Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

RoxyThe dog above is not adoptable – she lives here at the GaPundit.com headquarters and oversees the publication of the morning news from her office under the dining room table. She also illustrates one of my favorite Christmas stories.

Twelve years ago today, I ran out of wrapping paper and drove to the Target in Buckhead to get more. On the way home, traveling along Roxboro Road, this little brown dog darted across the street in front of my car, and started down W. Roxboro Road.

I pulled over, and the dog was walking in the grass along W. Roxboro; I called her and she came over. I looked around to see if anyone was following and a woman and her senior large lab crossed the street headed toward us. She asked if the dog was mine and I told her I just pulled over to see if it was lost. She told me that she’d been at the little duck pond across Roxboro with her dog for the past two hours and the little brown dog had been around them the whole time.

So I took the little brown dog into my car and drove home to her, stopping at the Big Lots at Lindbergh to buy her a collar and leash. Part of the reason I took the little brown dog home with me instead of to a shelter that day was that I didn’t want to let an animal die by euthansia because there was “no room at the inn” in our holiday season.

When I found her, she was skin-and-bones malnourished and weighed 25 pounds fully-grown. She tipped the scale at 41 pounds at her fittest. We called her “Roxy” because we found her on Roxboro Road.

Today we live in the neighborhood that holds the duck pond she played in twelve years ago today looking for her forever home. Roxy has served alongside three male Golden Retrievers, Reggie, Jasper and Henry. Roxy has lost her sight and is adjusting to that.

Since Henry died on election day 2011, Roxy slowed down dramatically and last month got pretty sick. Recently, a hound dog whom we call Dolly, and who used to be called “28406” in the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter joined us. Dolly is a very sweet dog, but maybe her greatest contribution to the household has been the way she’s rejuvenated Roxy, who walks faster, breaking into a trot, goes further, and appears to be getting stronger every day. (If you’re interested in hound dogs, email me, I know where a beautiful bluetick is in a shelter and in need of a home.)

Adopting or fostering a dog is a profound act of kindness and of faith. Most who do it will tell you they receive far more than they give.

This beautiful brindle dog has been sent to us by one of the volunteers who helped save Dolly, who says this is one of her favorites. The 1-2 year old mixed breed is friendly and shy and needs only a 2-3 week foster home to save her life. If you can help, contact “Saving Barrow County Shelter Pets” via their facebook page or email me directly and I will put you in touch with a volunteer who can help you.

This Brittany or Springer Spaniel mix is an owner turn-in to the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter, which means there is no mandatory hold period and he will be among the first to be euthanized.

If you can’t adopt or foster, here are a couple of things you can do. Angels Among Us Rescue has volunteers who help by transporting dogs and cats from boarding to adoption days and stay with them at the adoption day to help them find a new home.

Dixie Dog Rescue needs financial support to meet some unanticipated veterinary bills. You can join me today in making a contribution online in honor of your best friend, or one who waits for you at the Rainbow Bridge.

Finally, if you have a friend or family member who is considering buying a dog or cat, tell them about shelters and rescues and the dogs and cats who need a loving home. Just about every breed of dogs comes through the shelters and there is a network of volunteers who can often help transport them. There are also breed-specific rescues like Adopt A Golden Atlanta for most of the popular breeds.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

I don’t expect a whole lot of political news this week, so I’ll be taking a few days off, beginning tomorrow. I will continue posting on the website at www.GaPundit.com and our sister website, GaNewsDigest.com is updated throughout the day and through the Christmas break.

The Georgia State Senate may impose a limit of $100 on lobbyist gifts through the adoption of Senate Rules, which would affect only members of the Senate and staff, and would be administered by the Senate Ethics Committee.

“Unlimited (lobbyist) giving is an untenable situation,” said Senate President Pro Tem-elect David Shafer, R-Duluth, the chamber’s highest-ranking member.

