’s five express limitations.

    “Shot Clock” Adopted

    In 2009, everything changed. Thirteen years after Congress adopted the Preservation of Local Zoning Authority statute, the FCC claimed it had authority to implement the statute with its own federal administrative policy framework. Granting an industry petition, the FCC created 90- and 150-day “shot clocks” for state and local governments to approve or turn down a completed application. The FCC ruled that if a state or local government did not act within these time frames (absent an agreement to extend the deadlines between the locality and the applicant), a “failure to act” under the 1996 statute will have occurred.

    The most surprising aspect of the FCC’s decision was the agency’s conclusion that it had authority to address this area at all. Questioning this conclusion, the city of Arlington, Texas, sought review by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in early 2010. Arlington and supporting intervenors noted that the FCC’s jurisdictional conclusion could not be squared with the federal statute’s plain language and history. The FCC relied on its general authority under the Communications Act in sections outside of the statute. But the agency did not directly explain how it could use these provisions to affect state and local authority when the statute states that “[e]xcept as provided in this paragraphnothing in this Actshall limit or affect” state and local authority.

    To the local governments’ disappointment, the Fifth Circuit upheld the FCC’s order in a decision released last January. Importantly, however, the court did not uphold the order because it agreed that the FCC had presented the better reading of the jurisdictional statutes. Instead, the court found that its precedent required it to apply the deferentialChevron doctrine, which the Fifth Circuit interpreted to mean that in every circumstance—even where the issue is whether an agency has jurisdiction—a court must defer to an agency’s reasonable statutory interpretation. The court found that the statute does not “unambiguously preclude” the FCC from regulating in this area, and that the agency’s determination that it could implement the statute was “permissible.”

    Supreme Court Takes The Case  

    Petitioning the U.S.  Supreme Court to take the case, Arlington and other local governments noted that the Fifth Circuit’s view that Chevron applies to jurisdictional issues is at odds with decisions of several other federal appellate courts. On Oct. 5, the Supreme Court agreed to take the case, and arguments will be heard on Jan. 16. A decision, which will be rendered no later than July, could have widespread ramifications on local control of wireless facilities, and on the limits of federal agencies’ authority in other areas.

                Matthew K. Schettenhelm is an attorney in Best Best & Krieger LLP’s Municipal Law practice group in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office and is among the firm’s attorneys working on the Arlington v. FCC case for various cities and counties. He has drafted briefs in cases before the Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit, the Sixth Circuit, the Eighth Circuit, and in various other federal and state courts. Schettenhelm also assists local governments and other clients with various telecommunications matters. He has developed wireless facility, right-of-way and cable ordinances for local governments, and has assisted with the negotiation and drafting of agreements regarding cable franchising, municipal Wi-Fi and 700 MHz public safety communications.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    Waiting to be "SACS"ed

    In DeKalb County, GA, a well-known county of the metro and greater Atlanta area, we have become accustomed to the shell game, the hurry-up and wait game, the squeaky wheel gets the grease game, the slight of hand, the last minute crisis, the money grows on trees and then we can always get a bond, the wheels of justice turn slowly and now

    The "Overtime SACS" waiting game

    If you are not familiar with the "Overtime SACS" game, it's fairly simple. It is the process by which you get so fed up with what is happening (or not happening) at your child's school that you start attending school board meetings and speaking up in an effort to help. Once you have tried and tried and get nowhere, you finally decide to take your complaints higher.

    You write to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (a.k.a. SACS)and hope for a response. You wait and wait. You finally receive an acknowledgment that the group is "looking into it" as you stayed tuned to the local media in hopes they will somehow be able to learn more or do something.

    You wait. You hear that SACS is coming to town. You realize that this event is now more exciting to you than Santa Claus coming to town. You worry. You wait. You try not to think about it. You hope they will contact you for more information. You hope you are not alone.

    SACS sounds official, but so far, they have done little or nothing to help our children get the education they deserve. They are more likely a paid consultant of sorts for the Superintendent and the best they might be able to offer is another round of warnings or reprimands. You know this. But, still you hope there might actually be one single solitary organization in this entire state that is actually interested in doing the right thing for the children. You wonder if SACS might be "the one" to finally help.

    And, then you remember how many times you have been down this path.  You're just waiting to be "SACS"ed.  You don't know when, but you know you will probably get hit and go down.  And, you will have to get back up and start all over again.  Is SACS going to help us?  Or are they corrupt, too?

