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Albany, Dougherty governments look to improve public participation in meetings

ALBANY — After more than four months of meeting virtually, local governments are still trying to adapt to the reality of the coronavirus while keeping the public involved in the process.

The shortcomings of online meetings were underscored this week when a crash interrupted live streaming of the Monday Dougherty County Commission meeting for about six minutes. And on Tuesday, several residents who signed up to make comments to the Albany City Commission did not have the opportunity to speak during the meeting.

Since mid-March, both entities, with the exception of one occasion, have conducted business through virtual meetings. The public can tune in to meetings via the city and county Facebook pages.

The glitches in the system related to providing opportunities for public comments were evident before Tuesday, but with a controversial topic on the table it brought the issue to the forefront.

Among those who did not get the opportunity to speak on Tuesday was James Pratt Jr., an Albany State University professor who had made plans to speak on the city’s sagging pants ordinance.

Several other speakers also were unable to comment.

“I signed up ahead of time, 24 hours before,” Pratt said. “I got two conformation emails. We had the password and called in, and we were never called on.”

The effort to overturn the sagging pants ordinance failed on a 6-1 vote, so it is unlikely the speakers’ comments would have affected the outcome — at least in this case.

On Tuesday, it seemed the issue was a matter of communication in alerting Mayor Bo Dorough that there were people on the line waiting to give their input, said Commissioner Demetrius Young, who sponsored the motion to overturn the sagging pants ordinance.

“Really, I guess what’s happening, it kind of fell along a procedural issue and the ball got dropped,” Young said. “The message didn’t get to the mayor that there were people signed up to speak.”

Prior to the novel coronavirus forcing the change from live to virtual meetings, individuals were allowed to sign up at the start of the meeting in order to speak on some issues.

The county provides an open comment period at the beginning of its meetings, during which members of the public can discuss any issue.

City staff members are working to give the public more opportunities to offer their opinions, said Young, who advocated for providing access to commission meetings online early in the year after he took office in January.

The city began streaming meetings on Facebook prior to the emergence of the coronavirus.

“I think that’s also valuable, particularly ahead of a vote,” Young said. “We’re just trying to get this process fixed.”

City Commissioner Jon Howard said he is confident the city’s information technology personnel will make improvements. There are several hot-button issues coming up in August, including proposed changes to the city’s dangerous dog ordinance, on which a number of residents want to weigh in.

“I was inundated by so many calls,” Howard said of the dog ordinance. “I’m pretty sure there will probably be a lot of people who want to talk about this on the 4th (of August).”

Since the spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths that hit in March the County Commission held the sole live meeting on July 6. Most of the seats were taped off, limiting the number of people who could attend in order to keep a safe distance between participants.

The county announced the return to virtual meetings the next day, as the community had experienced a resurgence in coronavirus cases. County Administrator Michael McCoy also canceled the second phase of the government’s re-opening plan on July 6 due to the surge in new cases.

Some seven speakers addressed commissioners during the live meeting that week, significantly more than have spoken during any of the virtual meetings.

Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas said he would like to return to live meetings, but acknowledged that is not possible under the current conditions.

With public safety concerns prohibiting live meetings, the IT staff are doing a great job in an environment where everyone is adapting to the situation, Cohilas said.

“It’s absolutely not optimal,” he said. “I don’t know the answer.

“We’ve got to continue to keep people safe. We have commissioners who are in high-risk groups. We’re doing the best we can, and staff is doing the best it can.”

World War II: The last conclusive victory

SAVANNAH — Just 75 years ago, in 1945, a series of momentous events were bringing the worst cataclysm in human history — World War II — to an end. The war officially began on Sept. 1, 1939, when Germany brutally invaded Poland. However, their allies, the Japanese and Italians, had already been fighting for several years to expand their territorial empires in China and Africa.

The war expanded to encompass all the continents and oceans of the world with the exception of Antarctica. No one will ever know for sure, but the best guesses are some 40 million to 50 million people perished worldwide. The German invasion of Russia spawned the single highest death toll with estimates running from 15 million to 20 million killed.

When America entered the war after the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt decided that the American strategy would be that the war would only end one way — by the “unconditional surrender” of our enemies.

