The blog.


What Georgia’s billion-dollar transportation bill will do |

The bad news: you’re still going to be stuck in traffic.

The good news: at least you’ll be on nicely paved roads.

The Legislature passed a $1 billion transportation funding plan last week, but don’t go looking for new rail lines or some towering new interchange that will solve all the problems on I-75 and I-285. What you’ll see instead is work on a mountainous backlog of maintenance: some resurfaced roads, filled-in potholes and bridges that can support the weight they were designed to carry.

“We may be able to do other projects outside of maintenance,” said state Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But not like rebuilding 285 or something huge like that.”

via What Georgia’s billion-dollar transportation bill will do |


Jesters confound school board – Dunwoody Crier: News

In what one DeKalb County school board observer called one of the strangest meetings ever, the Dunwoody duo of school board member Stan Jester and former school board member Nancy Jester, now a county commissioner, took center stage.

Jester has said recently that former congressman and U.S. Attorney Bob Barr has agreed to conduct a background check.
But the meeting took a stranger turn when it was time for what the school board calls “inspiration.” The school board chairman, Melvin Johnson, turned that task over to Jester, who was to offer the euphemism for prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Jester joked that he thought about turning the duties over to a master such as Tony Robbins.

“But Mr. Robbins wasn’t available,” Jester said. “So I thought I would call on the one person I know who cares deeply about children across the state, Commissioner Nancy Jester.”

via Jesters confound school board – Dunwoody Crier: News.


Get ready for three open-seat House races in Atlanta | Political Insider blog

Margaret Kaiser, a 10-year veteran of the statehouse, said she plans to step down when her terms ends next year to run for Atlanta mayor. The race to succeed her has already begun, with local attorney and Democratic booster David Dreyer announcing his candidacy on Twitter.

And LaDawn Jones, who was locked with Mayor Kasim Reed in a bitter fight over annexation, announced just before the session’s end that she wouldn’t run for re-election so she could spend more time with her family.

That might not be all. State Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, is in the hunt for a judgeship. And a few other seats could open by 2016.

The fight for [Tyrone] Brooks’ seat will come even sooner. A special election will soon be scheduled to fill the remainder of his term.

And Todd Rehm over at Georgia Pundit notes at least one candidate is already waiting in the wings: Brooks’ son Tyrone Brooks Jr.

via Get ready for three open-seat House races in Atlanta | Political Insider blog.


Citizen effort led to DeKalb overhaul |

With corruption scandals in DeKalb County making headlines, a group of concerned citizens gathered in a library last year to talk about what they could do.

They discussed the need for independent oversight of county operations. They wanted stronger ethics rules. They sought tighter controls on the spending of taxpayer money. Before long, the group brought together by Commissioner Kathie Gannon gained support from other residents, as well as elected officials and business leaders.

Their efforts paid off in the recent legislative session. State lawmakers passed bills last month that create a new position for a financial watchdog, reorganize the DeKalb Board of Ethics and institute stricter county purchasing rules.

“If the general citizenry hadn’t put pressure on their elected officials to do something, we know it couldn’t have happened,” said Gil Turman, a retired high school principal and a leader of the Blueprint DeKalb group that pushed for changes. “We had to come together to put things in place to make corrections to the wrongs that are taking place in this county.”

Blueprint DeKalb drew residents from across the county to the Decatur Library when it first met in February 2014. Residents broke into groups to focus on areas where they believed the county needed improvements. Then they did research and wrote position papers on each topic over the next few months.

via Citizen effort led to DeKalb overhaul |


A high-profile Democratic voting group faces new scrutiny |

Seven months after an ambitious effort to register left-leaning voters first clashed with Georgia’s secretary of state, the New Georgia Project remains under sharp scrutiny. But now it’s coming from fellow Democrats and donors concerned about the group’s results and transparency.

It comes as a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis reveals discrepancies between the number of voter registration applications the project reported submitting in five key counties and the amount registrars said they actually received.

