Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for January 3, 2012

WaltonTigger.pg
Tigger, above, was turned in by his owner to Walton County Animal Shelter. He’s said to be a great dog that loves kids, other dogs, and loves to play. He sits, stays, shakes, lays down, and is housebroken. As an owner turn-in, there is no waiting period and he is at risk of euthanasia.

WaltonCockers

 

These two cocker spaniels are also owner turn-ins after their person lost their home and is moving into a rental where they can’t join their family, so they are available for adoption immediately from the Walton County Animal Shelter. Both boys are neutered but haven’t been to the vet recently. They have some skin, ear and eye issues and really need a grooming.  Both appear friendly and don’t exhibit any adverse behavior. Their owner said they are good with kids, cats and with other dogs. A sponsor will pay the adoption fee for either or both of these dogs if they’re rescued, fostered or adopted. Email me if you’re interested.

WaltonJack
Jack is a 32 pound happy boy who is available for adoption from Walton County Animal Shelter. The volunteers write that he makes the cutest inquisitive head tilts when you talk to him. He has done very well interacting with other dogs in the shelter and really loves to play. Staff said he is quickly learning how to sit. When presented with a kitten, he just sniffed curiously.

Walton County Animal Services writes that a cat tragedy is happening every day in Georgia as healthy cats and kittens are euthanized. It can be a tough read, but worth it, and it cries out for a solution.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Today and tomorrow are the last days to early vote in the Special Elections for Senate Districts 11, 30, and 21 and State House District 21. As of mid-day yesterday, about 600 people had voted in Cherokee County, which hosts the HD 21 special election and part of SD 21.

[Cherokee County Elections Supervisor Janet] Munda said she doesn’t anticipate long lines on Election Day, with 3 to 5 percent voter turnout expected.

“The ballot is very short, and it’s not going to take long (to vote),” she said.

The entire early voting period has seen light turnout, Munda said. The elections office has received some calls from people confused about their eligibility to vote in the races, but Munda said the volume of questions hasn’t been very heavy.

Some Cherokee residents not living in the open districts have reported receiving candidate brochures in the mail, Munda said.

The Cherokee County Board of Elections office on East Main Street in Canton will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Friday. All eligible voters wishing to vote early must report to the elections office.

No voting will take place Monday.

Voters should report to their assigned precincts on Tuesday, the day of the election. All precincts will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The candidates in the 21 districts make their closing statements in the Cherokee Ledger-News.

Scot Turner, who is running for State Representative in Cherokee County is holding a “Victory Weekend Kickoff” tonight at 6:30 PM at 105 Crestmont Drive in Holly Springs, Georgia 30114. To attend, email Tori Wester or let them know on Facebook.

It appears that election in House District 21 may go to a runoff between Scot Turner and Democrat Natalie Bergeron. The Georgia Democratic Party has fully engaged in this race and it’s the only one in which they have a candidate, and no Democrat qualified for any of the three Senate Special Elections next week. Here’s an excerpt from an email sent by the GDP:

On January 8th, a special election is being held that could shake-up Georgia politics.

In Cherokee County, Georgia Democrats have a wonderful candidate for State House 21: Natalie Bergeron. Natalie is a twelve-year resident of Cherokee County, an attorney who specializes in being a children’s advocate and would make a wonderful State Representative. You can find out more about her at www.natalieforgeorgia.com.

If you live in or know anyone in State House 21, make sure they get out and vote on January 8th!However, even if you’re not in State House 21, you can still make an impact in this race. Natalie’s campaign is making phone calls and canvassing daily to get out the vote! You can assist by contacting [email protected]

You can also help by contributing today at www.natalieforgeorgia.com. Special Elections happen within a 30-day window, and this one included the holidays, so as you can imagine it hasn’t been “ideal conditions” – but your help today can make sure Natalie reaches all the voters in the 21st State House District and with your help, Georgia Democrats can start 2013 with a win!

So the Georgia Democrats are promoting this candidate to their email list, coordinating phone banks and canvassing and soliciting donations for her. I hope the Georgia Republican Party and the House Republican Caucus are ready to go to work in the runoff.

The Cherokee Ledger-News lists the Cherokee County precincts voting in the SD21 and HD21 elections.

While we’re at it, here’s a disclaimer: I did a small project for Turner’s campaign and made a modest in-kind contribution.