Our more war-ravaged allies, the British and Russians, might have considered less harsh terms such as an “armistice” like the one that ended World War I, or even some type of negotiated ceasefire. Such an ending was unacceptable to Roosevelt. This was the second time in just over 20 years that American boys had to be sent to Europe to deal with German aggression. Roosevelt had determined that this problem would be conclusively eliminated and not left to fester again.

The German Army began to collapse during the winter of 1945 after their decisive defeat by the Americans at the Battle of the Bulge, the final desperate gamble by the Germans to change the fortunes of the war.

Their army reduced to shambles, the Germans were unable to effectively defend their homeland against powerful Allied armies attacking from both the East and West. After the suicide of Adolf Hitler, and the reality that its industry, transportation systems, and cities were bombed into rubble and ruins, Germany finally surrendered “unconditionally” on May 8, 1945.

The attention now turned to the other side of the world and the matter of bringing Japan to its knees. In 1942 the Japanese Pacific expansion had been contained just short of Australia. The years 1943 and 1944 saw Japanese gains methodically and painfully rolled back across the Pacific, China and Asia. Finally, 1945 would see the last two climactic Pacific battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. These islands would provide air bases and supply facilities from which to launch the ultimate foreboding assault against Japan. But ominously, as the fighting approached the Japanese homeland, it would only get bloodier.

On Feb. 19, 1945, U.S. Marines stormed the dark volcanic ash beaches of Iwo Jima. The sand was so fine it would sink back in when Marines tried to dig a “foxhole” for shelter against Japanese fire. This tiny speck of an Island, barely over 7 square miles in size, had been transformed by the Japanese into the most ingenious fortress the world had ever seen. An incredible system of tunnels and underground fortifications ensured that the Americans would pay a terrible price for every foot of Iwo during the five weeks of relentless fighting required to secure it.

And pay they did, the casualty list was staggering — almost 7,000 dead and 19,000 wounded. All but 1,000 of the 22,000 Japanese defenders fought to the death. No other battle in WWII saw 27 Americans awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester Nimitz, famously said of the men who fought on Iwo: “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

The last battle of the Pacific war was Okinawa, located only 350 miles south of the Japanese mainland. Okinawa is an island about the size of the state of Connecticut that was defended by some 120,000 Japanese troops. Okinawa also had a native population of close to a half-million people who had nowhere to run when the savagery of modern warfare descended upon their island.

The invasion occurred on April 1, 1945, only a few days after Iwo Jima had been declared secure, and was the largest amphibious assault of the Pacific war. It started as the great “April fools” joke because the invasion was completely unopposed by the Japanese on the beaches. But, after the high casualties just experienced on Iwo, no one was fooled that it would be easy. The Navy had to fight off continuous “kamikaze” suicide air attacks and the Japanese Army did its usual “fight to the death.” It took three months of bloody combat to secure Okinawa.

Once again, the death toll was staggering. More than 14,000 Americans were killed, with more than 50,000 wounded. However, on Okinawa, there was also another less remembered tragedy. The widespread death of civilians was a gruesome preview of what fighting in the Japanese homeland would be like. Facing constant pounding from the air and sea, and caught between two fierce and desperate armies, there were few safe places to hide. Civilian deaths on Okinawa were estimated at close to 100,000.

As American war planners began to consider the grim necessity of invading Japan to end the war, they logically evaluated Iwo Jima and Okinawa as miniature dress rehearsals of the death and destruction that was sure to come. Based upon the carnage of Iwo and Okinawa, military experts began estimating American casualties for an invasion and eventual capitulation of Japan could easily approach 1 million.

The Japanese had already earmarked a few thousand planes for kamikaze duty to attack an approaching American fleet full of troopships loaded with hundreds of thousands of soldiers. There were several million Japanese Army soldiers still in Japan and prepared to defend their homeland to the death. In addition, there were millions more of barely trained civilian militia comprising the young and the old who would probably get thrown into the fight. And, to recall the civilian horrors of Okinawa, who could guess how many millions of Japanese civilians would be put at risk of death and destruction?

