Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November 26, 2012


“Amy Pond” is an eight-week old, eight-pound yellow lab mix puppy who was abandoned in a shopping cart in a grocery store parking lot and is available for adoption today from Walton County Animal Services.


“Ruff” (left) and “Tumble” (right) are also eight weeks old and weight eight pounds each. They’re available from Walton County Animal Services today.

This six-month old Shepherd mix is still at the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter and is in dire straits now. Three litters of puppies arrived and they’ll be euthanizing to clear room. We have a sponsor who will pay the adoption fee if anyone is willing to foster or adopt.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The Georgia State Patrol reports that 2,527 accidents occurred on Georgia’s roads this weekend with nineteen people dying in wrecks during the period from 6 PM Wednesday through midnight Sunday.

PolitiFact reviewed Fulton County Commissioner Emma Darnell’s statement that Fulton County Elections had a lower error rate than the national average and found it to be a steaming pile of lies.

“I did some checking on my own to see what are the error rates for elections departments as large as this one. You’re well below the average,” Darnell said during the County Commission’s meeting Nov. 7.

PolitiFact Georgia was curious to determine whether Fulton’s error rates were below average, but we encountered a roadblock.

Darnell said she respects the work of PolitiFact Georgia but wouldn’t discuss anything related to the election department. She complained about biased media coverage on the subject, particularly by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The commissioner did suggest we examine Fulton and compare it with other Georgia counties.

The greatest complaint about Fulton came from people who said they were told their names weren’t on the county’s voter rolls. In such cases, the person is given a provisional ballot and the county then works to verify that person is registered to vote.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, 9,575 provisional ballots were cast on Nov. 6 in Fulton. That was more than twice the total of provisional ballots cast in Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties combined, state data show. More than 100 people who tried to vote in Fulton have filed complaints to the state about the Nov. 6 election, the AJC reported.

Fulton elections officials were still printing and delivering supplemental voter lists to precincts hours after the polls opened, the AJC has reported. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp called the situation a “debacle.”

Fulton officials have made some mistakes in recent years administering elections. In 2008, the county sent absentee ballots late to as many as 2,500 voters, the AJC reported at the time. The result: Some voters were unable to cast ballots in that year’s presidential election.

Let’s recap. Fulton Commissioner Emma Darnell said the number of errors by the county’s elections staff was “well below the average.” She declined to provide details to back up her claim. Research shows Fulton was in the middle among U.S. counties of comparable size when it came to provisional ballots rejected in 2008, the last presidential election. That year, twice as many provisional ballots were cast in Fulton than there were in some of Georgia’s largest counties.

From the evidence available, the county’s recent history and the high number of provisional ballots cast in this month’s election, there’s not much evidence to back up Darnell’s claim that Fulton was “well below the average.” We rate her claim False.

I hope this is an issue that the legislature will address in the 2013 Session, and consider whether the Secretary of State’s Office should be able to intervene in elections where a county has a proven record of incompetence, or on an emergency basis when a problem surfaces in a previously well-run election department.

Former Governor Mike Huckabee visited Valdosta and Albany on Saturday, hawking his book, Dear Chandler, Dear Scarlett: A Grandfather’s Thoughts on Faith, Family, and the Things That Matter Most.

Today, Col. Oliver North will follow his footsteps, selling and signing his newest book, a novel called Heroes Proved.North will appear at noon at the Fort Benning Exchange, 9220 Marne Road, Columbus, GA 31905. At 4:30 he will appear at Books-A-Million at 1705-C Norman Drive, Valdosta, GA 311601.

Senator Chambliss promised the people of Georgia he would go to Washington and reform government rather than raise taxes to pay for bigger government. He made that commitment in writing to the people of Georgia.

If he plans to vote for higher taxes to pay for Obama-sized government he should address the people of Georgia and let them know that he plans to break his promise to them.

In February 2011 he wrote an open letter addressed to me when he joined the Gang of Six saying he would not vote for any plan that raised taxes. He would support only tax revenue that resulted from higher growth.

Sen.Chambliss mentions his fear of losing a primary if he breaks his word to Georgians and votes to raise their taxes. History reminds us that when President George H.W. Bush raised taxes in a deal that promised (and did not deliver) spending cuts he was defeated not in the primary, but in the general.

When Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska violated his pledge to the American people, he would’ve won a primary battle. But he withdrew because polling showed he could not win a general election having both lied to his state and raised their taxes.

Perhaps someone should let Norquist know that in Georgia in 2014, the only election that will matter will be the Republican Primary.

Tomorrow, Gwinnett County Chair Charlotte Nash will present the County’s proposed budget for 2013.

“We have spent the last two weeks combing back through the budget and confirming our five-year forecasts,” said Nash, who has played a hand in many county budgets as the government finance manager and county administrator before her election as chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners.

In the past several years, the economy has forced the government to cut expenses, and 2013 will be no different. Nash said the budget was built on the assumption that the county tax digest will drop another 2 percent due to still-declining property values.

“The national economy continues to struggle,” Nash said. “If it slows again, then we will feel that effect here in Gwinnett. The level of uncertainty meant that we had to be very cautious in our cost analysis and revenue projections.”

On top of that, the budget document, which is usually several dozen pages long, will be even longer due to the new accounting methods outlined in the settlement of a three-year-long dispute with local cities.

The settlement, which ensures that residents do not pay county taxes for services that their city government provides, means that county departments will have several pools of funding, all of which have to be analyzed for their tax revenue.

“The implementation of provisions of the consent order for the Service Delivery Strategy dispute with the cities contributed to the complexity and extra work required this year,” Nash said. “Essentially, separate service districts, funds and budgets had to be established for three functions: fire, police and development. Thus, general fund had to be split into four separate funds. The service area and funding structure of each of the new districts are unique, and none of them are countywide. The consent order constrained how services were to be structured and how they were to be funded.”

Commissioners will have just over a month to consider the proposal before a scheduled vote in January. Residents can sound off on the plan at a Dec. 10 hearing. Nash encourages people to view department budget presentations on the county website for more background on the proposal.