Republican Attorney General Sam Olens will kick off his 2014 reelection campaign on January 9, 2012 with a fundraiser at the Commerce Club, located at 191 Peachtree Street in Atlanta on the 49th floor. The event is from 6 PM to 7:30 and the suggested contribution is $250. Click here to R.s.v.p.

State Representative Brett Harrell will hold a series of Town Hall meetings  to preview the 2013 Session and hear from constituents. Reps. Valerie Clark and Joyce Chandler will join the meeting on Monday.

Monday, January 7, 2013 – Lawrenceville Town Hall Meeting
Rhodes Jordan Park Community Center
6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 – Snellville Commerce Club Luncheon
Snellville City Hall Community Room
12:00 noon – 1:00 p.m.
$15 cost for lunch to non-members

Thursday, January 10, 2013 – Grayson Town Hall Meeting
Grayson Senior Center
7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) will hold a fundraiser on January 10, 2013 at the Buckhead Club at 3344 Peachtree Road, NE in Atlanta from 4:30 to 6 PM.

Georgia Public Broadcasting writes that McKoon is being seen as a leader despite his being at the end of his first term.

State Sen. Joshua McKoon has arguably become the face of the ethics reform movement in Georgia politics. The Columbus Republican is quietly emerging as a leader even as he bucks his own party.

McKoon was elected to the state Senate in 2010. He quickly sponsored an ethics bill with fellow freshman senator, Atlanta Democrat Jason Carter.

He drafted another ethics bill this year that the legislature’s Republican leadership shunned.

Carter says that persistence isn’t the only instance of McKoon’s leadership. He also publicly disagreed with how the Senate Ethics Committee punished fellow Republican Senator Don Balfour of Snellville, over incorrect expense reports.

“Sen. McKoon filed a minority report, which takes a lot of guts, to go against the sitting Rules chair in that context, and say, ‘Look I disagree. I think this should be a real penalty because these are real, real problems’,” he said in an interview.

Indeed, McKoon may be building more of a following outside the Senate than in it. So says Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor.

“His initiative last year didn’t find much favor,” he said in an interview. “And my guess is that a number of his colleagues wish that he would not push this issue or these kinds of issues.”

The Young Republican National Federation named McKoon its Man of the Year for 2012.

He plans to re-introduce a bill that would place a $100 cap on lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 14.

More important, in my humble opinion, than a cap on lobbyist gifts, is McKoon’s pre-filed Senate Resolution 6, which would offer a Constitutional Amendment allowing the Attorney General to empanel a statewide grand jury and present evidence of crimes committed anywhere in the state that are not otherwise being prosecuted. This would provide an alternative mechanism for prosecuting crimes where local district attorneys may be unable or unwilling to bring a prosecution, such as for political corruption.

But McKoon’s taking fire for holding a fundraiser just before the 2013 Session of the General Assembly.

The top champion of capping lobbyists gifts at the statehouse is holding a campaign fund-raiser four days before the start of the 2013 legislative session, seeking thousands of dollars from the people he’s trying to put the clamps on.

State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, the legislative leader of an ethics reform coalition, sees campaign contributions as “fundamentally different” than the meals, drinks and ballgame tickets lobbyists typically supply. But some lobbyists aren’t buying that, especially since McKoon is asking for big money from them just before the General Assembly begins considering his proposed $100 gift limit.

“Can you please explain to me how you won’t take $100 (in gifts), but you’ll take $5,000?” asked Wayne Garner, who lobbies for, among others, banking and health care interests.

McKoon responded, “A campaign contribution assists me in delivering a political message to my constituents. A gift is something I consume for my own gratification and I think those are two different things.”

He also noted that campaign contributions — unlike gifts — are banned during legislative sessions, and that there are some limits on how much donors can contribute. There is currently no limit on gifts lobbyists can give lawmakers. Lobbyists reported spending about $1.8 million on gifts in 2011, the last full year for which records are available.

William Perry of Common Cause Georgia, an ally of McKoon’s on ethics, echoed the senator’s sentiments that campaign contributions are different than dinners, drinks and ballgame tickets.

“The difference is that campaign contributions are regulated and, more importantly, limited,” Perry said. “Campaign contributions are more an expression of political will.

“Sure, they are meant to influence, but they are controlled in that they can’t happen during the session,” he added. “You can’t specifically give a campaign contribution and say ‘we want you to support X, or it’s bribery and you can go to jail. I feel better about campaign contributions than lobbyist gifts, which are both unlimited and can happen at any point … moments before a vote.”