In an exclusive interview with the AJC, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams — whose political future could be on the line — defended her group’s work and said its efforts will grow.


“I cannot imagine having delivered a better outcome given our objective,” she said. “To accomplish in six months the collection of more than 86,000 applications reflects the good work done by hundreds. I am deeply pleased by it.”


Her organization, though, would not say how many of those 86,000 applicants became registered voters.


via A high-profile Democratic voting group faces new scrutiny |


The Blackshear Times | Blackshear, Pierce County, Ga. Tom Crawford / Citizens, legislators deserve better than leadership gives

There are many members of the Legislature who work hard and try to represent the best interests of their constituents back home.

They run for office thinking they will be allowed to make informed decisions about which bills to pass and which bills to defeat.

They don’t know they will come to the capitol merely to carry out the orders of the governor and the leadership of the House and Senate.

This year, legislators were pressured to cast late-night votes on a huge transportation tax increase and a lucrative tax giveaway for Mercedes-Benz.

The Mercedes tax break wasn’t introduced as a bill and did not go through the normal committee review process. The measure was cooked up by the governor’s lawyers, added to an unrelated bill, and presented to lawmakers less than two hours before the session’s adjournment.

The transportation tax bill at least was introduced and reviewed in committee meetings, but the final version included some provisions that legislators did not see until the bill was put before them late at night for a final vote.

via The Blackshear Times | Blackshear, Pierce County, Ga. > Archives > Opinion > CRAWFORD / Citizens, legislators deserve better than leadership gives.


New hotel-motel ‘fee’ was poorly handled, poorly designed | Jay Bookman

In the next-to-last day of the 2015 Georgia General Assembly, legislative leaders trotted out a dramatically revised $900 million transportation-funding bill and basically rammed it through the House and Senate, brooking no objections and allowing no amendments.

Among the features of the revised House Bill 170 — features never vetted in a committee hearing, never discussed in a public setting — was a new $5-a-night “fee” on hotel and motel rooms in Georgia. The “fee” — not a new tax, mind you, but a “fee” — is expected to generate some $200 million a year for transportation. Using that revenue, legislative leaders were able to reduce the size of a fuel tax increase also contained in the bill.

Politically speaking, one of other attractions of the “fee” was that a lot of it would be collected from visitors to the state, who do not vote here and who presumably would have no option but to pay it. But the state’s tourism, convention and hotel-motel industries were justifiably upset, in no large part because they had been blindsided. That wasn’t by accident. HB 170 had been passed 11 days earlier in the state Senate, meaning that legislative leaders had ample time to negotiate its final form in public, through the conference-committee process. But they had no intention of doing so.

During a committee process, someone might have pointed out the inequity of attaching the same $5-per-night fee onto a $35 bill for a motel room in south Georgia and onto a $3,500-a-night suite at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead. For the farm laborer or transient family needing a cheap place to stay in south Georgia, that’s a 14 percent increase in the cost of the room, but only a 0.14 percent increase in the cost of the Ritz suite. If you’re going to go that route to raise money for transportation, a tax as a percentage of the room rate would have been far more equitable.

via New hotel-motel ‘fee’ was poorly handled, poorly designed | Jay Bookman.


Chattooga courthouse flies Confederate battle flag |

SUMMERVILLE, Ga. — One hundred fifty years ago this week, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomatox, ending the Civil War and, with it, the Confederacy.

All these years later, the Confederate battle flag still flies in the hearts and minds of some Southerners. And today it flies for real at the Chattooga County Courthouse in Summerville.

At the start of what is recognized in Georgia as Confederate History Month, the flag debate is beginning to roil this small mountain county of 26,000. It is a story of warring sensibilities and allegiances, one that may take days or weeks to resolve. But it may leave resentment on both sides for years to come. It begins last year, when the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans persuaded Chattooga County Commissioner Jason Winters to fly a rotation of Confederate flags outside the historic courthouse in Summerville.

