10 of 17 delegation members call for RCRC resignations

Lawmakers McEachern, Finlay, Lourie, Ballentine, Smith and Bernstein this morning.

Lawmakers McEachern, Finlay, Lourie, Ballentine, Smith and Bernstein this morning.

Well over half of the Richland County Legislative delegation today called on five members of the Richland County Recreation Commission to resign because of multiple incidents of malfeasance.

The 10 lawmakers demanding accountability are:

  • Sen. John Courson
  • Sen. Joel Lourie
  • Sen. Thomas McElveen
  • Rep. Nathan Ballentine
  • Rep. Beth Bernstein
  • Rep. Mary Gail Douglas
  • Rep. Kirkman Finlay
  • Rep. Joe McEachern
  • Rep. Mia McLeod
  • Rep. James Smith

Six of the 10 who signed the letter demanding the resignations — Lourie, Ballentine, Bernstein, Finlay, McEachern and Smith — appeared and spoke at a press conference at the State House this morning. Sen. Lourie was the chief spokesman, beginning and ending the prepared presentation.

The group emphasized that what they are doing is independent of investigations into alleged criminal wrongdoing. They said five of the seven commission members should resign immediately because of the following “acts of malfeasance:”

  1. “Disregarded the hostile work environment for employees.”
  2. “Blatant abuses of nepotism.”
  3. “Approval of irresponsible compensation.”
  4. “Multiple allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct.”
  5. “Lack of effective oversight.”
  6. “Excessive litigation and costs.”

The five commissioners the lawmakers said should resign are:

  1. J. Marie Green, Chair
  2. Barbara Mickens, Vice Chair
  3. Weston A Furgess Jr., Secretary
  4. George D. Martin Jr.
  5. Joseph B. Weeks

The lawmakers also shared some information they had FOIed from the commission. One of the highlights of that was a spreadsheet showing the salaries of the 11 commission employees who make more than $50,000.acts of malfeasance

Seven of those 11 are named “Brown.”

With a recent raise of more than $30,000, the executive director, James Brown III, is currently making $151,800. He’s still receiving that salary even though he is on “voluntary” leave in response to the ongoing scandals centered around him.

Nice non-work if you can get it, huh? OK, back to the news.

The legislators also released figures showing that Brown is paid far more than other county recreation chiefs across the state. Of the big-county salaries listed, only one other was as high as six figures — that was the Greenville County director, with a mean salary of $131,520.

“Clearly, we have an unaccountable board, with no oversight,” said Sen. Lourie. “I regret that we didn’t step in earlier.”

Other points from the presser:

  • Rep. Smith said of the five commissioners, “This can only end in their resignations,” implying that there were avenues for removing any who don’t quit on their own. He wasn’t specific about how that might be done. But he served notice that today’s presser is not a one-time thing, that the pressure will continue until the problem commissioners are gone. Their offense is that they have been “serving themselves first, serving Mr. Brown and his family first,” at the expense of serving the public.
  • Rep. McEachern — the only African-American member present (which wouldn’t be relevant except for the way some other lawmakers have injected race into the issue) — spoke in particular of the way the commission has failed conscientious employees who have dared to speak up. “Instead of getting a hearing, they get punished.” This, he said, is “a structure that has failed.” Amen to that (I say as one who has called for doing away with such Special Purpose Districts for a quarter of a century now).
  • Nathan Ballentine noted something that I hadn’t realized. He said none of those present are members of the nominations committee that gets to nominate commission members (who are then appointed by the governor, technically). “The group behind me and others have not been allowed in the process.” (Rep. Jimmy Bales chairs the nominating committee; I’ll try to get the names of the others.)
  • Kirkman Finlay said the commission spent $35,000 of taxpayers’ money paying attorneys to do a study of the commission and its problems — then refused to release the study, and voted 5-2 to ignore its findings.
  • Beth Bernstein said she had an additional beef with the commissioners “as a woman and as a mother of two daughters.” She was speaking of the sexual harassment complaints that the commission has ignored.

More as I have it. I’m working on getting PDFs of the documents released today. If nothing else, I’ll scan them at home tonight…

The assembled media. Second from right is Ron Aiken of Quorum, whose reporting has done much to bring things to this point.

The assembled media. Second from right is Ron Aiken of Quorum, whose reporting has done much to bring things to this point.

Below are pictures of the five commissioners the lawmakers want to resign:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An illustration of the advantage of incumbency

Susan Brill, Senate candidate, watches as members of the Richland County delegation call on RCRC members to resign.

Senate candidate Susan Brill, left, watches as members of the Richland County delegation call on RCRC members to resign.

You hear tell of the advantage that incumbents enjoy over challengers in elections, and here is a prime example.

This morning, I went to the presser (which I’ll post about separately after this) where several members of the Richland County legislative delegation called on the worst five members of the Richland County Recreation Commission to resign.

You’ll recall that Mia McLeod did the same alone on Monday, and got good coverage for it (Mia was not present today, but signed the letter along with three other lawmakers who couldn’t make it).

Looking very alone standing back behind the assembled TV cameras, watching the proceedings, was Susan Brill, Rep. McLeod’s Republican opponent in the race for the seat Sen. Joel Lourie is giving up.

She told me after that she agreed with what the lawmakers were doing: “I think their action is appropriate, and long overdue.” But the fact that she is not the incumbent, and therefore not a member of the delegation, relegated her to the status of spectator at the event.

Could she call a press conference of her own? Sure. Would it be as well attended as this one was, or as Mia’s was Monday? Probably not. They are legislators; she is not. She showed her interest by showing up, though. (Of course, Mia isn’t the incumbent in the particular office she and Susan are seeking, but she’s in the House, which is almost as good.)

