Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for January 23, 2013 – The “Dixie Chicken Edition”

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29761 (male, top), 29762 (male, second), and 29763 (female, third) are white Lab mix puppies who are available for adoption beginning Friday from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

It’s a crisis situation at many animal shelters across the state as new dogs, puppies, cats and kittens are brought it. If you’ve been considering adopting or fostering, today is the day.

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Gwinnett2965529655 is a black, middle-aged Lab mix. Just old enough to start mellowing, but with his best years ahead, if someone will rescue or foster him. He’s available today from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

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The six puppies above were found outside, alone, in the freezing cold this week. They are at the Murray County Animal Shelter and need immediate foster or rescue, or they will be euthanized on Friday in the pre-dawn hours.

MurrayThreeBoxerPuppiesThese three boxer-mix puppies are bouncy fun, and are also in need of immediate foster or rescue from Murray County Animal Shelter.

Shane Wilson lost a leg in a motorcycle crash five years ago, and more recently, he lost his service dog, Lucy, when she jumped out of the bed of his pickup truck. Lesson one: dogs don’t belong in pickup truck beds when underway. Some folks found her roadside near a Cracker Barrel and returned her. Lesson two: always keep dog treats handy.

The friends were getting breakfast at the Cracker Barrel in Commerce when they saw Lucy. They walked down the exit ramp to get to her.

“We pulled out the treats and she just let me put the leash around her neck,” Davis said.

When Scoggins called him to say that she found Lucy, he was leery because he has had so many false hopes over the past six days.

Wilson told Scoggins to hold a dog treat up and say “Lucy, speak.” She did and Lucy barked. “I heard her bark and I said I’m on the way and I kind of hung up on her,” Wilson said.

“He was so happy, he was hysterical,” Davis said. “He immediately knew and said ‘stay right there, I’m coming’.”

The Exchange Club of Albany will hold its first AKC Southern Heritage Hunt & Show, which is open to all coonhounds and their owners, after a national coonhound event held in Albany for twenty-five years, was moved to Mississippi.

Both the dog show and hunt are “world qualifying,” AKC officials state, with winners cleared to move forward to the World Hunt Championship or 2013 World Show.

While secondary to the main attractions, there will be an aspect to the show, Brown said, that was not included for the UKC events: Malaysian Semara chickens. According to Brown, the birds are small — less than 19 ounces — colorful and they “kind of strut” when they walk.

Here’s your morning music treat.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The Special Election runoff in Senate District 11 in the lower-left hand corner of Georgia is taking a turn for the nasty. Jim Galloway notes that abortion has become an issue in the contest:

Over the long weekend, Georgia Right to Life dipped into the race with an email that included this:

“Dr. Dean Burke has not been endorsed by the Georgia Right to Life PAC or the National Right to Life Committee PAC. The NRLC PAC does not make state endorsements and its state affiliate – GRTL PAC – has only endorsed Mr. Keown. Any claims to the contrary are false.”

Political consultant Mark Rountree, working for Burke, says there’s no substantive difference between the two candidates on the issue of abortion. Local conversation, he says, has focused more on the $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers. Burke has pledged support for that limit, Rountree said, while Keown has not.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the internet, anonymous cowards are suggesting that Burke is an abortionist and appear willing to lie to make the hit stick. It now appears to be the case that in Georgia Republican politics, an OB/GYN will always be labeled an abortionist whether it’s true or not. Just ask Dr. Carla Roberts.

Republican Scot Turner, who came in first with more than 48% of votes cast in the Special Election for House District 21, met political consultant Brian Laurens in a debate, and Turner claims victory.

“I feel confident that the voters in HD 21 saw a clear difference between the two candidates for this race tonight. As candidates, we have a very important obligation to present our values, understanding, and plans to fix what is broken in state government. I provided a message to the voters assembled with the clear choice to reform our ethics laws, implement economically-friendly tax reforms, and return the legislature to the citizens of Georgia with term limits. Those who participated in this public debate responded with overwhelming support, and I’m humbled by those responses.

“The serious issues facing our state and county all revolve around a cornerstone issue: fixing our broken government. On the one hand, my opponent gave his view of government, which maintains the status quo. I gave voters a vision for the future; a future where government serves the people and not special interests.”