Winters said that calls began rolling in 10 days ago, when the classic square Confederate battle emblem went up. Many were from African-American residents, he said — Chattooga is 83 percent white and 10 percent black — but he also began hearing from the business community, expressing concern that the flag was being flown on county property.

“The blame lies solely with me,” Winters said in an interview Friday afternoon. “Our county has made tremendous progress over the last several years, and I’m hearing that this sets us back. We cannot allow this to be a divisive issue for us, and I will not allow this. I should have put more thought into the placement of the monument and how we rotate the flags. This is going to be a tough one to work through.”

via Chattooga courthouse flies Confederate battle flag |


DeKalb employees may remain silent during corruption inquiry |

DeKalb County employees won’t be fired if they refuse to talk with special investigators hired by Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May to clean up the government, according to a revised executive order.

The order, provided by the county upon request by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday, says employees will be told of their right to remain silent before interviews, and they can’t be punished for exercising that right.

The initial parameters of the investigation said employees could be disciplined if they failed to cooperate.

But May removed those consequences April 3 after DeKalb District Attorney Robert James raised concerns that the investigation could interfere with future prosecutions. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that compelled statements given by public officials can’t be used against them in criminal prosecutions.

May appointed former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers and longtime investigator Richard Hyde last month to lead a sweeping inquiry into corruption in county government.

via DeKalb employees may remain silent during corruption inquiry |


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 10, 2015

Button Gwinnett, one of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, was born on April 10, 1735 in Gloucester, England, though some authorities say it was his baptism that was recorded that day. Gwinnett also served in the Georgia legislature, where he wrote the first draft of the state Constitution and served as Speaker.

General Robert E. Lee gave his last address to the Army of Northern Virginia on April 10, 1865.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded on April 10, 1866.

On April 10, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American professional major league baseball player when the Brooklyn Dodgers bought his contract.

Winners of the Masters Tournament on April 10 include Sam Snead (1949), Gary Player (1961), Tom Watson (1977) and Tiger Woods (4th – 2005).

Fort King George State Historic Site in Darien, Georgia will host a program on historic weapons this weekend.

“Weapons that Made America” from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday at the park in Darien.

The program will trace the history of black powder weapons from their origins in the 14th Century through the end of the muzzle-loading era of the 19th Century.

There will be several living history interpreters presenting more than two dozen black powder weapons and weapons will be fired periodically through the day.

Rare, specialty and hand-crafted guns, artillery pieces and other defensive devices will be on display.

Fort King George is at 302 McIntosh Road SE in Darien and admission ranges from $4.50 to $7.50. For more information call (912) 437-4770 or consult the website

The Augusta Chronicle profiles Lee Elder, who was the first African-American to play at the Master Golf Tournament.

To honor 40 years since Elder broke the color barrier in golf’s most revered event, about 300 supporters, family and celebrities gathered in The Lodge hospitality house on Thursday, sharing stories of their friend and thanking him for his bravery.

“He was not afraid to be the first,” said 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain. “It wasn’t easy for him to succeed…but he put up with it all and stayed in the sport, which is beyond admirable.”

Comedian and actor Chris Tucker, who emceed the dinner reception, said he considers Elder to be “one of my dads” even though “he’s been trying to teach me how to play golf for about 20 years, and I still don’t know how to play.”

Between the stories and thanks from various supporters, Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis’ assistant Tonia Gibbons presented a proclamation in Davis’ absence making Thursday “Robert Lee Elder Day.”

Georgia icon Sonny Seiler, who owns another Georgia icon, Uga, the Athens college mascot, reflects on 63 years of attending the Masters.

But when Georgia holds its annual G-Day football game Saturday, Seiler will be in Augusta for the 63rd consecutive year, while his son, Charles, tends to Uga in Athens.

Seiler’s history at the Masters Tournament began in 1953, when college roommate – and Orangeburg, S.C., native Howard Holladay – needed another rope holder on hole 17. As a Ben Hogan admirer, Seiler agreed to volunteer, and was given an Academy of Richmond County hat to show he belonged on the rope.

