A queasy feeling about truth in PTC

John Munford's picture

In the journalism business when you run across a Truth Teller, you value them. You respect them. You trust them. Particularly when they prove to be right over and over again.

Truth Tellers are willing to share everything of public record with you, warts and all, even if it might make themselves or their agency look the slightest bit bad. They tend to have a thick skin and understand that at the end of the day, all public good is served by being OPEN and most of all, telling the TRUTH. Both openness and truth in government lead to credibility.

Openness, truth and accountability aren’t as important to the Liars. They are willing to fib, cheat, lie by omission and lie to your face. Unlike the Truth Tellers, Liars are often thin-skinned and easy to rub the wrong way.

I will refrain from calling anyone a Liar in this column. I will admit, however, to feeling a bit queasy about some facts over the past few months that have led me to a few uneasy conclusions.

Let’s take the issue of inflated crime statistics in Peachtree City. More accurately, we will address the drastic increase in “calls answered” by the police department which I inquired about several months ago.

These “calls answered” are tallied along with other crime data presented to the City Council, typically prior to the first meeting of each month. The data is published as part of the “council agenda packet” that the city posts online the Friday afternoon prior to a Thursday meeting (this is commendable, by the way, and Fayette County government handles their info in a similar fashion).

I do not recall the numbers but the spike was so significant that my reporter’s Spidey Sense knew something was up. So I called Capt. Rosanna Dove of the Peachtree City Police Department, whom over the years I have come to know as a Truth Teller. She’s the one who has to “deal” with us media types, and by deal I mean answer our calls and emails, respond to open records requests, etc.

Sure enough, something was up with that dramatic rise in the number of “calls answered” though it seemed innocuous at the time. Capt. Dove informed me that the police department had CHANGED the way it kept score for its total of “calls answered.” They started counting business checks and other similar mundane tasks as a “call answered” even though no call for assistance was placed by a human being.

I could understand why that change would be made. The goal, presumably, was to more accurately reflect what cops do day in and day out, so I didn’t think it was a big deal.

It became somewhat of a big deal in a matter of days or weeks when the topic of that increase in calls came up in a meeting of the Peachtree City Council. As I recall, Councilman Eric Imker asked about this sudden increase in “calls answered.”

The reply to Imker FAILED to mention the fact that business checks and other cop tasks were being added to the books as “calls answered” even though they were not sparked from a request for assistance from a business owner or citizen.

I vividly recall that Councilman Imker praised the police department for answering a ton more calls “from citizens” and he thanked Chief H.C. “Skip” Clark and the department for “doing more with less” and handling the steep rise in calls without additional personnel, or something very similar to that effect.

There was never a correction to explain that some or most of the increase in “calls answered” was due to the significant change in the way those figures are tallied.

Imker’s assumption was that the police department was answering WAY more calls for help from citizens. I noted this in the back of my head and, quite honestly, should have figured out a way to report that as a news story.

At best, this is an error in omission. At worst, it’s aLie by omission. I am unable to judge which. Either way, the public, and a sitting city councilman, were led to believe there was a lot more to the numbers than there actually was.

I guess that looking back on this particular event, along with the next one I’m about to tell you ... well let’s just say I finally put it all together early Saturday morning in a divine intervention moment much akin to Joliet Jake and Elwood “seeing the light” in The Blues Brothers. James Brown, however, was nowhere to be found when I had my epiphany.

On to our final story. You may recall a while back The Citizen published a news item about a golf cart driver who pointed a gun at another golf cart driven by a mother who was squiring her 9- and 10-year-old kids on the cart path near the pedestrian bridge that crosses over Ga. Highway 74.

Our police scanner first alerted me to the incident. It happened late on a late Tuesday afternoon in May, after our paper went to press, and I heard officers respond to the area and look for the offenders.

This time, I successfully tucked the data in my brain and recalled it the following morning, calling Capt. Dove for the lowdown. If memory serves I got a story on our website shortly after our conversation.

It also turned out that soon after my call to Capt. Dove, the department released a “media release” that was emailed to newspapers, tv stations, etc. in the metro Atlanta area.