Incidentally, today is Scot Turner’s birthday. You can wish him a happy one by donating online to his campaign, as long as you are a Georgia resident or business and not a lobbyist or PAC.

Another way of wishing him a happy birthday, if you live in House District 21, is to go vote early today in the February 5th runoff. As of yesterday morning, only 28 early votes had been cast.

“It’s extremely slow,” [Election Supervisor Janet] Munda added. “It looks like we may hit five percent this time.”

Munda was referring to the projection she originally predicted for the Jan. 8 special election for both the House and the Georgia Senate District 21 seats. The county ended up seeing a 10 percent turnout for that election.

Voters in the run-off will choose between Republican candidates Scot Turner and Brian Laurens, who came in first and second respectively in the January special election for the house seat.

Early voting started last Wednesday and will continue Monday through Friday through Feb. 1.

Voters who reside in the district, which encompasses Holly Springs, portions of BridgeMill, south Canton and parts of southeast Cherokee, can cast ballots between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Albert L. Stone Elections Building at 400 East Main Street in Canton.

No voting will be held on Monday Feb. 4, and voters in the district will cast their ballots at 11 precincts in the district on Feb. 5.

The Bainbridge City Council seat vacated by Dean Burke in order to run for Senate District 11 in the Special Election Runoff on February 5th will remain vacant until November 5th, when it is filled along with two other council seats and the office of Mayor in the Bainbridge general election.

Former State Rep. Sean Jerguson led in campaign contributions in his campaign for Georgia Senate District 21, which opponent Brandon Beach won.

Governor Nathan Deal presented his budget to the Joint Budget Hearing yesterday.

Three percent cuts across the board, and slightly more funding for the state pre-K program, the HOPE scholarship, and juvenile justice reform.

He also continued his push to renew a hospital tax aimed at shoring up the state Medicaid program.

“I think it is critical,” said Deal. “We cannot afford to have a $700 million hole in our Medicaid budget,” said Deal.

Otherwise, the governor’s budget projects 4.8 percent revenue growth in 2014. That’s compared to the 3.9 growth seen this year.

If the revenue projection holds true, Georgia in 2014 would be back to where it was at its 2007 peak, before the recession.

House Appropriations Chair Terry England said the numbers are reason for cautious optimism, but warned the state isn’t out of the woods yet.

“The problem with that is we’re a larger state than we were in 2007 so there’s more people needing more services and resources, so even though you have that growth, the demand is still greater than it was in 2007.”

Accordingly, the 2014 budget includes increased funding for education and healthcare, but most would be used to simply keep up with population growth.

Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Hill said ultimately the final budget won’t veer too far from the governor’s recommendations.

“In years where you’re spending a lot of new money, there might be more needs and more wants than there are dollars, but we have such a lean budget to begin with, I don’t know what we’d have to fight over.”

Here’s the TL;DR version:

“We have reduced per capita spending of state dollars for our citizens,” [Deal] said. “Using 2012 dollars, we are spending money at a rate of 17 percent less than we did a decade ago. And we now have 9,000 fewer state employees than we did five years ago.”

The Georgia State Fiscal Economist also presented predictions.

Georgia’s economy should see slow but steady growth over the next few years as the job and housing markets continue to improve, the state’s main economist told lawmakers Tuesday.

Heaghney said that tax collections — an indication of the state of the economy — will be up 3.9 percent the rest of fiscal 2013, which ends June 30. The economy will pick up during the second half of the year and revenue should increase 4.9 percent next fiscal year, allowing the state to add about $550 million in spending, he said.

Heaghney told legislators that the state’s job growth is outpacing the national growth rate, and that “housing appears to have turned the corner, both nationally and in Georgia.”

Georgia is seeing an increase in information technology, business services, manufacturing and transportation jobs.

“We’d expect growth to pick up in the middle of 2013 and then accelerate the rest of the year,” he said. “In 2014, we should see much more rapid growth than we’ve seen prior to this year.”

Higher taxes, a sluggish global economy and the federal debt crisis will continue to weigh on the economy, he said, dampening consumer spending and adding uncertainty to the equation.

“This all creates an environment where there is still a lot of economic uncertainty,” Heaghney said. “We try to plan for that, but there are a lot of different ways the economy could move.