Jet Toney, a veteran lobbyist who chairs the Georgia Professional Lobbyists Association, said his group has been told that in states where there are restrictions on gifts, “increased pressure has been placed by elected officials and political parties on lobbyists to increase the amount of political contributions.”

State Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford) is receiving support in her quest to serve as Rules Chair.

“The Rules Chairman is the third most powerful position in the Georgia State Senate. We have a strong, well-qualified, proven conservative in line for this position. She also happens to be a woman,” said Julianne Thompson, a Suwanee woman who is the co-chairman of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots.

“The new Republican leaders in the Senate have an extraordinary opportunity before them to take a proactive position with regard to the inclusion of well-qualified conservative women. They have a candidate before them who is one of the most experienced legislators in Georgia. She has cumulative legislative seniority, and has proven herself to be dedicated to conservative principles time and again.”

“Her constituents love her and keep electing her, because she is accessible and constantly works on their behalf,” Thompson said of the Buford senator.

“This is not only an opportunity to appoint the right leader, but an opportunity to inspire young people everywhere to know the GOP is the party where hard work, dedication, and loyalty reap reward, regardless of gender or race. Renee Unterman has my full support.”

Debbie Dooley, the Dacula woman who is the group’s other co-chair, said Unterman is the senator most open to conservative activists.

Steve Ramey, the Lilburn man who is chairman of the Founding Fathers Tea Party, also endorsed Unterman, along with Diane Cox, founder of the Valdosta Tea Party, and Kay Godwin, co-founder of Georgia Conservatives in Action.

Republican Meg Daly Heap, newly sworn-in District Attorney for Chatham County, is reaching out to local governments and law enforcement.

Meg Heap was sworn in as the coastal Georgia county’s top prosecutor Wednesday and immediately announced plans to hold an open house Friday to meet with police. Her office says all officers from law-enforcement agencies in the county are invited to the courthouse gathering.

Heap, a former assistant prosecutor in Chatham County, made improving relationships between the district attorney’s office and local police a priority during her campaign last year.

Sounds like the voters made a good choice, and this was a major pickup for Republicans.

She is mindful of criticism of the prosecutor’s office trial work and plans to meet it head-on.

Frequently, cases will run afoul by missing evidence or recanting witnesses, often through no fault of police or prosecutors themselves. Acquittals will occur. Usually the fingers of blame point to prosecutors for those issues.

“We’re going to be ready,” Heap said. “We’re going to do a good job.”

And where problems arise from outside of her office, she will be ready to sit down and work with police or others to solve them.

She is already working to mend fences with police agencies frayed by her predecessor. Gone are the doors locked to police officers visiting the DA’s office on the sixth floor of the courthouse. Those policies frequently caused friction with law enforcement officers accustomed to free access to prosecutors.

“The door’s open and they’re welcome to walk in,” Heap said is her new rule.

In fact, one of her first orders of business will be an open house/luncheon from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday for any and all police officers, which she and McConnell will pay for “out of our pockets,” she said.

And Heap intends to continue her pro-active visits to neighborhood association meetings and churches she started during her campaign to hear complaints on the front end.

She plans to bring back an elder abuse prosecutor and hopes to ramp up juvenile programs.

“We are going to go to work,” Heap said. “We are not IBM. We’re a government office.”

Nelson, Georgia Mayor Michael Haviland appears to be working hard to professionalize the government of the city that sits astride the Pickens and Cherokee County line.

Since being sworn into office, Haviland has been making his way around Cherokee County to learn the ropes of running a city and to introduce himself to surrounding city councils.

He also has been developing goals for the city — plans that will hopefully take Nelson out of the red.

“The biggest challenge facing the city is its finances, and it has some real challenges,” he said. “We have gone over the last 10 years to figure out where we are at and where we are going. For seven of the last eight years, the city has been in the red, and expenditures have exceeded revenues.”

Haviland said the City Council did adjust the budget this year to attempt to stop the bleeding; however, the general fund, he said, continues to spiral down. If Nelson were to continue at the same rate, the new mayor said the city would sink in less than 10 years time.

“I don’t remember what the exact year was, but it wasn’t a good picture,” he said. “It basically said that we don’t have a general fund that supports the activities that we are doing as a city and that’s some pretty serious challenges.”

Haviland said he also plans to formulate what he calls basic management tools.

“I plan to put together a capital improvement program because the city has never had it,” he said. “I want to put together a strategic plan so we have an idea of where we want the city to be five years from now.”