I didn’t see any of the other media types talking to her afterward. They were busy talking to an employee of the commission who had attended and thanked the lawmakers (who I missed talking to because I was talking with Susan and the lawmakers). But I could have missed it…

Give it a rest with the football! It’s BASEBALL SEASON!

We just GOT this beautiful, pristine ballpark, and they're going to put FOOTBALL in it!

We just GOT this beautiful, pristine ballpark, and they’re going to put FOOTBALL in it!

On Saturday, I flipped on the old TV in my upstairs home office, the one in front of the recliner I keep there, intending to glide off into a nap while half-watching something…

… and there was football on my TV!

It’s still August, people! I don’t get but a handful of TV stations — just the local broadcast tier — and if there’s going to be sports on one of them in August, it should be baseball! But was there a single MLB game on my limited set of choices? No. More’s the pity, because there are few things more restful on a Saturday afternoon than non-playoff, regular season, workaday baseball.

But wait — there’s the Little League World Series! But no. Those overexcited little kids running around don’t have the right sort of languid, professionals-doing-a-job approach that I prefer when I’m in nap mode.

So I snoozed with the TV off, the way cavemen did in their home offices.

Monday night, I’m in the kitchen and my wife turns on the TV in the next room, and for a second before she changes the channel, I could swear I heard football again! She says I didn’t, and there wasn’t any on the guide, so maybe I’m just getting jumpy. But it sounded like football!

Look, people, I know you’re all going to be going on about football at full volume 24 hours a day after Labor Day, which is bearing down on us, and that’s just one of the miserable facts of life in the season that would otherwise be my favorite time of year. (I’ll see leaves turning and feel a delicious coolness in the air, and someone will say, “Football weather!” and ruin it.) I’ll deal with it, and look forward to the World Series.

But let me have the rest of this week, OK? Stop encroaching on the last week that should be football-free.

And for sure, don’t give me more news like this:

Six local high school football teams will face off this fall at Spirit Communications Park, the $37 million home of the Columbia Fireflies minor league baseball team….

Aw, come ON, people! We just got this ballpark! I just went to my first game there last week, and you’re telling me next week there’s going to be football there? Really? You didn’t think there was enough football going on in enough places in September, you had to sully this place, too?

When does it stop? Yeah, I know — February, right? I’ll start counting the days…

Updating my blogroll: Any suggestions?

Push HARDER

I neglect my blogroll. In fact, I think about it so little that it occurs to me: Do people still do blogrolls, or look at them, or are they just too 2005?

Did you even know I had one? It’s located almost at the bottom of the rail at right.blogroll

Anyway, I noticed today, belatedly, that Wesley Donehue had started blogging again — way back in February, it seems. So I added his new blog, “Push HARDER,” to the mix.

And I removed some links that are now defunct — or at least, I fixed them so they don’t show, just in case they come back sometime.

So, since I’m in updating mode, are there any blogs out there I’m missing, that you think I should include?

I’m particularly interested in blogs by South Carolinians, and of a political nature. If you know of any. I’m talking, of course, about good stuff like our own Bryan Caskey’s “Permanent Press.” Check out his latest, about the “Jerk Quarterback” who won’t stand for the national anthem. (This counts as a sports reference!)

Oh, for those halcyon days of SC political blogging, with Laurin Manning, and Tim Kelly, and Sunny Phillips, and Adam Fogle’s TPS Reports! There were so many when I started 11 years ago.

And there are so few of us left…

shop tart

Mia joins calls for accountability on recreation board

Obviously, this is not news photo. But I needed art, so I went to her campaign website.

Obviously, this is not news photo. But I needed art, so I went to her campaign website…

This would have made my Open Thread last night, but I didn’t see it on The State‘s home page at the time. Maybe it hadn’t been posted yet.

In any case, I had heard late last week, off the record, that this was in the offing, and yesterday she made it official:

The Richland County Recreation Commission’s embattled executive director and five board members “who support him” should quit, a Richland County legislator said Monday.

State Rep. Mia McLeod said the resignations are necessary for the commission to regain the public’s trust amid ongoing state and federal law enforcement investigations into corruption at the office, and given civil lawsuits accusing director James Brown III of sexual harassment and other improper behavior.

Brown has denied any wrongdoing.

The Richland Democrat also announced she will push to give Richland County lawmakers the power to fire Recreation Commission board members if she is elected to the state Senate this November….

Sen. Joel Lourie — whom Mia is running to replace (the release about this came via her “miaforsenate” account) — welcomed her to the ranks of those calling for accountability. (Lourie, by the way, has remained neutral in Rep. McLeod’s contest with Republican Susan Brill.) You’ll recall that Mia was conspicuous in leading the charge against incompetence on the election commission, but was until now less so on the recreation commission scandals.

Rep. Beth Bernstein, who backed off last year after her House colleague’s aggressive announcement of interest in the Senate seat, also applauded:

And if you’d like to read her prepared remarks in their entirety, here you go:

“Thank you for joining us at one of Richland County Recreation Commission’s shining examples of what we can do right….The Adult Activity Center.

I’ve called this press conference today, not only as a member of the Richland County Legislative Delegation that appoints members of the County Recreation Commission, but also as a parent.

You see, my sons grew up playing rec league sports and our experiences were positive.  So when I get calls and emails from concerned parents, employees and community members whose fears are real and whose experiences aren’t positive…it’s heartbreaking.

We must remember, our actions will have a lasting impact on our children. As a legislator and parent…I know that we must come together to fix this situation.

So before I tell you what this is about…let me begin by telling you what it’s not about.  The issues and challenges we’re facing are not about race.  They’re not about politics.  And I would argue that they’re not even about the guilt or innocence of those who have been accused of wrong-doing.