Part of the $19.8 billion dollar budget will be $4.3 million for the State Archives.

Supporters are pushing for an additional $1.5 million to expand public access to the state’s important and historical records dating to at least 1733, saying the additional money would reopen the archives from two to five days a week.

Gov. Deal’s budget will also allocate funds to implement criminal justice reforms from the last Session, and possible changes to juvenile justice this year.

He’s asking for $11 million for so-called accountability courts that offer an alternative for drug abusers, the mentally ill and others.

He also wants $4 million for a regional detention center for young offenders and a new youth development campus.

Today’s budget hearings will include the Departments of Correction, Juvenile Justice, Transportation, Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Natural Resources, Agriculture, Labor and Economic Development. The agenda for the Joint Budget Hearings is available by clicking here. This link should have live video of the Hearings later today.

Retailers in the three regions that approved the T-SPLOST should start collecting the extra penny sales tax.

A local clothing boutique visited Friday by NBC 26 is still ringing up its merchandise the old fashioned way.

“We write up all the tickets by hand and then we add up the totals and the tax with a calculator,” Alex, a sales associate told NBC 26. She said the store is still charging seven percent sales tax.

“I didn’t know about it until you came in,” another associate said. “I didn’t know it was in effect starting January first. So, I haven’t started using it yet.”

We asked the Georgia Department of Revenue how it informed retailers in regions where the T-SPLOST passed.

“In December, we emailed an informational bulletin concerning T-SPLOST, concerning the TSPLOST going into effect to all businesses that e-file as well as other businesses who have signed up for that specific mailing list,” said Jud Seymour, communications director for the Georgia Department of Revenue.

Seymour said if stores missed the instructional email, they could’ve looked up the information online on the Georgia Department of Revenue’s website.

On December 27, 2012, my oath of office was administered by our Probate Judge (Keith Wood), with the final sentence stating, “. . . and that I will support the Constitution of the United States and of this State, so help me God.”

Therefore, I will fully exercise the power of the Office of Sheriff to protect and defend the Constitutional rights of the citizens of Cherokee County. My position is best stated by fellow Sheriff Tim Muller of Linn County, Oregon in his letter to the President. “We are Americans. We must not allow, nor shall we tolerate, the actions of criminals, no matter how heinous the crimes, to prompt politicians to enact laws that will infringe upon the liberties of responsible citizens who have broken no laws.”

Along with Sheriff Muller, other sheriffs throughout the country (including Georgia) and I, will not enforce any laws or regulations that negate the constitutional rights of the citizens of Cherokee County.

Nor shall those laws and regulations be enforced by me or by my deputies, nor will I permit the enforcement of any unconstitutional regulations or orders by federal officers within the borders of Cherokee County, Georgia.

Commissioner Allen insinuated that some school board members may have benefited personally from deals with outside companies.“The investigation should examine any companies or firms […] doing any business with the BOE [Board of Education] where funds might have been used to directly or indirectly unlawfully benefit certain members of the BOE,” Allen read from prepared remarks.He declined to offer any evidence that would lead federal prosecutors to investigate such a question.“These allegations,” Allen said without specifying or attributing any allegations directly, “must be investigated immediately by a federal authority, as the facts show a possible misuse of federal funds, not to mention state and local money as well.”

The Marietta Daily Journal profiles Jennifer Rippner of Acworth, a member of the new State Charter School Commission.

Georgia Power’s evacuation plan for people living near Plant Vogtle was reviewed by federal regulators.

A study has found that Plant Vogtle’s emergency evacuation plan for people within 10 miles of the nuclear site is adequate. But the study says traffic control points and better highway infrastructure would improve it.

The updated analysis was filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and was posted on the agency’s website last week.

Depending on the weather, time of day and other factors, Southern Nuclear’s consultants’ models found evacuations could take between 90 and 205 minutes.

At the Cobb County Commission meeting last night, a citizen was led out in handcuffs because he preferred to speak anonymously about backyard chickens.

During the first of two public hearings on a proposal to allow chickens on property under 2 acres in size, speakers on both sides of the issue provided emotional appeals to the board.

Banks Wise, 25, of Mableton, said he had planned to attend the board meeting just to listen to what others had to say about various code proposals, including the one on chickens.

