Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 22, 2016

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 22, 2016

On January 22, 1733, James Oglethorpe arrived at Yamacraw Bluff, where the colony of Georgia would be founded.

Following the passage of Georgia’s Secession Resolution, six delegates, including both from Gwinnett County, signed a statement protesting the decision to secede.

On January 22, 1866, Georgia Governor Charles Jenkins signed a resolution by the legislature asking for federal troops to be removed from Georgia.

On January 22, 1959, Atlanta buses were integrated after a federal court decision.

On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court issued its 7-2 decision in the case known as Roe v. Wade.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

At the time we write this morning, Gov. Deal has issued an emergency order anticipating significant winter weather for North Georgia into parts of Metro Atlanta.

The emergency declaration extends to 21 counties under a winter storm warning issued by the National Weather Service. They include Banks, Catoosa, Dade, Dawson, Fannin, Franklin, Gilmer, Gordon, Habersham, Hall, Hart, Lumpkin, Murray, Pickens, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union, Walker, White and Whitfield Counties. Deal continues to monitor an additional 24 counties, including those in metro Atlanta, under a winter storm advisory.

“In order to prepare for the second round of storms, I’ve directed state agency heads to encourage employees to telecommute where appropriate,” Deal said. “Capitol Hill agencies and other state government offices will close at 12:00 p.m. on Friday to allow time for roads and bridges to be treated in advance of possible freezing rain and snow. I encourage municipal governments and private businesses in metro Atlanta and other affected areas to follow suit. I will continue to monitor those counties under a winter storm advisory and revise my executive order as needed.”

The National Weather Service has issued the advisory for Barrow, Bartow, Carroll, Chattooga, Cherokee, Clarke, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Elbert, Floyd, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Haralson, Jackson, Madison, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Paulding, Polk, Rockdale and Walton Counties.

The Georgia General Assembly gavels in this morning with the House at 9:30 and the legislature should be clear of the building well before noon today.

A House Judiciary Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Johnnie Caldwell (R-Thomaston) is scheduled to meet at 8:30 AM today in Room 132 of the Capitol.

As of 7:15 this morning, the Georgia Right to Life March for Life is still scheduled for today at the Capitol.

GRTL March 20162

American Airlines has cancelled all flights out of Augusta today over concerns with winter weather in Charlotte, NC.

The federal lawsuit brought by the NAACP and some local residents over County Commission and Board of Education voting districts has been settled with an agreement on four district seats and one at-large.

Approved by county commissioners on Jan. 14, the new district map will re-draw Fayette’s voting districts and result in four districts rather than the current five districts. The change would mean that Fayette County voters would get a vote in two of the five races for school board and county commission seats. Under the existing at-large method, voters countywide could cast a vote for a candidate from all five districts once every four years.

A statement released by the school system on Jan. 13 on what was called a compromise settlement said the settlement will have a minimum impact in the way school board members are elected and it will end the financial burden the litigation has caused. The settlement allows for the continued use of some at-large elections now and in the future. The 2016 election will use a four-district, one at-large plan.

Yesterday, Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus) held a press conference to introduce the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA).

“’Live and let live’ is the motto of the First Amendment Defense Act of Georgia,” said Sen. Kirk. “Faith based organizations that believe in the long held definition of marriage should have the right to operate freely without fear of persecution or discrimination. One group’s access to a right does not diminish the rights of another.”

This legislation does not challenge the same sex marriage decision of the United States Supreme Court, nor does it excuse a public official from doing his or her official duty with respect to marriages. Rather, the First Amendment Defense Act of Georgia offers protection to private individuals and organizations that believe in the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Kathleen Foody with the Associated Press writes about Kirk’s bill.

Supporters argue that people whose religious beliefs do not include gay marriage deserve legal protection when applying for a government job or when seeking charitable tax-exempt status or pursuing a government contract.

Kirk cited a discrimination complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by a former Seventh-day Adventist Church pastor who said the state’s health agency offered him a job but rescinded it after finding recordings of his sermons against homosexuality.

Kirk said his measure would not protect government employees who refuse to perform a duty required of their job, including clerks who issue marriage licenses.

“There (are) no excuses in this bill for anyone who works for any government agency not to do their job and fulfill their duties,” said Kirk, of Americus. He acknowledged that earlier drafts of the bill had prompted concerns from Senate leaders about whether clerks should be allowed to refuse licenses.

Foody later counted 32 Senators’ signatures on the bill before it was dropped in the hopper.

On the agenda for the Senate Regulated Industries Committee meeting on Monday is Senate Bill 264, which would legalize parimutuel gambling on horse racing.

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Alex Atwood (R-St Simons) would give local governments some control over the hours in which fireworks may legally be deployed. Click here for the bill.