This is about the people we are elected and appointed to serve…about their perceptions and their trust in our leadership.  It’s about honest, responsible and accountable government.

That’s why it’s critical that everyone understand that the dynamics at play within our legislative delegation are only exacerbated when members and the media engage in race-baiting and other divisive rhetoric, which diverts attention away from the real issues and positive solutions.

We may represent different constituencies within Richland County, and like the people we serve, we may be of different races, genders and political parties…but we can find common ground and work together for the good of this county and state that we love.

And while this unfortunate situation may be about a lot of things, race isn’t…or shouldn’t be…one of them.  When it comes to competency, corruption, leadership or accountability…what’s race got to do with it?

Don’t all of us want public officials who are competent and represent us with honesty, integrity and professionalism–regardless of race, party or politics?

Allegations of corruption and incompetence are not new to Richland County.  Just four years ago, I led the fight for accountability, transparency and restoration of the public’s trust when many Richland County voters were disenfranchised.

That’s why I can’t agree with colleagues who insist that we shouldn’t get involved. Truth is…we “get involved” every time we appoint any Commissioner to any County Commission. When things go badly as they have here, we don’t have the luxury of throwing our hands up and doing nothing.

That’s not leadership.

From sexual harassment to bribery, the allegations facing this Director and Commissioners are beyond alarming.  And although the FBI and SLED are investigating and multiple lawsuits are pending, none of us know when or how this will end.

If every allegation, rumor or innuendo prove to not be true….this Recreation Director and the Commissioners who support him will still be operating under a cloud of suspicion, facing a disheartened and frustrated public that simply has lost faith and trust in their ability to govern and guide this agency into the future.

Irrespective of guilt or innocence, these positions of public trust and the reputations of those who hold them have been tarnished to the point where public perception has become our reality.

I’m not here to speculate about anyone’s guilt or innocence. Obviously, elected and appointed officials are and should be held to a higher standard and sometimes legal and ethical probes are justified.  But there are times when we too, can be unfairly targeted and prosecuted in the court of public opinion without cause and due process.

And while I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, these allegations must be addressed, either privately or publicly.  When those who must defend against allegations like these choose to do so publicly, as the Director and Commissioners have here, they aren’t the only ones who are impacted. Their family members, the Commission’s employees and their families and the children and community members the Commission serves…all feel the brunt of an agency in turmoil.

I believe that the Director and the Commissioners who support him, want to do right by our children and this community. That’s why, today, I respectfully ask them to resign so that this Commission, its employees and our community can begin to face the challenges ahead–openly, honestly and without the cloud of suspicion and distrust that always accompanies allegations of corruption.

Stepping aside to defend themselves isn’t an admission of guilt.  It is simply a way to step out of the spotlight so that we can put it back where it belongs… on the children and communities that this Commission serves. That’s how we begin to heal and move forward.

It doesn’t matter who signs letters of inquiry. What matters is whether the Commission answers those questions. I implore the Commission to fully and truthfully respond to the FOIA request that my delegation colleagues have submitted. Those answers are due this week and although important, won’t change the way the public views this agency or those who hold positions of public trust within it.

What matters most now is our leadership and how we collectively address the challenges before us. I think we begin to do that through legislation that facilitates accountability.

Just a few months ago, I was proud to sign on as a co-sponsor of Representative Beth Bernstein’s bill, H.5293, which would remove County Legislative Delegations’ authority to appoint Recreation Commissioners and transfer the Commission’s powers to the County.

One of our biggest challenges is that our County Delegation, basically has the statutory authority to appoint County Commissioners, but lacks that same authority to evaluate or remove those Commissioners for cause, when the need arises.

But we can change that.

That’s why I plan to prefile legislation that will allow us to suspend or remove county commissioners we appoint.  Whether there are allegations of criminal misconduct or malfeasance, those who are appointed to serve the public cannot do the jobs for which they’ve been appointed, if the public no longer trusts them or the process. While this bill may not prevent wrongdoing, it’ll go a long way towards accountability and transparency.  That’s a first, but very important step towards restoring the public’s trust and confidence.

The people of Richland County deserve a Recreation Commission that serves the community in a transparent, responsible and responsive way.

Whether true or not, the perception is that this Commission recklessly disregards the public’s interest and concerns and wreaks havoc on employees who are simply trying to do their jobs free from threats, harassment, intimidation and retaliation.  And the fact that that perception has become our reality…is utterly reprehensible.

In the meantime, delegation members can send letters and recommendations all day long—but Recreation Commissioners aren’t bound by law to respond or comply.   Until we fix that, we’ll continue to operate the Recreation and other Commissions under an antiquated, failed system of governance that perpetually insulates public officials, to the detriment of the people they purport to serve.

Although our delegation may appear to be divided and some may argue, complicit with what has been happening, I’m encouraged and extremely hopeful that we will come together on this issue…that we will find common ground and continue to work together for the good of all of the people of Richland County.”

