Category Archives: Transparency

What’s with Richland’s super-secret mall plans?

This just gets weirder and weirder:

Richland County administrator Gerald Seals confirmed Tuesday that the county is finalizing the purchase of three anchor stores at Columbia Place Mall – the former Sears and Dillard’s locations, as well as the soon to-be-vacant Burlington Coat Factory.

However, Seals would not comment on whether the county is planning to purchase the entire mall, which could mean the nearly 60 tenants at the Dentsville shopping center would have to move.

County officials announced in December that they planned to buy property at Columbia Place as part of their Renaissance project. The plan is to move county administrative offices to the mall and for the current administration building on Hampton Street to be razed to make way for a county judicial center. The current judicial center on Main Street would be sold.

When asked if the county planned to purchase the rest of the mall, county spokeswoman Beverly Harris declined to say specifically. “As to the acquisition of any other entities, the County only engages in direct negotiations,” she said in a statement….

What does that mean? And what’s with the secrecy, which has characterized this mysterious “Project Renaissance” since the start? It’s not just the public being kept in the dark, by the way:

“The discussion has been about the anchors,” said Paul Livingston, one of five of the 11 council members to vote against the project, in large part because of the secrecy surrounding it. “But we don’t know” if the sale of the entire mall is being negotiated.

“I support the concept” of purchasing the anchors, he said, noting that importing county workers and constituents would provide a windfall of customers for the merchants. “But there has been no public participation.”…

If members of Council don’t know, then who does? Is this all being planned out of Dr. Evil’s secret underground lair?

This thing has just been really weird from the start.

Show us blueprints. Sketch out the plan, in detail. Then, if the plan survives scrutiny, start buying up property. Don’t do this business where you tell us you’re going to spend millions on some grandiose plan and then shut up, saying, “It’s a secret!” Leave that stuff to the private sector.

These folks have the right idea about which senator to target. Now, if only I knew who they were…

good gummint

As I said on my previous post (although I might as well have been pounding my head against a wall as far as Doug is concerned), if you want to make things better in the S.C. Senate via the ballot box, try to get rid of the worst senators, not the best ones.

This group, the “sc good government committee,” have the right idea. They’re going after the worst of the worst, Lee Bright.

Here’s their latest release about that, and here’s a link to their new radio ad. And here’s what it says, in case you’re too lazy to click on a link:

If you live here in the Upstate or drive I-85, you know what it’s like to dodge potholes and hit the brakes – and you’re always behind that ONE guy who just won’t get out of the way. It’s a lot like being in the state senate with Lee Bright. For eight years, while our roads crumble and bridges collapse, Lee Bright has just talked and talked spewing more hot air than a busted radiator. Did you know he’s introduced 116 bills and only ONE has ever been signed into law? He spends time on bills to give South Carolina its own currency, then votes down common sense legislation that fixes our roads and bridges without raising taxes. Just a few weeks ago, Bright voted to bankrupt South Carolina farmers, TWICE. He’s trying to hold up roads solutions, voting against our farmers and doing nothing to get more jobs to the Upstate. We need a Senator to lead the way, not get in the way. On June 14, tell Lee Bright to get out of the way. We need a Senator who can actually get things done.

Those are not necessarily the points I would make, but hey, they’ve got the right idea: Bright needs to go.

There’s just one problem, and I’ve mentioned it here before:

One of the first, most basic requirements of “good government” is transparency. (Especially in South Carolina, where we have so little of it.) But I can’t seem to find out who the “good government committee” is (although I suspect their publicist is a big fan of e.e. cummings.) I go to the About page, and there’s not a name to be found.

I’ll say it again: Want good government? Set a good example: Disclose.

Want Good Government? Set a good example: Disclose.

good government

This is a small matter, but I felt that someone should point out what should be obvious…

I got this email from a group calling itself SC Good Government Committee… No, excuse me, “sc good government committee,” e.e. cummings-style.

The release basically attacked Sen. Lee Bright’s Bathroom Bill for distracting from important issues in our state.

So I immediately thought, as any journalist would, “Who’s the sc good government committee?” Scanning through the email release partially satisfied my curiosity, at least by implication: It is apparently connected somehow to the state Chamber of Commerce. Ted Pitts — my former representative, Nikki Haley’s former chief of staff, and now president of the state Chamber — has a statement that is featured prominently in the release:

“South Carolina businesses don’t need the government telling them how to run their business. The governor has called the bill unnecessary and the State Chamber strongly agrees. South Carolina businesses already understand the importance of treating people with respect. Senator Bright is trying to create a political crisis that doesn’t exist to save his political career. Meanwhile our state has real issues we need to address including crumbling roads and a skills gap. We’ll be working on electing serious Senators next year who will be focused on addressing the states infrastructure and workforce needs and limiting government’s role in our lives.”

But when I clicked on the logo in the email and went to the group’s website in search of further info, I was stymied. The first and most obvious question — Who are the members of this committee? — is never answered. The About page says:

The South Carolina Good Government Committee (PAC) promotes good government in the Palmetto State by supporting free market policies in an effort to create economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for all South Carolinians.

The Good Government Committee is authorized to financially support selected elective measures and candidates. This PAC is organized and operated on a voluntary, non-partisan basis.