    We may never know. They may never do anything. But, still, we all wait together. We are still working on our individual fights and living our lives, but collectively we are all very much in the same place at the same time.  We all want the same things for our children, no matter what part of the county we live in and no matter what the color of our skin.  We are all in this together and that is a very important thing to remember.  Before you start to bash another parent, teacher or blame the testing, the children or the funding, just remember that the people who have created this mess are not even here to see the aftermath of their destruction.  They are well protected from the ugly truth that they have driven a once great school system into the ground intentionally.  And, even if they did see it, they would not care.  They have investment partners and big bucks riding on the wave of the future - privatized education, state charters, virtual schools, vouchers.  It is all about the money.

    The only thing more concerning that the results of the latest SACS visit may be waiting for the Crawford Lewis trail to begin. SACS told us to expect results around the Thanksgiving holiday, so here we are. And, it sounds like they are not finished with their "investigation" (whatever that entails) and we will be on hold for another two weeks.

    Mark Elgart, the head of SACS, has two words for us ... "Be Prepared."

    Not sure if he is referring to the results of his company's review of our schools or if maybe he is a "prepper" (just joking).

    But, whatever it is that we should be preparing to learn, we can handle it. Whether we are sentenced to more sitting in limbo, or we learn that the state will be called to step in and take over, we have made it this far and we can go the distance.

    Children grow, learn, develop and move on with their lives the best they can and many are successful due to their ability to overcome hardship and oppression. Many have parents who worry, wait and try to do what is best. And many are left behind after years in a messed up system that was supposed to ensure they received the help they needed.

    While the children grow up and the taxpayers look on, the legislature and board members continue to hem and haw and make a mess of things. Please watch the news clip below so you are caught up on the latest game tactics for stalling and calling for extra time out's so the coaches can review the tapes, or alter them, or whatever they do. Don't get your hopes up too high, but don't let them be dashed, either.

    The outcome of what we are all doing separately, together and with or without the help of those who have been elected to "represent us" is an important part of history, even if we are still unsure where we are headed.

    We may live in one of the toughest economic times in history, but money never has been the path to salvation or the root of all evil, has it? What's in your heart is what your child will know. What you are teaching through your actions about trying, putting in the effort, never giving up, and fighting for the rights of others - is a valuable lesson that no one else is qualified to teach your child but you.

    Be proud. Be wise. Be prepared. 

    And have a Happy Thanksgiving with your family and friends this year because you have each other. We are thankful to have found an online community of like-minded individuals who are willing to think for themselves, show up to vote on the important issues of our time, speak up at meetings and consider the issues. We are all learning together, exercising our rights and waiting patiently for the outcome of our efforts so far.

    We will continue to keep you informed about what we learn every step of the way. And, as always, you can share your news with us at Let us know if it can be reprinted and we will share it on our site.

    This is about much more than cell towers, or virtual schools, or charter schools or even corruption. This is about doing the right thing, setting a good example for others and rising about the pigeon holes that the "system" wants to put us all in so they can continue to steal our money and shortchange the children.

    Enough is enough. 

    Mark Elgart wants us to prepare, but what he is really wanting is for us to "wait," so that we will not go any further up the line. He wants us to wait until he is ready or SACS is ready.  We have not hit rock bottom, in other words.  Just wait.  Paul Womack still has a few more weeks in active school board duty since we somehow decided to hold the school board elections in July this year and then leave the ousted board members at their posts for several more months before their replacements can step in.

    Brilliant idea.  Who thought of that one?  Oh yeah, "the state."  The same "state" that we now think can do a better job at charter school approvals than our local board?  The same "state" that reallocates our tax dollars to other counties like Gwinnett because we have too much money?  The same "state" that puts misleading verbiage on the ballot to trick us into voting the way they want us to?  Or the "state" that screwed up the whole map issue so that voters thought they had to tax themselves via another SPLOST for five years in order to redraw district lines which would have been done anyway?  The same "state" we are all hoping will "take over" when SACS gives them the green light?

    How many quarterbacks do you know who are willing to wait to be sacked?

    If we can see it coming, why are we still so helpless to stop it?  Or, get out of the way?  Or stop paying the people who are doing it?  Why can't we, collectively, get our team a better game plan, work together and win a game for a change?  Perhaps part of the problem is that before you can win a game, you need to know who your opponent is.  We all seem to keep pointing the finger at each other instead of looking in the same direction at the same time.

    SACS is coming.  So, is Santa.   And they both say they are acting with "the children" in mind.