Open Thread for Monday, August 29, 2016

e55531c0-2c15-0134-0af4-0629623c6db9

Some quick topics before I leave the office:

  1. Gov. Haley directs SC agencies to plan possible budget cuts — WTF? (by which I mean “What The Fiscal?”) I know we’re expecting less of a windfall in additional money this year, but I fail to see how that leads to this unless we used ‘massive’ amounts of nonrecurring money for recurring expenses. Which I don’t think is the case. She can call this mere contingency planning, but leadership would be to talk about how in the future we might stop grossly underfunding essential government functions. Let’s talk big picture, instead of issuing random edicts to please the Grover Norquist crowd.
  2. McCain is in the fight of his political life in the age of Trump — Sad situation. I’d hate to see him end his career with a defeat. And all because his party has run mad, led by a man who does not see McCain as a war hero.
  3. Cayce man imprisoned for having more than 1 million child pornography images — So if you have fewer than a million, you just get a fine? Sorry; I’m in a pedantic mood this week. Bottom line, here’s someone who, if guilty, needs to go under the jail. I can’t believe they plan to let him out in 15 years, even if he is 66.
  4. Alien life, or noise? Russian telescope detects ‘strong signal’ from sun-like star — So apparently, now they’re hacking aliens, too…
  5. Gene Wilder, Star Of ‘Willy Wonka’ And ‘Young Frankenstein,’ Dies — You can leave out the “Willy Wonka” as far as I’m concerned; I never got the appeal of that. But to consider the brilliance of his performance in “Young Frankenstein,” Dammen und Herren, we must enter, quietly, into the realm of genius…

Trump’s huge, but not ‘massive,’ problem with Catholics

Catholics were the first to feel nativist hostility: Bill 'the Butcher' and his Know-Nothing pals in 'Gangs of New York'

Catholics were the first to feel nativist nastiness: Bill ‘the Butcher’ and his Know-Nothing pals in ‘Gangs of New York’

First, a bit of pedantry.

My first boss in the newspaper business after college, Reid Ashe, was an MIT-trained engineer, which affected his approach to newspaper editing. A pet peeve for him was the improper use of the word “massive.” Something could be big, and imposing, and extensive, and impressive, but if it did not have actual mass, it was not massive.

I’m sure he would have hated this hed in The Washington Post this morning: “Donald Trump has a massive Catholic problem.” Well, no, he doesn’t, Reid would say. It may be “yuge,” but it is lacking entirely in mass.

So. Moving on…

After that bad start, it’s a pretty interesting story. Obviously, I’m far from the only Catholic who can’t imagine how anyone can morally justify backing Trump. As far as I knew before reading this, it was just me and the Pope. And some friends and family members, of course. But if I’d thought about it, I’d have assumed there were a lot of us.

Which there are. An excerpt:

Yes, the man who once feuded with the pope (how soon we forget that actually happened) is cratering among Catholics.

Back in 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney lost the Catholic vote by just 2 points, 50 percent to 48 percent. And the GOP has actually won the Catholic vote as recently as 2004 and in 5 of the last 11 presidential elections.

But Trump trails among Catholics by a huge margin. A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute released this week shows him down 23 points, 55-32.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released earlier this month painted an even worse picture for Trump’s Catholic support. He was down by 27 points, 61-34.

If you compare the difference between Romney’s margin among Catholics in 2012 and Trump’s margin among Catholics this year, the 25-point difference is tied for the biggest shift of any demographic group in the Post-ABC poll….

This is significant because Catholics make up a quarter of the electorate.

A number of reasons are offered for this, including the Donald’s tiff with the Pope. But the most convincing is the most obvious: Catholics — particularly Irish and Italians — were the very first targets of the nasty nativism that forms the core of Trump’s appeal. And they (I use “they” instead of “we” because I’m a convert, so this narrative forms no part of my personal heritage) haven’t forgotten.

These lads are unlikely to back you, Donald.

These people’s descendants are unlikely to back you, Donald.

Open Thread for Friday, August 26, 2016

The underpaid Augusta Greenjackets take the field against the Fireflies in Columbia Monday night. The home team won, 7-4.

The underpaid Augusta Greenjackets take the field against the Fireflies in Columbia Monday night. The home team won, 7-4.

Wrapping up the week:

  1. A top French court overturns the burkini ban — Good for them. So maybe France can now rejoin the ranks of liberal democracies.
  2. The shadowy corner of pro baseball, where minor leaguers live below the poverty line — Interesting piece by Kent Babb, formerly of The State. It features salary info about the team in Augusta, which I saw play the Fireflies just the other night. The Fireflies’ salaries are not mentioned.
  3. First case of Zika reported near Myrtle Beach — OK, you’ve got me worried now.
  4. Guess How Many Zika Cases Showed Up At The Olympics? — Hint: Fewer than in the Myrtle Beach area. This was the Y2K of health scares.
  5. Multi-million grant to fund cutting-edge brain research at Clemson — Sorry. I couldn’t resist being reminded of the classic Ariail cartoon below.

11_Clems_Son

An exchange involving the Recreation Commission

Joel Lourie shared this with me, received from a member of the Richland County Recreation Commission:

clark-234x300

Thomas Clark

Good morning delegation members, my name is Thomas Clark Commissioner with Richland County Recreation Commission. I was appointed to the commission on April 17, 2016 thru February 27, 2021. I was appointed months or even year’s prior to any formal allegations against the current agency director James Brown. Since the boards 5-2 vote in support of the current director I’ve sensed a disconnect with current Board Chairwoman J. Marie Green due to the way I voted. On August 24, 2016 we held an emergency meeting to address a legal matter with agency or board legal team. During this closed session in the presence of Weston A. Furgess,Jr., Wilbert Lewis, George D. Martin, Jr., Joseph Weeks and Richard Morgan (attorney), Ms. Green was very disrespectful in tone as I tried to hand her a legal document that was given for the board to view. Ms. Green went on to slander me by stating that “You’re the reason that the FBI is investigating us.” Not only is this statement not true, but was slanderous to my character/has tarnished my position with my fellow board member’s. As I stated earlier all these allegations against Mr. Brown and said board members took place prior to my appointment to this board and nor would I sit back and have my name or character tarnished by the actions of other’s. I will not be intimidated or feel that I’ve done something wrong for taking a stand for the employees of this agency and the citizens of Richland County. With Ms. Green unprofessional conduct/character she should not be on or in leadership of this board and I will await your immediate response to this matter, Thanking you in advance for your time & attention.

