Archive for March, 2009

Rules Committee Chair Nixes Referendum on Billboard Tree-cutting Bill

March 31, 2009

Dorothy McDaniels,  director  of  Trees Columbus Inc.  told me this afternoon that an attempt was made to call for a referendum to let the people of Georgia decide if billboard companies should expand their powers to cut trees on taxpayer property.  The chair of the House Rules Committee ruled the motion out of order so the committee did not get to vote on the suggested amendment to SB 164 which the House will consider tomorrow.

Not everyone on the commtitee thought that ruling was proper since the precedent of voting on such matters was set when Georgians were allowed to vote on the state flag.  They didn’t get anywhere,  so if the bill is going to be stopped it will have to be on the floor of the House,  which means it is very important to call or email your representative and let him or her know you want a no vote.

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URGENT! The Billboard Bill Gets Georgia House Consideration Tomorrow

March 31, 2009

If you haven’t already contacted your state representative via telephone or email, let me urge you to do it now.  Josh McKoon, Common Cause and Republican activist,  informs me that SB 164, the one that gives billboard companies more power in cutting down trees on public property so  you can see billboards better,  is scheduled for consideration on the House floor TOMORROW.

PLEASE LET YOUR STATE REPRESENTATIVE KNOW YOU WOULD LIKE FOR HIM OR HER TO VOTE NO.

Save Our Highway Trees by Contacting Your Georgia House Rep. and Urging a No Vote on SB 164

March 29, 2009

Let me urge you to pick up your phone and call your Georgia House rrepresentative,  or email him or her,  and say that you hope he or she will vote against SB 164, the one that gives more power to billboard companies to cut taxpayer owned trees along highway rights of way.

Ken Henson, Columbus attorney, Trees Columbis Inc. board member

Ken Henson, Columbus attorney, Trees Columbis Inc. board member

Ken Henson,  a Columbus attorney and Trees Columbus Inc. board member,  who was among those who testified at the Georgia House Transportation Committee against the bill,  says it not only give billboard companies the right to cut trees in front of billboards that already exist, but to cut them where billboard companies plan to put up a new billboard.  Though there were a lot of people who spoke against that bill, the committee sent it to the House floor witha do-pass recommendation.  That means the only way to stop it is on the House floor.  It happened last year and you can cause it to happen again.

I am not against billboards,  but I don’t think they are more important then trees that beautify our highways and add to our oxygen supply.  A recent survey shows that a majority of Georgians oppose cutting of trees on public property to make it easier to read to a billboard.  Still,  billboard industry lobbyists in the Gerogia State Capitol can have more influence than such polls that tell state legislators what the people of Georgia want.  The only way to overcome the power of the well funded vested interest lobbyists is by massive input from voters.  So, please let your legislator know that you want him or her to vote against SB 164.

Answer the Phone, Darn It!

March 26, 2009

I couldn’t beleive my ears when I called the Ledger-Enquirer, WTVM and WRBL  newsrooms and got an answering machine.  An answering machine in a newsroom for crying out loud!  I could have been calling in a hot tip about a disaster that was happening at that moment, and by the time someone got around to listening to the call, the action could have been over.

Crystal Johnston,  who served as a receptionist at WTVM for more than 18 years,  wrote in a comment on the post about Dee Armstrong’s take on the state of local news about the time she called in a hot tip: 

“I will give you a prime example of an experience of mine. That is, when the two homeless guys fought under the bridge in Phenix City about a year and half ago. One of them was killed. I tried to call the station several times, but no one answered. All I got was a voice mail. Yes, voice mail. That is what is taking over these days. I remember that an assignment editor used to always be at the desk all the time. It wasn’t until after the fact that they did a blurb on the story. If someone had answered my phone call, the station would of been on top of it as it was going on. I placed that call around 7:45 p.m. that night.”

I realize  it’s all about economics.  Answering machines are a lot cheaper than a real live human being, but using one to anwser calls to a newsroom seems penny wise and pound foolish to me.

At least you get a real live person at the TV stations if you call the main number during business hours,  but not the Ledger-Enquirer.  I called the other day on a subscription matter and I got a person in the Philippines.  When I told that person what I wanted,  she said she couldn’t handle it, but gave me another number for someone who could.

“Is that person actually in Columbus, or am I going to get another person in the Phillipines?”

“Oh, it’ll be in Columbus.”

I called the number. You guessed it,  a Philpino answered the phone.  However, she did take my message, and I did get get a call today, two days later, from someone actually in Columbus.  It took a little while to get to the right person, but once I did she took care of the problem.  

Oh for the days when people just answered the darn phone!