“I was asked to play Augusta National several times when I was president of the State Bar,” Seiler said. “But work obligations forced me to turn down the offer each time. To this day, I can’t believe I’ve never played the greatest course in the world.

“If I were to ever get another invitation, it would probably be my last round of golf.”

In the Dalton Daily News, writer Loran Smith reflects on many years of covering the Masters.

Eavesdropping on conversations was an early-on pastime in the 1960s, when technology was not troublesome the way it is today. The old guys would discourse on the latest developments with respect to golf equipment advances, but they seemed to have affection for subjects relating to life and humor. They never had to say, “This is off the record.”

I always tried to find respite in the lower locker room (which is now a grill room) or on the upstairs veranda of the clubhouse. You never knew who would pull up a chair. It could be Sam Snead or Gene Sarazen. They were easy and generous with their stories.

Snead was always a favorite of the writers. He was colorful and insightful. He also had a bent for ribald humor. Listening to Snead talk was a highlight every April.

An indelible memory came when Snead — well past 70 at the time — walked into the locker room, then kicked his right leg up and placed his foot on a doorway lintel that had to be at least 7 feet high. He was as limber as a cane fishing pole.

One day when Snead was in a good mood, I turned on a tape recorder for a memorable conversation. He moved easily through a number of topics, including his failure to win the U.S. Open — one of the most puzzling developments in the sport’s history. That circumstance makes you conclude that those who believe in fate have a point.

On Saturday, the Dalton Civil War Roundtable will hold a cleanup of the Confederate Cemetery.

There are more than 400 soldiers buried within the Confederate Cemetery with four of those being known Union soldiers. There still are some unknown soldiers interned within this cemetery.

Many of the soldiers buried in this cemetery were wounded in distant battle sites such as Shiloh and Chickamauga and in Alabama, or contracted a deadly disease, and then were brought to Dalton on “sick trains,” destined for one of the many hospitals that existed in Dalton at that time. Some historians have estimated that as many as 50 to 150 sick or wounded soldiers would have been on these “sick trains” as they moved to Dalton and through Dalton to other cities further south. Some have concluded that there may have been as many as three to four of these trains each week during the later war years of 1863 and 1864.

In some cases soldiers buried at this location had been originally buried in other nearby locations, their remains removed, and then reburied in this cemetery.

The Confederate Cemetery in Dalton was first used for a public Memorial Day Service on April 26, 1866. The public is invited to join with Roundtable members and with other volunteers in this annual event.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Earlier this week, WSB-TV reported that the City of Brookhaven fired its Communications Director for an allegedly racially-insensitive remark. A media pile on ensued.

Here are the original allegations,

Channel 2 Action News reports that City of Brookhaven Communications Director, Rosemary Taylor, has been fired because of statements she made regarding models a photographer brought along to assist him while he covered the Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival.

Photographer Nelson Jones, who was hired by the City, told WSBTV’s Erica Byfield that shortly after he made a test shot of the two models with Tourism Director, Mike Vescio, Taylor told him the models “were not the type of people the City of Brookhaven wanted representing them.”

Jones says moments later, another City Official escorted them from the site of the festival, Blackburn Park. He also said the City is refusing to pay him.

In a statement, Brookhaven City Manager Marie Garrett said, “On Monday, Rosemary Taylor was relieved of her duties as the city’s communications director after she exhibited conduct unbecoming of a city employee at the Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival last month. The change in staffing follows a thorough investigation by the city’s human resources director. This is a personnel matter and that investigation is ongoing. Taylor was hired in March.”

Now Rosemary Taylor, the former Communications Director, has spoken up with her side of the story.

From Rosemary Taylor: Let me say this clearly – racism had absolutely nothing to do with my interactions with the photographer and his hired models at the recent Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival. It all had to do with a lack of professionalism on behalf of the photographer, a conflict of interest, misuse of city funds and money spent unnecessarily.

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