Lobbyists under current state law can make unlimited gifts to elected officials but must disclose all spending. Lobbyists spend about $1.6 million a year, mostly on food, trips and event tickets for lawmakers.

A draft proposal now before the Senate ethics study committee would outline the new ethics parameters, including defining what a gift is — a private dinner worth more than $100, for example — and is not.

Among exemptions are memberships or subscriptions related to public office, and registration costs and “reasonable” travel expenses to attend out-of-state junkets, as long as they are related to a senator’s official duties.

The move to curb lobbyists’ gifts won immediate praise from ethics watchdogs.

“That’s leadership by example,” said Kelli Persons with the League of Women Voters of Georgia. The league is one of several groups that have pushed especially hard over the past two years to strengthen ethics laws and regulations at the Capitol.

Senator Renee Unterman continues in her quest to become the only female in Georgia Senate Republican Leadership and the first to chair the Senate Rules Committee.

Unterman has been drumming up support from conservative women’s groups and tea party faithful.

The decision will come from the Committee on Assignments, likely after the new year. Members of the committee include Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Sen. Ronnie Chance, and Sen. David Shafer, the Duluth man who Unterman helped vault to the president pro tem position this month. (Unterman and Mullis are also members but will sit this one out.)

“The Rules Committee is the ultimate goal that you try to reach,” Unterman said. “It’s the strongest committee in the Senate.”

Walter Jones of the Morris News Service writes that the jockeying behind committee assignments and chairs in the Georgia General Assembly results from the power base that the committees constitute in the legislature.

The first days of a new two-year term of the Georgia Legislature seem pointless to most observers, but they couldn’t be more important to the politicians.

State Sen. Renee Unterman pushes her case for a committee role.  AP

AP photo – State Sen. Renee Unterman pushes her case for a committee role.

To the outsider, daily sessions that only include a sermon and the honoring of beauty queens and high-school champions look like a waste of time. That’s because the really important action takes place within closed doors, namely the committee assignments and organization of each panel.

One of the biggest prizes is the rules committee, the graveyard of many controversial measures. Because every bill must pass through it, the chairman gets plenty of leverage to demand good treatment of his own bills as they’re considered by other committees.

Last week, Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, pulled back the curtain a little to expose some of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering when she took her lobbying for the Senate Rules Committee public. In a two-page letter obtained by Morris News Service, she argued she deserved consideration because of her loyalty, experience and because putting a woman in such a key spot won’t do the Republican Party any harm in future campaigns.

Loyalty may be a critical factor. She stuck by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle during the last two years when eight senators convinced their colleagues to strip him of most of his powers. And she played a role in restoring those powers when the Senate Republican Caucus hashed out its bylaws in post-election meetings held away from Atlanta.

“I have done this with great personal sacrifice involving many personal hours, asking for nothing in return except for the caucus to be successful.” Unterman wrote.

Other than Unterman, the other most mentioned pick is Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, another loyal Cagle supporter. The options are more than between their obvious gender difference. She’s from metro Atlanta; he’s from rural north Georgia. Her background is nursing; his is economic development. She’s more reserved; he’s more gregarious.

Gwinnett County Commissioner Bert Nasuti is under scrutiny for his law firm’s continuing work for the county government.

When Bert Nasuti won a seat on Gwinnett’s county commission in 2002, his law firm stopped getting new legal work from the county.

Then-commission chairman Wayne Hill believed it would be a conflict of interest.

But four months after Hill left office, the board – led by another commissioner with close connections to Nasuti’s law firm – voted to allow the firm to work for the county again. The commissioners used an exception in the county’s ethics code to make it happen, deciding in the waning minutes of a marathon meeting that it was in the “best interest” of Gwinnett County to permit the hiring of Nasuti’s firm.

Nasuti, part-owner of the law firm, declined to grant an interview to the AJC, citing attorney-client privilege, but he responded by email to questions sent by the newspaper.

He decided, he wrote, to “wall myself off from the firm’s work for the county, both at the firm and as a member of the [commission].”