Some time after those events transpired, I was informally chatting with Chief Clark following a meeting at City Hall.

The Chief and I were walking down the exterior stairs into the rear parking lot. He was making a point of how open his agency is, and how he instructed Capt. Dove to disseminate the news release on the cart path cap gun incident. He specifically took aim at his predecessor, former Police Chief James Murray, alleging that Murray routinely covered up such cart path altercations.

What is it conventional wisdom says about people who have to tear others down to make themselves look better? I can’t remember.

Compounding the fact is that Clark didn’t know I had called Capt. Dove with my inquiry well in advance of what was an eventual press release by the department.

I’ve been in this business long enough to know that police departments can’t realistically issue press releases, etc., about every major or minor incident that goes down. It’s just curious to me that Chief Clark would seek to improve his department’s stature with the media, specifically myself, by bragging about something that I can tell you almost for certain was very unlikely to happen: the issuing of a news release about a scrape on the golf cart path in which no one was physically hurt.

Why is this column coming now? Well, to be honest I think some residents are quite miffed at the recent upheaval at the police department. They may be right to be suspicious about the change.

Several months ago, there was a move to get rid of three police captains as part of a reorganization. It sputtered when called into question at a city council meeting by two of those captains.

In the meantime, the city that is so supposedly top-heavy on police personnel has created a NEW position of assistant police chief, and the job was handed to a person who has professional connections with City Manager Jim Pennington and at least geographical connections with Chief Clark.

Not two weeks after hiring this assistant police chief comes a renewed recommendation to ditch these three captains that are as yet unnamed. It will result in putting a whopping two more patrol officers on the streets, while the city is seeing significant challenges to safety on the cart path system. It doesn’t mention that the assistant chief’s pay is probably worth another two officers on the streets.

Over my considerable tenure here, I have found the Peachtree City Police Department to be a high-achieving organization. I feel pretty certain that citizens deserve to know when that excellence faces being watered down by outsiders who seek to install their Yes Men at the price of experienced personnel.

Then again, maybe the City Council will hand Chief Clark carte blanche to remake the department in his own image. It really should be up to the citizens as to whether that is a legitimate goal or not.

[John Munford has been reporting for The Citizen since the summer of 2000. His regular beat includes the Peachtree City Council, the Fayette County Commission and public safety, including the Peachtree City Police Department.]

Daddy O
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A Few Questions

Good article John but I need more assurance about the openness, transparency and public information practices of Chief Clark as the head of the police department. I have my own opinion about Chief Clark and his agenda but it has nothing to do with openness and honesty. If he is so open to the public, maybe he will answer some of the following questions:

First: According to the Code of Ordinances the Chief is the keeper of evidence and property in the control of the police department:

Did Chief Clark report in a timely manner or has he ever reported to the public or City Council missing money taken in a seizure by the police department on a suicide case? There was a subsequent GBI investigation which should have been briefed to City Council by Chief Clark? When did this briefing occur and is it documented? How many hundreds of dollars are still missing in this case? Where is the money today and has it been returned to the family? If so, when was it returned? If not, why?

Has Chief Clark reported to the public or City Council the numerous departmental violations regarding improper evidence procedures, evidence/property chain of custody, evidence storage and evidence/property entry? Surely he is aware of these infractions? I would hope this would be of interest to City Council as this is one of the Chief's primary responsibilities.

Second: Budget:

What bonuses has Chief Clark received over the past three years?

Has any of Chief Clark’s Police Budget ever been paid to a personal clothing allowance for him and, if so, why?

Has Chief Clark ever ordered staff to change budget recommendation memos, specifically for vehicle purchases, in an attempt to withhold information from the public or City Council Meetings?

Did Chief Clark originally tell his staff that the idea to abolish the Captain’s positions was the City Manager and City Halls’? When the recommendation was originally made was he honest and truthful with his staff or did he attempt to deceive them about the potential loss of their jobs?

Third: State Law

Has Chief Clark ever dismissed or failed to comply with State Law or other ordinances after citing a reason because other agencies are doing it?