    Monday, November 19, 2012

    Cell Towers: There is Just Nothing Pretty About Them (and That May Just be Their Demise)

    Aesthetic-Based Cell Tower Zoning Ordinance Upheld
    From the Georgia Zoning Blog:
    (click headline for full text)

    by Kyle Williams

    On May 13, 2008, the United States District Court, Northern District of Georgia held that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 , 47 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., does not preempt state or local zoning powers so long as local governments:

    1. Do not unreasonably discriminate among providers; 
    2. Do not completely prohibit personal wireless services; or, 
    3. Do not limit the placement of wireless facilities based solely upon “environmental effects" of radio frequency emissions.

    The Court held that a local zoning ordinance that established aesthetic-based guidelines for placement of wireless, cellular, television and radio telecommunications towers and antennas was a reasonable and proper exercise of local governments' exercise of its zoning and police powers and was not preempted by the Telecommunications Act.

    Basically, SE Towers wanted to construct a 250-foot telecommunications antenna in Pickens County, Georgia to expand its personal wireless communications system.  SE Towers chose a site that was close to the unincorporated village of Tate in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

    Tate is known for its historic and abundant marble quarries that date back to the 1830s.  Tate is home to numerous historic sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The site SE Towers chose was approximately 1,100 feet from the Tate Historic District.

    To build its tower, SE Towers had to obtain permits from the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Pickens County zoning authority.  Because of the potential visual impact on the Tate Historic District, SE Towers also had to obtain permission from Georgia’s State Historic Preservation Officer under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, 16 U.S.C. § 470 et seq.

    SE Towers obtained all the necessary permits and permission, except from Pickens County. Under the Pickens County zoning ordinance, a permit was required to construct a telecommunications tower or antenna in excess of 70 feet in height which had the stated purpose to “establish guidelines for sitting of all wireless, cellular, television and radio telecommunications towers and antennas.”  The zoning ordinance outlined several specific “goals” to effectuate that purpose, which included:
    • To locate telecommunications towers and antennas in areas where adverse impacts on the community are minimized;
    • To encourage the design and construction of towers and antennas to minimize adverse visual impacts; and,
    • To protect those geographic areas containing visually significant or unique natural features.

    At a public hearing, a representative from community and historic preservation groups made a presentation opposing the tower because it would have “direct and adverse visual impact” on the views from within the Tate Historic District, which was followed by a number of residents voicing aesthetic displeasure with the proposed tower.  Pickens County denied the permit.

    SE Towers appealed under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TCA), 47 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. seeking an injunction from Pickens County to issue the permit.  The District Court denied the appeal holding that the Telecommunications Act did not preempt Pickens County’s zoning authority.

    The Court held that the aesthetic goals of the Pickens County zoning ordinance did not conflict with the Telecommunications Act because nothing in the Act “forbids local authorities from applying general and nondiscriminatory standards derived from their zoning codes, and . . . aesthetic harmony is a prominent goal underlying almost every such code.”

    Sunday, November 18, 2012

    "Apple Picking" A New Epidemic of Street Crime

    (click for full story)
    Asked about the trend of thieves assaulting people to steal I-pads and I-Phones in broad daylight (also known as "Apple picking"), Police Captain Maddox of San Francisco said:
    "It's a chronic, chronic problem."
    Definition of CHRONIC  1a : marked by long duration or frequent recurrence 

    ... and THIS is what we plan to give to our elementary school children to carry back and forth from school to home every day?  

    It's not only unsafe, it's downright irresponsible.  We're setting our children up to be victims of more than just a few bullies if we do not start thinking decisions through more carefully before putting them into action.  Just because we CAN do something, doesn't mean we SHOULD.  

    Read highlights from just one of hundreds or more stories just like it from around the web:

    IPad robbery suspects held after crash

    by John Cote, San Franciso Chronicle

    A daylight rip-and-run theft in San Francisco's upscale Pacific Heights neighborhood set off a chain of mayhem and destruction that ended just over a mile away with a traffic collision that injured four people, including an 11-year old boy at a playground, authorities said Thursday.

    The incident began about 5 p.m. Wednesday when a man grabbed an iPad from a woman's hands as she sat on a bench in front of the Peet's Coffee shop at Fillmore and Sacramento streets, police said.

    As witnesses dialed 911, the thief jumped into a waiting silver Mercedes sport utility vehicle and sped off with two accomplices, police said. With officers in pursuit, the SUV struck a motorcyclist and a TV news van before a brutal crash with a Mazda minivan at Buchanan and Hayes streets, police said.