My answering machine

My answering machine

Billboard Bill Goes to Georgia House Transportation Committee

March 24, 2009

It appears that if the move to give the billboard industry more power to cut down trees on public property is going to be stopped,  it will have been be stopped the same way a similar bill was stopped last year,  on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives.  A spokesperson for Dorothy McDaniel of Trees Columbus, Inc., who attended today’s Georgia House transportation subcommittee meeting,  tells me that it voted 3 to 1 to send SB 164,  which easily passed in the Georgia Senate, on to the full Department of Transportation Committee,  where it expected to be approved and sent on to the floor of the House. 

Dorothy McDaniel,  Trees Columbus, Inc.

Dorothy McDaniel, Trees Columbus, Inc.

If you value trees and highway beautification more than the rights of billboard companies to cut trees on public property that block the viewing of billboards on private property,  then it would be a good idea to let members of the Georgia House know you want them to vote down this measure.   To get you local legislator’s email address just go to this Georgia House of Representative website.

The billboard industry already has the right to seek a permit to cut down trees on public property.  but the DOT can deny the permit.  If the new bill passes,  what was once a privilege will become a right.

Dee Armstrong on the State of Local Television News

March 23, 2009

Speaking, at my invitation, to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus,  former Columbus TV news anchor Dee  Armstrong drew sharp contrast to the way news was reported in years past and the way it is reported now.

She doesn’t think experience counts for much any more,  decrying the way young reporters,  she believes,  have no respect for veterans who have decades of experience, veterans who could help them become  effective, mature  reporters.  

She said that when she was a young reporter she revered the veterans who had proven themselves in the business,  citing her formative years working for Ed Wilson and me.  Ed,  who was news director at WDAK at one time,  taught her how to be a radio reporter when she was still in Columbus High School.  She learned how to think in terms of telling stories with pictures when I hired her away from Ed – sorry Ed – to report for WRBL-TV.  I was news director at WRBL-TV at the time.

That background and her talent enabled her to become a very successful anchor at WTVM.  She and I co-anhored the news on WTVM from about 1987 to 2000 when I retired.  We had impressive ratings.  After I retired she continued at WTVM, co-anchoring with Wayne Bennett,  who will retire in May.  They also had good ratings. 

She pointed out that in years past news departments came up with enterprise reports,  digging into issues that affect people.  I can remember those days.  In Columbus, it appears that they are gone.

Dee’s leaving television news,  and Wayne’s leaving,  as well as mine,  represents, I beleive,  the end of an era.  The torch has been passed,  but it could be that it has been rejected.

Josh McKoon on Why We Should Support New Ethics Legislation

March 21, 2009

I don’t know when public confidence in state and federal representatives and senators has been lower than it is right now. Perhaps lawmakers can turn this around if they enact some tough ethics legilsation that effectively stops the buying of our  Congressional and state legislators.  Josh McKoon,  attorney,  former chair of the Muscogee County Republican Party and a member of Common Cause Columbus,  told me he is seeking support for a new, thougher ethics bill  pending in the Georgia legislature. SB 96 passed unanimously in the Georgia Senate and now is before the Georgia House. I asked him to tell me why he thinks we should support the measure.  He sent this explanation:

SB 96 is legislation that accomplishes several important goals.
 
First, it provides for training for registered lobbyists by the State Ethics Commission to insure full compliance with the new reporting requirements for provision of meals, etc. to legislators.
 
Second, it tightens up the definition of lobbyist to make sure it is inclusive only of those paid to lobby and does not require grassroots activists to register.  For example, under the current law you could argue that your piece and Bob Hydrick’s comments about the Billboard legislation amount to lobbying and that the “compensation” received is keeping highways free of clutter.  I agree it is absurd, but the way the law reads it could certainly be interpreted that way.  The new revised langauge will resolve that issue.
 
Third, it beefs up reporting requirements for lobbyists.  I don’t dispute the idea that anyone who wants to pay for lobbyists in Atlanta should be able to do that, but we need a more transparent accounting of what is being received by our elected representatives on their behalf.
 
Finally and most importantly in my view, it establishes ethics panels to review and dispose of ethics complaints against local elected officials.  This is an important check on the power of our elected representatives and protects against violations of the ethics law which the State Ethics Commission does not have jurisdiction over nor the manpower to handle.  These panels will fill a gap in current law where there is no remedy, short of filing a civil lawsuit in Superior Court, to handle matters where elected officials abrogate or ignore the law.  We have seen what happens when this is allowed to go on in Clayton County among other places. 
 
Critically, these panels will be composed of unpaid volunteers so there is no growth in the size of government.  Also the panels are empowered to fine frivolous complainers to the tune of $1,000.00 per complaint, to weed out those who would use this mechanism to harass elected officials that are not violating ethics laws.