“While I would have liked to finalize the proposed budget earlier, it clearly was more important to ensure that it was based on the latest information and soundest analysis possible,” she said.

Kristi Swartz of the AJC has written an article about solar power that does a good job of laying out two of the problems with deploying solar on a large scale in Georgia.

Southern Co. executives say higher electricity prices, tax breaks and other subsidies have created a favorable environment for solar energy to flourish in the Southwest. The region also receives nearly twice as much sunlight as other parts of the country.

“So when we first thought about getting some experience in the renewable sector, we went to where the best resources are, and that’s the desert Southwest,” said Tom Fanning, Southern Co.’s chairman and chief executive officer.

The chief reason Southern has given for not investing more heavily in solar in Georgia and the Southeast is because the region’s electricity prices are low. Developing solar made little business sense because it was too expensive to compete with traditional forms of electricity.

Now the utility wants to add 210 MW of solar to its energy mix, saying improvements in technology, among other things, have led the renewable fuel to drop in price.

Regulators have been reluctant to mandate any use of solar energy, primarily because traditional fuels have been cheaper. What’s more, solar is an intermittent resource.

The Law of Unintended Consequences is apparently still in effect as efforts to stem illegal immigration have bogged down the licensing renewal system for doctors and nurses.

When lawmakers tightened the state’s immigration laws, one provision was to require all licensed professionals to prove citizenship at renewal time.Some medical professionals have had to briefly stop seeing patients due to the new delays in renewal as a result of the law.

Doctor’s licensing must be renewed every two years. This was previously done on a state website, with a few clicks and a renewal payment. Doctors received confirmation of renewal immediately.Now, applicants must submit a notarized affidavit and ID proving citizenship. The state says near a third of doctors are seeing a delay of 10 or more days.

Cars that were flooded in Sandy may make their way to Georgia through insurance sales, auctions, and unscrupulous or ignorant sellers. Be careful.

In coming weeks, the Hall County Sheriff’s Department may come to resemble a scene from “Full Metal Jacket” [language warning at that link] as Sheriff-elect Gerald Crouch encourages deputies to trade jelly donuts for pushups.

“I set my own personal goal to lose that weight and get back in shape, and I still do that to this day,” he said.Now, as Couch readies to take the reins of the sheriff’s office in January, he wants to make fitness a goal for all deputies.“It’s important to citizens that they have a department they can be proud of, and when it becomes obvious to them that there’s no physical standards that exist in a department, public confidence in the agency, and in its leadership, can deteriorate,” he said.

Couch plans to develop a fitness policy starting immediately with a fitness program for new hires, he said.

Couch said for current personnel, he plans to phase in a program over time.

“None of these actions are seen as anything punitive,” he said. “I want to change the lifestyle and the mindset to help the officers be healthier and enjoy their lives more, and perform better for the citizens of the county.”

Don’t be surprised if you see me this week if you spend any time during the pre-dawn hours in a parking lot at Berry College watching for Bald Eagles.

Almost any morning, about sunrise, it’s not unusual to find a cluster of folks in the parking lot at the Cage Center on the Berry campus. It’s not an early-morning exercise group, but folks who are intrigued by the pair of bald eagles nesting in such an unusual location.

Typically, eagle nests are found next to a stream or lake. The nest at Berry is adjacent to a parking lot. It’s probably less than a mile away from the Oostanaula River and maybe just a little further to the old Florida Rock quarry off Redmond Circle. It’s a tad further to the Lavender Mountain reservoir and about seven miles, as the eagle flies, from the lakes at the Rocky Mountain hydroelectric plant in Texas Valley.Ozier calls Northwest Georgia the last frontier for bald eagle growth in Georgia.

“We are seeing more growth in the north, and maybe it’s just as other areas fill up they’re looking to expand into some place they may not have gone 10 years ago.”

Other bald eagles on Lake Allatoona and Weiss Lake have produced young around Christmas. Allowing for the 35-day incubation period, that means if the Berry pair is successful, the female should drops eggs any day now.

Georgia Public Service Commission approves Georgia Power solar program

From the Atlanta Business Chronicle:

The Georgia Public Service Commission approved a plan by Georgia Power Co.Tuesday to acquire an additional 210 megawatts of solar generating capacity, tripling its investment in solar energy.

But a sharply divided PSC also gave a potential competitor to Georgia Power its blessing to appeal to the General Assembly to amend a 39-year-old law that is preventing other utilities from entering the solar production business in Georgia.

Georgia Power, a unit of Southern Co., currently has 61.5 megawatts of solar energy under contract, enough to power about 7,600 hours.

That first foray into solar power two years ago was “a baby step” for the company and the PSC, Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald said Tuesday.

“This is a much bigger step the company is coming forward with,” he said. “It recognizes the value of solar generation and the effect it can have for consumers of our state.”

While the PSC supported Georgia Power’s plan unanimously, a subsequent motion by McDonald encouraging other solar utilities interested in serving Georgia to pursue their plans with the legislature passed by the narrow margin of 3-2.

Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., a company launched in Macon, Ga., earlier this year, filed an application with the PSC in September for authority to generate solar energy in Georgia on a utility scale.

But the commission’s staff recommended that the PSC dismiss the application, citing a 1973 state law that gives Georgia Power exclusive rights to serve its existing customers.

Rather than dismiss the proposal outright, however, the commission in essence urged Georgia Solar Utilities to appeal to the General Assembly to amend that law and open up the solar business to competition.

Commissioner Doug Everett, who supported the motion, argued that Georgia will need all the additional solar capacity it can get if the Obama administration regulates coal out of existence as a source of energy and curtails the new “fracking” technology that has made natural gas supplies more readily available.

“Where are we going to get the [power] generation to replace the coal industry?” Everett asked. “We’ve got to look at everything.”

But Commissioner Stan Wise said the PSC has no business taking sides on an issue likely to go before Georgia lawmakers.