To further the democratic process of the free enterprise system
To advance business, industry and private sector job creation in South Carolina


The Good Government Committee achieves its goals by:

Financially supporting efforts to educate South Carolinians on issues that are important to her citizens

Participating in the nomination or election of selected candidates for nomination to elective state office and who are believed to be in general agreement with the committee

… to which I say, “What Committee?”

Beyond that, the site’s blog and Latest News pages let us know that this PAC is interested in electing certain people to the Legislature. The blog promises, “The Good Government Committee will endorse candidates in the coming weeks.” So far, the group has taken an interest in the special Senate District 4 election that elected Rep. Mike Gambrell (that is, he won the GOP runoff and is unopposed in the general). The group’s Facebook page congratulated him for winning his runoff.

And that’s all I know.

I’m not alleging ill will here or anything because this kind of “mystery committee” thing is all too common to read much into it. But I will say this:

If your goal is good government, then you will certainly be advocating for greater transparency in government.

The least you could do is set a good example by telling us, clearly and frankly, who you are…

Would SOMEBODY please tell us what’s going on with Harrell?

The Bobby Harrell investigation — or whatever it is, or was — continues to be as weird as ever.

Over the weekend, the speaker triumphantly announced that the grand jury investigation of him is over, and his nemesis, Attorney General Alan Wilson, is off the case.

Then, John Monk (who, as you’ll recall, first reported that Harrell was trying secretly to get Wilson kicked off the case) got “sources familiar with the matter” to confirm that the investigation is continuing, now being overseen by 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe rather than Wilson.

Pascoe isn’t commenting. Neither is Wilson.

So. We don’t really know what is going on. But I agree with the conclusion of an editorial in The State today that said at some point, somebody needs to tell us, the people, what’s going on:

But here’s what we do know: Now that the Grand Jury no longer is empaneled, it cannot be argued that there is a legal prohibition on releasing the SLED report. And if Mr. Harrell’s victory dance has any basis — if in fact whatever remains of the criminal investigation is merely pro forma — then there is no reason that Mr. Wilson or Mr. Pascoe or whoever has possession of the report should not release it. Immediately.

For that matter, we don’t understand what legal basis there could be for Mr. Wilson refusing to comment on the status of the case. But then, there has been a lot about this case whose legal basis we have not understood.

It’s understandable that Mr. Wilson wouldn’t want to speak in detail and that the report would remain hidden from the public if the criminal investigation is indeed continuing. But even that must end at some point.

Whenever it ends, and however it ends, the attorney general must give an accounting for the way he has handled the case, and the SLED report must be released to the public. Not just because the subject of the probe has been so adamant in demanding its release, but because the voters need to know who has been doing his job and who has been abusing his office: our attorney general, or the speaker of the House.

Looking at the transparency issue from the perspective of those who have had to deal with the media

In reaction to the buzz about the chairman of the Ethics Commission making a rule that the press has to deal with him and him only, Bob McAlister — communications consultant, former director of communications and then chief of staff to Gov. Carroll Campbell — had this to say on Facebook:

This is a case of media hyperventilation. Any organization has the right—indeed the responsibility—to decide who acts as spokesman. There’s nothing here to suggest that the Ethics Commission’s openness and access to reporters will be curtailed. Who better to speak for the agency than the person who runs it? The press has the right to know the truth about an agency; it does not have the right to dictate who gives them the information they seek.

I don’t disagree with Bob at all. If I were running an agency that deals with matters as sensitive as those the Ethics Commission deals with, I would want to make sure the message that went out accurately described the agency’s position. Especially if I was dissatisfied with something someone in the agency had said publicly.

But there’s something I think Bob’s ignoring here: The irregular manner in which this new policy was propagated. The chairman didn’t bring it up for discussion in an open meeting or call for a vote of the commission. He just issued an edict, unilaterally — which makes the whole thing look worse.

Now, giving the chairman the benefit of the doubt, this could just be a kinder, gentler way of dealing with a subordinate whom he views as a loose cannon. That is halfway suggested in the story in the state. I say “halfway,” because first, Chairman James Burns (not to be confused with Jimmy Byrnes) and Executive Director Herb Hayden, were paraphrased as saying this was not a move to silence Cathy Hazelwood, the agency’s deputy director and general counsel, who has been quite free with statements in the past:

Burns and Hayden said the new policy was not an effort to stop Hazelwood, who declined to comment, from speaking to the media…

And then, in the next graf, Hayden is quoted as suggesting the aim IS to silence Hazelwood:

“We don’t want to give the impression that Cathy as the prosecutor is already predisposed to any particular action on any particular case,” Hayden said. “(Y)ou don’t want the prosecutor making a statement that could imply that they’re going to (make a decision) one way or the other. Her role is to evaluate the evidence presented during an investigation.”

Interesting thing about that point: Were this the criminal justice system, the prosecutor is exactly the person I would expect to be free to comment on a case. You would not expect the judge or jurors to comment. Prosecutors, by their very nature, take a position. It is the job of the judge and jury “to evaluate the evidence presented,” and to do so impartially. And in the case of the Ethics Commission, the commission that Burns chairs is the judge and jury.

To move on…

Bob wasn’t the only person to stick up for the new policy.

Later, on the Facebook link to my earlier blog post on the subject, Matt Kennell, president and CEO of City Center Partnership, observed that recent anti-transparency developments “may be pushback to some abuses by the media… from expereince.”

