Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for December 13, 2012

28948 is an adult border collie mix with a little gray in his muzzle.  The volunteers at Gwinnett County Animal Shelter say he’s a great dog, and because the shelter is full, he’s in danger of euthanasia. He may be adopted for $30 as part of the Shelter’s seasonal sale. A rescue organization from out-of-town in interested in him and a two-week foster would save his life as well.

28801 (left) is a large block-headed male who the volunteers say gets along with everyone and has a sweet personality. 28883 (right) is a one-year old shepherd mix male who is neutered, up-to-date on shots and ready to go home today.

Bibb County Animal Welfare is starting their Adopt-A-Thon this morning, and running through Saturday.

The event takes place at the Animal Welfare building, 1010 11th St., from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. All adoptions are half off — $40 adoption fee, with a $50 refundable spay/neuter deposit.

For more information, call Animal Welfare at (478) 751-9200.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The fields are set for the January 8, 2013 Special Elections.

Senate District 11, vacated by Sen. John Bulloch

Marshall Berman, Republican, Thomasville
Dean Burke, Republican, Bainbridge
Brad Hughes, Republican, Blakely
Mike Keown, Republican, Coolidge
Eugene Neese, Republican, Thomasville
Lisa Collins, Democrat, Blakely
Jeffrey G. Bivins, Libertarian, Cairo

Senate District 21, vacated by Sen. Chip Rogers

Brandon Beach, Republican, Alpharetta
Sean Jerguson, Republican, Holly Springs

House District 21, vacated by Sean Jerguson

Bill Fincher, Republican, Canton
Brian Laurens, Republican, Canton
Kenneth Ashley Mimbs, Republican, Canton
Scot Turner, Republican, Canton
Natalie Bergeron, Democrat, Canton
Eduardo Correia, Independent, Canton

If runoffs are required, and it seems likely in SD11 and HD 21, they will be held February 5, 2013.

The Governor’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform today will discuss recommendations for reforming juvenile justice.

Gov. Nathan Deal appointed the council of experts earlier this year to study the state’s system for punishing young criminals and other facets of the justice system. The council is scheduled to meet today on its final slate of recommendations for the Georgia General Assembly.

The council is expected to call for placing fewer juvenile offenders in detention, as well as creating a two-class system for certain felonies to differentiate less serious juvenile offenses from the most serious crimes. The council is expected to call for research-driven programs within the community that could be more effective than locking a child up.

Council members point to the enormous expense of incarcerating young offenders in a state “youth development campus,” or YDC, while producing poor results, as evidence that the system isn’t working.

“I think most people would agree that it’s unacceptable that we have a 65 percent recidivism rate for those youths released from YDCs when a YDC bed costs $91,000 a year,” said Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Mike Boggs, co-chairman of the state’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform.

The Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform believes the 2013 Session of the General Assembly might limit lobbyist gifts to legislators.

William Perry, executive director of alliance member Common Cause Georgia, said the coming legislative session will be the culmination of years of hard work.

“After getting beat up for so long we’re going for broke,” he said. “We are going to get significant ethics reform in this state if it kills us.”

The reformers are an unusual collection of groups from across the political spectrum. Along with Common Cause, the group includes the Georgia Tea Party Patriots, the League of Women Voters, Georgia Conservatives in Action and Georgia Watch, a consumer watchdog group.

Study committees in both the House and Senate are working on their ethics proposals, but there is general agreement among the reformers that passage is going to be toughest in the House. Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, opposed a cap on gifts to lawmakers, but changed his tune after the primary vote, voicing support for an outright ban.

If the House does not act, McKoon said Senate leaders have discussed capping gifts in their chamber by rule. That wouldn’t require cooperation from the House, but it would only apply to senators.

Georgia is one of three states with no cap or ban on the amount lobbyists can spend on gifts, meals, entertainment and trips for public officials. So far this year, lobbyists have reported spending $1.3 million on public officials, according to the ethics commission.

McKoon may also propose amending the state constitution to provide for permanent funding of the Georgia Ethics Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission and to allow the Attorney General to convene grand juries to investigate public corruption.

The final price tag on Democratic Congressman John Barrow’s win over Republican Lee Anderson is nearly $10 million.

By the time the Barrow-Anderson race was over, Barrow had spent about $2.8 million to keep his seat, and Anderson spent nearly $1.2 million. Meanwhile, independent expenditures put $5.8 million into the race, with $3.4 million benefitting Anderson and $2.4 million helping Barrow, who represents a district stretching from Laurens County to Augusta.

