Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for January 18, 2013

Gwinnett29651

“29651” can be rescued from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter if someone will volunteer to foster her until February 8th, when she will be picked up by a rescue organization. Vet costs will be covered, all you’ll be responsible for is food, shelter, and love.

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Max is described as a Labrabeagle, who is one-year old and an owner-surrender. He’s available for adoption today from the Walton County Animal Shelter.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The General Assembly will not be in Session again until Monday, January 28th, but will meet next week for Joint Budget Hearings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in Room 341 of the State Capitol.

Governor Deal’s proposed state budget for FY 2014 comes in at $19.8 billion and includes:

  • 4.8% projected revenue growth
  • $550 million net increase
  • $190 million in cuts to Regional Economic Business Assistance grants and the One Georgia program
  • $400 million for new school and university buildings
  • $50 toward Georgia’s share of dredging for the Port of Savannah
  • moving elderly and disabled Medicaid patients to a “care coordination” program
  • assumes passage of the “bed tax” proposal and that the Department of Community Health would levy the tax
  • $300 million in additional money for k-12
  • no raises for teachers or state employees (year five for teachers; six for other state employees)

Criminal justice reform for juvenile offenders, a companion to last year’s measure addressing adult offenders, will also be part of Gov. Deal’s legislative agenda.

Deal also will support reducing the blood-alcohol level for boating under the influence to match the level for DUI.

“If you’re too drunk to drive an automobile, then you’re too drunk to drive a boat,” he said.

The full text of Governor Deal’s State of the State is available here on his website.

Senate Bill 24, which delegated authority for levying the hospital bed tax to the Georgia Department of Community Health, passed the Senate by a 46-9 vote.

SB 24 would allow the Department of Community Health to levy the tax — in the form of fees — from hospitals to fill a Medicaid hole of nearly $700 million.

Lawmakers originally approved the bed tax when it was first launched. This time around, however, many were loath to approve what they saw as a tax increase. Deal’s solution is essentially a work-around, so that legislative approval would give a state agency the power to decide on the fees — including whether to lower or eliminate them.

Supporters have argued the plan is not a direct tax increase. Anti-tax advocates, not surprisingly, disagree. The Washington-based group Americans for Tax Reform, run by Grover Norquist, called it a “step in the wrong direction” this week.

State Senator Barry Loudermilk introduced a Senate Resolution that would express remorse for the institution of slavery in Georgia in the past.

Sen. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville) stopped short of calling it an apology, saying, “no one can apologize for something a previous legislature has done.”

He told 11 Alive he was approached by some African American ministers who asked him to sponsor the resolution.

“This is not political, this is something that we need to do; we need to acknowledge our errors of the past or you’re destined to repeat those in the future,” Loudermilk said.

Dick Williams of the Dunwoody Crier has some additional details on the investigation into allegations against DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis and his political consultant Kevin Ross.

The Crier has obtained a list of what investigators seized from Ellis’ home and office. They track the items in the search warrants.

For instance, the warrants for both Ellis and Kevin Ross, a political operative, consultant and attorney, seek records on the DeKalb County probation services contract, the county lobbying contract, watershed management and Rural Metro Ambulance among others.

In the list of items seized are “upper right drawer: Probation Services Contract Folder.” Another item is labeled “Care ambulance” folder and another is labeled “Emergency Ambulance RFP.” Still another is called “Dept. of Purchasing, Contracting, Campaign Donor Contribution Summary, campaign.”

The potential charges outlined in the warrants include RICO (racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations), extortion, bribery, theft by taking, influencing of officer or employee of state or political subdivision, conspiracy in restraint of free and open competition, wire fraud, theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, bid rigging and fraud related to currency.

CEO Burrell Ellis has now lawyered-up.

That leaves attorneys Craig Gillen, J. Tom Morgan, John Petrey and Anthony Lake to do the business of defending Ellis.

Now Ellis has his own legal dream team, to prepare for whatever James’ next step will be. No taxpayer money is being used for their fees.

Gillen is one of the most respected and feared courtroom lawyers in Georgia, other attorneys said. He won notable convictions as a federal prosecutor before becoming a defense attorney and winning acquittals for a string of high-profile clients.

Among them are the 2001 acquittal of reputed Mob captain Michael “Mikey Scars” DiLeonardo in the Gold Club racketeering trial and, a year later, dismissal of corruption charges against former state Sen. Van Streat.

More recently his clients have included former Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister and Bishop Eddie Long, neither of whom were charged with crimes. Bannister resigned as a special grand jury investigated county land purchases.

Morgan had spoken out on Ellis’ behalf last week, before the CEO retained him. Thursday, he reiterated concerns about the raids, which took place without Ellis’ knowledge while Ellis was appearing before the grand jury.

While capping lobbyist gifts to legislators will not do anything to prevent bid-rigging or bribery at the county or municipal level, where actual corruption happens, Senator Josh McKoon has also introduced Senate Resolution 6, which would set up a statewide referendum to amend the Georgia Constitution and allow the Attorney General to empanel grand juries with statewide jurisdiction to hear allegations of official misconduct. Here, he discusses the bill.

Josh McKoon GaPundit Ethics Video

 

Let me know who else you’d be interested in seeing interviewed at the Capitol this session.

The City of Brookhaven goes live today. Good luck and God Bless.