Thomas Clark

Commisioner

Here’s how Joel responded:

Commissioner Clark –

 

Thank you for your email and more importantly, your willingness to serve on the Recreation Commission.  I know this is a very difficult time to be in this position and we need good people who are willing to do the right thing.  I am of the opinion that there are serious problems at the Commission which include not only the criminal allegations, but concerns over potential board malfeasance, nepotism, employee treatment and relations, compensation, and the overall delivery of services to the people of Richland County in a cost-efficient way.  These are problems that have existed long before your service and seem to have culminated in the last year or two.  I certainly do not speak for all the members of this delegation, but I can tell you that there are many that share my view and that we are taking all steps possible to bring about a positive change within the agency.

 

Hang in there, work hard for what is right for the employees and for the people of Richland County.

Best regards,
Joel

I’m not one to choose the minimum number of pieces of flair

The Wall Street Journal had a fun piece today about the fad of re-enacting the printer-smashing scene from “Office Space.” Above, you see the spoof produced by the Ted Cruz campaign a few months back. Here’s the original.

But the story was accompanied by a short (only five questions) quiz about “Office Space,” and unfortunately, I missed one. When I guessed the minimum number of pieces of flair, I guessed too high.

Which is not a bad thing if you’re an employee of Chotchkie’s. Seriously, what do you think of a person who only does the bare minimum?

But it’s not good if you’re a huge “Office Space” fan.

So if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not talk about my flair…

smash

Could we finally get comprehensive tax reform?

One of our perennial hobbyhorses on The State‘s editorial board over the years was our demand for comprehensive tax reform.

We wrote about it a lot, whether you remember it or not. Which you probably don’t. It’s not the sort of issue that makes most people’s hearts go pitter-pat — even those interested in tax changes. (Readers would complain, “All you ever write about is the Confederate flag!” Or video poker. Or the lottery. Or whatever they didn’t want us to write about. To which I would say, “No we write about a lot of issues.” “Like what?” “Like comprehensive tax reform.” “Comprehensive what…?”)

Our point was this: Instead of making more and more piecemeal changes to tax policy, further distorting the tax burden in the state, how about if we act like we have some sense and do this: Figure out what it costs to do the things we agree state government should do, figure out how much it costs (that is to say, budget reform), and then come up with the fairest, least burdensome, most reliable ways to raise the money to pay for it.

Instead, year after year, lawmakers came charging into Columbia, determined to give this or that tax break to this or that constituency group — whoever was yelling the loudest at a given moment (say, people who owned homes that were rapidly appreciating) — without any regard to the system overall. Increasingly, that led to such things as relying less and less upon such stable and rational revenue sources as real property, and more and more reliance on such volatile — and oppressive to the economy — sources as sales taxes.

Years ago, I could have given you a list of specific things that needed addressing, but I’m not as up-to-date on the details today. Of course we should do away with the sales tax cap on cars. In fact, we should take all sales tax exemptions and throw them onto the table. Let the constituency for each have its say, but in the end, spread the pain around. You can’t make everybody happy.

(This is Doug’s cue to say, “Why don’t you start by calling for doing away with the sales tax on newspapers?” To which, as usual, I say, “Why? That’s not one of the more egregious ones, like the auto cap. It’s pretty average. Throw it on the table with the rest, and let only the most rational exemptions, if any, survive.” I’d be surprised if the newspaper one was allowed to stay.)

Trouble is, there’s little appetite for the holistic, good-government approach. Until maybe now:

Speaker Lucas Appoints House Tax Policy Review Committee

Member panel tasked with offering suggestions to reform outdated tax code

(Columbia, SC) – House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) today appointed fourteen members of the SC House to serve on the House Tax Policy Review Committee.  This ad hoc committee will be responsible for reviewing South Carolina’s current tax code and submitting suggestions for reform to the Speaker before the beginning of next legislative session. The group will hold its first meeting next Tuesday, August 30th, 2016, at 2 P.M. in room 516 of the Blatt Building.

Speaker Jay Lucas

Speaker Jay Lucas

“Our outdated tax code needs a dramatic transformation in order to promote economic competitiveness and increase the size of our citizens’ paychecks. Achieving this difficult task is long overdue, but necessary to ensure our tax code is fair for our taxpayers. A broader and flatter tax code will help continue to spur job growth and provide greater opportunities for South Carolina families,” Speaker Jay Lucas stated.

Speaker Lucas selected Speaker Pro-Tempore Tommy Pope (District 47-York) to serve as Chairman of the House Tax Policy Review Committee. Additional members include: Rep. Todd Atwater (District 87-Lexington), Rep. Bill Bowers (District 122-Hampton), Rep. Mike Burns (District 17-Greenville), Rep. Joe Daning (District 92-Berkeley), Rep. Chandra Dillard (District 23-Greenville), Rep. MaryGail Douglas (District 41-Fairfield), Rep. Shannon Erickson (District 124-Beaufort), Rep. Joe Jefferson (District 102-Berkeley), Rep. Jay Jordan (District 63-Florence), Rep. Roger Kirby (District 61-Florence), Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell (District 44-Lancaster), Rep. Bill Taylor (District 86-Aiken), and Rep. Anne Thayer (District 9-Anderson).

“Representative Tommy Pope and the bipartisan members of this ad hoc committee were individually selected because of their leadership abilities and knowledge of the tax system. I am confident that this diverse group will successfully begin laying the groundwork for significant tax reform,” Speaker Lucas concluded.