The commission’s decision to award new business to his firm was “reasonable” because the firm had worked for the county for years and “produced exemplary results.”

“I don’t know how anything could have been more transparent and above board,” Nasuti wrote.

[Nasuti's law firm] Thompson O’Brien did not drop the issue, though. It sought a legal opinion from another law firm, Gambrell & Stolz, about whether the relationship presented a conflict of interest for Nasuti.

Two Gambrell & Stolz attorneys responded in August 2004, saying they could not find any case law or ethical opinions that directly addressed the issue and, therefore, “cannot offer a definitive opinion.”

But the attorneys also said the arrangement would “probably not” violate Gwinnett County’s ethics ordinance or any other pertinent rules, as long as Nasuti took some precautions.

Wayne Hill and two other commissioners left office at the end of 2004, resulting in a dramatically different board at the start of 2005. Nash also retired around the same time.

Within three months, the wheels were set in motion to bring Nasuti’s law firm back into the fold.

Then-County Administrator Jock Connell solicited a legal opinion from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia about whether the relationship represented a conflict of interest.

The ACCG response was similar to that of Gambrell & Stolz: the arrangement was not expressly prohibited or allowed, and Nasuti needed to take some precautions to avoid a conflict.

State Representative-elect Charles Gregory hasn’t yet taken office but is already developing a national profile that rivals that of the late State Rep. Bobby Franklin.

A fresh-faced, newly-elected Georgia state representative has just filed four bills in his state legislature aiming to blast away all gun registration and licensing in the wake of the Sandy Hook national tragedy. The bills, which aim to proliferate the presence of guns in this red state, amount to a “splashy public entrance” for Charles Gregory, the representative-elect of a district that includes Kennesaw, Georgia. Kennesaw is home to a still-current 30-year old ordinance that mandates every head-of-household who isn’t mentally ill or a felon own and maintain a gun and ammo (with exemptions for conscientious objectors).

The 33-year-old self employed businessman comes to politics from Libertarian Meetups and has two brief run-ins with Ron Paul to his credit. So we can thank Gregory’s childhood steeped in gun culture and his 20-something years steeped in the immature rantings of Ayn Rand for this 2-watt light-bulb moment: responding to a horrific gun slaughter with legislation that strips away gun licensing requirements, prohibits Georgia’s Governor from halting the transfer or sale of firearms during an emergency, and lifts bans on guns in churches, state universities and community colleges. Gregory told the Marietta Daily Journal he wasn’t targeting elementary, middle and high schools because that’s not “politically feasible.” So I’ll give the man some credit for not making your dropped jaw dislocate entirely.

Three cities in Turner County won the first arbitration involving the way SPLOST proceeds are split between counties and cities.

Georgia Senior Judge O. Wayne Ellerbee ruled Monday and released Friday his findings in the first “baseball arbitration” local-option sales tax ruling that has gone through the entire process laid out by the state Legislature.

Ellerbee ruled in favor of the municipalities of Ashburn, Sycamore and Rebecca in their quest to secure 50 percent of the 1 percent LOST funds collected in Turner County over the next decade. County officials had sought to maintain the status quo, asking for 65 percent of the $886,816 in annual LOST collections.

“Toombs County has gone through a couple of days of hearings, and Valdosta/Lowndes County is going through a big battle,” Coleman said Friday after receiving Ellerbee’s ruling. “But this hearing is the first one that has gone through the entire process laid out by the Legislature: the negotiating period, the mediation period and now the arbitration ruling.

“We feel that Judge Ellerbee made his decision based on the eight criteria laid out by the Legislature; the law is pretty much cut-and-dried. The baseball arbitration element was brought into the process to stop counties from making unilateral decisions about taxes like Turner County did when it forced the municipalities there to accept a 65-35 LOST split in 2002.”