Fourth: City and Department Policy Violations

Will ask at a later date.

These are simple and legitimate questions. If Chief Clark is a true leader and is as open and transparent as he portrays himself to be these questions should be easy to answer without spinning the issues.

ptctrader2010
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Thank you for your "Truthful" reporting

Very Good John.... Despite the mindless comments of the morons who "armchair" everything in PTC and delight in throwing darts. My opinion... The cards seem to be stacking in a very adept manner: New Chief... New "Assistant" Chief (from the same neck of the woods as the Chief). and now resurrection of the personnel cuts. An attempt to clean out senior people who have two dangerous things: experience and a proven track record.

Yup... I think you nailed it. Two more patrol officers... I am ALL FOR MORE POLICE... But as a former deputy sheriff in a different state... We have very redundant patrol coverage. When as a motorist you can pass two cars within 3-5 minutes of each other on a patrol shift.... I am awed that backup for an officer must be "nano-seconds"... not the 10-15 minutes I had to endure in a county environment.

Let's hope a solution is found that retains some of the brain-trust and enables the Chief, police department, and city to gel into a higher performing/achieving department.

Please keep up your excellent work John.

ptctrader2010
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Thank you for your "Truthful" reporting

Very Good John.... Despite the mindless comments of the morons who "armchair" everything in PTC and delight in throwing darts. My opinion... The cards seem to be stacking in a very adept manner: New Chief... New "Assistant" Chief (from the same neck of the woods as the Chief). and now resurrection of the personnel cuts. An attempt to clean out senior people who have two dangerous things: experience and a proven track record.

Yup... I think you nailed it. Two more patrol officers... I am ALL FOR MORE POLICE... But as a former deputy sheriff in a different state... We have very redundant patrol coverage. When as a motorist you can pass two cars within 3-5 minutes of each other on a patrol shift.... I am awed that backup for an officer must be "nano-seconds"... not the 10-15 minutes I had to endure in a county environment.

Let's hope a solution is found that retains some of the brain-trust and enables the Chief, police department, and city to gel into a higher performing/achieving department.

Please keep up your excellent work John.

ptctrader2010
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Thank you for your "Truthful" reporting

Very Good John.... Despite the mindless comments of the morons who "armchair" everything in PTC and delight in throwing darts. My opinion... The cards seem to be stacking in a very adept manner: New Chief... New "Assistant" Chief (from the same neck of the woods as the Chief). and now resurrection of the personnel cuts. An attempt to clean out senior people who have two dangerous things: experience and a proven track record.

Yup... I think you nailed it. Two more patrol officers... I am ALL FOR MORE POLICE... But as a former deputy sheriff in a different state... We have very redundant patrol coverage. When as a motorist you can pass two cars within 3-5 minutes of each other on a patrol shift.... I am awed that backup for an officer must be "nano-seconds"... not the 10-15 minutes I had to endure in a county environment.

Let's hope a solution is found that retains some of the brain-trust and enables the Chief, police department, and city to gel into a higher performing/achieving department.

Please keep up your excellent work John.

ginga1414
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John Munford and Waking Up PTC & Others

John Munford has done a great job of opening eyes as to what really goes on in government positions. It doesn't matter whether it is local, state, or federal government, the potential for abusing the system is there.

In more idealistic times, Ray Stevens once said, "There is none so blind as he who will not see."

Since our government is supposed to be "of the people, by the people, and for the people," the people had better wake up and get involved in their own business.

Husband and Fat...
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We want the schools to make cuts from the top but not the po po?

One of the reasons my family and I chose to live in PTC is the low crime rate. Since moving here, we do feel safe. My only experience with the law is a speeding ticket on a highway in another state 10 years ago and a visit from the police when one of toddlers was playing with the phone and accidently dialed 911. I think the police in PTC do an excellent job in protecting us.

I find it quite ironic that we ask the school board to make cuts from the top down, but not the police?

I just spent a few minutes researching various forms of police reporting. It seems like there are various methods of reporting (Uniform Crime Reports, National Crime Reporting Standards, ect..) Which ones we choose to use in PTC can be seen on our PTC website. I will review in detail when I have more time.