But then he stepped up to the lectern to address the commissioners during the public comment period, and board chairman Tim Lee asked him to recite his name.

Wise declined. Lee asked several more times for him to give his name before the police officers escorted him out of the board room, handcuffed him and took him to a lobby elevator.

“The gentlemen was not following the rules of the commission,” Lee said. “I asked him multiple times. He did not, so the officers removed him.”

Wise said two things prompted him to speak to commissioners. One was a comment by a previous public speaker opposed to a code change for chickens. That speaker, Ron Sifen of Vinings, argued that homeowners had certain expectations with the zoning laws in place when they bought their homes. To allow chickens in their neighborhood was, therefore, wrong.

Wise said he wanted to argue that just because a law is on the books, it doesn’t make it constitutional.

“I’m saying that being able to have a chicken was always right. There was just at some point a very bad law,” Wise said.

Another point that bothered him was that Lee demanded that each speaker give his or her name.

Anonymous political speech is a revered tradition among those of us who love America; perhaps Mr. Lee should take a remedial class in the First Amendment.

Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee has also raised the issue that requiring businesses to use the IMAGE immigration verification program may be too unwieldy.

A documentary on urban chicken keepers, called “Mad City Chickens” will be shown in Rome, Georgia, at the Rome Area History Museum at 305 Broad Street on Saturday at 4, 7 and 9 PM.

McHaggee said the film is relevant locally, with the Rome City Commission currently wrestling with the issue of allowing chickens inside the city limits.

“We hope that this film will illustrate some of the issues our city has been discussing,” the couple said in a joint press release. “Furthermore, we hope that this film brings people together for a fun evening of entertainment and camaraderie.”

A supporter of small families owning livestock, McHaggee said she usually gets eggs from Morning Glory Farm in Cedartown and is concerned with the state of some of the breeds of chicken that need space to thrive.

“That’s part of the reason I feel so strongly about this,” she said. “There are some of the American Heritage breeds that are in trouble of becoming extinct.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November 27, 2012

Recently, the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter has taken in three litters of puppies, causing a space shortage. This means increasing euthanasia, and all dogs there are at risk. These three pit mix puppies are among those who are available for adoption today.

Also among the dogs at risk at Gwinnett County Animal Shelter are this German Shepherd baby boy with awesome ears, and a senior Pomeranian who deserves to live his sunset years in a loving home.

Between now and December 23d, all dogs and cats at Gwinnett County’s shelter can be adopted for the low cost of $30.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Newt Gingrich left the door open for another presidential run in 2016.

The former Republican presidential candidate and House Speaker said he has not ruled out running for president in 2016 — but first the GOP must take on a “very serious analysis” of what went wrong in 2012, Gingrich said.

“I have no idea at this stage,” Gingrich said, referring to another run for the White House.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says that Georgia might become winnable for Democrats in 2016.

“Georgia is an achievable target for Democrats in 2016,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a frequent Obama surrogate during the campaign. “What you’re going to see is the Democratic party making a drive through the geography from Virginia to Florida.”

That will be easier said than done — particularly when the Democratic nominee is not Obama — but powerful forces in the region are eroding GOP dominance. The trends pose difficulties for a Republican Party shifting toward Dixie since the “Southern strategy” of the Nixon era, which sought to encourage white flight from the Democratic Party.

In Florida, the portion of all votes cast by whites this year fell to 66 percent, down from 73 percent in 2000. In Georgia, the number of white voters declined while African-American registrations increased nearly 6 percent and Hispanic voters grew by 36 percent.

Legislators who represent Clayton County are determined to ensure that their county remains the butt of late-night talkshow humor by defending Sheriff-elect Victor Hill.

From an article by Rhonda Cook at the AJC:

To remove Hill is “totally disrespectful to the voters of Clayton County,” said Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale. “Allow the judicial system to do what they do.”

Rep. Darryl Jordan, D-Riverdale, has drafted a letter asking the governor to leave Hill alone until the criminal case is resolved with a trial.

“It seems to me, governor, that when certain people can’t get their wishes at the voting booths, then they employ raw, unmitigated, egregious and flagrant attacks on the Voting Rights Act,” he wrote. “This is unconscionable. The people of Clayton County are tired of this shabby and condescending treatment from people who don’t even live here.”