“If they’re successful across the street, so be it,” he said, referring to the location of the state Capitol. “[But] for us to involve ourselves in what goes on across the street is inappropriate.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November 13, 2012

This beautiful, blue-eyed, white husky-mix is described as sweet and is available from the Murray County Animal Shelter in Chatsworth. Without a rescue or adoption, he will be euthanized on Friday in the pre-dawn hours.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The United States Supreme Court will hear a challenge to parts of the Voting Rights Act that affect states that had a history of vote discrimination when the act was passed; this includes Georgia.

The challenge to Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was launched two years ago, and the court added it to its docket just days after an energized minority electorate played a critical role in the reelection of President Obama, the nation’s first African American president.

The justices said they would decide whether Congress exceeded its authority in 2006 when it reauthorized a requirement that states and localities with a history of discrimination, most of them in the South, receive federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws.

Three years ago, the court expressed concern about subjecting some states to stricter standards than others using a formula developed decades ago. But the justices sidestepped the constitutional question and found a narrow way to decide that case.

Georgia State House Republicans re-elected their leadership team yesterday, with Speaker David Ralston, Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, Majority Whip Ed Lindsey, Vice Chair Matt Ramsey, and Secretary Allen Peake unopposed and Caucus Chair Donna Sheldon beating back an intramural challenge from Rep. Delvis Dutton.

The Democratic Caucus reelected everyone but Rep. Brian Thomas, who was beaten by Rep. Virgil Fludd.

Later this week, Georgia Senate Republicans will gather at Little Ocmulgee State Park for a group hug caucus meeting. Pro-tip to anyone attending: do not accept any offers of an “after dark swamp tour.” (more…)

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for October 22, 2012


Great Pyrenees are prized dogs for their temperment and their guarding abilities as well as their beautiful white coats. These GP puppies are part of a litter of five that was found alone outside and they are available for adoption from Murray County Animal Shelter. Adoption costs $115 and includes vetting, spay/neuter, heartworm, and rabies treatments. If they are not adopted by pre-dawn Friday they will be euthanized.


Also on the euthanasia list for early Friday morning are these three black lab puppy littermates, who are about seven weeks old and were found abandoned at the side of the road.


This great mama and her three puppies are also available for adoption from Murray County Animal Shelter and will be euthanized before dawn on Friday if not adopted. They like people and other dogs.


This 4.5 year old female hound is also a mom, and she and her puppy (below) are said to be sweet dogs who get along with people or other dogs. Like the others here, they are available for adoption from Murray County and will be euthanized on Friday pre-dawn if not rescued.


This eight-month old puppy came in with her mama (above) and is available for adoption from Murray County Animal Shelter with a literal deadline of pre-dawn Friday.

These dogs and fourteen others are on the list for euthanasia on Friday morning. Unfortunately, this situation is the norm at shelters across Georgia. If you cannot adopt a dog, you might be able to help by transporting a dog from a shelter to a foster home or rescue organization, or by donating to a reputable rescue group. Transportation for each of the above dogs can be arranged to the Atlanta area. If you’re outside Atlanta but not close to Murray County, email me and we’ll try to put you in touch with some folks to help transport them to you.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton debated his two challengers, Democrat Steve Oppenheimer and Libertarian Brad Ploeger, who both tried to out-maneuver the other on the left.

GOP incumbent Chuck Eaton denied opponents’ accusations that he is too cozy with the companies he regulates.

“I’ve never granted Georgia Power Co. any of the rate increases they’ve requested,” he said, adding that he voted only for pared-down rate hikes.

Democrat Steve Oppenheimer said electricity rates had risen 24 percent during Eaton’s six-year term and that residential rates for natural gas were among the highest in the continental United States.

Eaton blamed federal regulations for half the expense of the latest electric rate increase…. (more…)

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 27, 2012

27637 is one of the black or majority-black dogs and cats who are available for adoption for only $30 tomorrow at Gwinnett County Animal Shelter during their weekly “Black Friday Sale.” 

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson asked City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney to submit her resignation and the City Council will discuss the issue on October 4th.

Council members met in a specially called work session [September 26th] to discuss numerous performance issues, including problems with Purchasing Department operations.

Because this afternoon’s session was advertised as a work session, not a meeting, council chose to exercise an abundance of caution and not take any formal vote that might violate state Open Meetings law. A special meeting will be scheduled and duly noticed for the vote, which would be to either accept her resignation or terminate.

Issues between Small-Toney and the Board have included her hiring of an administrator who lacked qualifications his resume claimed, questionable expense reports, and problems in the purchasing department with paying the City’s bills. The Savannah Morning News opines that Small-Toney should go, as the Board and Mayor have lost confidence.

[T]his system requires the mayor and council to have full confidence in their city manager, who’s the most powerful person in city government. It’s the foundation on which council-manager form of government rests. But once that faith and trust is gone, so is the foundation. Then, it’s only a matter of time before public services suffer and citizens become the victims.

A billboard on I-85 in Gwinnett County urges Asian-Americans to vote in seven languages.

According to AALAC Executive Director Helen Ho, “Most first generation immigrants say, well you know, I came here for my children and their future. They will be leaders in America; they will be full Americans, and they will vote,” said Ho.  “And what we’re trying to get everyone to understand is that, just like in every other thing, children model the behavior of their parents. The parents need to model civic leadership for their children and vote.”

That’s why the billboard features children’s faces.  Ho says placing the sign in Gwinnett County was another obvious choice.

“Gwinnett County is, beyond our city and our state, in terms of our region, it really is the flashpoint of immigrant growth.  So we knew that we had to put the billboard there,” said Ho.

Lee Anderson’s campaign for Congress is asking Democrat incumbent John Barrow whether taxpayer funds were used in the filming of Barrow’s new political ad.

“It’s time for Barrow to fess up and let us know where he got the cars and how much did it cost the taxpayers to film his commercial? We are all waiting,” [Anderson spokesperson Ryan] Mahoney wrote in an e-mail….