    The boy, struck by flying debris, suffered only a minor injury and was not admitted to the hospital, officials said. But three other people - two suspects in the robbery and the driver of the minivan hit by their getaway car - were treated at San Francisco General Hospital, where all had been released by Thursday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

    Police arrested three people fleeing the damaged getaway vehicle, including the driver, who they suspect was drunk.

    "Obviously these people had absolutely no regard for public safety," said Officer Albie Esparza, a police spokesman.


    The chaotic string of events marked the latest incident in what police say is a rise in robberies and muggings involving high-priced smart phones, tablet computers and other personal electronics. Investigators are exploring possible links to other robberies, police said.

    "It's a chronic, chronic problem," police Capt. Ann Mannix said. "There is such a high resale value for iPads and iPhones - criminals are taking them left and right. And recently they're not just taking them, but they're assaulting people severely."


    Read more:

    Robbers targeting iPhone and Android users; crime epidemic being called "Apple Picking"

    by Tom Wait, WXYZ

    (WXYZ) - Is your Apple iPhone or Android cell phone making you mugger bait? Police say robbers are watching as you text and make calls, ready to pick off your expensive smart phone.

    Police are calling the robberies “Apple Picking,” a play on Apple iPhone users who are often the targets.
    “Lately there’s a lot of people, where they’re walking and they’re getting the phones taken out of their hands – or beaten up for them,” said Clare Glesser, a student at Wayne State.

    And in fact Wayne State had such a serious problem with so-called “Apple Picking,” at one point police were recording at least one robbery a day. The campus issued a crime alert and the incidents have decreased, but it’s still a major issue.

    One of our own interns was a victim. She stopped to give someone directions when they ripped her iPhone 4 from her hands and then drove off.

    “I wasn’t texting or listening to music. I was just trying to help someone who said they were lost and couldn’t find their class,” said Gabriella Pagan, a Wayne State student and 7 Action News intern.

    Gabriella’s phone was likely wiped and sold on the streets. Wayne State Center for Urban Studies Professor David Martin says some lower tier service providers will activate a stolen phone.

    “You just show up and they’ll give you a new SIM card and boom, you’re on your way,” said Professor Martin.

    Crimes are also taking place across the country, where cameras have caught robbers assaulting unsuspecting victims as they walked down streets using their phones in broad daylight.


    “Would you walk down the street with cash in front of you? Or if you were counting it would you be somewhere where you couldn’t be as likely observed and targeted. It’s just that simple. It’s a valuable device,” said Lt. Dave Scott with the Wayne State Police Department.

    Read more:

    Girl, 19, is shot for her mobile phone

    The U.K. Mail

    A teenager is fighting for her life in hospital today after she was shot in the head at point-blank range by a robber who stole her mobile phone.

    The 19-year-old was attacked as she walked along Lea Bridge Road, Walthamstow, east London, just after 5pm yesterday. During a struggle she had her Nokia 3310 phone snatched and was then shot once, sustaining a fractured skull.

    The victim, of Asian origin and from nearby Waltham Forest, is said to be in a serious condition in intensive care.

    Detective Inspector Gerry Campbell of Chingford CID said: "This was a horrific act, given the fact the mobile phone had already been stolen and the shooting took place afterwards-There was no need for it. It was an act of cold-blooded violence committed solely out of malice.

    "We think the snatch took place and was followed by a struggle. It was after the struggle that the shot was fired. We do not know what type of gun was used but are sure it was a pistol of some sort."

    Thefts of mobile phones are fueling a street crime epidemic. The latest crime figures show a 42 per cent increase in phone thefts this year. They now account for 39 per cent of all robberies dealt with by Scotland Yard.

    Mr Campbell added: "We would advise anyone who is threatened to hand over their phone immediately."

    Read more:
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    Power-Hungry Georgia Plows Through Public Parks, Condemning Donated Land

    (click headline for full story)
    City Takes on Utility Over Eminent Domain

    This image is a work of a United States Department of Energy (or predecessor organization) employee, taken or made during the course of an employee's official duties. As a workof the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

