Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for December 19, 2012

These young Shepherd-mix sisters are friendly and get along well with other dogs, but they must find homes by tomorrow night or they will be euthanized on Friday, four days before Christmas. They are available for adoption from the Murray County Animal Shelter in Chatsworth, Georgia. Contact Lisa Hester at 770-441-0329 or [email protected]et if you are interested in adopting or fostering, or can help in some other way.

These three puppies are part of the same litter, born to a Golden Retriever mother. Because they’re from Fayette County, you know they’ll grow up to be conservative. They are available for adoption from the Fayette County Humane Society. If you are unable to adopt or foster, you may wish to support this volunteer organization with an online donation.

Columbus City leaders are urging prospective new pet owners to adopt rather than buy during the holidays this year.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who called the press conference, said while the city has cut the center’s euthanasia rate dramatically, from 80 percent to 53 percent, some animals won’t survive the holidays without finding a home.

“With these pets, unlike those at the pet store, there’s a clock running, and that’s the tragedy of it,” said Tomlinson, holding a large adult male tabby cat as she spoke. “We hate to admit that, but we take in dozens of animals a day and we only have capacity for some 65 dogs and two dozen cats, and it’s just a matter of the math.”

Goodwin said the center staff tries to match the right pet to a family’s lifestyle. There is also an adoption fee of $75 for dogs and $65 for cats, but that includes a $50 certificate to have the pet spayed or neutered, which is required.

The ACCC is open noon-7 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

For this, Mayor Tomlinson gets placed on the “Nice” list.

Also joining the “Nice” list is Ashley Freedman, an attorney with the Social Security Administration, who is organizing a  Super Pet Adoption Day on Saturday, December 22d, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the North Atlanta Trade Center, located at 1700 Jeurgens Court in Norcross.

Many people seek a last-minute pet for Christmas, said Freedman, a longtime volunteer with pet rescue groups and Fulton County Animal Services.

The Atlanta Humane Society, where many turn, runs out of puppies in the weeks before the holiday, she said, and time is running short to adopt a rescue pet from a foster parent.

That prompted her to organize the Super Pet Adoption day.

“It’s one-stop shopping,” Freedman said, adding that people can bring their pets with them to make sure they will get along with prospective adoptees.

All pets available for adoption will be spayed, neutered and current on vaccines.

Surprising someone other than your children with a dog or cat for Christmas is generally a bad idea. Taking a friend, family member, or loved one who has decided to get a pet shopping for their new best friend is fun and you will hold the memory dearly for years.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Yesterday was the last day for public tours of the Governor’s Mansion during the holidays and Mrs. Deal spent the morning greeting guests, as she did every other day of the holiday tours this year.

Governor Deal administered the oath of office to Republican Georgia Public Service Commissioners Chuck Eaton and Stan Wise, who were reelected in November. Deal also gave the keynote address at the Georgia State University commencement.

The Public Service Commission heard testimony on the construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.

The commission is reviewing what Georgia Power spends every six months on construction and can block the utility from passing along expenses to customers that are “clearly imprudent.” Jacobs has pointed out delays and budget overruns, but so far the commission hasn’t disallowed any expenses. He noted that under the construction contract the utility can assess penalties on the builder for missing its schedule.

Before Jacobs’ testimony, a parade of private citizens opposed to nuclear power took turns urging the commission to halt construction to prevent customers from being saddled with the costs.

In related testimony earlier this month, PSC consultant Philip Hayet — an expert on cost modeling and utility industry policy — questioned Georgia Power’s forecast of $5 billion in economic benefits from the Vogtle project.

“Staff believes this figure is misleading and requires further clarification,” he wrote, noting that the $5 billion figure is from a “cost to complete analysis” but does not represent the project’s impact to ratepayers.

Issues with late delivery of components, the need to correct non-compliant rebar and other factors are lining up to create 12- to 18-month delays in completing the projects, which in turn will further reduce the perceived economic benefit to ratepayers, he said.

“The impact of the 12-month delay is a reduction in benefits of about $1 billion, while the 18-month-delay scenario results in about an additional reduction of $300 million in benefits,” he said.

The PSC’s construction monitor is warning that Vogtle will be delayed in being brought online and that delays will cost ratepayers money.

Nuclear engineer William Jacobs said poor construction material, contractor mistakes and oversight delays will mean the Unit 3 reactor won’t be ready until July of 2017.That’s 15 months later than planned.He says the Unit 3 delay will cost $88 million dollars, an amount that could grow to into the hundreds of millions. That will also delay construction on Unit 4. Ratepayers would be on the hook for the costs.