Barrow spokesman Richard Carbo had a quick response: The cars were airport rental cars that merely resembled a Government Services Administration fleet.

“We rented 20 cars from Enterprise at Augusta airport,” Carbo said. “We’ll call them ‘props’ for the commercial.”

“No taxpayer funds were used for anything,” he said.

Carbo provided The Augusta Chronicle a copy of an expense document showing that Friends of John Barrow paid $3,499.33 for 18 rental cars on Aug. 13. He said the logos were sign magnets the campaign used to make the cars appear to be government vehicles.

Candidates in the Special Election for Senate District 30 appeared together at a forum sponsored by the Carroll County Tea Party.

The candidates were quick to demonstrate their support for a “personhood” amendment to give legal protection “from womb to tomb” and to voice their opposition to abortion.

“We had some tough battles in the General Assembly this year, trying to determine when abortions take place,” said [State Representative Bill] Hembree, who resigned his House seat earlier this month to campaign for the Senate. “I will always stand up for right to life. Every human deserves the right to live, and to take away a child and not give them a chance, that’s unimaginable to me, as a father, a son and as a dad and husband. They don’t get to enjoy the freedom we have because they are taken. All I can say is, as your senator, I will vote every day for life.”

“When I became speaker, together with Rep. Hembree, we voted on a bill for women’s right to know,” said Richardson. “It had been out there for 15 years and never voted on. We’ve made great strides in this state and I feel there’s more to do. We can only do as much as allowed by the federal government. I think the Constitution already protects life, and if we can do more to protect it, I want to do more.”

Richardson said he doesn’t want to see the courts use the personhood amendment to throw out death penalty cases. He said such unintended consequences sometime happen.

“The bottom line is that we should be pro-life and protect babies who can’t protect themselves,” he said.

Richardson said he backed an adoption bill which gives tax credits for people to adopt babies out of foster care.

Hembree said Georgia is losing jobs in general, not only on the farms and he has sponsored legislation to help.

“House Bill 1023 says if you know someone unemployed and getting unemployment benefits, your company can hire these folks and you get tax benefits,” he said.

He said the foundation of the country’s economy is small businesses creating jobs.

“The government needs to get out of the way and let small business do what they do best,” Hembree said. “I’m a small business owner and I employ five people. I make the payroll every two weeks. I know how difficult it is to balance a budget and to employ people. I’m on your side to make sure we get people back to work.”

Republican State Senator Frank Ginn is being criticized by gay blog Project Q Atlanta for saying of his gay opponent,

Ginn, a good old boy with a freshman term under his belt who engaged in a not-so-thinly veiled attempt at gay-baiting – the old “gay and gay-friendly are bad, so vote for me” argument – on Monday.

[A]fter mutual campaign appearances in 2010, he personally does not feel comfortable appearing with Riley.

“I really don’t like being on the stage with this guy,” Ginn said. “He’s just not my cup of tea.”

Republicans will pick up a State House seat even before election results are in, as Atlanta Unfiltered writes that Rick Crawford will switch parties if he’s elected as a Democrat in November.

Rick Crawford was just nominated to serve another two-year term as a Democrat, but he says he’s switching to the Republican Party if he wins re-election in November.

Crawford, who had been pondering his party affiliation for a while, said Democrats’ endorsement of same-sex marriage pushed him over the edge. “I thought, ‘My time here is done,’” he said.

But his conversion is “not just a one-issue thing,” Crawford said. “My profile and my thinking of the way things ought to go was just not something that [Democrats] would ever entertain again.”

Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee will be doing a dog-and-pony show about his HOST Homestead Option Sales Tax Proposal for much of 2013

In general, a HOST is intended to roll back a portion of property taxes charged on primary residences and offset that with a new sales tax. Lee said the average Cobb County household has the potential to save several hundred dollars a year on their property tax under the plan. However, if a HOST were put in place today, the sales tax would increase to 7 percent.

“It’s supposed to be a dollar-for-dollar offset, substituting a dollar of sales tax for a dollar of property-tax relief on your homesteaded property,” said Clint Mueller, legislative director for the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.

Lee hopes that after presenting more detailed plans to residents next year, commissioners will vote next fall to request local legislation in the 2014 General Assembly. If both of those are approved, county voters would decide the issue in November 2014.

The HOST proposal was a campaign pledge Lee made in his re-election bid this summer.

The Richmond County Board of Education will hold public sessions to inform voters about the Charter School Amendment on November’s ballot.

Richmond County school officials have come out against the amendment, saying state-run charters will divert money away from an already underfunded public system.

Board members have said they are not against the concept of charter schools but are against having a state-run school within a district without having control of the operation.

“If it’s something that’s taking away from public education, we can’t be for it,” Pulliam said. “We’re already hurting. It’s like a poor man that’s got no food and clothes sharing all his food and clothes with the neighbor. You’re not going to have anything left.”

Unemployment in North Georgia is down from 8.6% to 8.1% according to preliminary numbers from the Georgia Department of Labor.

The rate decreased because there were 910 fewer layoffs in manufacturing, construction, transportation and warehousing, administrative and support services, educational services, health care and social assistance, and accommodations and food services. Also, the area’s labor force declined by 1,221, partially because some students left summer jobs to return to school.

Metro Athens continued to have the lowest area jobless rate at 6.7 percent, while the Heart of Georgia-Altamaha Regional Commission had the highest at 12.2 percent.

Metro Gainesville declined to 7.2 percent in August, down five-tenths of a percentage point from 7.7 percent in July. The rate was 8.1 percent in August 2011.

The DeKalb Republican Party is hosting a private screening of the film 2016: Obama’s America tonight at 7 PM, with remarks at 6:30. Buy your tickets online here.

In Loganville and some other cities, voters in November will face voting two separate times:

David Dempsey runs a fruit stand in Loganville. He is among the legions of Americans who grew up with the concept of one man, one vote.

But because Dempsey lives in the city of Loganville, he will have to vote twice on November 6th in order to take advantage of his full electoral rights.