Macon City Council member Frank Tompkins is trying to make the city more-friendly for people in wheelchairs, scooters or other mobility aids.

Tompkins said he sees more and more chairs and electric scooters navigating city streets — sometimes with trouble, due to a lack of sidewalks, and sometimes with indifference to traffic laws. Several constituents have contacted him about having to dodge wheelchairs in traffic lanes.

“We know that many of the roads in Macon do not have sidewalks that are accessible for persons, in certain areas, that might be using these motorized wheelchairs,” Tompkins said. Despite that, many of the chairs and scooters now in use don’t have reflectors or lights to warn off cars.

As for the elderly or infirm who use motorized chairs regularly, Tompkins wants to make sure they have the power to shop downtown, and he hopes such aid spreads elsewhere in the city.

So he has submitted an ordinance to set basic rules of the road for wheelchairs and scooters, and to install four plug-in charging stations at four “highly traveled” spots in downtown Macon. The ordinance has been referred to council’s Public Safety Committee for discussion.

In August, Macon-Bibb County was named the country’s first “Age-Friendly Community” by the AARP and the World Health Organization, intended to start two years of work on making all aspects of the community more accessible and welcoming to the elderly.

Tompkins said he consulted the AARP, among many others, in planning his ordinance.

Karen Cooper, the Georgia AARP associate state director, said the need for better safety for motorized wheelchairs has been discussed in the local age-friendly advisory council, of which Tompkins is a member.

Communities hoping to lure more retirees, or those with large military populations would do well to consider improving mobility and access.

Georgia State Patrol troopers will be out in force over the holidays hoping to prevent accidents that would put more Georgians in wheelchairs or worse. May God Bless the men and women of the Georgia State Patrol and local and county deputies and officers this holiday season. Make their jobs safer by following all the traffic laws, and obeying safety and common sense.

Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety Col. Mark McDonough says authorities will be aggressively patrolling for impaired drivers, unrestrained passengers and drivers exceeding posted speed limits.

Authorities say they investigated 289 accidents that left 182 people injured during last year’s Christmas travel period. Officials say they investigated 296 accidents that left 172 people injured during last year’s New Year’s travel period.

State patrol officials say this year’s Christmas travel period officially began at 6 p.m. Dec. 21 and ends the night of Dec. 25.

The New Year’s holiday travel period begins Dec. 28 at 6 p.m. and ends the night of Jan. 1.

The National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia offers visitors a way to thank the men and women who have served and who serve our country.

The messages hanging from the “Freedom Tree,” are just another way to say thank you to the soldiers, said Cyndy Cerbin, the National Infantry Foundation’s director of communications.

“Some are from family and others are just from people who want to show their appreciation,” Cerbin said. “Honoring those who serve our country is what this place is all about.”

The tree will be up until Jan. 2. The materials for leaving a note are on a table nearby. Cerbin said the notes are being sent to wounded warriors — soldiers, most of them amputees, in U.S. hospitals.

Some messages are simple. “Stay Low,” wrote Bella.

Another great way to thank our soldier, sailors, marines and airmen who have been injured is to volunteer with Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta, where many of our injured heros will receive rehabilitation. The sports programs at Shepherd are absolutely the most fun way of giving back, and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a way to say thanks.

The US Army Corps of Engineers is dialing-back water release rates from Lake Lanier through at least April 30, 2013.

“After evaluating the data we determined that the decreased flows would not have a negative effect on the environmental quality of the river and would allow some minimal increase in storage for the system headwaters,” said E. Patrick Robbins, spokesman for the corps’ Mobile District.

“This increased storage, while not significant at this time, could prove very beneficial to the system if weather patterns persist.”

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources requested on Oct. 15 that the corps reduce releases from 750 cubic feet per second to 650 cfs in order to conserve as much storage as possible in Lake Lanier.

Since that time, “conditions in the system did not permit reduced flows but (the corps) agreed to re-evaluate the request monthly,” states a corps press release issued Friday.

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