From Jim Galloway’s Political Insider:

Once Hill takes his oath of office in January, Gov. Nathan Deal has the option of suspending Hill until his legal issues are resolved. The Georgia Sheriffs’ Association last week recommended the governor take that route, and even suggested a replacement.

[S]tate Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale. “I was appalled and taken aback when I heard the sheriff’s association giving a recommendation for a replacement of our sheriff-elect,” she said. “The voters were crystal clear when they elected [the] sheriff-elect. They were crystal clear when they rejected the former sheriff.”

Seay said the sheriff’s association had acted “prematurely,” and in “total disrespect to the voters in Clayton County.”

Expanding Medicaid would cost the State of Georgia “only” $2.5 billion dollars, according to a story in the Atlanta Journal-Consitution, while allowing the state to cover more residents and bringing in $33 billion in federal money. The only problem? Georgia can’t afford the $2.5 billion, which liberals call a “modest increase in spending.”

Gov. Nathan Deal has said Georgia can’t afford to expand the program, which is already facing a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars, even with the substantial federal help. Deal’s budget office pegs the cost of Obamacare and a Medicaid expansion to the state at $3.7 billion through 2022.

Deal has also expressed concern that the federal government — already facing a $16.3 trillion deficit — won’t hold up its end of the bargain.

Advocates of entitlement programs have long lowballed future costs to taxpayers, Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said.

“Regardless of whether the new costs are $2.5 billion, $4.5 billion or $6.5 billion, the state of Georgia doesn’t have the money to pay for it without a huge tax increase, crowding out all other spending or both,” Robinson said.

“For a modest increase in spending, we get a pretty dramatic increase in coverage,” said Tim Sweeney, a health care policy analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

“Someone thinks it’s free money when it’s not,” he said. “If we go bankrupt, there’s no way to bail out the United States,” said Ron Bachman, a senior fellow at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an Atlanta-based think tank focused on market-oriented proposals.

Last night, Common Cause held a public forum to discuss financing of a proposed new Atlanta stadium.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the Atlanta Falcons have been negotiating a deal for a potential new stadium for the past two years. The facility, which would cost a minimum of $948 million but is expected to surpass $1 billion, would replace the 20-year-old Georgia Dome.

More than 100 people came to the Monday evening forum organized by Common Cause Georgia, which featured Georgia World Congress Center executive director Frank Poe on the panel.

“Our focus has been to try to get the best deal possible for the authority and the state of Georgia” for a new stadium, Poe said.

Common Cause Georgia board member Wyc Orr, a panelist, said more information is needed on what infrastructure or other costs the city of Atlanta, the state and Fulton County could be responsible for. “Those are critical details that we think should be known in advance,” Orr said.

Georgia Tech associate professor Benjamin Flowers, another panelist, called for more discussion on what the public could get in return for its investment.

A poll commissioned by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in July found that 67 percent of respondents oppose using hotel-motel tax money for the building.

Today, Georgia Power executives will appear before the Georgia Public Service Commission to update the agency on progress and expenses in the construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.

Twice a year, the utility’s executives testify before the commission about the plant’s progress. On Tuesday, they will review expenses from January to June so the commission can determine if they are permissible and should be passed onto customers.

Georgia Power has already reported $900 million in possible cost overruns. But the expenses are the subject of a lawsuit so officials said there won’t be testimony about them Tuesday.

Commission chair Tim Echols says the hearings help decide who should bear added costs.

“Commissioners essentially become the risk-sharing mechanism for consumers,” he said in an interview. “We’re their eyes and ears on that board, making a decision whether things are passed along to them via their electric bill or whether those expenses are born by Southern Company and Georgia Power.”

Mark Williams is a spokesman for Georgia Power.

“The project is progressing well,” he said in an interview. “We are more than one-third of the way through with the construction. There will be some details about the costs — all the costs that have been expended to this point on the project.”

The United States Energy Department is seeking plans for a demonstration project to address nuclear waste storage. The SRS Community Ruse Organization is currently studying whether the Savannah River Site might have a role in a storage solution.

That study, to be completed early next year, is not specifically connected to the recent demonstration project notice, but would certainly explore the site’s possible role in projects involving outside locations or businesses.