“Did not know we had to vote twice on election day. This is all new to me,” Dempsey said. “I have never, ever heard of having to vote twice on election day.”

Loganville will essentially have two elections November 6th. One will be for the candidates ranging from president to county offices. The other will be for Sunday liquor sales inside the city of Loganville.

11Alive News has uncovered similar dual elections, with different precincts, in the following cities:

In Gwinnett County: Grayson, Dacula, Loganville

In Bartow County: Taylorsville, Emerson

In Fayette County: Fayetteville

In Douglas County: Douglasville

Lynn Ledford, the Gwinnett County election director, says Loganville didn’t submit its election in time to get on the county’s election ballot.

“Ours had already been programmed at that point,” Ledford said. “And once you get your ballot programmed, if you add anything to it, it changes the data base, it changes everything you had done at that point. You would have to retest all of your equipment, you would have issues with the paper absentee ballots and with other things like that.”

Ledford agrees that it makes no sense to hold separate elections on the same day.

Power Transmissions

Georgia Power filed a proposal to buy up to 210 megawatts of solar energy from private producers via competitive bids.

The utility said Wednesday it will buy more than 10 times the amount of solar electricity it currently gets from solar farms and rooftop array by 2017. If added today, the additional electricity would catapult the state to No. 4 in use of solar power, according to the most recent data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The plan calls for Georgia Power to buy an additional 210 megawatts from solar sources. One megawatt can power about 450 homes or one SuperTarget store. The utility generates 16,000 megawatts in total, with coal, natural gas and nuclear the dominant generation sources.

Georgia Power, the state and the Southeast have been criticized by alternative energy advocates for lackluster use of renewables such as solar and wind power.

Dropping solar costs are the main driver, company executives said, while pressure from customers, the solar industry and some utility regulators also figured in.

“Solar now is a lot more economic than it used to be,” said Greg Roberts, Georgia Power’s vice president of pricing and planning. “And we’ve really done a lot of talking and listening to our customers and developers and are working with the [PSC].

The average cost of a rooftop solar array has dropped more than 46 percent since 2010, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Some PSC members have pushed Georgia Power to boost alternative sources. Commissioner Chuck Eaton, running for a second term, said he has changed his stance on solar now that the cost has decreased.

“Solar has now entered the realm of competitive energy,” he said. “There have been folks that have been critical that we haven’t gotten in earlier, but really what they are saying is, ‘You should have paid three times for the solar what you are paying today.’”

Kim Kooles, a policy analyst with the Raleigh-based North Carolina Solar Center and the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy, noted that Georgia will remain among states without a mandated percentage of power from renewables.

Chuck Eaton’s opponent in the November General Election, Democrat Steve Oppenheimer, is one of those liberals saying that Georgia should have paid more for solar before it became cost-competitive and criticizes Eaton for what he calls a “flip-flop” and a “battlefield conversion” on solar power.

Eaton has consistently stated for more than a year that he would look at adding solar if and when it became affordable, but why would liberal activist Steve Oppenheimer let the truth get in the way of his radical green agenda?

Earlier this week, in an Op-Ed published in the Savannah Morning News, Eaton laid out the criteria for conservative analysis of solar proposals:

In discussing this initiative, I laid out a three parameters: it shouldn’t cause higher rates; it must be a good strategic fit; and bids to provide utility scale solar power should be subject to a competitive bidding process to ensure the best value to ratepayers.

Republican Chuck Eaton, and his opponents, liberal Democrat Steve Oppenheimer and Librarian Libertarian Brad Ploeger will meet in a GPB debate to be televised October 21st.

Commissioner Chuck Eaton, who’s running for re-election, said he’s looking forward to the opportunity to talk about the commission’s efforts to minimize utility rates for families and as an attraction to employers.

“This year we’ve reduced electric rates for homeowners by 6 percent, eliminated the job-killing sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, and maintained the reliability and affordability that make Georgia a great place to live and an attractive location for companies,” said Eaton, a Republican.

Georgia Power is listing for sale its Plant Riverside on Savannah’s West River Street.

“It could be utilized as retail, residential, office, hotel or a combination of those uses,” Georgia Power spokeswoman Swann Seiler said. “The hope of Georgia Power is that it becomes an asset not only for downtown but the entire city of Savannah.”

Plant Riverside long was an invaluable asset for the community in providing electricity. The property first became home to a power facility in 1882 when electric lights first came to Savannah.

Savannah Electric brought the current plant building online in 1913, and it was Savannah’s sole source of power until the mid 1950s.

The commissioning of Plant McIntosh in Effingham County in 2005 led to Plant Riverside’s closing.

The River Street facility, expanded six times and powered by coal, oil and natural gas over the course of its life, had a capacity of 100 megawatts. Five of its eight steam units still worked at the time of its closing.

Atlanta Gas Light opened a new pipeline to Helen, Georgia yesterday.

“We were here to dedicate the new gas line in Cleveland just over a year ago, so this expansion to Helen is allowing us to reach more and more customers in White County,” said David Weaver, vice president of regulatory and government affairs with Atlanta Gas Light.

The project was projected to cost $6 million and was part of the Integrated Strategic Corridor project designed to extend natural gas service to unserved areas of the state.

Helen Mayor Judy Holloway said the project has helped put Helen into the 21st Century, and she said a number of potentials customers have already expressed interest in hooking up to the new pipeline.

Ends & Pieces

The Gwinnett Historic Courthouse opened 127 years ago this month and oversaw the growth of Gwinnett County from new settlements to a major metropolitan community. Hustler publisher Larry Flynt was on trial in the Courthouse for obscenity when he was shot by a sniper.

MUST Ministries is asking for donations to its food banks in Cobb and Cherokee County, as shelves are becoming bare.

The nonprofit organization, which helps families in emergency need, is also gearing up for the Thanksgiving holiday, one of MUST’s busiest times of the year.