A law enacted last year allows fireworks to be blasted any day between 10 a.m. and midnight or as late as 2 a.m. for New Years and Independence Day.

Atwood said he doesn’t mean to be a party pooper with House Bill 774. He just wants to give local governments a say.

Savannah City Council split on appointing Alderman Carol Bell as Mayor Pro Tem.

Alderman Carol Bell joined the mayor and the three new aldermen — Bill Durrence, Brian Foster and Julian Miller — in supporting her appointment as mayor pro tem, a position previously held by Alderman Van Johnson.

Bell’s appointment came after Tony Thomas’ nomination of Johnson for pro tem was defeated. Johnson got support from Estella Shabazz, John Hall and Thomas.

DeLoach said the split vote was unfortunate, but he didn’t think it was a sign of things to come.

“It’s a sign of what happened today, and tomorrow is another day,” he said.

As a result of the appointment, Bell will be charged with leading council meetings when DeLoach is absent, in addition to speaking on his behalf at community events and ceremonies.

The City of Brookhaven and now-former City Manager Marie Garrett agreed to an amicable parting.

Brookhaven’s Mayor and City Council agreed to settlement terms with suspended City Manager Marie Garrett, Wednesday. Those terms include Garrett resigning from her role as the City’s top Administrator and a severance package that equates to approximately 5.9 months of her salary.

A statement that was prepared as part of the agreement reads, “The City of Brookhaven and Marie Garrett have resolved a contract disagreement to the satisfaction of all concerned. Over the past three years, Marie Garrett’s integrity and hard work have been invaluable assets to our City and instrumental to the City’s success. The Mayor and the City Council thank Marie for her devoted service and wish her the best in her future endeavors.”

According to the agreement, Garrett will receive $225,000 in total. Prior to mediation, the City was faced with paying Garrett a 9-month severance, plus benefits and extras, adding up to roughly $350,000.

Voters in Savannah and Chatham County will vote in November whether to extend the E-SPLOST one-cent sales tax.

A group of government officials from Augusta will visit Savannah to “inspect” breweries and parking, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

A city delegation will spend Friday in Savannah, Ga., with two main things in mind: parking and beer.

The delegation – which includes Augusta Super District Commission member Marion Williams, Downtown Development Authority Director Margaret Woodard, Convention and Visitors Bureau President Barry White, Deputy Administrator Ted Rhinehart, Planning and Development Director Melanie Wilson and two guests of Williams – will take a hard look at how Savannah manages downtown parking and mobility, Woodard said.

“Savannah has done a great job in looking overall not just at parking, but mobility, how to get people from decks to where they need to go,” she said.

In the spirit of a May delegation to Albany, Ga., to examine the southwest Georgia city’s riverfront development, the group will look at a few of Savannah’s tourism products, primarily breweries.

Savannah “has been very successful in recruiting breweries to the downtown core,” Woodard said.

They’re riding in a van. Reminds me of a trip to New Orleans during Mardi Gras that my college rugby team took.

Hall County officials are refusing to provide bilingual ballots in Spanish and English, according to the Gainesville Times.

Calls for Hall County to provide Spanish-language ballots for voters in the next election cycle have been rebuked by local officials despite threats to take the issue to court.

“(Hall County) is responsible for complying with federal law and responsible for running elections,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. “If the county refuses to work with us in coming up with a timeline that is suitable for our community and for the county, then we have no choice but to seek compliance with the potential violations of the Voting Rights Act in federal court.”

Gonzalez has also requested that Gwinnett County provide bilingual ballots, but officials there have not agreed to do so.

No county in Georgia currently offers bilingual ballots.

Hall County officials, however, said they reviewed the request for bilingual ballots and the pertinent provisions of the Voting Rights Act but found that the “requisite population percentages above which bilingual ballots are required are stated in terms of the percentage of ‘voting-age citizens’ and not ‘general population.’”

Moreover, Georgia is not listed by the U.S. Census has having met the proper population threshold to require bilingual ballots.

“The accuracy of this information has been verified by the state elections director,” County Attorney Bill Blalock wrote in an email to Gonzalez obtained by The Times. “Should the Secretary of State’s Office provide further guidance as to the requirement for the provision of bilingual ballots, Hall County will certainly follow such guidance; however, there appears to be no legal requirement to provide such at this time.”

Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (R-Senoia) urged Columbus State computer science students to consider careers in cybersecurity.

As he spoke to a class of computer science students Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., recalled a conversation he had at a National Security Agency facility to emphasize the reason for this tour of Columbus State University’s cybersecurity program.

The representatives of the 3rd Congressional District were briefed about a special squad doing top-secret work there, and he asked the 41-year-old colonel in charge for the average age of its eight members.

Twenty-five.

