Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for December 11, 2012

This mama dog came into the Murray County Shelter this week and gave birth to ten puppies. If a foster or rescue is not located by 2 AM Friday morning, they will all be euthanized together. The puppies are too young to be separated from their mother, so a foster home is needed for all of them. Transportation can be arranged, and help from rescue organizations may be available, but the most urgent shortage right now is for foster homes.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Brandon Beach was the first candidate to qualify in the election for Senate District 21, the seat formerly held by Chip Rogers. Beach issued a press release saying he has raised $30,000 so far and that he has gained the support of Senator Jack Hill (R-Reidsville), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), chair of Transportation.

In House District 21, Scot Turner spent the weekend campaigning door-to-door with a number of supporters before qualifying yesterday.

Political consultant Brian Laurens also qualified for State House District 21. Here’s a story about his earlier announcement to run for the seat: the best part is the comments. Take a minute to read them if you want to know why so many people oppose Laurens.

Attorney Natalie Bergeron, a Democrat, qualified for the state house election.

Finally, Bill Fincher qualified.

Fincher, of Holly Springs, is an assistant district attorney for the Appalachian Judicial Circuit who has previously worked in private practice and law enforcement. He listed employment, education and public safety as the three most important issues for Cherokee County.

“I’m a conservative Republican, and I’d like to continue a lifetime of service,” Fincher said.

Early voting in SD 21 and HD 21 begins December 17th. For Cherokee County voters:

Voting will get underway from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 17-21 at the Stone Elections Building in downtown Canton.

Early voting will continue Dec. 27-28, on Dec. 31 and Jan. 2-4, 2013, during those same hours. No early voting on Saturdays will be scheduled.

The office will be closed Dec. 24-26 and on Jan. 1 for the holidays.

The deadline to register to vote in the election is at the close of business on Friday.

For Fulton County voters, I called the Elections Board this morning and they couldn’t tell me the dates and times of early voting. I’ll let you know as soon as I can find out and good luck with that.

If Fulton County voters are worried about the impact of widespread incompetence confusion within the Elections Departmant, at least the employees of the Elections Office don’t have to worry about the consequences of their failures. Fulton County Commissioner Emma Darnell told employees not to worry about the Secretary of State’s investigation.

Fulton Commission Vice Chair Emma Darnell told the county’s elections managers Wednesday not to worry about criticisms from Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office because Georgia has “one of the toughest voter suppression laws in the United States.” Referring to the voter ID law, Darnell said she’s glad Fulton isn’t involved in voter suppression.

The state received more than 100 complaints about Fulton’s polling last month. The State Election Board, which Kemp chairs, will hold a special meeting Jan. 31 to zero in on the county’s myriad problems. “I would suggest that rather than making outlandish public statements,” Kemp said in a written statement, “elected officials dedicate their energies to making sure that all Fulton citizens are able to enjoy safe and secure elections.”

Isn’t administering elections so poorly as to draw 100 complaints in a single election a form of voter suppression, Commissioner Darnell?

In Senate District 11, in the lower left-hand corner of the state, Mike Keown and Brad Hughes both qualified yesterday.

Keown is the former mayor of Coolidge and served in the Georgia House from 2005 to 2010 before resigning to run against Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr., D-Albany, in the 2010 U.S. House Georgia District 2 race. That contest was the closest any Republican had ever come to unseating the 20-year congressional veteran.

“John is a good friend and to be running for the seat that was held by him is an honor. My priority will be to maintain the commitment he had to serve the people of South Georgia and to always do what was right,” Keown said in a statement. “The six years I spent in the Georgia House have provided me with the knowledge and relationships to continue the tradition of effective representation from day one.”

Hughes also had a run against Bishop in 2006. He most recently served on the staff of Georgia Secretary of state Brian Kemp.

Dean Burke, a Bainbridge physician, was expected to also qualify. Burke, and obstetrician and gynecologist, is currently serving his second term as a member of the Bainbridge City Council, and has maintained a medical practice in the city since 1985.

Brookhaven now has a full City Council and Mayor’s office, as the runoff election winners were sworn in last night. And now they’re sitting down to business:

Brookhaven City Council took its first vote Monday night, agreeing on an acting city attorney and city clerk and negotiating leases on temporary city offices.