If you agree with Josh, please contact your Georgia state representative and let him or her know.   At first blush,  the bill sounds good to me, but I am not sure it is strong enough to actually cut down on the influence of lobbyists for vested interests on our legislators.  At least  it’s a step in the right direction.

Bob Hydrick Deals with the Facts in the Billboard Controversy

March 18, 2009

Dick: Thanks for bringing to my attention Willam E. Board’s response to your post following our conversations last weekend. If Mr. Board wants to deal with the facts then let’s do so.

Fact: Under existing law and regulations the issuance of a vegetation management (tree-cutting permit) is by definition a privilege and not a right, because the DOT Commissioner has the discretion to withhold (deny) a permit if the vegetation to be removed falls into several categories spelled out in the regulations. This the basis of the lawsuit filed by the City of Columbus, Gateways and Trees Columbus.

Under SB 164, this discretionary authority will be eliminated. Mr. Board is right in that a permit is still required,  but the language reads “shall be issued.” making it a right, which takes away the DOT commissioner’s discretionary authority.

Fact: As to trees planted as a part of a beautification project, as Mr. Board stated SB 164 does protect trees planted before January 1, 2009. But, as he also noted, it makes any trees planted after that date fair game for a mandatory vegetation management permit. Here’s an example of what that could mean. Right now Gateways and the DOT and others are spending millions of dollars in public and private money to landscape the Victory Drive 185 interchange creating a Gateway to Ft. Benning that will be a community landmark. Under SB 164, any trees planted on the rights of way as a part of this project would be eligible to cut any time in the future if the billboard company decides it wanted to put up a billboard adjacent to the project.

Fact: SB 164 is a bad bill and the people of Georgia recognize it as a poll done for Scenic Georgia by the widely-respected polling firm, American Viewpoint last month clearly demonstrates.  500 respondents were asked this question: “Do you favor or oppose the State of Georgia allowing billboard companies to cut down trees on public property so that motorists can see billboards located on nearby private property?” It wasn’t even close: 72% said NO! and 24% said Yes.

Getting the Facts Straight

March 18, 2009

William E. Board’s comment following my post “How SB 164 Gives Billboard Companies More Power to Cut Public Trees”  raised some interesting points.  My post was based on what Trees Columbus Inc. Board Member Bob Hydrick,  who is a former mayor of Columbus and an adeversting comapny executive,  told me.  I published MR. Board’s   comment in the comment section of the post,  but since I am going to publish Bob Hydrick’s response as an artilce, I am given Mr. Board the same treatment.   Here is Mr. Board’s comment, which will be followed by Bob Hydrick’s response in another post.

In response to your article above, I have some FACTUAL information taken directly from the new Bill SB164. I realize that facts don’t seem to be the basis for your conversation with Bob Hydrick, nonetheless these are excerpts from the Bill as it sits passed by the Georgia State Senate.

1.      Hopefully you will do me the courtesy of publishing this, as I gave you the courtesy of reading your article, no matter how inaccurate it may have been. Below is your article with the sections of the NEW Bill where appropriate to rebut the comments the Hydrick falsely stated. They FACTS are indentified with 6 ******.

Either you are unaware or you are deliberately trying to mislead your readers. Billboard companies have the right to cut these trees now,” Anna McLendon wrote in a comment on my post about the latest effort by billboard companies to obtain the right to cut trees on state and local governmental highway rights of way. She is partially right, certainly, though, not about my deliberately misleading my readers. I don’t do that. The unaware part is the part that’s partially right. I didn’t know as much about the present law or the one that just passed the Senate as I should have. She is wrong, however, in that the billboard companies now have the “right” to cut those trees.

In order to correct my shortcoming in understand the two laws, I called former Columbus mayor and advertising executive Bob Hydrick, who is on the board of Trees Columbus Inc. Bob explained it this way: “What the billboard people have now is the ‘privilege,’ not the ‘right’ to cut trees on public rights of way. They have to get a permit from the state Department of Transportation commissioner. If their request meets certain criteria, he can grant permission to cut the trees, but he can also deny their request. The new law, the one passed by the Senate and is now in the House, gives them the ‘right’ rather than the ‘privilege.’ They won’t have to get a permit from DOT anymore.” ******This statement is TOTALLY inaccurate. The new legislation requires the billboard company to apply and have granted a permit from the Department of Transportation. (From the Bill SB164 – (d) Permit application process and fees:

(1) A vegetation permit must be secured prior to performing any vegetation removal. The permit shall be effective for one year from the date of issuance. Any permitted work not completed during that year shall require the submission of a new application to complete.