Georgia is not the only southeastern state considering legislative ethics reform: South Carolina and Florida are also doing so.

I’m not saying there’s a connection between the two items, but speaking of South Carolina and Florida, ethics reform isn’t the only thing Georgia shares with our neighbors. The Feds indicted 12 people in an alleged sex-trafficking ring that included Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas.

The State Board of Education stopped short of recommending that Governor Deal remove the members of the DeKalb County Board of Education after the county’s accreditation has been threatened.

In a sign that some interpreted as ominous, the state board declined to vote on a negotiated consent agreement that would have given the DeKalb board three months to address 11 “required actions” demanded by SACS.

Instead, the state board voted to continue the hearing on Feb. 21. It will be an opportunity for DeKalb to make its case, said Barbara Hampton, chairwoman of the state board. DeKalb can bring in witnesses to contest the allegations, she said, and can demonstrate progress toward addressing the concerns.

DeKalb board chairman Eugene Walker said it looked to him like the state board had already reached a conclusion.

“I didn’t get the impression they want to help us improve governance,” Walker said after the four-hour hearing. “I got the impression that they want to get us off the board.”

Perhaps that’s the kind of statement, Dr. Walker, that led SACS, the regional accrediting agency, to believe that members of the DeKalb BOE don’t play well with others.

The State Board of Education also approved seven nominations to the new Charter Schools Commission.

In Gwinnett County, Carole Boyce was elected the new Chairman of the Board of Education by her fellow members.

Grovetown City Council member Jennifer Jones resigned her seat and a Special Election will be held.

[City Manager Shirley] Beasley said because more than a year remains in Jones’ term, a special election must be held to elect a replacement. If less than a year remained, a replacement could be appointed.

[Mayor George] James said city leaders are consulting with the Board of Elections to nail down a special election date. The earliest possible election dates are March 19 and June 18.

Here’s an idea for a new reality show: The Real Port Authority of Augusta.

Tempers flared at a rare Thursday meeting of the Augusta Ports Authority, with the city’s marina operator accusing authority members of burglary.

Mike Stacy, who has run the marina for 13 years under leases approved by the authority, presented an incident report showing deputies responded to reports of a burglary in progress at two different closed marina buildings Dec. 31.

Arriving at the Fifth Street marina, they found authority Chairman Wayne Haw­kins and board member Paul Mucken­fuss, who told deputies he saw an open back door when the alarm sounded, according to the report.

Muckenfuss called Stacy’s claim “the biggest bunch of hogwash” and threatened to sue him. Stacy said he’d already had to “hire a real expensive attorney” but wouldn’t say who the attorney was or what marina document he said Hawkins and Muckenfuss took from the building.

Authority member Mike Barnes called for “a spirit of cooperation” but bemoaned Au­gus­­ta Commission appointees with no knowledge or interest in the marina or maritime activities.

Redistricting is never easy: the Marietta City Council is being criticized for its plan for dividing municipal voters into districts.

Marietta resident Charles Levinson encouraged the council during its meeting last week to keep working on Ward Map Z, the approved map.

“I continue to stand by the conclusions that I had on Dec. 12,” Levinson said about his comments during the second public hearing for the map. “The reasons were threefold: the slicing and dicing of southeast Marietta, the lack of a second majority African-American ward, and the division of Harmony Terrace apartments where my wife and I live.”

Georgia’s unemployment rate rose in December to 8.6%.

“The unemployment rate ticked up slightly because of a combination of factors,” state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said in a statement. “We had a modest increase in new layoffs, along with a small job loss driven primarily by seasonal layoffs in education.”

Still, Butler added, “our economy has definitely improved in the past year.” In December 2011, the jobless rate was 9.4 percent.

But the job market remains challenging, with Georgia’s unemployment rate still considerably higher than the national rate of 7.8 percent.

I guess if they won’t be able to play at a Bowl game any time soon, this is pretty cool: the Georgia State University Marching Band will play in the Presidential Inauguration parade.

This is cool: an Acworth man restored a bible formerly owned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and it will be used as part of President Obama’s inauguration.

While Ponsford has restored historic documents, including former President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech, he is just as comfortable working on much larger items. Among the projects he has completed are restoration work on the Tomb of the Unknowns and the gravesites of former President Kennedy and his brother Robert, all at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington.

And Saturday, Ponsford will clean King’s tomb in Atlanta. The task mainly involves removing the effects of years of pollution in the downtown area, which can get in the stone if not treated. He will be assisted there by his 12-year-old daughter Samantha, who will fly down from Maryland, as well as three young Georgians.

“It’s truly amazing the history I get to touch,” Ponsford said.

Tybee Island will attempt to rid itself of coyotes.

The City Council during a workshop on Thursday instructed Police Chief Bob Bryson to do his best to remove the coyotes, which started appearing on the island last year.

To help him out, they approved the purchase of a $1,000 tranquilizer gun and a trap.

Bryson said that the police department already has a tranquilizer gun, but it does not have a far enough range. The trap the city has is inadequate, too. The coyotes have been able to reach in and grab the bait without getting caught, Bryson said.

If the new tranquilizer gun comes in a wooden crate stenciled “Acme Corp.” be very careful.

The Longshoremens’ union and representative of shippers continue to meet in hopes of averting a strike of East Coast ports, including the Port of Savannah, before the February 6 deadline, when an earlier extension runs out.

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