Of course, this possible monumental tragedy was prevented by the atomic bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945. Both cities were destroyed with a total loss of life at around 150,000. But the shock from the bombings compelled the Japanese emperor to seize control of the government from the military and accept the American demand of unconditional surrender, which mercifully ended WWII.

As we remember the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs, be prepared for the misguided or uninformed historical revisionists to question the morality of using them. A fair, objective interpretation of all the known facts would persuasively argue that dropping the atomic bombs saved hundreds of thousands of American lives and millions of Japanese lives.

When Germany and Japan unconditionally surrendered in 1945, their citizens could observe their cities, industry and transportation reduced to a state of almost total devastation. An atmosphere of complete and total defeat permeated the countryside. There are several hugely important lessons of history that directly flow from WWII’s conclusive, decisive outcome.

First, the problematic task of “nation building” becomes possible, rather than impossible. The aftermath of WWII saw two long-time authoritarian, militaristic societies, Germany and Japan, transform themselves into peaceful, prosperous democracies. Next, when your country resembles a wasteland, there is not much motivation for an insurgency. Thus, the post-war occupations of both countries were peaceful and productive.

WWII is the last war the United States fought to a conclusive outcome. Ending a war prematurely, with a non-conclusive outcome, leaves your enemy standing intact, with the potential to regenerate, re-arm, and come back to haunt you at a time and a place of their choosing.

A quick review of post-WWII history clearly illustrates the undesirable consequences that arise from a non-conclusive outcome. Consider Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and the two different wars in Iraq, and assess the turmoil, instability, and continuing threats and violence in those countries. Today, U.S. policy still deals with unresolved situations requiring action, expenditures, and even casualties.

The widely recognized military strategist Col. Ralph Peters convincingly expresses Roosevelt’s strategy of victory: “Never discount the value of ferocity and power, because war’s immutable law — proven yet again in Iraq — is that those unwilling to pay the butcher’s bill up front, will pay it with compound interest over time.”

Ex-presidents eulogize John Lewis at Ebenezer Baptist Church

ATLANTA — Three former U.S. presidents said goodbye to civil rights icon John Lewis Thursday, culminating a weeklong series of ceremonies honoring the Atlanta congressman who died July 17 of cancer at age 80.

Lewis’ funeral took place at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood, where Lewis’ mentor, Martin Luther King Jr., once served as pastor.

Former President Obama described Lewis as “perhaps [King’s] finest disciple,” carrying forward King’s message of non-violence after the civil rights leader was slain in 1968.

“He not only embraced that responsibility,” Obama told Lewis’ mourners. “He made it his life’s work.”

During the last week, Lewis’ flag-draped casket traveled to many of the sites where he made his mark as a young civil rights leader and, later, as a congressman for 33 years.

Last Sunday, a day after he was honored with a ceremony in his hometown of Troy, Ala., Lewis made a final trip via a horse-drawn carriage over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. That’s where he suffered a fractured skull when he was beaten by state troopers while leading a voting rights march in 1965 on a day that has come to be remembered as “Bloody Sunday.”

He returned to the bridge many times over the years to commemorate that day, telling the political leaders who accompanied him on those trips that he fully expected to die at the head of that march.

“It’s important to remember that,” former President Clinton said in eulogizing Lewis Thursday. “He was there on a mission that was bigger than personal ambition.”

On his way to become the first Black American to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda earlier this week, Lewis’ procession swung by the Lincoln Memorial, where he was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963, where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Finally, Lewis’ casket lay in state at the Georgia Capitol, where he was honored by Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Wednesday.

At Thursday’s funeral service, Republican former President George W. Bush said while he and Democrat Lewis had many political disagreements over the years, they were without animosity. The two worked together in planning the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2016.

“In the America John Lewis fought for and the America I live in, differences of opinion are evidence of democracy in action,” Bush said. “We live in a better and nobler country today because of John Lewis.”

Former President Carter, a Georgia native, and current President Trump did not attend Thursday’s funeral.

At age 95, Carter is not traveling. However, he sent written condolences that were read during Thursday’s service by the Rev. Raphael Warnock, Ebenezer Baptist’s current pastor.

Trump and Lewis were not on good terms. After questioning Trump’s legitimacy as president in light of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Lewis did not attend Trump’s inauguration in 2017.