I am smart enough to relize that in good times, people like to see a report with a lower incident rate. This would incinuate to the average reader that things are going well and crime is down.

In bad economic times, reporting will sway toward the negative. Crime most likely increases and police management will be looking to keep budgets at status quo.

Anyone who takes these reports, political polls, ect.. as fact is just not interested in finding the happy medium between the two.

Our present Chief is using the tools to justify his budget so that he does not incur cuts. However he sees the writing on the wall, just like any other police chief in similar jurisdictions. He has to make cuts and he feels that a restructuring from the top down is the way to go.

Not sure if this is right or wrong, but I don't expect the chief to come to my place of business and tell me how to do my job.

Yes, I feel sorry for the good officers possibly losing their jobs due to the economy, but I do see that additional officers of lower rank will be added.

Mr. Mumford, I know you truly like these men and women who have assisted you in your reporting over the years. Anyone who works so closely with people would hate to see them lose their jobs, but times are tough on all of us and I see no fault in someone making changes from the top and hiring someone they feel is well suited for the job and someone who they have a long standing relationship with. Like my daddy once taught me. "When you are boss, hire people that are smarter than you"

do what you can
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so much for unbiased reporting

This article is a mockery to journalism. Mr. Munford, have you confirmed with Fayette County 911 what Capt Dove reported to you about the crime stats and how they are tracked? If so, what was the answer and where is that information in this news article? FC911 has been moving to a new CAD system and more than likely has had to change how records are kept...just a thought on that one. I could be wrong, just something to look into... You have been in Capt Dove's back pocket for quite a while (that is quite obvious) since she would more than likely feed you inside information that was more than likely never approved for dissemination, so you will take sides here....clearly biased and of your own opinion-not so much factual information. Any comments made about the former chief by anyone is a part of FREE SPEECH, and as part of FREE SPEECH, people can say what they'd like about how a former chief ran a department. Sorry you may not like it, but free speech IS free speech...it's not one sided. Check your records again about the NEW assistant chief position...it's the major of police position, retitled, at the same pay grade. No new position, just a new title. As a journalist, I'd think you would add that bit of factual information. I'd also like to see your clear evidence of association between the current chief of police, the assistant chief and the city manager. You are leaving just enough information out to let everyone jump to the conclusions you obviously want them to jump to. Fair and unbiased? NO. I'm extremely disappointed at this piece of journalism, if it can be called that.

NUK_1
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dowhatyoucan: It's an opinion piece, duh

This is an opinion column and I don't know how you could confuse that with a normal reporting of a story.

In case you missed the earlier reporting on the connections between the city mgr, Skippy and new assistant chief, it was already reported here:
http://208.76.81.177/articles/09-05-2012/ptc%E2%80%99s-new-2-cop-comes-f...

That's hardly "leaving out factual information" and it's not Munford's fault you don't pay attention. Just because you are ignorant of the facts doesn't mean the rest of the readers are also.

do what you can
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duh

so, I guess that because you and I live in the same city, state, etc we are obviously connected and know eachother? Thats what the "connection" implies in the article you linked to. The duh moment would be looking at the fact that people may work in the same city, or even the same city "business" and therefore assume those people are the bestest of friends. In many cases, especially in large businesses, people may be dubbed "coworkers" but have no connection with eachother in the work place...they never cross paths. That was the point I was making. I read, I re-read, I check my facts and re-read again to make sure I'm not just taking what I read for "fact" as such and then spout the same as gospel. Just saying. Not gonna argue with you, it's pointless and a waste of time to go back and forth.... just wanted to clarify your duh moment. Oh, and I was clear from the beginning of reading the piece that it was written as an opinion....I just expected more from a "journalist"....this was like reading something from a tabloid.

mudcat
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Good report, John. You do understand PTC

I have known you a long time and have seriously admired your reporting - mostly. But this is a classic. Police Departments are usually fraught with politics as this one is and we are going to see some upheaval coming. First, Capt. Dove is toast even though she was one of the best things that ever happened to PTC since Ben Thomas. Gotta happen for the Chief. and his new assistant. Clayman is going to be replaced by Pye (since Pye is no threat to the Asst. Chief - as the Asst. Chief has already determined) - sure thing - Clayman out, Pye in. Ernst retiring, yes and you deserve retirement after many years of faithful service. You, Terry are one of the best. God bless you and thank you for your service.