That is a separate issue. That observation popped up on my iPad as I was eating breakfast this morning. Moments earlier, Matt had been sitting at the table behind me, so I turned to ask him to elaborate. But apparently, he was downstairs at his desk by then.

If I were currently an editor or news director in the local MSM, I’d give Matt a call and ask him what the problem was, and clear the air, so that there is less likelihood of a problem next time…

Is there a war on transparency in South Carolina?

There was an unmistakable theme running through different items in The State this morning — a tale of government transparency on retreat.

South Carolina has never been on what you’d call the cutting edge of openness in government. After having worked for years under Tennessee’s wide-open Sunshine Law, I was deeply shocked when I got here and learned how easily public bodies could meet behind closed doors.

Based on three items in the paper today, the cause of transparency seems to be retreating on multiple fronts:

  • Ethics chief limits who can talk to media — Under some circumstances, I can have some sympathy for public officials trying to make sure a spokesman actually speaks for the institution, rather than confusing the public. But it’s particularly disturbing to see that it’s Nikki Haley’s appointee as chairman who’s trying to narrow and control the information pipeline — given our governor’s own history on the ethics front.
  • SC high court: Autopsy reports not public records — Says press mouthpiece Jay Bender: “With this decision, I fear that the only version of events that will reach the public will be the one that exonerates government personnel from any claims of misconduct.” I also like what an editor at the Sumter paper said in response to the courts concern that releasing an autopsy could reveal sensitive health information: “There has never been an autopsy that has ever been performed that improved someone’s health.”
  • Cindi Scoppe’s column on “Sealed records, closed doors” — Cindi writes about a series of weird instances of judges in the Lowcountry not only sealing documents that should be public, but closing the courtrooms’ doors. This is based on a report from Fitz McAden, executive editor of The Beaufort Gazette and Hilton Head’s Island Packet, so maybe it’s limited to courts in that part of the state. But Cindi worries that it isn’t.

And as Cindi notes in that column, we have yet to see what mischief may be caused by the Supreme Court’s footnote about certain aspects bearing on the Bobby Harrell ethics case also being heard in camera. Cindi promises, with a warning tone, to keep an eye on that:

If the high court indeed was sending a signal to close the courtroom, that would constitute a dramatic departure from its longstanding policy, and if that turns out to be the case, we will have ample opportunity to discuss that. At length.

The trendline at the moment doesn’t look good…

CVSC says lack of transparency hurts conservation cause

Remember Cindi Scoppe’s column about how inexcusable it was for the final version of the budget to be set by two men, rather than the traditional conference committee?

And remember Shane Massey’s “coup” speech in which he cited that as one of the reasons he opposed Hugh Leatherman as Senate president pro tempore?

Well, now Ann Timberlake of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina is offering a specific example of how such lack of transparency can hurt, at least from her organization’s perspective — although she does give Leatherman credit for leaving the door open to revisiting the matter:

We win some and we lose some at the State House but we are most likely to lose when decisions are made behind closed doors.

In March, we celebrated when the House approved the full amount that estimates projected for the Conservation Bank from the normal Deed Stamp formula (around $10.5 million).  The vote was transparent and decisive at 111-5 and 41-3 in the Senate.

But things changed when Representatives and Senators delegated their responsibilities for finalizing the budget to two individuals: the House Ways & Means Chair (Rep. Brian White) and the Senate Finance Chair (Sen. Hugh Leatherman).  This is the first time in recent memory that a transparent Conference Committee was circumvented.  It likely happened because there were few differences between the House and Senate budgets and there were more revenues projected by the Board of Economic Advisors.

What could not have happened in the open, however, happened behind closed doors.  In the final budget that legislators approved on a quick and simple “up or down” vote, the Bank’s revenues were capped at last year’s authorization level of $9.8 million – roughly $2 million less than the BEA’s revised estimate of $12 million for the Bank.

Do you realize what the Bank can do with $2 million dollars?  Last November, for example, just under $1 million was approved for the Angel Oak Preserve in Charleston County.  In April, 2013, $1.5 million purchased 1,548 acres of the iconic “Nine Times” tract south of Scenic 11 in Pickens County.  This April, $1.15 million went to acquire the Rocky Point Landing in Georgetown County and just over $2 million put conservation easements on approximately 8 miles of Santee River frontage.  The list goes on and more information is at

The good news is that Senator Leatherman prevailed in keeping the disputed $2 million frozen in the Bank’s account, so there is a possibility that the General Assembly’s “Other Funds Committee” could “un-freeze” these funds for the Bank’s use later in the year.

Only a handful of legislators knew that they were voting for less dollars for the Conservation Bank when they voted for the budget.  You should let your Representative and Senator know that you expect them to retain control of the budget process in years to come.  We cannot let what happened to the Conservation Bank go unnoticed and your voice makes a difference.  Thank you.

Executive Director
Conservation Voters of South Carolina

Penny watchdog group upset over selection of contractor

I was surprised this didn’t make the front of The State today (yeah, there was other big news, but it’s still possible, you know, to get more than four stories onto a front), given that it’s about the group appointed to be a watchdog on the penny sales tax being very unhappy with the county’s biggest decision on spending the road-construction money:

Members of a citizen watchdog committee objected Monday to the selection of an out-of-town engineering firm to manage Richland County’s transportation improvement program.2005-Penny-Uncirculated-Obverse-cropped

“I’m sure you’re a great firm,” Elise Bidwell told members of ICA Engineering’s team, introduced to the transportation penny advisory committee. “But I want to know how much of the money … is actually going to go to people in Richland County for doing the job.”