“We literally were down to just three days of food at one point last week,” said Kaye Cagle, director of marketing and public relations, of the empty shelves at the agency.

“We have had such a huge demand over the summer, and we received less donations, demand was up and supply was down,” she said.

The agency distributes about 2,500 cans of food a week, a total of about 2,000 pounds. Last year MUST served 22,000 people who turned to the agency for food.

Right now the agency is in dire need of canned meats such as tuna and chicken, boxed dinners, canned beef stew, canned beans, powdered milk and canned fruits.

The organization also needs dried beans and dried potatoes, spaghetti sauce and noodles, and breakfast items such as oatmeal and grits.

Another need is peanut butter and especially jelly, Cagle said.

“We are always out of jelly. We give bread away every day and we like to give anyone who needs it the peanut butter and jelly so they can have a meal,” she said.

For 15 years, MUST Ministries in Cherokee County has been distributing boxes of Thanksgiving dinner items to around 1,000 families annually.

Non-perishable items can be brought to the MUST office at 141-B Marietta Road in Canton Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Frozen items for Thanksgiving will be accepted Nov. 19-21, from 8 to 9 a.m.

With the help of the Air Force ROTC, baskets will be distributed Nov. 19-21 to families who preregister through MUST.

The MUST Donation Center is located at 1210-B Kennestone Circle in Marietta and is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 25, 2012

Cobb County Friends of Shelter Animals is raising funds to export 16 dogs to Minnesota, where apparently there’s a shortage of adoptable animals. Online donations are processed through Dogs on Death Row, who is matching all donations. It’s a dogpocalypse out there in the shelters, where most facilities are packed and receiving more animals every day. The only way to accomodate the influx is through aggressive euthanasia.

Gucci is a little lab mix puppy who is available for rescue or adoption from the Floyd County Animal Shelter in Rome. He should be considered in urgent need.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Robert Draper has written a long article in The Atlantic about redistricting that will be of interest to a broad audience, from those for whom it will be “Redistricting 101” to those who have been in the trenches, drawing maps with crayons on the back of an envelope, or with Maptitude. Draper was also interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air about his article, and it’s a good listen.

Redistricing led to some of the problems in Fulton County voting during the primary elections, including a precinct that reported 3300% turnout. Also a possible problem? An Elections director who thought he could serve ten days in jail without anyone noticing.

Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections has accepted the resignation of its embattled department director, Sam Westmoreland.

At a special-called meeting Monday where Westmoreland was expected to be terminated, the 5-member board deliberated in closed session for about 45 minutes before voting unanimously to accept his resignation. He sent his resignation letter Saturday while incarcerated at the Alpharetta jail.

Westmoreland just finished a 10-day stint for violating probation on a 2009 DUI charge, and he’s now awaiting transfer to the Laurens County jail, in middle Georgia, for failing to show up for court after a 2008 DUI there.

“After much reflection,” Westmoreland’s letter says, “I believe it is in the department’s best interest to have a leader that enjoys the full support of this board as we move forward toward this important general election.”

Several board members have said they were unaware their director had to serve time in jail until Sept. 19, five days into his incarceration [emphasis added]. Edmond said they knew he had received a Fulton County DUI, but thought his sentencing was complete. The board only learned of the Laurens County case last week, the chairman said.

According to the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office, a warrant was issued for Westmoreland’s arrest after he failed to appear in court there on Sept. 10 in connection with a Sept. 15, 2008, DUI charge in that county, also involving drugs.

Two pro-tips here: first, if you think you can get away with being absent from work for ten days without explanation, either your supervisors may be letting you get away with too much or you’ve already given up; second, if you fax in your resignation from jail, you can bet it will be accepted post haste.

Dennis O’Hayer has an interview with Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts about what kind of foulups issues we may look forward to in the General Election.

“I’m more confident today than I was last week, because of the actions that the  [Elections] Board took today, specifically bringing in an interim [director] and agreeing to bring in some outside consultants….and we will be taking advantage of the Secretary of State’s offer to help us.”

The AJC has more about the impending train wreck:

staffers will be adjusting to new leadership and directives as early voting begins Oct. 15. Fulton County has a recent history of elections difficulties and is currently part of nine open investigations by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

Georgia’s largest county, Fulton includes nearly 10 percent of the state population. Election problems in Fulton could affect the Obama-Romney race, casting the state and county in a negative light worldwide.

Fulton drew heat in the Obama-McCain election four years ago, when the office’s absentee ballot processing went so slow that the county had to hire FedEx to ship nearly 4,000 ballots to voters overnight, costing more than $300,000.

Then, after closing the polls, workers spent 53 hours in a warehouse counting absentee and provisional ballots. At the time, the results of a U.S. Senate race hung in the balance.

“Regardless of this unfortunate circumstance,” Secretary of State Brian Kemp said in a written statement, “Fulton County still has a legal obligation to provide safe and secure elections. Our office will work with them as closely as possible to make sure this takes place on Nov. 6.”

Serious policy proposal here for the General Assembly: consider whether there should be a mechanism for the Governor or Secretary of State to either suspend or remove local Elections Board members and administer elections where there is a history of botched voting administration and a reasonable basis to suspect the next election will be compromised.

Particularly topical given the issues in Fulton is a book signing tomorrow, September 26, 2012 from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM, with former member of the Federal Election Commission Hans von Spakovsky and his new book, Who’s Counting?: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk, at Capital Grille in Buckhead, located at 255 E. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta, GA 30305.

Hans von Spakovsky is a former Chairman of the Fulton County Republican Party and served on the Fulton County Elections Board. He is a graduate of the Coverdell Leadership Institute and currently serves at the Heritage Foundation as Senior Legal Fellow, where he manages the Civil Justice Reform Initiative. Please R.s.v.p. to Kathryn Gartland.

Chalk one up for Georgia Republican Party Chairman Sue Everhart. Last week she called the Obama campaign’s print of a flag with the Obama campaign logo “utterly disrespectful and outrageous.” The Democrats called her and the GOP hypocrites

“I think this is desecration, just like over in Egypt and these places that are burning our flag, stomping on the flag.  This is a symbol of our country,” Georgia GOP Chairwoman Sue Everhart told Channel 2’s Lori Geary.