    Here in DeKalb County, we have seen these same high-power electric transmission lines (mentioned in the article below) being put up throughout our county as well.  The article below describes the utility's claim that the electricity is needed and something that our communities are "demanding," but does this sound right to you?  When was the last time you visited a park and thought, "we need more electricity here?"  How much have you invested in "energy star" appliances and "energy efficient" light bulbs and other low-wattage, low power, "green" devices in the past 5 - 10 years?  And, yet, with all the strides we know we have taken to reduce the waste of electricity, insulate our homes, buy energy efficient windows and doors, set the thermostat, we are now supposed to believe that it is our own wasteful practices that are creating this "demand" for more power everywhere in the state, through our neighborhoods, to our businesses and now through our parks?  Or, perhaps, is this another demand that the expedited rate of cell tower expansion and 3 and 4 G networks is placing on our precious natural resources?  Why won't our legislators ask more questions?  Why do the people have to raise the questions when those we have elected should simply be doing their jobs to regulate, manage and maintain the utilities  and private networks to ensure they are following the letter of the law?  Read on about the fight inn Mansfield, Ga, as the outcome there may have a ripple effect here and across Georgia.  And, if you believe your property rights, health or safety is being compromised in a similar manner, do not assume that what these contractors are doing is legal.  Fight back and force them to prove that they are allowed to do what they are doing before the projects are completed and you are left with a more difficult burden of trying to undo what's already been done.

    By R. ROBIN MCDONALD, The Associated Press

    Turner Lake in Newton County, GA, near Covington.
    Photo credit: Newton Chamber of Commerce
    MANSFIELD, Ga. — 
    A tiny Georgia city that is battling a utility co-op's efforts to erect 100-foot poles and string high-voltage power lines through land designated for a nature preserve has asked the Georgia Court of Appeals to decide whether public utilities can use their powers of eminent domain to condemn public land.

    Mansfield, a city of 600 people about 40 miles east of Atlanta in Newton County is trying to impose limits on the condemnation powers of the Georgia Transmission Corp. (GTC), which has bulldozers that are already carving out a 100-foot right of way for high-voltage lines slated to pass through 14 acres of woodlands owned by the city and at least one of its historic neighborhoods.
    The Court of Appeals issued an emergency stay after a Newton County Superior Court judge sided with GTC and allowed condemnation proceedings to go forward.  GTC, in turn, has gone back to the Newton County judge, asking him to order the city to post a $1 million bond until the case is decided.
    "We are going to continue building the line," despite the appeal, GTC attorney William White Smith of Welch, Webb & White in McDonough told the Daily Report. "We need the line to be completed this winter in order to avoid power outages."
    Mansfield's attorney, Cartersville lawyer Donald Evans Jr., said Thursday that GTC is "trying to bulldoze the city of Mansfield into dropping its opposition to the condemnation. And they are trying to apply economic pressure to try to prevent a ruling from the Court of Appeals on the legality of what they've done.  I don't think that this latest effort to avoid a ruling on the legality and propriety of their attempt to condemn municipal property is going to work. We will get a ruling."
    The dispute has pitted city and county officials and a citizens group led by the pastor of a Mansfield church against GTC, a consortium of 39 electric membership cooperatives that together provide electricity to more than half of Georgia.
    Mansfield Mayor Estona Middlebrooks says the power lines will irrevocably damage the historic, tree-centered character of Mansfield, designated a "Tree City USA" by the Arbor Day Foundation.
    A GTC spokewoman said the new lines are necessary to feed the state's growing demand for electricity and that the power poles and high-voltage lines are "not incompatible" with a nature preserve.
    At the heart of the dispute is the electric utility's use of eminent domain and whether it can condemn public property. Evans won the emergency stay on Oct. 19 after telling the Court of Appeals that GTC violated state law when it attempted to condemn undeveloped woodlands donated to the city last spring by Beaver Manufacturing Co., a local maker of yarn. He said that, although broad rights of eminent domain permit the state's utilities to condemn private property, those rights do not extend to the condemnation of public lands.
    GTC "has simply claimed for itself the right to condemn public property," Evans said this week. "If the Court of Appeals ultimately blesses it and says they have this power . that would mean that every single city throughout Georgia can spend all they want to beautify their city, build harborscapes and river walks only to see their work thwarted by the electric company when it comes through with its power lines."
    GTC attorneys, who have said it has the legal right to condemn public, have argued that the land it wants to condemn wasn't given to the city for a park until after plans for the power lines were announced.
    The fight between the city and GTC began in the spring of 2011 when GTC began notifying property owners along a 3.2-mile route that cut through residential neighborhoods inside Mansfield's city limits that it intended to secure a 100-foot-wide strip of right of way for the installation of 100-foot power poles. The planned line included a 3-acre easement across old-growth timberland owned by the Beaver Manufacturing Co. near the local elementary school that a Beaver spokesman said the company had intended to donate to the city as a nature preserve to be named after the wife of the company founder.
    GTC said the lines were needed to add reliability and capacity to the power grid without which as many as 6,000 customers could face possible outages this winter.
    Georgia Transmission Corp. (GTC), which has bulldozers that are already
    carving out a 100-foot right of way for high-voltage lines 
    Credit: Newton Chamber of Commerce