Anderson reported $63,000 of debt.

Camden County Probate Judge-elect Shirley P. Wise will not be taking office January 1, 2013 because she pled guilty to theft charges.

Wise, 56, pleaded guilty to felony charges of theft by taking, theft by deception and violating her oath of office, all felonies.

Superior Court Judge David L. Cavender accepted a plea agreement offered by special prosecutor Brian M. Rickman, district attorney of the Mountain Judicial Circuit, under which Wise will serve seven years on probation on the theft counts and five years’ probation on the violation of oath of office count, all to be served concurrently.

Wise also must pay a $1,000 fine and make $5,500 restitution to the county.

She is also forbidden from holding any public office during her probation.

Rickman told Cavender that under Georgia law, Probate Judge Martin Gillette was the victim on the theft-by-deception charge because she took fees for filing vital records between December 2008 and May 31, 2010, that should have gone to Gillette. But Gillette did not want Wise prosecuted and would not help in the prosecution, Rickman said.

The guilty plea also was part of a consent agreement that will end the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s formal charges against Wise of violating judicial cannons.

The commission, which has the power to remove judges, had leveled 11 formal charges against Wise in a Dec. 7 amended complaint.

When she ran successfully for the office in July, she used county property and employees in her campaign, the commission said.

The conviction presents a problem for Gillette, who had intended to retire Dec. 31 for a job that paid him $91,437 a year based partly on his longevity. As his assistant, Wise earned $38,973, but would have been paid about $64,000 her first year in office.

Gillette said County Attorney Brent Green is researching what comes next, but that he and Wise, who came to work for the court when he took office 20 years ago, are the only ones certified to do certain work.

“I lost my chief clerk, I lost my assistant judge, I lost my election manager, I lost my chief [vital records] register all at one lick,’’ Gillette said.

With Wise’s resignation, he may be the only one left in the county qualified to run the special election in March to replace Wise, who defeated lawyer Robbie Morgan in July.

“There’s only me and Shirley certified,’’ he said. “I’m obligated morally to conduct that special election.”

Asked what will happen Jan. 1, Gillette said he’ll probably still be in office.

“I’m going to do what’s asked of me until we have a sitting probate judge,’’ he said.

The Judicial Nominating Commission has forwarded a short list to Governor Nathan Deal for an open seat on the Georgia Court of Appeals.

  • Stephen S. Goss – Superior Court Judge, Dougherty Judicial Circuit
  • Carla Wong McMillian – State Court Judge, Fayette County
  • Larry B. Mims – State Court Judge, Tift County

The new reactors at Plant Vogtle will be at least six months late coming online, possibly as much as a year.

Atlanta-based Southern Co. and its partners are spending an estimated $14 billion to build the first nuclear plant erected from scratch in the U.S. in a generation. The first of the new reactors at Plant Vogtle was supposed to be finished April 1, 2016, with the second reactor a year later.

Southern Co. officials have said that schedule has slipped to November 2016 for the first reactor or even early- to mid-2017. In a report filed Friday, nuclear engineer William Jacobs Jr. said he believed the first reactor will be completed no earlier than June 2017. Jacobs cautioned that additional delays are possible.

Jacobs said schedule delays could potentially drive up project and financing costs.

“The cost of a one-year delay in the project is in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Jacobs, who monitors the construction project for Georgia’s Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities.

Buzz Miller, the executive vice president of nuclear development at Southern Co., said during a tour of the construction site Tuesday that the plant will be economically viable even if costs increase. He said the company would focus on quality and safety over speed.

“We’re not going to plan on shortening the time schedule because getting it right is far more important,” Miller said. Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power owns roughly 46 percent of the two new reactors. The other owners include Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the city of Dalton. Utility regulators have allowed Georgia Power to spend about $6.1 billion as its share of the project. The company now projects it will cost $6.2 billion if the first reactor comes online in November 2016.

The Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce unveiled its job creation agenda to members of the General Assembly yesterday.

The agenda for the upcoming legislative session includes provisions to improve the area’s global competitiveness, such as fair labor policies and tax code revisions, and a focus on infrastructure, education and tourism.

“Everything we are advocating for is about jobs,” said the Chamber’s Jann Moore. “It’s critically important that the business community be at the table.”

In the past year, local businessman have been involved in a “red tape watch,” where several policies and laws were changed to help entrepreneurs.

“Long term, the red tape watch is the key to getting this community back to a stable financial place,” Rep. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, said of loosening regulations. “Just come down and tell us what doesn’t make sense (of regs). It’s in all our best interest going forward.”

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