Fiscal policies, he said, would also need to be put in place.

“Right now, we don’t even have a reserve account, and that’s just basic. Everyone has a reserve account, except us,” he said. “We have been operating on a system that lacked good management skills. My goal is to try and introduce some of these management tools into the city.”

Governor Nathan Deal’s Communications Office wrote yesterday that he will be taking a close look at the case of Victor Hill, who was sworn in as Clayton County Sheriff despite facing trial on 32 counts related to his previous tenure as Sheriff.

In a statement, Deal’s office says it will release communications on the case in the near future. The statement goes on to say the governor plans to take a close look at the case, because it is “unique in its circumstances.”

But because of requirements under state law, it’s not matter of if but when the panel will be formed according to WABE Legal analyst Page Pate. In Hill’s case, Pate says the panel would consist of two other sheriffs and the Georgia Attorney General. After its formation, the panel would have 14 days make a recommendation to the governor unless an extension is granted. And Pate says state law requires the panel to focus on one central issue when making its decision.

“If the commission determines that the indictment relates to and adversely affects the administration of the office, then the commission shall recommend that the official should be suspended. They have the discretion to make that factual determination of whether this indictment affects the ability of him to do his job.”

As for the panel, it can only make recommendations. Governor Deal would have the final say.

Victor Hill isn’t the only crazy thing about Clayton County politics, though he is the most visible. The County Commission held its first meeting under new Chairman Jeff Turner yesterday.

The meeting started at 7 p.m., the first for newly-elected Chairman Jeff Turner and Commissioner Shana Rooks. The board recognized former Chairman Eldrin Bell and Clayton County police Officer Michael Hooks, who was injured last month when he was hit by a car while on duty. The audience of about 200 gave Hooks a standing ovation.

Rooks made a motion to name Commissioner Michael Edmondson vice-chairman. The motion passed over objections by commissioners Sonna Singleton and Gail Hambrick.

That’s not an auspicious beginning, but wait, it gets crazier.

County Manager Wade Starr was fired and his position was abolished as the Clayton County Board of Commissioners began to change their form of government Wednesday.

In a series of two 3-2 votes, the commission got rid of the county manager position and terminated Starr’s contract. The buyout for terminating his contract is the remainder of the salary owed to him under his contract which is approximately $75,000. Commissioners Sonna Singleton and Gail Hambrick voted against both actions.

Starr has been a controversial figure in county government for years. However, the shakeup was not meant to target the now ex-county manager, said Commission Vice-Chairman Michael Edmondson, who had the ordinances added to the agenda last week.

Clayton County is transitioning from a “strong manager” form of local government.

The commission also did first reads on four ordinances which would create the positions of chief operating officer and chief financial officer. The stated purpose of the new positions is to assist new commission Chairman Jeff Turner in the management of more than 20 county departments.

“It’s a change in government, change in direction and change in leadership,” Turner said. “Any time you have a change in leadership, it’s expected to have a change in administrative staff … It streamlines government and makes for more accountability.”

The structure adopted by the county commission was similar to a form recommended by a study the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute conducted for the county sometime between 2005 and 2006, he said.

“It’s not about pay backs,” Edmondson said. “This is about creating an effective, accountable and transparent government and it’s consistent with the recommendations of the Carl Vinson Institute’s studies the county commissioned but never acted on.”

The commission will vote next Tuesday to approve the chief operations officer and chief financial officer positions

Meanwhile, Clayton District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson says the Commission violated Open Meetings requirement last year.

Lawson filed a motion in court to force the county commission to adhere to Georgia’s Open Meetings Act late Monday. In the motion, she asks Judge Geronda Carter for “a declaration that certain actions and/or resolutions of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners are not binding.”

The motion outlines 18 decisions made by the commission from October until December which were not included on meeting agendas released to the public beforehand. The state’s open meetings law says the agenda must be made available to the public before the meeting takes place, but it does allow the commission to add items “which become necessary to address during the course of the meeting.”

Lawson also cites county ordinance 2007-64, Section 2-35-01, which mandated items can be added to an agenda at the last minute only if they are considered “urgent business matters.”

Fayette County’s three new Commissioners were sworn in yesterday.

Due to changes in federal tax law, most Georgians will pay more taxes for 2013, according to a local accountant.