    In contrast, Mansfield has great affection for its trees. They are featured in the city's vision statement, which says it intends to "remain a rural community with an increased tree canopy."
    Said Mayor Estona Middlebrooks: "We have a long history of trying to preserve our trees and the look and feel of our city." Construction of the power line already has resulted in the removal of dozens of mature trees, the mayor added.
    In an effort to preserve the city's character and its treasured canopy of trees, Middlebrooks said that city officials and a citizen steering committee led by Todd Hilton, pastor of the Mansfield United Methodist Church, urged GTC to consider an alternate route.
    Hilton said the steering committee, using GTC's own criteria, offered an alternate route that he said would have taken the power lines outside the city limits and employed existing utility easements already in use across farmland, although it would have cost more money. Hilton said GTC "was not willing to backtrack or move at all."
    Said GTC spokeswoman Jeannine Haynes: "At the end of the day, they did not lead us to change the route."
    Meanwhile, GTC began acquiring easements from property owners of the parcels needed for the new power lines, offering cash while warning them that GTC would take them to court to secure the property if they rejected the power consortium's offer.
    Under state law, if a landowner rejects a utility's initial offer for the land or a purchase price is arrived at through court-ordered mediation, a utility can go to court to force the sale. If a jury doesn't set the purchase price at least 20 percent higher than the utility's original offer, state law requires the property owner to pay the utility's legal bills.
    After GTC approached it for right of way, Beaver Manufacturing donated to the city a 14-acre tract of land that included acreage that GTC had designated for the new transmission lines. When GTC sought a court order to condemn the property last June, the city moved to dismiss the case, saying that the donated land "is already dedicated to public use as a municipal park."
    The city also challenged GTC's right to condemn the property, arguing that in 1985 during litigation stemming from efforts by the state Department of Transportation to condemn city parkland designated for the Presidential Parkway in Atlanta, the Supreme Court of Georgia had determined that the DOT's power of eminent domain did not include authority to condemn public property.
    Following that decision, according to Mansfield's motion to dismiss the condemnation proceedings, the Georgia General Assembly established the State Commission on Condemnation of Public Property and amended state law to authorize the condemnation of public property_but only by state agencies and only with commission approval.
    GTC argues that it can condemn public property "even if the subject property is already being put to a prior public use because Georgia Transmission's easement can coexist with the city of Mansfield's use of the property as a public park."
    GTC lawyers also have challenged Beaver Manufacturing's donation of the property to the city, claiming it was "made just prior to the condemnation in an apparent attempt to thwart Georgia Transmission's efforts to construct a power line."
    Before Newton County Superior Court Court Judge John Ott could rule in the case, GTC contractors began clear-cutting the private property easements and along the public right-of-ways adjoining local roads, prompting the city council to impose a 60-day moratorium to stop construction of the lines. In a September hearing before Ott, Evans argued that the city had issued the moratorium because GTC had not complied with city tree-protection ordinances and, by state law, had the right to regulate any public utility's use of its streets and public right of ways.
    GTC lawyer White countered that the moratorium was illegal, that city officials "are doing everything they can to stall us" and improperly had prevailed upon the county sheriff to enforce the moratorium and stop the power lines' construction.
    According to hearing transcripts, GTC attorney White argued that the city moratorium "was illegal on its face" because it infringed on GTC's right of eminent domain.
    White also insisted that GTC was "perfectly willing to work things out with the City of Mansfield" to compensate the city for the park easement "but what we cannot continue to do is have things delayed, delayed, delayed. . What is happening is there is gamesmanship going on by the city of Mansfield, and we just want it to stop."