The Obama campaign is selling its print for $35.

“If ever a time we should be flying old glory is now, not coming up with some sales pitch to sell the Obama flag. Does he think he is the most important thing that has ever happened to the United States of America?  I’m going to start calling him ‘King Obama’ instead of ‘President Obama,’” Everhart said.

She has called on Democrats to denounce the campaign print.

Georgia Democratic Chairman Mike Berlon said….“I think it’s a little bit disingenuous to stand up and beat your chest and say, ‘Oh my God, this is an abomination,’ when the Republican Party has been doing it for years.”

But over the weekend, the flag print disappeared from the Obama campaign website.

A page where the flag was now returns an error page. A cached version of the website still shows the product but returns a error page when attempting to add the item to the cart. An Obama campaign aide says the item quickly sold out and that sold out items are automatically removed. However, a similar item to the flag print that was also sold out was not automatically removed and appears on the site with “out of stock” below it.

Former Dougasville Mayor Mickey Thompson has been indicted for 91 counts of theft, in an indictment alleging he took more than $28,000 in payments for the city for meetings he did not attend or for which he was not entitled to payment.

As a result of the [Douglas County] Sentinel investigation, we asked the GBI to investigate and that is what I presented to the grand jury,” [District Attorney David] McDade said. “He had submitted meetings and received payments for 91 meetings that he was not entitled to under city ordinance. The way it was set up, he was the sole arbiter in deciding what was paid and what wasn’t.”

McDade said that the meetings ranged from ribbon cuttings, luncheons, bus tours, swearings in of other officials and phone meetings that are not allowed by city statute.

Unlike every municipality with a similar population in the metro area, where a straight salary is paid to elected officials, the mayor and council members in Douglasville are compensated based on meeting attendance. Council members are paid $125 per meeting, with the mayor receiving $313 per meeting. The ordinance gives a very specific list of meetings that are eligible for payment. In addition to paying by roll call, elected officials can also turn in meetings that they have attended as an invoice for payment.

That ordinance was enacted in 1997 and clarified in 2007 and a provision that reads “In Sections One, Two, Three and Four, ‘attended’ means the elected official’s personal physical presence at more than half the duration of a particular meeting or session; ‘attended’ does not mean or include participation via electronic means.”

The GBI report found Thompson asked for and received payments for 91 meetings since 2007 that did not appear to be appropriate for payment under city statute. Many of those meetings were tele-conferences, that clearly do not fit criteria for payment.

The probe also found that every Douglasville elected official with the exception of current Douglasville Mayor Harvey Persons was paid for and kept payments for meetings that did not fit the city’s defined criteria. The payments ranged from one meeting for one current council member, to more than 20 for others, meaning that council members received from $125 to $2,500 they were not entitled to under the law that they were sworn to uphold.

The council members were not indicted because some had been told to submit anything that could possibly be a meeting and a determination would be made on payment. Others didn’t turn in the “illegal meetings” but were paid improperly nonetheless.

Mike Miller was locked in a tight primary race with Bob Snelling and Thompson for the newly created GOP House District 66 seat. He agreed that even allegations cause distrust, but stressed that these are allegations.

“Its kind of an interesting set of circumstances,” Miller said. “We put this to the voters because our campaign was aware of the situation with Thompson in the primaries and we believed it was important for our constituents to know. But as a lawyer, it’s important to trust our criminal justice system. That holds that those who are accused are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

You might recall that the Republican primary election saw some nastiness between Thompson and Miller; former State Rep. Bob Snelling won the primary runoff against Miller.

The Douglas County Sentinel, which broke the story, opines that the City should be reimbursed for all incorrect payments made to officials, and fix the goofy “pay per meeting” system.

Speaking of ethics, Governor Nathan Deal’s campaign is seeking attorney fees from George Anderson, who filed ethics complaints against Deal

On Sept. 20, Governor Nathan Deal filed for attorney’s fees against George Anderson, claiming that Anderson “filed unsubstantiated, as well as, frivolous accusations concerning payments to Southern Magnolia LLC, alleging kickbacks to Respondent, untrue allegations of personal profit from campaign funds, as well as, allegations regarding good friend and appointee Patrick Millsaps to the State Ethics Commission.”

Local businessman and concerned Gwinnett County resident Kenneth Stepp believes the complaint and others like it are indeed frivolous, and take up taxpayer money and time in the courts. He has launched a nonprofit called Gwinnett Ethics in response to what he sees as a series of frivolous ethics complaints by Ethics in Government Director George Anderson and others like him.

Stepp’s nonprofit is pursuing a change in law that would require an “under oath” amendment. The proposed amendment would require those who file ethics complaints to divulge who, if anyone, is paying them.

I guess we’ll file this one under “Ethics” too. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle says Republicans don’t have to cheat to win in November.

Members of the state Senate Republican Caucus and some of their very best friends will spend two days in Adairsville this week to play golf and display their expertise with shotguns.

One can pay $500 for a dinner-time chat, but the main events on Wednesday and Thursday are open only to those willing to give $2,500 to $10,000 to the caucus’ campaign arm, the Georgia Republican Senatorial Trust.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has sent an email to Republicans to inform them, in very strong language, that he’s not going.

He has problems with the way $140,000 of caucus money was handed to an allegedly independent committee – based in North Carolina – to defend GOP senators from primary challengers this summer.

But most specifically at issue is the Trust’s decision earlier this year to put its cash in the hands of the independent political committee.

In a July email to their fellow senators, three Republican senate leaders – Rogers, Bill Cowsert of Athens, and Greg Goggans of Douglas – explained that they had given the committee not just the cash, but the message to voters that they wanted delivered, and a list of the incumbents to be protected.

“This is completely legal and does not violate any finance campaign laws,” the three wrote.