The fiscal cliff deal didn’t address the temporary reduction of the Social Security payroll tax, which expired January 1. For two years, the payroll tax was reduced to 4.2%. This year, it will return to its former rate of 6.2%. Bob Greenberger is a partner with Atlanta-based accounting firm Habif, Arogeti & Wynne. He says most Georgians will feel the difference.

“For the average household, which is roughly $50,000, it’s going to cost them about $1000/year,” he says, “And for a married couple, it could cost them a couple thousand. So, it’s significant.”

Beginning March 1, 2013, Georgians will pay a one-time title transfer tax fee instead of yearly ad valorem taxes when they renew their car tags.

A holster and ammunition belonging to late Glynn County Commissioner Tom Sublett were found in his car, near where his body was found in early December.

Police Chief Matt Doering said Wednesday police are still investigating Sublett’s death as a homicide, but says suicide has not been ruled out.

An autopsy determined Sublett was shot in the head, but died from drowning. His body was found floating beside a docked boat.

The police report also says police found five zip-tie straps at the scene. Doering declined to discuss their possible significance.

Lillian Miles Lewis, late wife of Congressman John Lewis (D-Atlanta) will be laid to rest with services at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Monday.

Surprise, surprise! DeKalb County Schools suffered from law financial oversight, according to an audit by KPMG.

A recent audit of the Dekalb County Schools says, among other things, that employees violated purchasing policies and spent more than $ 200 million without school board approval.

Kirk Lunde is the parent of a Dekalb County middle school student.

“Money is missing from accounts; money is unaccounted for and it leads to distrust, you know, incredible frustration and distrust,” he says.

Lunde says he’s one of more than 560 Dekalb parents who have signed an online petition urging the governor and the state board of education to replace the entire Dekalb school board.

“It’s a starting point,” Lunde says, “And it has to start somewhere, even though that will not solve the problems.”

At a hearing on Jan. 17, the state board can decide whether to recommend that action to Governor Deal.

Georgia Moonshine is once again being produced, now legally.

Carlos and Fred Lovell were at Mac McGee Irish Pub on Decatur Square, leaning back at a table, telling tales of revenuers, runaway mules and building stillhouses in the woods. They held in their hands a newfangled cocktail called the Lovell Moonshine Smash made with their white whiskey.

Eagle Rock Distributing Co. was debuting the distillery’s first three products — Georgia Sour Mash Spirits, Georgia Sour Mash Whiskey and Georgia Apple Brandy.

Among the crowd at the tasting were members of the Mac McGee whiskey club. Besides the rare chance to meet a couple of real live ex-moonshiners and taste their traditional spirits, there was the lure of getting in on the next big thing in the craft beverage industry.

[T]he history of corn liquor is closer to folk traditions like canning and curing country hams, which the Lovells still do, too.

“My grandmother grew up in North Georgia and she would say that a lot of people running moonshine pretty much fed their families,” Teague said. “After the Civil War, the South was very poor. Distilling was a way to make some money.”

Teague particularly likes Lovell’s elemental take on white whiskey, also called “white dog.” Simply put, white whiskey is what “raw” whiskey looks and tastes like before it goes into oak barrels and is aged to give it a darker color and more complex flavor.

“I like the barrel-aged whiskey,” said Teague. “But I think the white dog really shows exactly what they’re doing in the pure spirit. You get a lot of green apple and cereal grains in the flavor profile. It’s absolutely amazing to have the kind of palate Carlos has and know exactly what you’re looking for.”

Nonplussed, Lovell is partial to the brown liquor. Back at the distillery in Mt. Airy, he proudly showed visitors where he ages his Georgia Sour Mash Whiskey in oak barrels purchased from Jack Daniels.

Among the places you can sample Georgia liquor is the Dawsonville City Hall.

Augusta Commissioner Corey Johnson was elected Mayor Pro Tem.

Bibb County Commissioners were also sworn in.

Bibb County commissioners took their oaths of office for the final time Wednesday morning — at least in the county government’s current form.

After Bibb County Superior Court Judge Phillip Brown administered the oaths to incumbent commissioners Sam Hart, Lonzy Edwards, Joe Allen and Bert Bivins, and newcomer Gary Bechtel, Hart noted the commissioners would have just one year in office. The county will consolidate with Macon and Payne City to form a new government in January 2014.

“I look forward to my one year in office as we move toward consolidation,” said Hart, the board’s chairman. “We need to keep the county running for a full year. We have that responsibility. And we are working to bring this government into a new government. We have that responsibility as well. … We’ve got challenges ahead, but we have those people in place to meet those challenges.”

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