    White's law partner, A.J. "Buddy" Welch, argued that to halt GTC work on the lines "is punishing a public entity that is out there providing a service to the general public."
    Evans countered with a request for a temporary restraining order "to prevent exactly what Mr. Welch contends that they will start doing this afternoon_to cut a 100-foot-wide strip through the middle of the city for no reason other than to try to punish the citizens of Mansfield."
    From the bench, Ott denied the city's motion to dismiss the condemnation and ruled that the city moratorium was unconstitutional. The judge also said the city could appeal his ruling only if it were willing to pay damages associated with GTC's resulting construction delays. And he refused to halt construction on easements GTC had already acquired, even while the city park tract was still in contention.
    Eminent domain, the judge said, "trumps the city's rights." He sternly warned the city that, if it appealed and the appellate court found for GTC, "The city of Mansfield will be on the hook for all the damages for delaying the case. That might get into the hundreds of thousands of dollars . because I don't think the law is your way at all. . I think this is an exercise in futility, to be quite candid with you .. The law is against you. Because the state believes in eminent domain. It believes in the power of the utilities to be able to put up these power lines, and it's kind of ironic, because everybody loves to have their own electricity (but) they don't (want) it to come across their property for anybody else's benefit."
    The judge concluded the hearing by saying, "You are talking to one dumb man sitting up here. . I am very frustrated and uncomfortable from trying to become an expert on eminent domain law and home rule law and the convergence of the two in a scant 20 minutes, 25 minutes with a bunch of cases to read. I have done the best I can."
    In a subsequent written order, Ott affirmed GTC's authority to condemn the city's property. He also cited testimony by Mansfield's mayor that the property was deeded to the city, at least in part, because city officials believed that "once it became public property GTC would be blocked from condemning the property" and noted that, "Presently, there exists no such park, and there are no landscaping plans or any kind of architectural plans that show the existence or location of the proposed park."
    Therefore, the judge ruled, "There is no present public use of the property" by the city and GTC's power easement "does not conflict with any present use of the property."
    The judge also agreed with GTC that the 100-foot easement on which the transmission lines would be built "can coexist with any nature walking trail on the property without extinguishing the nature walking trail or rendering the exercise of its use so extremely inconvenient and hazardous as to practically destroy its value."
    While the Court of Appeals considers the matter, GTC is insisting it will have to spend $600,000 to temporarily reroute the power line and that the delay will add $300,000 in finance charges to the cost of construction. GTC attorneys say the city should be liable for those costs, which is why it is asking for a $1 million bond.
    The city isn't giving up its legal fight. "We may end up losing the war," said Hilton. "But it won't be because we didn't try. They are going to limp away with a broken leg and a black eye. They are going to think twice before going through another municipality."
    Keep up the fight, Mansfield!  GTCO-ATL is rooting for you to stop the plowing of public land for use by power companies who are feeding the demand of the telecommunications industry in their desire to sell us more useless services or games for phones that are already a distraction to drivers and a drain on the already tight budgets of so many of our residents.  This is another government project that has not come at the request of the people and once our parks are gone, what do we have left to offer tourists, visitors and potential future residents?  Our schools are already in shambles, ranked 47th in the nation in terms of graduation percentages.  Our state ranks the worst in government corruption (50 out of 50).  Our landmark buildings in our state capitol are facing foreclosure.  Our CEOs are either moving or committing crimes against their employees or customers.   Our governor is playing politics with our healthcare reform, costing us money we don't have to prove a point like a stubborn child.  
    How much more do our leaders expect us to take without complaint?  How much more?  How much more money do YOU have to give?  And what will they do once that is all gone, too?