Chief, taking shots at Murray is not professional. Ask the guy at city hall who decided that it was a good idea to call his predecessor (Logsdon) a drunk or part-drunk. The chickens can come home to roost, Skippy.

And seriously Chief Clark, do whatever you need to do. Just be sure you are not under the spell of that evil troll in the mayor's office. Outlast him and you will begin to enjoy Peachtree City. Mitt Romney or someone like him will be the next mayor of Peachtree City.

PTC Observer
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So, Mr. Munford

are you saying that we may have a budding politician in the Police Chief?

If all this is true, given recent history, he could qualify for Mayor.

Mike King
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Mr Munford

Well said! With all the bickering and what not among the elected on Council is it any wonder that a council member can be duped so easily? Such a shame.

I tend to believe a really good house cleaning is in order after our next mayoral election.

mudcat
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Is it just the mayor on his way out next year

or are any of the city council seats coming up?

Mike King
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mudcat

Both the ladies' terms expire and I would like to see one vie for the Mayor's seat. Should they decide they've had enough (who can blame them?), then I guess it's you, Robert W Morgan, Spyglass, or I.

Do you think we could count on support from pumpkin?

mudcat
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Interesting. I think Kim would be the logical frontrunner

for mayor - some experience on council, well-educated professional, never stole money from the city, hasn't been sued by any of the former mayors - what's not to like? Of course George or Eric could run as well, but they would have to resign to do it and I don't see that. You or Larry could run as well - for mayor or for Kim's vacant seat. Please consider that. Second term for Vanessa is fine with me. I think a council without Haddix and with any of those people named above would function very well. Imker is a bit abrasive, but I suspect a lot of that is because Haddix is a burr under his saddle.

Pumpkin is under a lot of stress and I don't think she will stay sane until next election. Rehab or psyc evaluation and incarceration for her own good is the most likely outcome. Probably best to proceed without her support.

Larry Sussberg
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Mudcat

Not me!

Not interested, not credible, not smart enough!
There are many bloggers here who will agree too (lol) plus I'm a Democrat, a Blue Dog Democrat but still a Democrat! Not a popular position around here.

As a local business owner who loves PTC, I'll support the right person who shows leadership and ability to build a strong team (yes, consensus) plus someone more interested in doing the right job than playing politics!

mudcat
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You are what? A Democrat? Whatever for?

A small business owner in a very Republican county and one who seems to be both sensible and logical. Say it isn't so. How did that happen?

You may not be interested, but you are certainly smart enough. Credible? We'll see after you explain how you became a Democrat - bad blood transfusion or something like that?

Larry Sussberg
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Mudcat

I believe in smaller government and a balanced budget.

I was proud to be a Regan republican under the "big tent" and prior to that a Rockefeller republican while growing up in NY.

And, I use to be a fan of the REAL Mitt Romney when he was a socially liberal, fiscally conservative governor of MA just like Nelson Rockefeller was!

Let's leave social issues for the home and where we worship and accept all people are created equal with equal rights.

Just IMHO

Robert W. Morgan
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Larry - no social engineering or morality tests

Yep, I'm with ya brother. I feel the same way but am more comfortable with the Republicans where our right wing whackos are not quite as crazy as the left's whackos. By the way, I include 99-week unemployment benefits, no real work requirement, out of control food stamps, section 8 housing, etc. under the umbrella of social engineering and therefore something government has no business doing. And equal rights lead me to believe a right to work state is more fair for more people than a buttoned up union stronghold.

But aside from all that, I can ignore our bible-thumping, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage control freaks and vote for Republican legislators and of course vote against Obama. And that's what I'm doing - voting against Obama (as Clint said - firing him). That's different that actually voting for Romney.