“There is a potential that SRS could play a part of it, but we haven’t heard of anything specific to that proposal,” McLeod said, noting that such a demonstration project would likely require participation from a utility-owned, actively operating power reactor.

Walter Jones writes that energy production policy may be shifting at the Georgia Public Service Commission.

What happened is the Georgia Public Service Commission voted 3-2 to endorse efforts by a start-up company to overturn a law, the Territorial Act, that has divided the state for four decades into geographic monopolies for 94 utilities run by cities, rural cooperatives and the giant Georgia Power Co.

The upstart, Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., seeks its own monopoly as a generator of solar power with permission to sell to retail customers. Since it can’t produce electricity when the sun isn’t shining, it would always be dependent on other utilities for supplemental power as well as for transmission, billing and customer support.

The commission vote doesn’t guarantee General Assembly agreement, but it does provide a push.

The commissioner who sponsored the resolution, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, had been in the legislature in 1973 and voted in favor of the Territorial Act.

“I was there in 1973 when the act — legislation was passed,” he said. “Solar wasn’t even in the dictionary, I don’t think, at that time, much less photovoltaic…. It was something that wasn’t anticipated at that time.”

He argued for removing obstacles to consumers who want access to more power generated from renewable sources.

McDonald wasn’t the only veteran policymaker whose vote demonstrated a change of position. Commissioner Doug Everett, a great-grandfather and conservative legislator in the 1990s, also supported McDonald’s resolution.

“You know, everybody in here realizes I’ve always fought solar because I did not think the technology was there for cost effectiveness. But it’s changed, technology has changed,” he said.

The cost of photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight into electricity has plummeted in recent years and by 30 percent in the first six months of this year due to a price war between Chinese producers. The result is solar is becoming competitive without tax breaks, mandates and subsidies from other energy sources, Everett said.

“But something else has changed that disturbs me even more, and very few people mention this. But this (federal) administration has said it’s going to destroy the coal industry,” he said.

The Dougherty County Commission voted to levy a 2% excise tax on energy used in manufacturing.

Votes by Georgia counties on the excise tax, which Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard stressed was a “continuation” of special-purpose local-option sales tax and local-option sales tax funds already being collected by the county, became necessary when the state approved 2012 legislation to phase out the 4 percent energy tax that the states collects from those businesses over the next four years.

“I’d like to reiterate that this is not a new tax on our manufacturers,” District 1 Commissioner Lamar Hudgins said. “We’re voting to continue collecting the local tax.”

Governor Nathan Deal previously said that repeal of the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing was an important component in attracting new jobs from Caterpillar and Baxter International.

Former Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Fanning Lasseter will report to federal prison next month to begin serving her sentence for accepting bribes in association with rezoning votes.

Lasseter, who was mayor of Duluth for a decade before becoming a county commissioner, will begin her 33-month sentence for bribery Dec. 12 in a Marianna, Fla. prison, according to an order filed in federal court before Thanksgiving.

In the face of a lawsuit challenging Gwinnett County’s funding of Partnership Gwinnett with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, the County Commission may double down with another payment.

This time, though, the county’s annual Partnership Gwinnett agreement — on Tuesday’s zoning hearing agenda — stipulates that the money must go to a new nonprofit set up for the economic development program, keeping the money from mingling with the chamber’s private donations.

“With the need for jobs and business investment, I believe that it is critical we continue to focus on economic development,” Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said Monday, lending her support to the program credited with bringing 12,000 jobs to the county. “I also believe that combining resources and efforts across community segments strengthens Gwinnett County’s position relative to other communities with which we must compete.”

Pat Robertson’s Regent University will continue to pursue federal intellectual property claims against a renamed Georgia Regent University in Augusta.

The University of Georgia wants to aggressively invest in research to move into the elite circle of national research universities. Georgia Tech has received $1.8 million in federal grant money to actually perform research into microbial diversity. Football loyalties aside, which approach do you think will be more welcome in the Appropriations Committee this Session?

For more news on Georgia education issues, visit www.GaNewsDigest.com and look for the Education heading. The website is updated throughout the day and also features sections on Politics, Energy, and Transportation issues.

The consolidation of two hospitals in the Albany area is before the United States Supreme Court as the Federal Trade Commission charges that the merger was anti-competitive.

