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Stop state senate bills that take away your right to know

Jeff Mullis does not like me. He may even loathe me.
Newspaper people are evil in Mullis’ eyes. We all are wolves just waiting for the most opportune moment to raid the chicken coop and then howl into the night against the backdrop of the light of the full moon.
Oh yeah, his unleashing of vengeance isn’t just on me and other journalists. Nope, it involves you, Screven County residents, too. It involves all of us.
Please allow me to explain Mullis’ distain.
Mullis is a Georgia state senator from Chickamauga, a city at the foot of Lookout Mountain just south of Chattanooga, Tenn. The Republican is an economic developer by trade who, judging by his two recently proposed state bills, is looking out for ole No. 1 while his district’s constituents and the remainder of our great state’s citizens are left in the dark.
On the surface, Sen. Mullis’ bills may seem harmless, but in reality his first bill of SB 159 is horrible and his second strong-armed attempt, SB 249, is nothing more than a retaliation against newspapers statewide who dared to cast a spotlight on his ploy to defraud Georgia’s residents.
Sen. Mullis’ SB 159 is a bill that would permit more secrecy when it comes to economic development in Georgia. Hearing the rumblings around the state, Sen. Mullis knew the gig was up – just like a similar bill that met the ax six years ago. So Sen. Mullis scaled back his attack, at least somewhat.
Initially written, the measure would have allowed economic development secrets like tax incentives, rezoning deals, and the potential construction of less-pleasurable businesses completely secret from the public until a deal is signed on the dotted line with a private entity. It would have applied to cities, school boards, and local development authorities.
While I am in full support of economic development, building plants with multiple eco-unfriendly smoke stacks on parcels of land with neighbors not knowing its impending arrival isn’t kosher. Plopping a noisy 24-hour scrap-metal crushing business in what was a tranquil community isn’t going to please the masses.
Then there’s the possibility of enticing a plant to locate in the county through tax incentives that slash the expenditures of the new property, but force residents’ tax rates to skyrocket.
Maybe these things bother you and maybe they don’t. However, under Sen. Mullis’ secrecy bill it wouldn’t make any difference anyway because you won’t know a darn thing about it until you started hearing the last sounds of the cows at a slaughterhouse, the banging of industrial-strength hammers on heavy machinery, or hearing a board member say ever-so-politely, “Your taxes are going up because Bill and Ted’s BBQ & Ukulele Repair Shop won’t be paying any taxes.”
Sen. Mullis uses the words “economic development project” and does not define it. Seriously? That phrasing basically gives every board in the state of Georgia the right to call anything – even which firm will provide porta-potties at next downtown event – as an “economic development project.”
SB 159 certainly hasn’t gone away. The secrecy bill still is lurking in the murky waters preparing to take a chomp out of Georgians’ right to know. However, while Sen. Mullis keeps prodding that awful bit of legislation along, he also tries to slip in another bill – SB 249 – that would yank legal notices out of community newspapers and allow a statewide agency to handle all of them via a web site.
Friends, that would be an agency that your tax dollars would fund.
Your weekly Sylvania Telephone newspaper publishes legal notices each Thursday for you, if so choose, to read. You don’t need a computer with Internet capability to access them. For 132 years, the Telephone has published legal notices. Readers, like yourself, know you can find legal information in the Telephone and citizens around the state know they can find the same type of knowledge within the pages of their own community paper.
Living in a less-populated county, we all have grown accustomed to caressing the paper pages of the Telephone, but if you wanted to read Screven County’s legals and all the legals from every paper in the state, such a web site already exists.
Sen. Mullis, I only hope you are reading this.
Anyone with access to the Internet, can visit the Georgia Press Association web site at www.gapress.org. Just scroll down the left-hand side to “Public Notices” and click. You can search by county, keyword or category. As it says on the site, “It’s free. It’s fast. It’s easy.”
And it covers all 159 of Georgia’s counties.
There is absolutely no reason to pay an agency to redo a web site already in place.
Folks, there really isn’t a be-all and end-all Wizard of Oz at the end of the yellow brick road. Nope, it’s just Sen. Mullis behind a curtain creating a booming voice, firing off smoke screens, dictating his next initiative to undermine the intelligence of the people of Georgia.
Sen. Mullis thinks being totally all mush-mush secretive is good for the Peach State. I can assure you that isn’t peachy at all.
Then when people notice his slight-of-hand proposal isn’t all he said it is cracked up to be, he goes after your community newspapers to try to put legals on a tax-dollar-paid agency’s web site for no reason except out of spite. Sen. Mullis’ SB 249 would even take the legals out of his hometown newspaper in Walker County – which, yes, is posted on the GPA web site. That really doesn’t speak very highly of an elected official who openly wants to hide information from the people who have put him in office for five terms.
Screven Countians, please help in this fight to keep your stream of knowledge open. Contact your State Senator Jesse Stone and the governor’s office to let them know that the secrecy bill SB 159 and the legals removal bill SB 249 are not in the best interest of Georgia.
Let’s expose Sen. Mullis for what he really is – just a man behind a curtain trying to convince people he is all powerful. Citizens of Georgia, you are the ones with all the power.
Put your democracy to work.

Enoch Autry is the publisher-editor of the Sylvania Telephone.