Cagle apparently thinks that there’s a high probability that they’re wrong.

In a surprise to no one, campaign signs are being stolen everywhere in Thomas County.

Did you hear the one about when the Savannah City Council tried to hold an illegal meeting  but messed up and inadvertantly complied with the law?

SAVANNAH CITY Council got lucky last week. Each of its members could have been nailed with up to $6,000 in fines if state officials determined that the local group violated Georgia’s open meetings law on Sept. 2

But because one council member was late in arriving on that date, a quorum wasn’t present. Hence, no technical violation occurred, according to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.

Yet that Sept. 20 finding from the state is of little comfort. Just because city officials attempted to hold an illegal meeting, and failed, is inexcusable considering City Hall’s history.

And it hardly “affirmed” the city’s actions on that date, as City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney said.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Stefan Ritter spelled it out in plain language in his Sept. 20 letter to Ms. Small-Toney. “From this Office’s review of the materials provided by Mayor Jackson, it is evident that an attempt was made to hold a meeting in violation of the Open Meetings Act, since a meeting was called without notice or an agenda and without making it open to the general public.

“Were this meeting to have occurred, it would have been a serious violation of the Act, potentially subjecting the City, yourself, and the council members to fines up to $6,000. It would also have been a substantial breach of the public trust, since the public and the press rely on transparency in government to know what their officials are doing.”

He stated the attorney general’s office was willing to accept the city’s claim that, though five council members attended, they were not all in the room at the same time. “Thus, under the circumstances, an illegal meeting was narrowly averted only by happenstance, not by plan,” Mr. Ritter wrote.

A group of solar advocates and vendors has proposed a solar utility that would set up a solar farm and sell electricity directly to end users via the interstate electrical grid.

To proceed with its long-range plan of developing 2 gigawatts of solar power, the start-up, Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., wants to start by building an 80-megawatt “solar farm” near Milledgeville as soon as it gets a green light from the Georgia Public Service Commission.

“There are obstacles. There’s no question there are obstacles, but you have to look at the rewards,” GaSU President Robert E. Green said at a Capitol news conference. “We don’t know what it’s going to take, but we are prepared to go through legislative action if necessary.”

Legislative action is indeed likely to be necessary, according to observers. A 40-year-old law divides the state up and gives regional monopolies to Georgia Power, the electric-membership cooperatives and nearly 50 cities.

GaSU could build its solar farm without action by the legislature or the PSC, and existing federal law would require Georgia Power to buy its electricity. But it would only pay GaSU an amount equal to what it could buy electricity from its cheapest, wholesale supplier.

The start-up wants instead to sell its electricity directly to retail customers who would be billed by Georgia Power or the other existing utilities, similar to how natural gas is marketed here. GaSU would pay the utilities for the use of their wires in the electric grid and any profits would be shared with customers like a cooperative.

Not mentioned in the article are requirements that electric power producers register with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Commission (“SkyNet”).

Polling Report

Polling analyst Nate Silver of the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog was referring to competing polls that showed contradictory findings:

I’d just seen a Marquette University poll of Wisconsin, which put President Obama 14 points ahead of Mitt Romney there. This came after a Rasmussen Reports poll of New Hampshire, published earlier that day, which had given Mitt Romney a three-point lead in the Granite State.

but he could easily have been speaking of the Peach State, where local “pollster” Insider Advantage showed Romney with a 21-point lead over President Obama, while a competing poll by YouGov showed only a 6-point Romney lead.

A little over two weeks ago, we released our own polling on the Charter School Amendment. At the time, we did not include the Presidential Ballot question that we asked in the same survey, but our results at that time were Romney 50.7% to Obama with 42.2%, and Librarian Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson 4.2% and Undecided 2.7%. I’m not convinced that Undecideds are that low, but I think the Romney-Obama matchup is plausible. If you want the question wording or statement of methodology, email me.

So, what’s going on when different “scientific” polls show vastly different results? Silver has one set of plausible explanations.

There are also going to be some outliers — sometimes because of unavoidable statistical variance, sometimes because the polling company has a partisan bias, sometimes because it just doesn’t know what it’s doing. (And sometimes: because of all of the above.)

The San Francisco Chronicle has an article out that discusses factors that may explain differences in polling outcomes.

At this time of year, the difference between poll results can be explained by everything from who is being surveyed (are they “likely” voters or just “registered”) to how many cell phone users (who are generally younger and from more diverse backgrounds) are contacted to how the questions are worded.

And while top pollsters try to adhere to common standards and best practices, there is a lot of room for interpretation in the way each constructs their universe of respondents.

“It’s a mixture of magic and science and research – and there’s more magic now because we have less science to guide our decisions,” said Oakland pollster Amy Simon, who is a leading expert in public opinion on same-sex marriage.

They also have suggestions for how to interpret polls, given the variance that is out there.

Consider the respondents: “Likely voters” are more credible, as they’re, well, more likely to vote. “At this point, don’t look at anything from registered voters,” said Oakland pollster Amy Simon. See if the poll includes cell phone users, who tend to be from more diverse backgrounds, younger and more likely to live in urban areas.

Examine the wording of questions: UC Berkeley Professor Gabe Lenz often teaches his students about a poll from the 1970s where 44 percent of Americans said they would not allow a Communist to give a speech, but only 22 percent would “forbid” it. The difference: Many people are often reluctant to sound harsh to a live interviewer, which “forbid” implies.

Treat a pollster like a movie critic: “Pick a poll and follow it,” said Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center. “You can follow its nuances and learn its tendencies.” Others, like Lenz, said peace of mind can be found with those who aggregate the major polls and incorporate them into a trend, like Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog and RealClearPolitics.com

At the end of the day, here’s my recommendation for public consumers of polling data. Take the Olympic scoring approach, where you toss out the highest and lowest numbers, and average the rest based on the sample size. In statistical terms, you’re removing the outliers, and broadening the sample size. That’s not precisely correct, but it’s a pretty good back-of-the-envelope method that might help you make some sense out of competing polls.