But Jacobs did not recommend pulling the plug when asked by Commissioner Doug Everett.

“Which would you think would be best for the ratepayers of Georgia, stop it now or continue with it?” asked Everettt.

Jacobs replied, “ At this point, continue with the project.”

To give some perspective, which is sorely-lacking in other quarters, the $88 million dollar overrun is just over one-half of one percent of the total projected cost of the new reactors.

All those other cost overruns you’ve heard about? They haven’t yet materialized and remain speculative.

The delays could lead to increased financing and capital costs for Georgia Power’s $6.1 billion portion of the project, which customers are already paying for. Lawsuits and any future delays at the site also could lead to higher costs for the project, which could wind up in customer bills if approved by utility regulators.Georgia Power has not asked to collect any additional money from customers to pay for increased costs at Vogtle. The independent monitor, as well as a consultant hired by the PSC staff to review the project, said Tuesday that the $14 billion project remains economical.

“I have not identified any imprudent costs,” Jacobs said.

And the cause for delay? Apparently, the culprit is paperwork.

Missing quality-control documentation is one of the biggest reasons that construction of two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle is falling behind schedule, according to testimony Tuesday at the Public Service Commission.The comments came from William Jacobs, a nuclear engineer the commission hired with Georgia Power Co. funds to monitor the construction. He testified that a Louisiana subcontractor making components for the reactors was new to the nuclear field and wasn’t accustomed to the requirements to document ever step in the fabrication process.

Recently, the first above-ground structure for the new Vogtle reactors was raised by the construction consortium.
“Everything’s kind of below the surface,” Rauckhorst said. “Well, today, the first X brace on the Unit 3 tower is going to get stood up. That will be the first piece that is actually above ground.”The underground work, including the pipes for steam and cooling water, represents roughly 40 percent of the whole project that is slated to last until the reactors begin generating electricity in 2016 and 2017.“What’s going to happen in 2013 is we’re going to go vertical,” he said. “We’re coming out of the ground. … Now the landscape of this whole project is going to change dramatically in the next 12 months. People will now see, wow, this thing is coming together.”

Beach had his campaign kickoff Dec. 13 at the Olde Blind Dog in Crabapple, and there were some high profile dignitaries showing their support for his candidacy.

Top of the list is Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle who was named as a presenting sponsor of the event.

Prominent among the other presenters were elected officials from Cherokee County: Commission Chairman L.B. “Buzz” Ahrens, Commissioner Jim Hubbard, Cherokee Sheriff Roger Garrison, Board of Education Chairman Mike Chapman and Board of Education Chairwoman-elect Janet Read.

Other supporters at the kickoff included Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, Milton Mayor Joe Lockwood and, although Roswell is not in District 21, Roswell Mayor Jere Wood.

Other supporters signing on include former Atlanta Brave John Smoltz, Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann and state Rep. Chuck Martin.

Beach, who will keep his job as president and CEO of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce if elected, said he felt good about the campaign. “We have a good group of volunteers. This election is going to be a sprint [it's over in 30 days]. I’m going to keep my message short and to the point: I’m conservative, consistent and committed. My goal is to make our community better – that means North Fulton and Cherokee. I see it as one district.”

Scot Turner announced another round of public endorsements from voters and activists in Cherokee County for the HD 21 Special Election on January 8 that includes Cherokee County Republican Party Chairman Bob Rugg.  Cindy Castello, Jeff Whitmire, and former Cherokee County GOP Chairman Jeff Duncan have also publicly proclaimed their support for Turner’s campaign.

“Scot’s unflinching helpfulness and consistent effort mirror his selfless integrity. His good conservative values display his commitment to Cherokee County,” stated Rugg in his endorsement.  “I urge all who appreciate Scot as I do to cast a vote for him in this Special Election.”

The latest release of supporters adds them to a growing list of voters and activists in Cherokee County:  Helmut and Barbara Baxter, Rick Davies, Danny and Regina Davis, John Marinko, COL. Lawrence Mrozinski [Ret.] USA, Diane Rugg, Allen Trent, and Representative-elect Michael Caldwell.

Never one to squander an opportunity to appear before a camera attempt to improve Georgia, Democratic Senator Vincent Fort will introduce an assault rifle ban in the 2013 Session of the Georgia General Assembly.

State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) says it may now be possible for gun-rights advocates and gun-control advocates in the legislature to find “a comprehensive approach” to address mental health issues – and to ban assault weapons throughout Georgia.