GeorgeDienhart
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Larry

There is still a big tent, and there is always room for someone that believes in smaller government and a balanced budget. The Fayette GOP has a large Libertarian contingent that shares many beliefs with you.

Larry Sussberg
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George Dienhart

Maybe when someone like Scott Brown from MA is ready to run for Prez.
And still waiting for Mitt to layout his plan to reduce the deficit and create 12 million jobs in 4 yrs.
Time for honesty which neither candidate offers...sort of like here! Lol

MYTMITE
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Yep, it sure is a shame that there is so much dishonesty

displayed. Even worse is when someone forgets the dishonesty and grows a halo and wings.

Larry Sussberg
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MYTMITE

As I said when you tried stirring it up before, I would not mince words with you.

Sorry, I can not be as perfect.

Please try MadMike, Mudcat, RWM,or someone else.

MYTMITE
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Excuse me, just to what are you referring? I was making a

generalizaton. You sure must have a thin skin.

Larry Sussberg
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Life is too short

Life is just too short.

L'shana Tova....I wish you a healthy and happy new year. Next Tuesday eve is Kol Nidrei, which is the eve of Yom Kippur, our day of atonement. As always I will ask for forgiveness, I wear a yarmulke and tallith to pay respect to God and ask for forgiveness for my sins, no halo.

All the best to you....remember to eat some sliced apple dipped in honey for a sweet and healthy new year and to be written in the book of life for another year.

mudcat
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I was not going to ask if you were Jewish just from your name

That would be unseemly and I am not that.
But, since we got that of the way and know you might be Jewish, please answer me this, please.

Why do Jewish voters vote for the Dems like every single year? Huh?
Do they not see what this President has done to undermine Israel?
How about firing him for a job not so well done Like Dirty Harry said. How about that?

And yes indeed, life is way too short. Why not make the best of it right now. Apple, honey, ok with me. Romney ok with me. Compared to PresBO, Gingrich or McCain would be fine with me. Let us just get the country moving again. Once in the last 4 years is not too much to ask.

Larry Sussberg
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Mudcat

I can not answer that question but I have some theories why....

At one time we were immigrants too, whether it was the 1600s, 1700s and early 1800s as Sephardic Jews leaving the persecution in Spain, arriving in Savannah, Charleston, Rhode Island and New York followed by the Ashkenazi Jews leaving Germany, Imperial Russia and other northern European countries. Why? there are a many reasons too long to go into here. This migration continued through WW1, WW2 and more recently from the Soviet Union thanks to Mr. Regan's intense pressure on Mr Gorbachev 250,000 Soviet Jews who could not practice their faith by law left and came to the US or Israel. Ronald Regan had a profound impact.

Back to history...As my grandparents told me, things were not easy in the early 20th century. There were Jewish quotas on a wide range of careers including commerical banking and medical schools, as an example. Unwelcomed and limited, not as bad as Europe but the boundaries were there.

Of course all of that has changed now. However, the feeling at the time was that the Democratic Party, especialy in the Northeast was more accepting of new immigrants AND placed greater emphasis on issues that have always been important such as education, helping the poor get ahead, even collective bargaining which was a result of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on the corner of Greene and Washington Place in NY. My grandparents actually started working in factories like that.

My family and others in our community always voted Democrat for that reason but then Mr. Regan came along with his big tent and his actions to free Soviet Jews...

As for Israel, you are 100% correct.

On a side note, what many people don't know is that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Romney have been close personal friends since 1976 when they started working at Boston Consulting together which pre-dates either entering politics and now they are both conservatives.

Sorry for the long history lesson, and my long winded opinions.

Don't believe everything you read. I suspect (and it's only my opinion) that the vote will be split. Again, only IMHO.

PTC Observer
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L'shana Tova - Mr. Sussberg

Sussberg שנה טובה לך ולמשפחתך מר

AtHomeGym
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Sussberg & candidates

What a pity we can't reincarnate Sam Nunn and David Boren!

MYTMITE
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Gym, can't remember Doren but Sam Nunn was really a standout

wasn't he? Wish we could get more people like that to run and hold office--would make life much nicer.