But it is the question of the budget that looms over the future of Georgia’s newest city: namely, whether early estimates of a narrow financial cushion will hold. The Vinson Institute projected DeKalb County’s newest city will spend $25.1 million in its first year, on revenue of $25.2 million.

“We are not going to use the entire budget in the first year,” Mayor J. Max Davis said. “And we can delay rolling out any service if there is a concern about balancing our budget.”

The council:

• Approved leasing a temporary city hall in Building 200 of Ashford Center North, an office complex on Ashford Dunwoody Road near Mount Vernon Road in Dunwoody. A one-year lease for 12,636 square feet will cost the city $246,402 and includes the space, fully furnished, and utilities.

• Approved leasing temporary city court space at 2 Corporate Square Boulevard, an office building on Buford Highway just north of North Druid Hills Road in Brookhaven. The one-year lease will cost $60,800. However, the 3,800-square-foot space needs furnishings and needs to be rewired for court use.

• Named Bill Riley interim city attorney. Riley, who helped guide several other new cities and serves as city attorney for Johns Creek and Sandy Springs, worked for free for the governor’s commission.

• Named Lyn Rosser as interim city clerk, after her successful stint in the same job for the commission.

Brookhaven officially opens for business Monday.

The Stockbridge City Council voted to remove Mayor Lee Stuart from office.

The 4-1 vote to oust Mayor Lee Stuart will be appealed in court, Stuart’s attorney said.

Extra security was in place during the 9 1/2 hour special hearing which culminated in the vote to remove Stuart. The vote came after a nearly two-hour executive session. Stuart was immediately asked to leave the council chambers after the vote, which took place before the council’s regular monthly meeting. That meeting was delayed by nearly two hours.

“I’ve always said this is a continuation of the kangaroo system. This is just a good old boy system,” Stuart said after the decision. “I’ve done nothing wrong. I believe in the judicial system and I’ll be vindicated in the end.” Stuart’s attorney, Joseph Cloud, called the action “unprecedented”, noting he was given little time to prepare for the case and the city refused to pay Stuart’s legal fees but added “we’re not surprised at all by the result.”

Monday’s hearing delved into seven violations uncovered by Balch, an outside investigator hired to investigate more than 20 accusations from residents and city workers against Stuart’s conduct. The allegations ranged from monitoring workers’ emails, to creating a hostile workplace for city workers, to compromising sensitive information about the municipal complex’s security system and sharing personal information about a city officer at a public meeting.

David Studdard, past Chair of the Fayette County Republican Party, was arrested for urinating outside. This kind of story makes headline writers either overjoyed or cringe. The Citizen’s take on it: Cops Grab Lawyer for Whizzing on a Tree. That right there is your headline of the week.

Liberal Mother Jones magazine named Georgia’s legislature the 5th worst in the nation. Coming in ahead of Georgia were North Carolina, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. At least Tennessee won something this year.

The City of Snellville is suing erstwhile ethics watchdog George Anderson, seeking declaratory judgment that the Rome bookseller is a kook for sale failed to allege actual ethical violations in a complaint he filed.

The new Senate leadership held a group hug press conference with a writer for the AP.

Georgia state Senate leaders said Monday they are united and ready to work together on the issues that are important to the state, marking an important contrast from the past two years when an internal Republican struggle made daily operations difficult.

“We have a new leadership team that is united better than we’ve ever been,” said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. “The Senate is focused on returning to the upper chamber and being in a very strong position to deliver on the issues that are important to the people of Georgia, issues like creating jobs and making Georgia the most economically viable state in the nation.”

Cagle was joined for an interview Monday evening by Sen. David Shafer of Duluth and Sen. Ronnie Chance of Tyrone, who have been nominated by Senate Republicans to serve as president pro tempore and majority leader, respectively.

“We’ve forged a new partnership with the lieutenant governor,” Shafer said. “We are united and fully focused on creating jobs and putting Georgians back to work.”

The sentiment was echoed by Chance.

“The big takeaway here is that we are a united front,” Chance said. “The Senate is together. We’re moving forward and we’re ready to go back to work in January.”

“With a good leadership team, like we have now, the truth is that it really doesn’t matter what the rules are,” he said. “You know, when you’re united and focused on the importance of moving our state forward, great things can happen, and I think that’s what the people of Georgia can look forward to.”