“If it means people disagreeing and debating and discussing, and have a conversation about this, so be it. But to do nothing is a crime in and of itself,” Fort said, reports Atlanta Business Chronicle broadcast partner WXIA-TV. “If we do nothing, I know kids, more children, will die. We have to come together.”

Fort said he is drafting legislation and expects to introduce it when the legislature reconvenes in January. He called it “a very complex issue” and said it will take input and solutions from both sides of the aisle, WXIA reported.

Fort said it will be important for lawmakers to consider mental health issues in the debate.

“One of the things in the state of Georgia and around the country, we’ve cut back mental health services. We’ve got to understand that the mental health issues, in dealing with them, are absolutely critical…. I think we need a comprehensive approach that includes looking at mental health, that looks at, you know, gun show loopholes…. And if we can do a ban [on assault weapons] in the state of Georgia, I think that would be an advance on this issue.”

U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah) was quoted by Reuters as saying, “There may be more support of discussion at this point among the pro-gun Democrats and Republicans…. Mental health is a huge part of it. No rational person squeezes the trigger in the face of a 6-year-old.”

But seriously, while personally opposing any gun bans, much of what Senator Fort is quoted above as saying is sensible.

A previously-scheduled meeting of mental health professionals discussed needs for mental health services in Georgia.

Area professionals discussed the future of services in Georgia, primarily the improvements stemming from a 2010 settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and the state that directed officials to provide more community-based services for the mentally ill.

Frank Berry, the commissioner of the Department of Be­havioral Health and De­vel­op­mental Disabilities, said that since the settlement, the differences in conditions in state mental hospitals and services provided in communities are “night and day.” Despite progress, however, he said the department still faces challenges in funding and the ability to serve children.

“What I want (legislators) to see is we have an incredible, incredible, high-quality provider network that when given the opportunity to do more, we’ll do more,” Berry said.

The Spe­cial Council on Criminal Jus­tice Reform released its report on recommendations for legislative changes to Georgia’s juvenile justice system yesterday.

The recommendations focus primarily on the juvenile justice system, but it also expands on the panel’s previous recommendations for adult sentencing and corrections.

“The policy recommendations will further focus the state’s use of expensive, out-of-home facilities on serious, higher-risk youth,” the report says. “By doing this, the state will generate savings that can be used to increase the
availability and effectiveness of community-based options.”

The council says its recommendations are projected to decrease the number of juvenile offenders in out-of-home placement by about a third, from 1,908 to 1,269, by 2018.

The council estimates that its suggestions would save the state more than $88 million in that time period, and it recommends that a substantial portion of that be invested in new appropriations to support community programs that have been proven to reduce recidivism.

“The council has again offered up an excellent report that will serve as a starting point for policy makers,” Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement. “We know there’s room for dramatic improvement in the results we see in the juvenile justice system.”

Last session’s metal theft bill is producing some results.

The Cherokee County Board of Education approved a legislative agenda for the 2013 Session and sent it to their legislative delegation.

The plan asks the state Legislature to end state funding cuts, thereby empowering the school board to restore a 180-day school calendar for students; reduce class sizes and eliminate employee unpaid furlough days.

The plan notes, since 2002, $147.5 million of Quality Basic Education Act funding required by state law has been withheld through “austerity budget cuts,” during which time CCSD student enrollment has increased by 12,000 students.

Smyrna City Council will delay redistricting their wards until next year.

Redistricting is needed to balance the wards’ populations in a city that saw a 25 percent population between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, and now has about 52,000, said City Administrator Eric Taylor.

“To keep with federal voting requirements, the city is to be as balanced as possible across all seven wards,” he said at the Dec. 3 City Council meeting at the first public hearing for the new redistricting maps.

The most dramatic shift is in Ward 7, represented by Ron Fennell, which grew to 12,000 residents but must be pared back to 5,600.

SACS, the accrediting agency that put DeKalb County Schools’ accreditation on probation this week, has identified four criteria the DeKalb Board of Education must meet in order to lift the probation.

Mark Elgart is the CEO of SACS’ parent company, AdvancEd. He said the first thing board needs to do is develop a plan to help all of its members get along. The second requirement, Elgart said, is to act collectively.

“..rather than individual board members acting independently and undermining the authority of the superintendent to lead and manage day-to-day operations,” he said.

The SACS investigation revealed that board members overstepped their authority by making demands of school administrators. To address that, Elgart said, the third Required Action is to develop policies that separate the board’s duties from those of the administration.

The investigation also found the board had trouble handling the district’s budget. Elgart said that’s why the fourth mandate asks the board to create new fiscal policies.

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