Committee members said they heard the second-place finisher was rated higher than ICA on their commitment to hiring small, local and minority subcontractors.

But transportation director Rob Perry would not discuss the ratings. He said they were a private part of contract negotiations.

Richland County Council set up the 17-member citizen advisory committee, short-handed as TPAC, to oversee details of the county’s massive transportation improvement program – which got under way with last week’s pick of a project manager.

But committee members said they should have been consulted. Since they were not given the rationale behind the decision, some said, the selection plays into the hands of those skeptical about government….

Richland County Council selected ICA Engineering, headquartered in Kentucky, over Columbia-based CECS Engineering Consulting Services and three other firms.

The highly competitive contract, valued at $50 million over five years, sets in motion the beginning of the county’s massive transportation improvement package…

Disclosure: This is particularly interesting to me because ADCO did some work (a brochure) for the CECS group, which had scored higher than the group that got the contract.

It’s also interesting because I advocated for the penny (and would do so again), and this committee was set up to assuage the concerns of others about how the money would be spent, and members of the panel seem to think they’re being blown off by the county.

Which is not good.

I don’t know what can, or even should, happen going forward (like the panel, I’m sort of in the dark here), but this deserves further, very public, discussion.

Maybe this rhetorical approach is a GIRL thing…

Something struck me when I was reading this release just now from Mia Butler Garrick:


Today, we are just 43 days away from the Primary Election on June 12th and I need your help.  Right now in South Carolina, hundreds of special interest groups lobby the good ole boy network here at the State House to vigorously maintain control of the failed status quo that continues to plague our state.  They use their influence to ensure that SC remains at the bottom-of-the-best list by continuing to enact policies that wreak havoc on public education, hinder economic development and job creation and foster an environment of partisanship, nepotism and corruption at all levels of government.

I’m proud of the fact that the folks of District 79 always stand firmly against the good ole boys.  We stand boldly for jobs, for small businesses, for public education, for better infrastructure and safe schools and communities.  But more importantly, we stand firmly and boldly, together.  My campaign has never been about me.  It’s about what we can accomplish together for the future of South Carolina!

That’s why today, I’m asking all of you to step up just as you did two years ago, and show your support by volunteering now.

Election Day is Tuesday, June 12th.

Did it strike you that that sounded very much like the way the Nikki Haley presents herself to voters? As the lone beacon of transparency and virtue in a squall of self-dealing “good ol’ boys”?

Of course, the difference between them might be that Mia actually means it when she says those things. But the similarity in the general line of expression struck me…

Something you should know: I’m helping Coble

The Melrose event Monday night.

Last night I went to a debate between Daniel Coble and Moe Baddourah sponsored by the Melrose Neighborhood Association. But I’m not going to tell you what I think about what was said there because I wasn’t there as a blogger. This is complicated by the fact that various people who saw me there, including Moe, probably think I was there as a blogger. So this is to set the record straight.

I’ll start at the beginning.

Lately, a large part of my job with ADCO has been business development. In connection with that, I went to breakfast one morning several weeks ago (Feb. 23) with my old friend Bud Ferillo, and I urged him that if he ever finds himself in a situation where he’s representing a client who needs some of the services that ADCO provides, he should give me a call.

Sometime later (I’m not exactly sure when, but my first email on the subject was on the Ides of March), he gave me a buzz and said he needed some help with the production of some last-minute mailings for the Daniel Coble campaign. Fine. I put him in contact with colleagues here at ADCO with expertise in that area, and they helped him out.

At that point, I wasn’t directly involved, beyond getting people together. (I didn’t even see the mailings until after they were done and gone.) Nevertheless, when I interviewed Moe for this post, and when I interviewed Mike Miller for this one, I mentioned what my company was doing to help out Bud on Daniel’s behalf. Neither of them expressed any concern. (I meant to tell Jenny Isgett when I interviewed her, but later realized I had forgotten. And given the reactions of the other candidates, it didn’t seem worth a separate call. I’ll let you be the judge whether I was right about that.)

Then, over the next couple of weeks, I got slightly more involved, but only in the sense of being a conduit for communications between the campaign and folks at ADCO.

Last Thursday, my status changed. On that day, Bud asked whether ADCO could shoot video at a debate Monday night, and provide YouTube clips contrasting the candidates. I checked, and our usual in-house people couldn’t do it that night. There wasn’t time for handling things the usual way. I went ahead and personally lined up a free-lancer, Brett Flashnick, who readily agreed to help out.

So I was there last night in case he had questions, and also so I could witness the whole debate, and be able to help him in editing the video. This afternoon, Brett and Bud and I spent between two and three hours going through video and choosing some clips of good YouTube length. Brett has left now and will send Bud and Daniel the finished product to see if they approve.

So basically, I’ve been heavily involved now in making editorial judgments about campaign materials. I wasn’t involved in that way at all before, but I am now.

Even before things got to this point, I was worried about what, if anything, I should write about the campaign. When I wrote about all those endorsements that Daniel got on March 29, the news was so helpful (in my opinion) to the Coble campaign that I worried that I wasn’t reporting anything of similar impact from the other campaigns, and that it could look like I was favoring him. But I couldn’t figure out how to balance things out. Neither Moe nor Jenny were generating news like that; I wasn’t seeing anything new to react to.

Now that I write that, I realize that as indirect as my involvement was before, I should have told y’all about it. The fact that it was entering my head, that I was worrying about whether I was being 100 percent fair or not, even a little bit, means I should have told y’all so you could judge for yourselves. But I didn’t. I thought about it, but I decided that I was overthinking things, and that all I would accomplish would be to make the connection sound like a bigger deal than it was. Which is a case of over-overthinking, now that I think further (over-over-overthink) about it.

Also, I thought this: The fact that Daniel was the only candidate advertising on my blog (and I assure you, the other candidates had the same opportunities to do so that he did) was a greater apparent conflict than my indirect involvement with those mailings. And y’all knew about that — you could see the ad — and were therefore forewarned and armed to make any judgments you chose to make as to whether I was being fair.

Regardless of decisions I made in the past, there’s no question now: Y’all should know that I am involved at this point. So, anything else I say about this runoff (which probably won’t be much) must be considered in light of the fact that I’ve definitely, directly, done work to help the Coble campaign. I fact, I invite you to go back and read everything else I’ve written up to now (just use the search feature to look for the candidates’ names), and decide for yourself.

Of course, this is an opinion blog. I never make any pretense to news-style “objectivity.” But what I invite you to do is see whether you think any subjective judgments I’ve made were ones I would have made anyway, without any involvement in the campaign. Actually, what I see when I look back is that I held back from expressing any strong opinions or preferences. Which means that what I wrote was affected. Because that’s not normal for me.

All of this is making my head hurt. This, of course, is why people who make their livings as reporters and editors just don’t get involved, period. Or at least, that’s the way it used to be when there were good, full-time jobs to be had in that field.

Now, increasingly, news (or at least commentary) is brought to you by people who make their livings some other way. Which is something you have long known about me.

Life is confusing here in the New Normal, and all I can figure out to do about it is to tell y’all what I’m doing. Which I just did.

‘Gov. Transparency’ won’t waive confidentiality

Harry Ott puts it pretty well in this release:

Columbia, SC – House Democratic Leader Harry Ott expressed disappointment on Wednesday after Governor Nikki Haley’s office told the media she would refuse to waive her confidentiality in the event of an ethics investigation. Representative Ott released the following statement in response:

“According to Governor Haley, ‘can’t’ is not an option, but apparently ‘wont’ is. She talks a great game, but when it’s time to turn her rhetoric into action, the ‘transparency governor’ hides behind a wall of secrecy. Unfortunately, this has become a pattern. The people of South Carolina deserve an open and honest government from their leaders. If the Governor is under investigation, the public deserves to know.”


But then, Nikki Haley keeps going out of her way to tee the ball up for her political opponents. If there’s an opportunity to be open and aboveboard — from her legislative emails to this — she can be relied upon to hide behind any cover that SC law provides. And SC law is chock-full of such protections for those who want to keep their business from the limelight.

Here’s what the gov’s mouthpiece had to say:

“If Mr. Ott and members of the House want to change the law and waive confidentiality for all of the ethics complaints filed against them – past and future – the governor would be happy to join them,” said Rob Godfrey, Haley’s spokesman. “Otherwise, we would ask that they get back to the people’s business, fund tax relief and pass restructuring.”

Godfrey said Haley already has answered all of the questions raised in Rainey’s lawsuit, adding further investigation is not needed.

“If there is an ethics complaint (filed) about matters that took place years ago and that have already been answered again and again, the regular procedures should be followed, and we’re confident that the Ethics Committee will come to the same conclusion as every other entity that Mr. Rainey has shopped this nonsense to – that it is entirely baseless,” Godfrey said…

Young Mr. Godfrey probably thinks that’s one heckuva slam-dunk answer, and indeed it does communicate volumes. Here’s my read on it: Hell, no, we don’t want to be transparent and aboveboard on this. Do YOU want to be transparent and aboveboard? Because we’re not going to be until everyone else does it first. Far be it from US to lead on such a thing; we prefer to be last in line when it comes to openness. Now, instead of asking us to do stuff we don’t want to do, just you shut up and go do what WE want YOU to do.

Or did I miss something?

The anti-U.S. lawsuit brought by a “conservative watchdog group”

All I have to say for the moment is that I agree completely with the government on this one:

(AP) WASHINGTON – Public disclosure of graphic photos and video taken of Osama bin Laden after U.S. commandos killed him would damage national security and lead to attacks on American property and personnel, the Obama administration contends in court documents.

Here’s the lame argument for releasing the images:

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, accused the Obama administration of making a “political decision” to keep the bin Laden imagery secret. “We shouldn’t throw out our transparency laws because complying with them might offend terrorists,” Fitton said in a statement. “The historical record of Osama bin Laden’s death should be released to the American people as the law requires.”

As you’ll recall, I disagreed with Lindsey Graham about this subject earlier. He was right at the Abu Ghraib pictures, but wrong about this.

And while the AP is just doing its job as it sees it, I believe its own request should be denied as well:

The Associated Press has filed Freedom of Information Act requests to review a range of materials, such as contingency plans for bin Laden’s capture, reports on the performance of equipment during the assault on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and copies of DNA tests confirming the al Qaeda leader’s identity. The AP also has asked for video and photographs taken from the mission, including photos made of bin Laden after he was killed.

The Obama administration refused AP’s request to consider quickly its request for the records. AP appealed the decision, arguing that unnecessary bureaucratic delays harm the public interest and allow anonymous U.S. officials to selectively leak details of the mission. Without expedited processing, requests for sensitive materials can be delayed for months and even years. The AP submitted its request to the Pentagon less than one day after bin Laden’s death.

OK, maybe not denied. I think a delay of maybe 25 years would be about right. Leave it to historians. Ones with strong stomachs.

A lot of people — including a lot of this administration’s strongest supporters — don’t believe there is such a thing as information that should be withheld for national security reasons. They are wrong. One can have arguments about what should be classified and what should not, but the fact remains that some things should be.

Nikki Haley dumps Darla Moore: A plain case of old-fashioned naked patronage

It’s really hard to keep up with all the petty outrages (both “petty” and “outrageous” — yes, that seems about right) that our new young governor keeps pumping out.

I’m a busy guy — working, blogging, trying to grab a little sleep at night — and sometimes find myself momentarily out of the loop. Particularly when there are so many far more important things going on in the world. Let’s see, the Japan earthquake, Qaddafi (I’ve gotten to where I just spell his name with the first combination of letters that my fingers hit, so I hope that suits) moving to crush the rebellion while the world is distracted with Japan, Saudis intervening in Bahrain and people getting killed… And sometimes you have to put even that aside, and do other stuff…

So when I finish my Virtual Front Page and close the laptop, I sometimes don’t see any new developments until 7ish the next morning. Which is why I was taken aback at the very first Tweet I saw this morning:

Nettie Britts @nettie_bNettie Britts

Explain Darla Moore to me.

I replied, “Well, she’s this rich lady from South Carolina who tries to give back to her home state. That’s the Twitter version, I guess…” And I went on to breakfast. There, the grill room at the Capital City Club was buzzing with what I didn’t know about, since I hadn’t sat down to read the paper yet (don’t ask me why it wasn’t on when I was doing the Virtual Front Page yesterday; maybe it was and I just missed it). The state and community leaders weren’t going, “Did you hear about Darla?” It was more like, “What do you think of the news?” Period.

Yep, this stuff happens to me, too. Not often, but sometimes.

So I sat down, and I read the paper. And I Tweeted this out:

Brad Warthen

@BradWarthen Brad Warthen

Nikki Haley dumping Darla Moore is classic case of naked, arbitrary exercise of patronage power….

You can congratulate me later for having gotten a link, an editorial point, “Nikki Haley,” “Darla Moore,” and “naked” into the Twitter format (with 14 characters of room left!). Let’s move on to the substance.

And the substance is… well, what I just said. It just doesn’t get any more blatant, plain, slap-in-the-face, I-don’t-care-what-you’ve-done-for-our-state-or-this-institution-I’ve-got-my-own-guy than this. Just bald, plain, take-it-for-what-it-is. Although I do have to hand it to Haley staffer Rob Godfrey for managing to twist the knife a bit with this bit of sarcastic insouciance:

Asked why the appointment was not announced, he said: “Given that there are over 1,000 appointments to boards and commissions the governor can make, we never intended to have a press conference for each one.”

Because, you know, Darla Moore isn’t any more important than that.

At the Cap City Club this morning, one of the regular movers and shakers made a rather naive and innocent remark (sometimes movers and shakers can surprise you that way), honestly asking, “How do you just brush aside someone who’s given $100 million to South Carolina?” (Yeah, I know she’s only pledged $70 million to USC and $10 million to Clemson, according to the story, but I guess he was rounding.)

I replied, patiently, here’s what Nikki Haley would say to that (were she brutally honest, of course): “She didn’t give ME a hundred million dollars. Tommy over here gave me $3,500. I don’t understand the question.” That’s Tommy Cofield, by the way, a Lexington attorney.

People who are not movers and shakers (and who in fact have a sort of visceral aversion to movers and shakers) can say some naive things, too. Over in a previous comment, our own Doug said “Are we assuming that Sheheen wouldn’t have replaced anyone he didn’t like?”

To that, I responded once again with the painfully obvious: “No, Vincent would not have replaced Darla Moore with an unknown, minor campaign contributor in such a prestigious post. If that’s what you’re asking.” Of course, I should have added, “without a reason.” By that, I would mean a valid reason, one that takes South Carolina’s and USC’s legitimate interests into account, one that is not just arbitrary.

Oh she GAVE what I suppose some folks (probably including Doug, believing as he does that there is nothing so deleterious to society as experience and commitment to the public weal) will regard as a reason: “As is the case with many of our appointees, the governor looked for a fresh set of eyes to put in a critical leadership position…”

That’s it.

And if you are one of the people who takes Nikki Haley at face value, as her supporters tend to do, and you don’t know or care about Darla Moore or the University of South Carolina — you just like to cheer on your Nikki — that will suffice. In with the new, out with the old. She will feel in no way obligated to explain what was wrong with Darla Moore’s service on the board, or to cite any of the exciting new ideas that her appointee brings to the table that were previously missing. No one will expect that of her; it probably wouldn’t even occur to her to think about it. The governor will skate on this with these people — this is something that is core to her whole approach to politics ever since she transformed herself into the darling of the Tea Party in preparation for her run for this office for which she was so unprepared.

This WORKS for her. She skates on this, just as — with the voters she cares about — she will skate on apparently having told a prospective employer in 2007 that she was making $125,000 a year when she was telling the IRS that she made $22,000. This will matter not. People are just picking at her. The nasty, powerful, status quo people — those people who hang out at the Capital City Club! — are picking at Nikki because they’re mean, you see. (By the way, on the “petty” vs. “outrageous” spectrum, the thing on the job application is more the typical “petty” violation of her alleged principles that we have come to expect; the Darla Moore thing, dealing as it does with the leadership of such an important state institution, is more of an “outrage.” If you’re keeping score.)

She will not only skate, but her supporters — or at least, this is what the governor banks on — will continue, in spite of all evidence, to see her as a champion of transparency, a reformer, a nemesis of “politics as usual” and patron saint of Good Government. Which just, you know, boggles the mind if you’re the sensible sort who thinks about things.

That’s the plan, anyway. And that’s why she did this, and really doesn’t care if you, or the university, or the business community, or Darla Moore don’t like it.

OK, so maybe he IS just 32

A friend this morning alerted me to the fact that on his LinkedIn page, Christian Soura — the governor’s mysterious dollar-a-year man — does look young enough to be 32. (His job, on that same profile, is listed as “Executive Director at South Carolina Center for Transforming Government.” The governor’s office is not mentioned. Hey, if the gov were only paying me a buck a year, I wouldn’t mention her, either.)

OK, so that still leaves us wondering how he was receiving a state pension from Pennsylvania.

Yes, I know they’re much more into what our governor would term Big Government in Pennsylvania. The taxes are higher, and they have taxes yet unthought-of in SC. Pause for an anecdote…

Fred Mott used to be publisher at The State. He’s the publisher who made me the editorial page editor, which tells you that he’s a great guy to work for, and a splendid judge of character. But boy, did we used to have some arguments over politics at editorial board meetings. And a constant course of disagreement was Fred’s insistence that taxes were relatively high in South Carolina. I’d give him stats to the contrary, and he’d just give his patented dismissive wave and keep on believing what he believed. (The “emotional center” — to use a favorite phrase of an editor I once worked with — of this for Fred, I believe, was that he had previously lived in Florida and there was no state income tax in Florida, and there was one in SC, so taxes in SC were therefore higher…)

Then Fred left here and went to work in Philadelphia. He lived in the ‘burbs, but worked in the city. I will always cherish the first phone conversation I had with Fred after he moved up there. He said, “I’ll never again say that taxes are high in South Carolina.” The emotional center of this change of mind was that he was required to pay a tax for living outside the city but working inside it, which really rankled.

Anyway, they have more and higher taxes, and they provide services that we don’t even think about here. (They are also proud — and this is hard to take in for a South Carolinian — of having been in the forefront of the public-employee union movement that the governor of Wisconsin is trying to roll back.) So maybe they do have retirement benefits so awesome that you can start getting them at 32.

But this still seems a little unlikely. There’s still a puzzle here. I look forward to learning more.

Good luck with that, Mayor Steve

When you make yourself available, you never know who's gonna show up. Like, check out the geek with the bow tie. You know HE'S trouble.../2010 photo by Bob Ford

Just read this in Steve Benjamin’s monthly newsletter:

Mondays with the Mayor

Ensuring the City of Columbia is open and accountable to all of the people has been a priority of mine from day one because, for me, government transparency is about living up to that most fundamental commitment: the people deserve the truth.

From moving council to evening meetings, working to limit executive session, and streaming every city council meeting live online; we are working live up to that responsibility and today I am pleased to announce a new initiative to further that cause: “Mondays with the Mayor.”

Kicking off on March 7th, “Mondays with the Mayor” is a monthly open session where citizens can schedule a 5 minute meeting here at City Hall to discuss the issues they care about with me personally.

WHAT: Mondays with the Mayor
WHEN: Monday, March 7, 2011
5:00pm to 7:00pm
WHERE: City Hall
1737 Main Street

To schedule a meeting, please call 803.545.3073 or on Friday, March 4th between 9:00am and 11:00am. The message should include your name, address, phone number, and issue to be discussed.

I believe that, by working together as One Columbia, we can raise the standard for citizen driven good government not just in South Carolina, but across the nation.

I believe we can make a difference.

First, hats off to the mayor for his commitment to openness and transparency. He’s acted quickly on several front to demonstrated that commitment, and praise is due to the council for its part in implementing such steps.

As for this one-at-a-time levee he plans — I hope it is everything a true lower-case-d democrat could wish for. But I also cringe a bit.

Admittedly, this may be partly because I just watched “Taxi Driver” all the way through last night for the first time, and that scene in which Travis Bickle has presidential candidate Charles Palantine in his cab. The candidate oozes transparently bogus mutterings about how he loves to hear the wisdom of cabbies like Travis, to which Travis responds with a skin-crawling diatribe on how the city is nothing but filth, and the next president should “flush” it all away — making the candidate very eager to get the heck outta that cab.

I’m sure it won’t be like that. And I’m sure it will be far better managed than the time that Andy Jackson threw open the doors of the White House for an inaugural backwoods kegger.

But… if you’ve spent as many hundreds of ours of your life in public meetings as I have, you know that there are certain people, who are not representative of the people overall, who love to show up and monopolize such affairs. Perhaps the 5-minute limit will take care of that.

But still… Again, I’m proud of the mayor for this fine gesture of openness. Lord knows we need more of that in South Carolina. And at the same time, I’m glad it’s him and not me spending two hours a month in the political equivalent of speed-dating.

What are you trying to say, Wesley?

The other day I ran into Wesley Donehue at Starbucks (see that, Starbucks? yet another product placement you’re not paying for), and we talked briefly about my appearing on “Pub Politics” again, which would make me a member of the Five-Timer Club. I’m totally up for it, particularly since I’d like to discuss this aptly titled “rant” on Wesley’s blog.

I think I want to argue with him about it, but first I have to get him to explain more clearly what he’s on about.

I say “rant” is apt because it seems to come straight from the gut, without any sorting or organization from the higher parts of his cortex — and Wesley is a smart guy. The problem I have is that his thought, or emotions, or impulses or whatever, don’t add up. They just don’t hang together.

He makes the following unconnected points:

  1. Where does the media get off making like it’s a champion of transparency?
  2. How dare WACH-Fox defend itself from a slur leveled at it by Gov. Nikki Haley on Facebook?
  3. The media are just lashing out, because they are becoming irrelevant in the new media age, when politicos can go straight to the people.
  4. “Transparency” doesn’t mean going through the MSM, so the media have no legitimate excuse to criticize the gov.
  5. Any problems the media have are their own damn’ fault, for failing to be relevant and keep up with the times.

Did that cover everything? I may have missed an unrelated point or two.

Here, respectively, are my problems with his points:

1. Golly, Wesley, the MSM may be guilty of a host of sins, but suggesting they are somehow an illegitimate, insincere, incredible or inappropriate advocate for transparency is most illogical. They’re kinda obsessive about it, and this might be a shock, but they were into it a LONG time before Nikki Haley ever heard of it. Finally, the media are the one industry in society that actually have a vested, selfish interest in transparency (unlike certain politicians who TALK about it, but belie their commitment to it with their actions) — they kinda rely on it in order to do what they do — so I’ve just gotta believe they really mean it.

1a. Furthermore, what does this have to do with the ongoing talk about the gov’s failures to be transparent? What did I miss? This seems to me to be about the TV station defending itself from the governor’s insult. The transparency issue — the one that I hear folks in the media talk about, anyway — has to do with everything from Nikki not wanting to disclose questionable sources of income and refusing to release her e-mails back during the campaign, all the way up to meeting with two other Budget and Control Board members while excluding the others. I’m missing the connection in other words, between this incident and your complaint that the media are going on inappropriately about transparency.

2. Well, let’s see. The governor wrote “WACH FOX 57 is a tabloid news station and has no concept of journalism.” Wesley, I don’t care whether the governor said that on Facebook, or through an interview with the MSM, or in a campaign ad or by use of skywriting. The choice of medium does not take away from the fact that that was an extraordinary thing for a governor to PUBLISH (and that’s what she did; if governors and other empowered “ordinary” folks are going to take it upon themselves to communicate directly with the people without the offices of the MSM, perhaps they need to take a little seminar on the difference in significance between merely muttering something to your friends, and publishing it). Next — are you really suggesting that WACH or any other business does not have the right to defend itself when maligned by the governor? I assert that they have that right under the 1st Amendment, whether they are Joe Blow’s Used Cars or the MSM.

3. This one’s really interesting. I’ll grant you, WACH looks pretty lame technologically when it fails to provide a direct link to the FB post with which it is disagreeing. (Here you go, by the way.) But beyond that, let’s talk about the new rules. Here’s the kind of thing that happens in this wonderful, marvelous new world in which anyone can publish their thoughts and don’t have to go through the stuffy ol’ MSM. In the old, benighted days, a former employee of the governor (and of the last governor) might go around muttering about having had an illicit personal relationship with the governor, but he would have been ignored. Now, thanks to the wonders of modern technology that you extol, he can publish it himself with practically zero effort or investment. So it’s out there — because, you know, those bad old editors can’t keep it away from the people. And then it starts affecting the political campaign, and therefore becomes news. Now, let me ask you — when that same blogger follows that up by publishing salacious details related to his allegation, having already caused it to be a news story, what are the media supposed to do? Well, I don’t know, and others aren’t sure either. Me? I ignored it. WACH made the call that it made. Did the governor have the right to get ticked and trash WACH because of it? Yes, she did. (Although it was, as I say, pretty extraordinary for a sitting governor to say something like that about a business in her state.) Did WACH — that poor, pathetic institution that’s falling apart as you say, have the right to defend itself? Of course it did.

4. Who said it did? I missed that. Maybe you have a link to it; I’d be interested to read/hear that argument.

5. The problems that the media have result from a massive restructuring of the way businesses — the ones they relied upon for the advertising revenue that underwrote the gathering of the news — market themselves to the public. The long-term trend has been away from mass-media advertising on the local level, and to more targeted approaches. Nothing about what the media have reported or not reported, or positions they have taken, have anything to do with it. The public is lapping up news and commentary more hungrily than ever — from the MSM as well as other sources. But the business model that supported newsgathering — the model that’s falling apart — has nothing to do with that; it’s a whole separate transaction from the one between a medium and its readers/viewers/listeners. So you’re way off base there.

Anyway, have me on the show and we’ll talk further. Keep the beer cold.