Will this group come up with something based on reason instead of which wheel squeaks the loudest? The odds have always been against it, but I’m going to allow myself to hope…

Open Thread for Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Busy day today, so talk amongst yourselves:

  1. Turkish Military Storms Syrian Border in Major Assault on ISIS — They are being supported by U.S. air assets and special forces.
  2. Earthquake in central Italy leaves dozens dead — It happened last night, and the death toll, as usual, is expected to rise.
  3. Democrats Have 60 Percent Chance of Retaking the Senate — First time I’ve seen a number like that. Of course, I don’t care. Let the Whigs take the Senate, as long as Trump loses. (Although I’ve prefer the Federalists, so I do have preferences.)
  4. ‘This is not a photo-op issue’: Obama tours flood-damaged Baton Rouge — “The President say, “Little fat man, isn’t it a shame…?”
  5. U.S. lawmakers demand investigation of $100 price hike of lifesaving EpiPens — I think mine are out of date, but there’s no way I’m buying new ones until this is straightened out.
  6. How will Spurrier’s autobiography compare to these coaches’ memoirs? — Alas, I will never know. I must learn to live with that.
coolidge flood

President Coolidge may well have said “Isn’t it a shame.” But it’s not like he was going to go overboard helping…”

What newsrooms used to look like, long, long ago

The sardonic Managing Editor Bill Sorrels presides at his desk in the middle of the newsroom (he had an office somewhere, too). You see Dave Hampton running somewhere in the background. Note the decor.

The sardonic Managing Editor Bill Sorrels presides at his desk in the middle of the newsroom (he had an office somewhere, too). He’s apparently reading one of the proofs I fetched. You see Dave Hampton striding in a blur across the room in the background. Note the go-to-hell decor — the unmatched linoleum, the rivers of proofs tumbling from spikes on the Metro Desk behind the M.E….

Having just wrestled with the new definitions of an old word, “reporter,” here are some images from the very start of my newspaper career, so very long ago. When reporters were reporters.

After I dug out those pictures from 1978 to go with this post, I started poring through some old negatives, thinking yet again about digitizing them (and again overwhelmed at the enormity of the task), when I ran across something I had forgotten existed.

Apparently, I took my camera to the paper one night during those several months I worked at my first newspaper job, back in 1974. I was a “copy clerk” at The Commercial Appeal in the spring and summer of that year, while a student at Memphis State University. That means I was a “copy boy,” with the title adjusted for the political correctness that was coming into fashion at the time (but which for the most part did not touch this newsroom). And indeed, we did briefly have one girl join us boys standing at the rail, ready to jump when someone called “copy.”

wire machines

Copy Clerk David Hampton, later longtime editorial page editor of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, in the wire room.

We were among the last copy boys in the country, since new technology was doing away with the need for someone to run around doing the stuff we did. Which meant reporters no longer had anyone to lord it over.

I just found these three exposures, found on one short strip of 35 mm film in a glassine envelope. I don’t know whether I took more, or where the rest of the roll is.

Anyway, I appeared to be documenting what I did at the paper by taking pictures of my friend and fellow copy clerk David Hampton doing the same tasks I did every night.

You can see Dave hurrying across the newsroom on an errand in the background of the photo at top, which shows one corner of the newsroom from the perspective of the managing editor’s desk. This part of the room is mostly deserted, with a reporter casually conversing with an assistant editor over on the Metro desk. This is 7:15 p.m., shortly after most of the day side people have left. The place would have been bustling about an hour earlier. Dave and I would be running for the next six or seven hours. (I wish I’d gotten a shot of the whole newsroom when it was full of people — but I probably would have been yelled at. That would not have been a novel experience, but I preferred to avoid it.)

In the foreground of the photo is the late Bill Sorrels, the managing editor, with a characteristic smirk on his face. I had him for a reporting class at Memphis State. His “teaching” technique consisted of telling stories from his reporting days, and stopping in mid-story to go around the room asking everyone, “So what did I do next?” and smirking when they got it wrong.

Bill would look over the galley proofs I brought him with that same expression, and then call out embarrassing critical remarks to reporters and editors about the mistakes they had made. (This was the kind of old-school place where grown men were chewed out and ground into the floor in front of everybody by their bosses.) The only actual work I ever remember seeing him do was on Aug. 9, 1974. He called me over and gave me a piece of paper on which he had scrawled, “Nixon Resigns.” He told me to take it to composing (on the next floor) and have it typeset in our biggest headline type (probably about 96 points), then have them shoot a picture of that and blow it up until it went all the way across the front page — then bring it to him to approve before they set it in metal and put it on the page. Probably the most “historic” thing I did in that job.

Above and at right, you see Dave in the wire room checking one of the 10 or 12 machines there that chugged out news from across the world non-stop — back in the days when ordinary people didn’t have access to such via Twitter, etc. We were the nursemaids to those machines, making sure the paper and ribbons never ran out, that they didn’t jam, and that the stories were ripped off the machines and taken to the editors who needed to see them.

Below, Dave is in the “morgue,” in later more polite times known as the “library,” where he’s been sent to fetch something, probably a photo, that someone needs to go with a story they’re working on. Given the size of the envelopes, these are probably mug shots, or maybe metal “cuts” that were already made to run in the paper previously. We saved those, when they were of repeat newsmakers, to save time and metal. They were uniformly 6 ems (picas) in width.

Another world. I never again worked in such an old-school environment. This was the old Commercial Appeal building, torn down decades ago. The long-defunct Memphis Press Scimitar was up on the fifth floor, if I recall correctly. Most news copy was still written, edited and processed in the old way — typed on manual typewriters, the pages strung together with rubber cement, edited with pencil, and set in metal type by noisy linotype machines up in the composing room. Once the type was set for each story, individual proofs would be pulled of each story, before they were placed on the “turtle” that held the full page — which we would run down to the newsroom. There was a lot of running back and forth.