    Sunday, November 11, 2012

    The Russians Love Their Children, Too

    Remember Sting's famous words?  Well, I guess the Russians may have surpassed us in terms of their love of children from a governmental standpoint.  Read the following from the International EMF Alliance:

    Professor Yury Grigoriev calls for order and the world needs to listen:  
    “Man conquered the Black Plague, but he has created new problems – EMF pollution”
    The Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (RNCNIRP) has agreed to provide a detailed report for the world containing clear information on the most important Russian research results in RF/EMF radiation over the past 50 years.
    RF/EMF researchers and environmental activists, Eileen O’Connor, Director for the UK Radiation Research Trust charity and Sissel Halmøy, Chairman for the International EMF Alliance and Secretary General for the Citizens ́ Radiation Protection in Norway recently returned from a trip to meet with top scientists at the Russian Federation.
    Halmøy said: “According to the RNCNIRP, the following health hazards are likely to be faced by children who use mobile phones in the near future: disruption of memory, decline of attention, diminishing learning and cognitive abilities, increased irritability, sleep problems, increase in sensitivity to the stress, increased epileptic readiness. Action must be taken immediately to adopt biologically based guidelines to protect children.” (Current standards are based more on engineering needs than biological studies.)
    O’Connor said “The Russian report is a gift to the world. The UK Radiation Research Trust will present the report in the Autumn to the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP and will be forwarded to the UK Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies.” 
    She added “Russian scientists are advanced in their knowledge on RF/EMF radiation and have extended the hand of friendship and are willing to share their expertise and knowledge. I hope decision makers from the western world accept this great honor and work together.”
    Russian research offers crucial and important aspects of developmental relevance that conveys a sense of urgency for the global RF/EMF framework. Without it, national governments may not be able to ensure the health of future generations are protected, especially that of our children.
    Russian warnings exists urging pregnant women to avoid using mobile phones entirely along with children under eighteen
    Likewise, Germany, India, the United Kingdom, Israel, Finland, Belgium and Toronto, Canada, have issued health warnings for children to not use mobile phones, or for emergency use only. Unfortunately, most children, parents, doctors and teachers are not aware of this important information.
    Furthermore, in May 2011 the World Health Organisation and IARC issued a classification stating that radio frequency – electromagnetic fields are possibly carcinogenic to humans (group 2B). This warning is issued not only for mobile phones and phone masts, but for Wi-Fi, smart meters, wireless computers and all applications of technology on the RF/EMF Spectrum (radio-frequency radiation to electromagnetic radiation).
    Chairman of Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, member of International Advisory Committee of WHO “EMF and Health” Professor Yury Grigoriev said: “The brain is a critical organ. Vital brain structures are under EMF exposure daily when using a mobile phone. The brain is made up of permanent complex biophysical processes and vital functions. We need to take care with mobile phones and use distance and reduce time. Children should use mobile phones for emergencies only and also use hands free.”
    Deputy Chairman, Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, Professor Oleg Grigoriev said: “We need correct control and assessment of electromagnetic pollution. There are currently a lot of new frequencies containing modulation and no one knows the results which could be a serious problem.”
    Russian scientists are also warning countries throughout the world including ministries of health and other organizations, responsible for the population safety (including children), to pay attention to the regulation of mobile phones and Wi-Fi use in kindergardens and are recommending the usage of wired networks in schools and educational institutions, rather than a network using wireless broadband systems, including Wi-Fi.
    The Russians stand by their solid research which has consistently shown that prolonged exposure to RF/EMF radiation disturbs cognitive function.
    For protection from RF/EMF non-ionizing radiation, many countries have adopted a set of guidelines provided by private group of industry-friendly scientists known as ICNIRP. The ICNIRP guidelines are for short-term, acute thermal RF/EMF exposure. The current ICNIRP, IEEE standards are based on the preconceived and out dated view of government authorities that the only possible established biological effect of RF/EMF exposure is tissue heating.
    The Russian standards are supported by science as a result of extensive research and take into account the dangers of non-thermal exposure. The standards are also backed by the Russian Ministry of Health and are a small fraction of what is allowed by ICNIRP and the IEEE which is currently adopted in many counties.
    Research clearly underlines the need for action on mobile phones and wireless technology. We need to launch global government backed hard-hitting advertising campaign especially for children, and large health warnings should be clearly visible on all RF/EMF emitting= equipment. Mass media campaigns can also create awareness.
    O’Connor said: “I am grateful to the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith for offering to submit the Russian report to the UK Chief Medical Officer and hope that Government and health agencies worldwide listen to concerns raised by Russian and independent scientists and urgently adopt health based RF/EMF standards to protect human health. We need to provide as swift solution to this problem as soon as possible. We simply cannot afford to wait.”
    Russian scientists recognize the value of non-Government groups in discussion and research. Deputy Chairman, Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, Professor Oleg
    Grigoriev said: “We need to include non-Government groups in discussion and research. Non- Government groups play an equal importance to Government and the scientific community. NGO’s are a new power and are representing people with electrosensitivity (ES) and should be an equal player.” He added that “If the decisions are not made together with the NGOs, then decisions may have no value.”
    The UK Radiation Research Trust, Citizens ́ Radiation Protection in Norway and International EMF Alliance are calling for the Governments to engage with NGO’s and Independent (non- telecommunications funded) scientists.
    It’s time for action!

    Professor Oleg Grigoriev, Head of Department of Non-Ionizing Radiation, Federal Medical Biophysical Center of Federal Medical Biological Agency of Russia and Deputy Chairman, Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection and Director, Center for Electromagnetic Safety
    Professor Yury Grigoriev, Chairman of Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, a member of Int. Advisory Committee of WHO “EMF and Health”
    Sissel Halmøy, Secretary General for the Citizens’ Radiation Protection in Norway, and founder and Chair of the International EMF Alliance,
    Eileen O’Connor, Founder and Board member for the International EMF Alliance and Director of UK EM Radiation Research Trust,  Email: