Georgia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
The Savannah Morning News on the discovery of two children who were found dead and buried in their father’s backyard:
Protecting children is a natural human instinct.
Or at least shielding the kids closest to us from harm is.
The horror that is the saga of the Crocker family demonstrates society’s negligence toward youngsters hidden beyond view. Effingham County Sheriff’s deputies discovered the bodies of Elwyn “JR” Crocker Jr. and his sister, Mary, buried behind their family home in December.
In the weeks since, we’ve learned of a pattern of abuse and suspected abuse in the Crocker family. The parents, Elwyn Sr. and Candice, had even been made to attend counseling and parenting classes by the state.
Candice Crocker’s brother, Tony Wright, had been arrested in 2012 after being accused of striking then-11-year-old Elwyn Jr.
Elwyn Jr. and Mary’s step-grandmother, Kim Wright, was accused of having beaten Elwyn Jr. in 2016. The claim was made by a former neighbor of the family the following March, by which time Elwyn Jr. hadn’t been seen for four months, according to local authorities.
However, the Division of Family and Children Services neglected to investigate the neighbor’s account. Deputies found Elwyn Jr. and Mary’s remains this past December only after receiving a 911 call regarding Mary Crocker’s whereabouts. She’d last been seen in November.
The parents, Elwyn Sr. and Candice, along with Kim Wright, Tony Wright and one other family member are in custody. They have yet to issue any statements about the situation.
What caused the deaths of Elwyn Jr. and Mary remains undisclosed as the investigation continues. No murder or manslaughter charges have been filed as of yet, and the five Crocker family members are entitled to their due process.
Yet one thing is clear: They failed to protect Elwyn Jr. and Mary. So, too, did authorities and this community at large.
The failure by the Division of Family and Children Services, or DFCS, is particularly unsettling.
The agency’s own records show the Crockers deserved regular scrutiny. DFCS officials and Effingham deputies met the family soon after they moved from South Carolina to Effingham County in March 2012.
A tipster called the sheriff’s office after seeing marks on Elwyn Jr.’s face during a visit to a local retail store. That led to the arrest of Tony Wright and a series of DFCS visits.
Evidently, the meetings satisfied DFCS officials. They closed their investigation in February 2013. And despite the family history, when the call came in about the 2016 beating, the worker who reviewed the complaint declined to investigate, citing the long period between when the instance allegedly happened and when it was reported.
Alarmingly, DFCS’ interim director defends that decision.
“We can’t say simply because something turned out wrong that you’ve done the wrong thing,” Tom Rawlings told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
He might not be willing to say as much, but other Georgians should.
Where child abuse is documented and confirmed, as in Elwyn Jr.’s instance, authorities should conduct regular follow-ups until the child reaches adulthood.
This would allow them to spot the red flags they so clearly missed with the Crockers.
The children were homeschooled and infrequently seen in public. That Elwyn Jr. completely vanished from public view in 2016 and no one realized it until deputies went looking for his sister, Mary, is difficult to comprehend.
Then there’s the neighbor’s report. She made it clear to DFCS that she was an eyewitness to the abuse, not just someone repeating hearsay. Had officials responded then, Mary may be alive today.
DFCS receives 100,000 reports a year, many of them unsubstantiated tips. The volume is both incredible and overwhelming. When a call comes in about a family with a troubling history, though, alarms should ring like the bells of Big Ben.
We as a community should take responsibility, too. The Crocker’s neighbors have expressed remorse and note that Mary Crocker, when they did see her, often had a look of fear on her face. Yet no one reached out to authorities until it was too late.
You know the kids in your neighborhood, those in school with your children, those at church. We must look out for their welfare. An uncomfortable question here and there is sometimes in order.
As the Crocker case demonstrates, the worst questions are the ones we never ask.
The Marietta Daily Journal on Gov. Brian Kemp’s State of the State address:
Gov. Brian Kemp in his State of the State address touched the right bases and gave credit to his predecessors, Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal, for laying a “solid foundation” of “incredible growth and economic opportunity” over the past 16 years.
Kemp cited rising wages for workers and the state’s lowest jobless rate in 18 years, Georgia’s ranking as the top state in the country for business, low taxes and other assets. He concluded: “The State of the State is rock solid.” His challenge will be to build on that record. And he laid out his plan in a speech highlighted by a proposed $3,000 pay hike for Georgia teachers with a goal of raising it to $5,000, plus a 2 percent salary increase for all state employees.
The governor expects to meet the challenge of continuing economic growth in part by going after regulations imposed on businesses. On his first day as governor, he signed an executive order establishing the Georgians First Commission to be composed of 18 members appointed by him. In his order, he emphasized the importance of small businesses, noting that more than 99 percent of Georgia enterprises employ fewer than 50 workers but in aggregate employ roughly 1.6 million people. “To secure Georgia’s designation as the best state in the nation for small businesses,” he said that entrepreneurs must review “existing state regulations, policies and procedures to streamline government, remove inefficiencies and cut red tape.”
He broadened this in a speech, saying, “we will review regulations that make it difficult for job creators to hire, expand and invest.” He expressed confidence in building “a stronger, more diverse economy,” and adding “a new designation to Georgia’s resume: No. 1 for small business.” The outcome could be a good move for businesses small and large after the commission gives its report by June 30, 2020, and assuming the governor and the legislature follow through with necessary changes.
Another good move by the governor was his signing an executive order renewing the code of ethics issued in March 2017 by Gov. Deal covering executive branch officers and employees. Under the order, state employees cannot make any financial gain or benefit from work outside their government salaries. The ethics code prohibits conflicts of interest, bans nepotism and gifts from lobbyists and state vendors, and requires expenditure reports for government employees to be submitted to an ethics officer within 30 days. Employees are barred from communicating on official government matters with any lobbyist who was an officer within the preceding one-year period.
Kemp in his closing remarks spoke of his family — his wife, Marty, and daughters Jarrett, Lucy and Amy Porter, all present for his speech. Then came a poignant moment when he directed attention to his wife, sitting in the seat occupied by her late father, Rep. Bob Argo, who was a member of the House from 1977 to 1986.
“Mr. Bob was a good ole Southern Democrat who never met a stranger,” Kemp said. “He loved the University of Georgia and worked across the aisle to deliver for his district. Rep. Argo raised Marty to be a fighter and a public servant. When I was a frustrated business guy who wanted to make a difference, he encouraged me to run for office. He stood with our family through thick and thin. His legacy inspires us daily. Representative Argo was a wise man and knew that building is faster when there’s more people involved — that we have more that unites us than divides us.” No doubt, Kemp wanted that to resonate with Democrats unhappy about his election.
“So join us,” he urged the assembled lawmakers, “and let’s put hardworking Georgians first. Pick up a hammer and nails. Together, we can build a safer, stronger Georgia.”
The Savannah Morning News on Senator Isakson and border security funding conflicts:
Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) would rather “pick up solutions” than “pick fights” when it comes to the ongoing border security funding skirmish.
Here’s hoping our leaders allow Isakson to play that role in the days leading up to the next shutdown deadline, Feb. 15.
This situation requires someone to put country before party — with blowback from the partisan bases be damned. With the brats in the sandbox, specifically the president and party leaders in the House and Senate, entrenched in their positions, others must step forward.
Yet Isakson is not among the 17-member bipartisan panel tasked with working on a compromise. The conference committee includes one Georgian, but it is Rep. Tom Graves, a Republican representing the state’s northwest corner. Graves is a vocal border wall advocate.
Isakson’s qualifications, meanwhile, are beyond reproach. He possesses both the Capitol Hill credibility and the public gravitas. And he’s been involved in past immigration reform pushes, most notably a bipartisan 2007 effort that included a border wall and legal status for undocumented immigrants.
Plus, Isakson’s already alienated the GOP base. He has publicly denounced the use of immigration as a weapon on the campaign trail. And he was one of five Republicans who voted for a Democrat-proposed bill to end the shutdown last week.
He has nothing left to lose with the far-right crowd, particularly those loyal to President Donald Trump. He also has four years left on his current term, and the political landscape is sure to evolve between now and the 2022 primaries.
Perhaps most importantly, he has a few of those aforementioned “solutions,” including some meant to curb the fight picking.
Isakson recently proposed an alternative funding mechanism for border security: the levying of an entry fee on those entering the United States over the southern border.
Mexico, or at least Mexicans, really would be paying for the wall then, just as Trump recklessly promised on the 2016 campaign trail. American travelers and importers would be bearing the brunt of that cost, of course, but the premise is sound.
“Airports, highways, everywhere you cross a border, we charge fees for all kinds of things,” Isakson said in a Senate floor address last week. “We do this all over the place, let’s do it here.”
Another Isakson-backed proposal is the End Government Shutdowns Act, sponsored by Isakson and eight other Republicans earlier this month.
The bill eliminates the potential for a funding delay. Rather than shut down the government, the absence of approved spending would result in continued funding at the current levels.
The legislation includes incentives for Congress to pass new spending bills, creating a sense of urgency that might otherwise be lost.
These proposals demonstrate Isakson’s commitment to addressing issues and eschewing the partisan brinksmanship. To avoid a shutdown renewal, or President Trump declaring a national emergency to get his wall funding, these ideas and more must be explored.
Isakson needs a partner across the aisle for efforts to succeed.
Democrats seemed content to allow public opinion grind away the Republicans’ resolve on border security funding. They ultimately got what they asked for — a reopening of the government in exchange for a reopening of negotiations on immigration reform.
The Democratic leadership, namely House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), retain the upper hand. They know that come Feb. 15 the public will once again blame Trump for a shutdown.
Should the president take the national emergency route instead, the courts will step in and block the move, at least temporarily. And the public outcry will build to deafening levels.
Understanding that, the Democrats need to identify their arbitrator. Like Isakson, he or she must command respect in the halls of Congress and have the influence to rise above partisanship.
Montana Sen. Jon Tester (D), recently re-elected, is a potential pointman and is part of the conference committee.
The who is less important than the when at this point. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, an Isakson confidant, has the power to ensure Isakson has the opportunity to influence the negotiations. Someone on the Democratic side must then step forward to join Isakson, and the leadership of both parties must stand behind compromise proposals from there.
Let’s find a solution before another fight gets picked.