The Jackson Herald
June 11, 2003
Two moves in the wrong direction
Georgia took two steps backward last week. Gov. Sonny Perdue signed into law a pair of legislative measures that do not serve our citizens well. One restored teacher tenure. The other restricted local governments authority to inspect rental properties for building code violations.
Teachers unions and slumlords were elated. The rest of us should have been saddened.
First, teacher tenure: Giving teachers, some of whom may be incompetent sluggards, guaranteed jobs effectively kicks the legs from under former Gov. Roy Barnes education-reform program. Were nearly back at square one.
Barnes removed teacher tenure to facilitate the purge of unsuitable teachers from school systems. It was part of an effort to make educators more accountable for their job performance - a goal, by the way, that is echoed in President Bushs No Child Left Behind program.
Barnes move infuriated leaders of the Georgia Association of Education and contributed to his election defeat in 2002. The usually Democratic union chiefs went all out for Republican Perdue. Their main interest was job protection, not education enhancement.
The law just signed by Perdue once again makes dismissing an unfit teacher virtually impossible without a lengthy rigmarole of appeals and judicial reviews.
Gov. Perdue says restoring tenure reaffirms state governments respect for teachers. What about respect for youngsters who receive second-rate instruction from unqualified teachers whose jobs are secured by the state?
The governors act underlines a sea change in attitudes toward education in the current administration. The emphasis is now on educators, not on educating.
Gov. Perdue began his administration with a promise of returning local control to Georgias education system. The states decision to hobble local systems rights to make personnel changes is anything but a return to local control.
Qualified teachers had no reason to worry about the discontinuance of tenure.
However, Georgias public schools are loaded with incompetent teachers, many of them products of third-rate colleges of education, which were next to be targeted in the campaign to upgrade schools. Now, both bad teachers and bad teacher-education institutions can relax. Gov. Perdues New Georgia is much like the old, old Georgia - not quite so intensely interested in how, or even if, our children are educated.
The Slumlords Protection Act is a bit more complicated, but its effect may be far more devastating if it remains valid.
Citing a wish to protect private property rights, Gov. Perdue signed into law House Bill 478 that prohibits local governments from inspecting rental properties without probable cause that a building-code violation exists. In plain English, if the renters dont complain, no inspections will be conducted. Two Democratic legislative powers, Rep. Tom Buck of Columbus and Sen. Steve Thompson of Powder Springs, sponsored the legislation that is seen as a major blow to local governments hoping to stem the proliferation of shoddy apartments.
Once these apartments begin to age, blight inevitably sets in. And the local infrastructure begins to buckle.
Periodic code inspections are essential. Not only do they discourage the spread of slums, they help ensure the safety of apartment residents, many of whom would never dream of complaining to authorities about their living conditions.
The motive for introducing the legislation is obvious. It provides a cover for slumlords who have no interest in reducing fat profits by keeping up their property. To suggest this law provides protection against invasions of privacy would be laughable - except this is no joke.
Mayors and other city officials from throughout Georgia implored Gov. Perdue to veto the Slumlords Act, which was mysteriously rammed through the General Assembly in the 11th hour of one of the most chaotic sessions in memory. Perdue ignored their pleas.
Marietta Mayor Bill Dunaway says his city is redesigning its business permit ordinances to try to get around the Slumlords Act.
Just take a drive through any Georgia urban area and survey the endless rows of deteriorating apartment dwellings. You will quickly discern that a law protecting these structures from inspections is contrary to the public interest, to say the least. In fact, the genesis of this legislation might be a worthy topic for a grand jury investigation.
P.S.: Not only did the governor approve the Slumlords Act, Perdue signed another measure that restricts municipalities ability to enforce anti-graffiti ordinances. After all, the governor must have surmised, vandals have First Amendment Rights too.
Taken together, the three pieces of legislation signed last week could help the vision of New Georgia be one thats more post-apocalyptic than Paradise. Is this what Republicans have been waiting 130 years to do?
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160 or e-mail: email@example.com, Web address: http://www.billshipp.com
By: Adam Fouche
The Jackson Herald
June 11, 2003
Sosa conflict exposes problems with society
If I were Sammy Sosa, Id never grant another interview again.
No more SportsCenter. No more talking to Tribune reporters after Cubs games. And no more Sports Illustrated.
The 83 bats that were cut open, including several stored in sports museums, revealed no evidence of impropriety. He doesnt cork his game bats. But the explanation that Sosa simply made a mistake wasnt enough to satisfy the national sports media.
And so for days the sports world droned on and on about the tarnishing of a mans careera baseball player that obviously made a simple mistake. He picked up the wrong bat. It could have happened to anyone.
But the witch hunt of Sosas bat revealed more about the news media than it did about the baseball player himself.
Media, from the tiniest small town newspaper up to the largest media conglomerates, have grown into the tendency to blow too many stories out of proportion.
As consumers, we are inundated with the likes of Eric Rudolph, Scott Peterson, SARS and monkey pox. We are force fed information so quickly and in such volumes that we really dont have much time to digest or form opinions.
Turn on your TV. Flip through your cable channels. Youll nearly find more 24-hour news shows than you will anything else. And many of them are slanted, one way or another, bending and shaping the news to project a certain ideology.
The sad thing is, the problem occurs on every level of journalism. We are probably even guilty of this ourselves.
Sure, we strive to be objective and fair and to present the news in such a way that it allows the reader to form his own opinions. But do we always do this?
Inevitably, a slow news week will occur. And since most media companies are driven by profit (they are after all a business) the most insignificant or miniscule bits of information can get blown out of proportion to fill a front page.
Hence we have done the exact opposite of what we should do present the news the way it happens.
And though the media must shoulder some of the blame for the problems in this information age, the consumer isnt totally blameless.
Without readers, viewers, website clickers or subscribers, the media wouldnt survive. Because without an audience, theres no advertising and the business of information cant survive.
America, thanks in part to technology, has become so information hungry that it thrives on a lot of news with a lot of detail in a great hurry.
And so the news media are left to fill that need, be it right or wrong, by reporting on news, sometimes even before the truth really comes out and sometimes blowing it way out of proportion.
Left in the wake of these massive news machines (driven by profit and the need of the people for a constant I.V. drip of news) are the Clarence Thomases, Richard Jewels and Sammy Sosas of the world. All of them burned by a society all too often hiding behind the First Amendment.
And the media, which does such a good job criticizing others, do very poorly in self-evaluation.
Sosa and all the others who came before him were wronged, often convicted in the media and society long before any evidence or even facts were researched and brought into the open.
Until society can learn to turn its ears from a media striving to gain an audience to survive, we will never start making any improvements.
Adam Fouche is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.