Pro-tip: when a politician, especially in a legislative body, tells you that because your relationship is so good, the procedural rules aren’t really important, they’re about to write a set of rules that you won’t like. Keep calm, and read the rules before voting on them.

The body of Glynn County Commissioner Tom Sublett was found early this morning.

Sublett had served on the Glynn County commission since 2008 and was leaving office at the end of this month, having decided not to seek re-election. The St. Simons Island resident was a former chairman of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce.

The Georgia Ports Authority continued to grow and provide jobs across the state, setting several performance records.

The Georgia Ports Authority saw a number of records set in the last fiscal year, including a 20 percent increase of automotive and machinery shipments and 26.5 million tons of goods shuttled through the ports.

One out of every 12 jobs in Georgia exists due to the tonnage and activity traveling through the two deepwater ports, according to a study of the ports’ economic impact by the University of Georgia Selig Center for Economic Growth. That’s more than 350,000 full- and part-time jobs, including 13,500 in Northeast Georgia.

“The ports are still very healthy,” Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz told members of the state General Assembly gathered Monday at UGA for a briefing prior to the Jan. 14 start of the 2013 legislative session. “It’s a battle every day to bring new jobs and businesses to the state of Georgia.

University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby spoke to the legislature in Athens:

Hank Huckaby, who was in the audience as a lawmaker the last time members of the General Assembly met in Athens for issue briefings ahead of their legislative session, told his former colleagues that the system still gets one-tenth of all the money the state collects in taxes even after 30 or so cuts in the system’s budget.

“Are we happy about budget cuts we’ve taken over the last four or five years?” Huckaby asked. “No, we’re not happy about that a bit.”

When the economy improves, he’ll ask legislators for more money. In the meantime, he plans to make do with what’s available.

 

Saltwater intrusion into the freshwater aquifer could become another thing for Georgia and South Carolina to fight over.

A spreading plume of saltwater already has contaminated wells on Hilton Head, prompting South Carolina officials to call for an immediate halt in roughly 80 percent of Savannah’s withdrawals from the Upper Floridan Aquifer that supplies residents and factories in portions of the two states.

“It’s probably not (going to affect) Savannah for another 100 years, but that doesn’t mean Georgia is not willing to take some steps now to manage the plume,” he said.

The governors of each state appointed a committee to work jointly with its counterparts across the border on a shared solution. Their first agreement was that each would conduct a study. South Carolina tracked the horizontal movement of the plume, and Georgia examined the vertical.

The committees haven’t met together in months, but South Carolina officials have relied on their report as the basis for renewed calls for action.

“There’s a lot of saber rattling, if you go back six or seven years, about South Carolina suing us,” Turner said.

Georgia has legitimate reasons for not immediately restricting withdrawals, according to Turner, including concerns that South Carolina’s environmental regulations prevent that state from taking similar action to share the inconvenience of the solution equally.

Next year, work begins on a new bridge linking Georgia to South Carolina.

The Hilton Head Island Packet reports Monday that Georgia transportation officials expect a final permit in March and then work on the Back River Bridge on U.S. 17 can begin.

The bridge is the low one that motorists cross from South Carolina to Hutchinson Island before U.S. 17 climbs the high Talmadge Memorial Bridge crossing the Savannah River into downtown Savannah.

The Back River Bridge is safe, but it’s almost 60 years old and needs to be replaced. More than 19,000 vehicles cross it each day.

The $15 million replacement is expected to take about two-and-a-half years to build. Georgia is paying 90 percent of the cost. South Carolina is paying the rest.

Charges had to be dropped in more than 20 cases left behind by a vacating magistrate judge in the upper left-hand corner of the state.

Dozens of cases went unprosecuted under a Murray County, Ga., Magistrate Court judge who resigned under fire.

When L. Gale Buckner took over as judge a month ago, she found that she had to dismiss dozens of cases because they were too old. Other people had to be called back to court — in some cases more than six months after their first appearance.

Former Judge Bryant Cochran, who is being investigated over allegations that he solicited a woman for sex in his chambers and presigned warrants, didn’t follow through on more than 100 cases and left paperwork for them stacked in a box in his office, Buckner said.

When Buckner, the former state Juvenile Justice commissioner, was sworn into office Nov. 1, one of her first duties was to sort through the cases. She, along with other county officials, discovered that about 20 cases — all misdemeanors or city ordinance citations — had to be dismissed because the statue of limitations had expired.

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