This place was already an anachronism; it would have been completely recognizable to Ben Hecht’s characters in “The Front Page” It was what the makers of “Teacher’s Pet,” which I saw on Netflix the other night, were going for in the newsroom scenes. (Nick Adams played the copy boy in that film, itching for his shot at becoming a reporter. He was excited to get to write some obits one night. For us, the transitional job was to be the copy clerk who did the “agate” — rounding up police blotter, marriages and divorces, property transfers and other routine list-type copy and typing it up to go into the paper. I got to do that once, when another guy was out, and felt I had taken a huge step up.)

But new technology was creeping in. The non-news departments wrote on IBM Selectrics, and their copy was scanned and set in cold type, and pasted up on paper pages. And maybe some of the news copy as well — I see a Selectric behind Sorrels on the Metro desk. And a couple more on the rim of the copy desk at right.

It was also a crude, rough place that was about as non-PC as anyplace you could find in the ’70s. It’s ironic that they called us “copy clerks” instead of “boys,” because there were few other concessions to modern sensibilities. Culturally, every other newsroom I ever worked in was as removed from this one as though a couple of generations had passed. Although it was 1974, this newsroom would have been more at home in the first half of the century. It was… Runyonesque.

In the following decades, I didn’t miss this place, and was happy to work in a more civil environment. But I’m glad to have had this throwback experience; it gives me something to feel nostalgic about when I watch those old movies made before I was born. Yes, I say, it was just like that — those few months at the Commercial Appeal, anyway….

Dave, fetching a "cut" from the morgue.

Dave, fetching a “cut” from the morgue.

We’ve come to this — a ‘reporter’ delivering an editorial

There’s nothing special about this example I’m sharing with you. It’s just a fairly clear-cut one of the blurring of news and editorial functions in the New Normal.

In today’s Open Thread, I shared this item about where we stand 20 years after the End of Welfare as We Knew It.

Later, I glanced at the above video that appeared on the same page with it.

Most of the way through it, I didn’t think much of it until the very end, when the young woman on camera says, “I’m Emily Badger, reporter for Wonkblog.”

Did she really just say “reporter?” I ask because if you take every word she just said and put it on an opinion page, you have an editorial. Or an op-ed column, but it was largely spoken in the truth-from-above, ex cathedra tones of an editorial. Only by an engaging young woman, rather than some gray, disembodied, royal “we.”

Which I expect from a blog. I mean, really, how many blogs do you go to for straight news? And as I say over and over to any who remain confused, this is an opinion blog. I don’t have the resources — reporters, and editors to guide and read behind them — to publish a news blog. All I can do here is comment on the information provided to us by organizations that still do have such resources. (Sure, there are exceptions — I occasionally attend some news event and share what I saw and heard — but generally I’m not set up to inform so much as to engage with information obtained elsewhere.

And I certainly don’t call myself a reporter. I haven’t been a reporter since the spring of 1980.

That’s what grabbed me — her title.

I have no problem with blogs offering opinion. That would indeed be the height of hypocrisy

But it’s an adjustment for me seeing and hearing it coming from a “reporter.”

Reporters who unapologetically spout editorials. O brave new world, That has such people in ’t!

Badger

Open Thread for Monday, August 22, 2016

Who would he need blocking for him to achieve THIS goal?

Who would he need blocking for him to achieve THIS goal?

Some quick glimpses of what’s out there…

  1. Former USC star Lattimore interested in running Richland Recreation Commission — All I can say is that I doubt he could do a worse job. Beyond that, I’m not sure what to say. Maybe you football fans will know.
  2. Trump, Shifting Tone, Says He Will Be ‘Fair’ on Immigration — Yeah, that would definitely be a shift. This is worrying me. Ever since Manafort was pushed out, he’s been doing the stuff that Manafort tried to get him to do — stuff he would have to do to win the election.
  3. Carolina Band is tuned; are you ready for Gamecock football, too? — When I saw that headline, my response was, “Would it do any good if I said, ‘No!’? Would it delay the inevitable?”
  4. Speedo Cancels Its Sponsorship Deal With Ryan Lochte — Sounds OK to me. I mean, I’d rather see Speedo dropping Lochte than Lochte dropping his Speedos…
  5. How welfare reform changed American poverty, in 9 charts — With the reform 20 years old and another Clinton running for president, it makes sense to take stock.

Note that I just gave you three sports-related topics. Do I win a prize?

Yeah, but will he learn to WRITE?

write

I had to groan at this item I saw over the weekend.

Catholic High School for Boys in Arkansas decided to get tough with helicopter parents, posting the above notice on its doors:

The all-boys private school in Little Rock has long had a rule barring parents from coming to the school to drop things off — such as forgotten lunches, assignments and sports equipment — for their children, but parents occasionally forgot about it and had to be turned away at the front door. So the school decided to post a sign as a reminder as this school year got underway….

Yeah, OK, fine. You’re trying to instill personal responsibility in the boys. And maybe they will learn to remember their lunches in the future.

But will they learn to write at a school that sees “problem-solve” as a verb?

Would it have killed them to write, say, “Your son will learn to solve these problems in your absence?”

A thumbs-up from Chuck Yeager!

Chuck Yeager X-1

OK, technically it was Mike Fitts whose Tweet got a “like” from the Man at the Top of that ol’ Pyramid. Not me.

But my name was mentioned!