(2) Permit applications for vegetation removal will be made by the outdoor advertising permit holder upon the forms prescribed and provided by the department and shall contain the signature of the outdoor advertising permit holder. A separate application must be submitted for each work site. The application must contain all required information before a permit will be granted. The following is a list of all required information that must be submitted with the application form:)******

 

Now, when a billboard company wants to put up a new billboard, it has to wait five years before it can get a permit to cut vegetation on public property. Being on private property, it can put up the billboard, but it can’t cut trees on public property for five years. The new law ends that prohibition, also. ******This is a misleading statement as well. The new legislation does allow the 5 year time period to be withdrawn, but this new legislation is a pilot program. It will be phased in over the next three (3) years allowing for different districts each year. And if it doesn’t work, the legislators can return to the current system. (From the Bill SB164 – (g) Effective date:

(1) This Code section shall become effective on July 1, 2009, and shall be implemented as a three-year pilot program by department districts as follows:
(A) Year one, effective July 1, 2009: First, Second, and Sixth department districts;
(B) Year two, effective July 1, 2010: Third, Fifth, and Seventh department districts; and
(C) Year three, effective July 1, 2011: Fourth department district.
(2) As of July 1, 2012, this Code section shall become applicable to all outdoor advertising signs lawfully permitted by the department wherever located unless otherwise determined by the General Assembly. Nothing contained in this Code section shall render any sign existing on July 1, 2009, nonconforming.)******

Also, Bob told me, now, they simply cannot cut trees that were planted as part of beautification projects. The DOT commissioner doesn’t have the authority to give a permit for that. Under the new law, that would also change. They would have the right to cut trees planted as part of beautification projects. ******Once again, this is a TOTALLY inaccurate statement. If the trees or vegetation were planted as a part of beautification projects, removal would not be permitted. (From the Bill SB164 -(8) No removal of any tree planted prior to January 1, 2009, as part of any local, state, or federal government or specifically identified beautification project shall be permitted under this Code section unless written approval is obtained from the sponsoring jurisdiction.) ****** There is a suit against the DOT pending on this one, filed by Trees Columbus, Inc., the Gateway Foundation, and the City of Columbus, concerning the attempted cutting of trees planted as part of beautification projects on I-185 inside the Columbus City Limits.
I hope that clarifies what the Billboard industry is trying to accomplish with the new law, SB 164, which passed in the Senate and is now in the Georgia House. You can read the bill by going to this Georgia Senate link. I haven’t changed my mind about how I feel about the law. I don’t want beautification projects on public property destroyed to make it easier to see billboards. I hope you will let your representative in the House know that you do not favor SB 164, which expands the billboard industry’s power to cut down trees owned by taxpayers.

******Now, I’m not sure what Senate or House Bill Bob Hydrick was reciting, but the correct contents of SB164 are included in this rebuttal. The people of Georgia deserve what is right for the State from the Congress it elected. This Bill will bring jobs for the Arborists, jobs for the Landscapers, local advertising who depend on this kind of advertising (To the tune of 10,000+ employees employed by the local advertisers), jobs for the Billboard Company and money to the Georgia Department of Transportation in the form of Fees paid for application and mitigation.

Georgia has more trees and vegetation than most of the states in the country. How are they helping Georgia’s economy? How are they contributing to an increase in jobs? They give us air. And no matter how many get cut down as a result of this legislation, we’ll never run out of that. Oh, and one last thing that Hydrick failed to mention. The Billboard Company will have to lower their signs to 75’ or less in order to obtain and continue with the permit applied for under this new legislation. And at THEIR expense!!

It’s time to think with our heads and not our hates. Georgia is depending on Congress to improve our economy. SB164 is at the very least, a start!

William E Board

 

Correction on IMAX at Patriot Park Ticket Prices

March 18, 2009

Here’s a correction to my previous post on ticket prices at IMAX at Patriot Park,  which opens for business tomorrow afternoon.

Dick,

Thank you for the wonderful review and photos that you posted.  I would like, however, to point out some discrepencies in your listed prices.  Prices are not based on time of day, as Dark Knight will be playing at 3:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Prices for films 70 minutes and under (which are primarily documentaries) are:
$8.00 General
$7.00 Senior/Student/Military
$6.00 Child
$6.00 All groups 20 or more (except school groups)
$5.50 All school groups 10 or more

Films over 70 minutes (concerts and Hollywood films):
$10.00 General
$9.00 Senior/Student/Military
$8.00 Child
$8.00 All groups 20 or more

All group tickets must be reserved at least 24 hours in advanced.

Hope this helps.  And again, thanks for the great coverage!

Joe Kleiman
Director of Attractions and IMAX Programming
National Infantry Foundation