Westmoreland responded, “Really? We’ve got this exclusive group that’s doing these things for the NSA, and the average age is 25? That’s amazing.”

“So this is a young person’s game right now,” he told the 30 sophomores in the data structures class taught by Columbus State University assistant professor of computer science Alfredo Perez. “You’re right on that cutting edge of being able to get in this and really make a difference. So I want to encourage you to do it. It will be good for our kids and our grandkids. I appreciate what you’ll do. Study hard.”

Westmoreland is chairman of the NSA and Cybersecurity Subcommittee on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. From that vantage point, he is increasingly aware of the threat to the nation’s computer networks and infrastructure — and the need for more and better experts in the cybersecurity field.

Westmoreland told the Times-Georgian that a 2018 run for Governor “has to be part of what I’m looking at.”

U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland said Thursday that although he’s retiring from his congressional seat, he’s not abandoning public life, leaving open the possibility he may be considering a run for Georgia governor.

“Life changes pretty quickly,” Westmoreland told a small gathering of Carroll County Chamber of Commerce members and local officials. “I want to take a breath, relax and see what’s going on. I’m not finished.”

When asked specifically about any gubernatorial aspirations, he said, “It has to be part of what I’m looking at.”

When asked if he would endorse any particular candidate to fill his District 3 seat, Westmoreland said, “I think that should be the people’s choice.” He added that he does plan to announce his endorsement of a Republican presidential candidate within “the next two or three weeks.”

Westmoreland’s Chief of Staff Matt Brass will resign in March to seek the State Senate seat being vacated by Mike Crane, who is running for Westmoreland’s Congressional seat.

Brass plans to resign his position on Westmoreland’s staff on March 1 to focus on the state Senate campaign. Qualifying for the May 24 primary election will be held from March 7-11 and the general election will be Nov. 8.

This will be Brass’ second run for the Senate seat. He finished third, behind Crane and Duke Blackburn, in a crowded nine-candidate field in a 2011 special election. The election was held to fill the unexpired term of Mitch Seabaugh, who resigned to accept a position in Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration. Crane eventually won the District 28 seat in the runoff election and was re-elected in two later races.

Georgia Senate District 28 includes Coweta, Heard, southern Carroll and northern Troup counties.

Brass said with economic growth on the horizon for Georgia, District 28 needs a “solid, conservative, common sense policy” in place. Brass said he is fearful where the nation is headed and he believes the 10th Amendment, which guarantees states’ rights, has more meaning now than any time in history.

Yesterday, Gov. Nathan Deal announced that Kaiser Permanente will bring 800 new jobs to Gwinnett County.

Kaiser Permanente will open a new members services center this fall in Duluth, bringing more than 600 jobs to Gwinnett County, company officials said in a joint announcement with Gov. Nathan Deal and county commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash at the state capitol on Thursday.

The jobs make up the bulk of 800 positions the company plans to bring to metro Atlanta by 2020 due to the facility, Deal said. Some of the remaining positions will be jobs where the employees can work remotely, which a Gwinnett Chamber official said could also be filled by Gwinnett residents.

Deal later added that he thought Thursday’s announcement showed the company’s faith in both the state and in Gwinnett County.

“These 800 new jobs in Gwinnett County is an indication that we’re doing something right,” he said. “These are good, high-paying jobs and it gives people the opportunity to have expendable income, contribute to the resources of the state of Georgia and also to the communities in which their families live. It’s great for our state all the way around.”

[Gwinnett County Commission Chair Charlotte] Nash said the county will have a better idea of where Kaiser fits among the county’s other large, private employers when it pulls the tallies for the county’s comprehensive financial report for 2017. The county does the report each year to give it a sense of what was going on in the county during the previous year.

“If they’re not in the top 10, then they would be very close I would think,” she said.

During the announcement, the commission chairwoman said county officials are “obviously thrilled” about the announcement, at one point quipping “Who wouldn’t be happy to have that number of jobs coming into their facility?”

Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks received a contract extension including a salary raise.

The Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent since 1996 received a two-year contract extension on Thursday night that takes his commitment to the school district from July 1 through June 30, 2018. His base salary, which was $299,809.77, will be upped by $10K starting on July 1 of this year.

“We’re very appreciative to you Mr. Wilbanks for the great leadership you have shown of over 20-plus years,” Board member Mary Kay Murphy said. “And we’re so extremely pleased that you have allowed us to entertain and support the idea of you continuing to serve our school district.”

Added Wilbanks, “It’s been my pleasure. I’ve always appreciated the kindness you all extend … You’ll have my best every day, all the time.”

Because of varying benefit and bonus payouts, his previous total compensation in 2014 was $481,367.76 and in 2013 was $503,622.57, while his base salary in those years was $276,714 and $273,859.44.

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