Mike sent this to my attention this morning:

Which I of course immediately reTweeted. After which I saw this, to my delight:

yeager tweet

All right! I have been in contact, however indirectly, with the man with the most righteous stuff in the Twitterverse

Yeager Twitter

Is this whole campaign just a business move for Trump?

Roger Murray at the wheel in 1978. As the compleat journalist, I did my own photography.

Roger Murray at the wheel in 1978. As the complete journalist, I did my own photography, of course.

When I was a young and inexperienced reporter at The Jackson Sun in 1978, I spent a few days covering Roger Murray, who was seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of Tennessee.

It was an immersive experience, one that would seem quite alien to reporters today. I went on the road with him for several days as he traveled across Middle and East Tennessee. (For those of you not familiar, we speak of the Three Great States of Tennessee, and Jackson was located in the middle of West Tennessee.) And when I say “on the road,” I mean something more reminiscent of Kerouac than a typical political campaign.

I rode with the candidate himself, who drove his own car. I was on my own for finding places to spend the night, which wasn’t easy in some of those small towns. One night, I nearly had to double up with the woman from The Commercial Appeal who had joined us in the car for part of the trip. At least, she offered — in a matter-of-fact, platonic way. I must have looked particularly lost. But I managed to get a room of my own.

When on the road like that, I’d write out my story each night for the next day’s paper in my notebook, call it in and dictate it first thing in the morning (it was an afternoon paper), and call in updates and new ledes — from pay phones, of course — before each of the two editions. At one point on this trip, Roger asked if he could read what I’d written for that day (in those days before the web, children, he wouldn’t see the paper until we got home days later), so I handed him my notebook. He read it while driving down a two-lane highway, which I’ll have to tell you was a bit unnerving.

But Roger was like that. He was a bustling, charge-ahead, multitasking kind of guy who operated on full speed whether he was legislating in Nashville or running his business — a private security company — back in Jackson. He had made something of a name for himself chairing hearings looking into the shady doings of Gov. Ray Blanton, and he was trying to parlay that into a shot at the governor’s office.

Speaking at a Democratic rally somewhere east of Nashville. I think this was the rally at which I first met Al Gore. Note all the Butcher and Clement posters.

Speaking at a Democratic rally somewhere east of Nashville. I think this was the rally at which I first met Al Gore. Note all the Butcher and Clement posters.

And inside the bubble — going everywhere he went, seeing everyone he saw — it felt like it was working. There had just been a televised with the other four or five candidates running, and everywhere we went — Democratic party rallies, factory shift changes, talking to loafers sitting on benches around a sleepy small-town courthouse — people said he had been the one who made the most sense. Which made me think that meant they were going to vote for him. But I should have listened to the few who said, “You made the most sense, but I’m going to vote for Jake Butcher or Bob Clement.”

I dismissed those who said things like that, because what they were saying was irrational. But they were the ones telling the truth. I did not yet understand two things about politics: One, voters don’t necessarily vote rationally. Two, the bandwagon effect: Clement and Butcher were seen as the two front-runners, and some people were going to vote for them simply for that reason.

I forget how much of the vote Roger got in the primary, but he came in well behind Clement and Butcher. (Butcher won the nomination, and went on to lose the election to Lamar Alexander.)

I found it shocking. Caught up in the bubble of my first gubernatorial campaign, I had thought he made the most sense, too. That was his slogan, by the way: Murray Makes Sense

Yeah, I know. I’m digressing all over the place. But I’m coming to the point.

A few days after this foray onto the campaign trail, we were visiting my in-laws in Memphis and I was telling them about my adventures on the hustings. My father-in-law, who had a more realistic impression of Murray’s chances than I did, offered the opinion that Murray was just running to raise his profile for the good of his business.

I found that a shocking idea. It seemed dishonest to me, and I didn’t see Roger as a dishonest guy. To my father-in-law, it just made sense. He, too, was a businessman. In retrospect, I’ve had occasion to think he may have been right. Roger was older and more experienced than I (which didn’t take much), and I’m sure had a much more realistic idea of his chances than I did. And whether he intended it or not, the campaign did raise his profile a bit, and may have helped his business. If I remember correctly, not all that long after, he left public office.

Which brings me to my point.

Friday morning, I heard a segment on The Takeaway suggesting that maybe Donald Trump’s whole candidacy has been a business move — something that would not shock me nearly as much as what my father-in-law said about Roger Murray, back when I was so much younger and more naive:

It’s no secret that Donald Trump is in a tough spot heading towards the November general election. Projections from FiveThirtyEight and our partners at The New York Times have former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commanding a serious lead over the Republican presidential candidate.

So when Trump recruited Stephen Bannon of Breitbart News Network, the conservative alt-right website, as his chief campaign executive this week, it was a perplexing strategy. If you’re failing to attract mainstream voters, why further align yourself with the margins of the right wing?

Sarah Ellison, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and author of “War at the Wall Street Journal,” suggests that Trump — understanding that a loss in November is imminent — has ulterior motives post-election: To create his own conservative media empire.

This I could believe, especially with Trump. It would explain a lot — such as his running like a guy who wants to make a big splash (to build the brand), then lose.

If, of course, all that trying-to-lose stuff wasn’t a fake.

Thoughts?

court square

A classic old-school campaign shot: Murray works the courthouse square in a small town in Middle Tennessee, greeting the loafers — that classic Southern stereotype — and handing out leaflets.

Yes! I totally KILLED on the Slate News Quiz this week!

quiz 405

Normally, this quiz totally humiliates me, partly because of its tendency to ask really trivial questions, and partly because I get rattled because your score depends on speed, and I like to think about my answers. So being on a timer rattles me.

But this week, I CRUSHED both the average and the pathetic loser Slate staffer they put us all up against this week.

Take that! In your FACE, Dana Stevens!