The justices heard arguments in the federal government’s claim that two private corporations used a public hospital authority to complete a deal that left one company as the owner of the only two hospitals in Albany, Ga. The Federal Trade Commission says the deal violates federal antitrust law.

The question at the high court is whether an exception in antitrust law for actions taken by a state or its agencies — in this case, the hospital authority — shields the transaction from federal concerns.

Lower federal courts allowed Albany’s Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital to buy Palmyra Medical Center from Hospital Corporation of America for $195 million over the FTC’s objection.

Georgia DOT will try to use more small businesses as part of a federal initiative.

Beginning next year, the Georgia Department of Transportation plans to increase efforts to encourage and help small businesses in doing business with the department and its consultants and contractors, state officials said last week.

As part of a federal initiative designed to foster increased nationwide small-business participation in government contracting, DOT plans to promote opportunities for eligible small businesses though its acquisition of materials and professional and technical services, as well as transportation consultant and construction contracts.

The goal of the program will be to facilitate such opportunities “of a size and scope that can reasonably be performed by competing small businesses,” including Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, states a press release from the DOT.

The AJC writes that massive overtime payments to MARTA employees raise safety concerns.

MARTA Police Officer Jeremiah Perdue puts in massive work weeks protecting the transit-riding public. He worked enough overtime to more than triple his pay, taking home nearly $163,000 in the 12 months ending in June.

Perdue, who earned $108,000 in overtime in one year , wasn’t alone in working excessive hours. About 130 police officers and 90 bus drivers boosted their salaries by 50 percent that fiscal period, with 55 officers and 20 drivers nearly doubling their pay. A handful, like Perdue, earned more in overtime than they earned in regular salary, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

While some might applaud such a work ethic, the overtime logged by MARTA bus drivers and police officers raises serious financial and safety concerns for the nation’s ninth-largest transit agency.

MARTA rules allow those employees to work 16 hours straight, but sleep deprivation experts say such schedules impair judgment and make drivers, police officers and others who work in potentially life-threatening situations a danger to both themselves and the public.

I suspect State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-City of Brookhaven), who chairs the legislative committee that oversees MARTA, will raise financial concerns about this as well.

The City of Dunwoody added starting its own school system to its list of legislative priorities for 2013.

“It’s not about the city of Dunwoody and our school system,” said Council [Member] John Heneghan. “It’s about local control and our school system. When you work at the capitol it’s not about a municipality, it’s about what is best for the general populace of the state of Georgia.”

Meanwhile, the left-behinds in North DeKalb are exploring creating yet another city.

The new Briarcliff Woods East Neighborhood Association (BWENA) sponsored the information-only meeting at Oak Grove Methodist Church.

“People underestimate how complicated it is,” former legislator Kevin Levitas, who hosted the meeting, said. “It takes a couple years to get a city up and running. People have to understand they are in for a very long haul, with some heated discussions.”

State Sen. Fran Millar, state Rep. Tom Taylor and former state senator Dan Weber described the process Dunwoody went through before it was incorporated.

The Cobb County Commission will figure out how to dispose of an $18 million dollar surplus; Commission Chair Tim Lee proposed “a plan to allocate the additional money includes paying off debt, rolling back the county’s millage rate by .2 mills and technology upgrades to the county’s court system.”

A wildfire in North Georgia has closed the approach trail for the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp is stepping down to start her own environmental consulting firm.

“She hit the ground running and has gotten us in good position,” said Don Stack, an attorney with Stack & Associates, which represents the Riverkeeper. “She probably decided it’s an appropriate time to take a breath and have a normal life.”

When I read a Savannah Morning News headline that “The hunt is on at Bethesda Academy,” my first thought was that I thought the hunting season for high school students started in December.

Over the last three years students enrolled in the historic school and home for boys have helped clear pine thickets, planted native grasses and converted 400 acres into a lakeside sanctuary for wild birds and the hundreds of quail they raise each year.

Now the public can book guided quail and pheasant hunts at the Bethesda Sanctuary.

They’ll even train your dogs to hunt.

“We’re talking about sporting dogs,” said Tom Brackett, director of the Wildlife Management Program at Bethesda. “We can’t train your French poodle.”

True fact: poodles were bred to retrieve waterfowl.

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.

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