List of nominees for Georgia Court of Appeals shortens itself

From the Fulton Daily Report’s ATLAWblog:

After receiving a record 75 nominations for the upcoming Georgia Court of Appeals vacancy, the governor’s Judicial Nominating Commission received applications from fewer than half the nominees.

The JNC said 42 nominees either withdrew from consideration or did not submit applications to the JNC by its Nov. 19 deadline.

JNC co-chairman Randy Evans said a subcommittee including himself, DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James and Augusta District Attorney Ashley Wright, will pare the list of applicants down to “a more manageable” 15 to 20 candidates prior to interviews on Dec. 12.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 26, 2012

Harley is obviously a big, scary Pit Bull right?

Or maybe he’s the awesomest-looking little low rider brindle basset mix. He’s pretty popular with the volunteers at Walton County Animal Services, where he’s available for adoption for $40. They write that he’s very friendly, good with other dogs and loves to play.

Someone emailed me yesterday to ask what the connection is between rescue dogs and Georgia politics, and frankly there isn’t much of one until now. It’s appalling that Georgia has so many dogs and cats that thousands are euthanized every year in shelters across the state. FixGeorgiaPets.org estimates that 300,000 dogs and cats are put down in the state every year at a cost of more than $100 million to taxpayers. In a civilized state that’s not okay.

Meanwhile, other states like Minnesota must not have enough shelter dogs because they’re importing ours.

So here’s the Georgia Pundit Policy Challenge for 2012-2013. Help us come up with a proposal or two that can be taken to members of the General Assembly that would reduce the number of euthanasias performed, promote pet spay/neuter, or make it easier to rescue and adopt. The best chance of getting something that will be taken seriously is for it to be a conservative idea that relies as little as possible on the state’s police powers, or saves taxpayer dollars, or reduces regulations. Email me your ideas and we’ll see if we can come up with something.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Governor Nathan Deal announced 150 new jobs and $150 million in investments in Floyd County, GA when Foss Manufacturing Company opens a new manufacturing and distribution center.

“Northwest Georgia remains a strategic home for the textile manufacturing industry, complete with the business environment and skilled workforce to help this industry continue its recovery in our state,” said Deal. “I am encouraged by the commitment Foss Manufacturing is making in Floyd County, and look forward to the contributions this company will make to one of Georgia’s major industries. I am glad to welcome Foss to Georgia.”

Foss is one of the world’s largest needle-punch based manufacturers, and supports its customers’ needs with patented technology driven solutions. The company has strong relationships with a diverse range of customers including major retailers and leading automotive brands.

“We are very excited about our decision to expand our operations and locate in Rome, and look forward to great success,” Foss CEO AJ Nassar said.

At its Rome operation, Foss will manufacture and distribute medical masks, hospital apparel and linens and automotive and filtration products. The company will occupy the former Mohawk building in Floyd County.

“It is always great news for our community when we secure a new company with such a diverse customer base,” said Rome Mayor Evie McNiece. “We are happy that at least 150 people will directly benefit from this positive use of a former manufacturing building.”

Near Savannah, Matson Logistics is expanding its warehouses and adding 40 jobs.

Matson’s expansion locally is a testament to the economic value of the Georgia Port Authority’s Garden City Terminal, said Curtis Foltz, the port’s executive director.

“Increasingly the Port of Savannah area is a strategic market for third-party logistics warehouse and distribution operations,” Foltz said. “Locating in proximity to the ports makes for a more efficient business model, allowing greater flexibility and utilization of company assets.”

Logistics operations are a growing sector of the Savannah economy. Several companies have built, expanded or announced plans to do business in the area in recent years.

The Judicial Nominating Commission named four nominees to a short list for Governor Deal’s consideration for the Gwinnett County Superior Court vacancy created when Deal elevated Judge Billy Ray to the Court of Appeals.

  • George F. Hutchinson, III – Chief Magistrate Judge; Gwinnett County
  • John S. Melvin – Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney, DeKalb County
  • Randy Rich – Judge, State Court of Gwinnett County
  • Robert D. Walker, Jr. – Judge, Magistrate Court of Gwinnett County

One commenter noted that the JNC traditionally names five nominees to short lists, and wondered if this was intended to convey a message about someone who was not short-listed. Or maybe it’s the beginning of a new tradition, as the JNC recently sent a short list of four nominees for Cobb County Superior Court.

  • Maria B. Golick – Judge, State Court of Cobb County, Division I
  • Robert D. Leonard, II – Judge, State Court of Cobb County, Division II
  • Juanita P. Stedman – Judge, Juvenile Court of Cobb County
  • Mark S. VanderBroek – Partner, Troutman Sanders LLP

The JNC might get a chance to compile a short list to fill a vacancy on Bibb County Superior Court as Judge Howard Simms is suspected of DUI for the second time in just over two years.

The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office launched an internal investigation Tuesday morning following a Saturday night roadblock on Lamar Road in west Bibb County where Simms was stopped. The roadblock was a part of the multi-agency Rolling Thunder traffic operation Friday and Saturday.

Chief Deputy David Davis said the investigation seeks to determine whether Simms was under the influence of alcohol and the circumstances surrounding his interaction with Bibb County deputies.

So far, Davis said, information gathered in the investigation suggests Simms took an alcohol breath test and registered 0.083. The legal limit in Georgia is 0.08. As part of the investigation, deputies are seeking to verify Simms’ breath test result, he said.

Generally, deputies administer field sobriety tests only if they smell alcohol, see a container of alcohol after stopping a vehicle or if the driver shows signs of impairment, Davis said.

“For them to have administered any kind of roadside field sobriety test, the officer who stopped him and had first contact with him must have seen something or smelled something that made him think alcohol could have been in use,” Davis said.

If the investigation confirms Simms registered 0.083 on the breath test, the sheriff’s office will confer with the Bibb County solicitor to determine whether an arrest warrant will be issued, Davis said.

Simms, a former district attorney, issued a statement early Tuesday afternoon saying he was not charged with a crime after stopping at the roadblock and that he returned home “under his own power.”

He cleared his court calendar Tuesday to make arrangements to enter an inpatient alcohol addiction treatment facility, according to the statement.

The judge, who is elected by voters from Bibb, Crawford and Peach counties, had been scheduled to preside over jury selection in an aggravated assault case in Bibb County Superior Court.

The prosecutor and defense attorney for the aggravated assault case said they received word Tuesday morning that Simms had postponed the case until the next trial term.

Simms has reported to the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission information regarding Saturday night’s events and his decision to enter a treatment facility, according to his statement.

The JQC is the state agency that investigates judges’ behavior and issues punishment when warranted. Attempts to contact the JQC were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Chatham County Juvenile Court Judge John Beam, Jr. has retired after 32 years. Lisa Goldwire Colbert will take his place on the bench. Current Judge Patricia Stone will now serve as presiding judge of the court.

The GBI is NOT investigating allegations on the interwebs that Chip Rogers profited from reimbursements by the legislature for expenses related to official mailings to his constituents.

GBI Spokesman John Bankhead confirmed that the state investigating agency, at press time, was not looking into the allegations against Rogers.

“The GBI has not been requested by a legal authority to investigate the allegations,” Bankhead said Monday.

Candidates for Senate District 30, recently vacated by former Sen. Bill Hamrick, discussed the Charter School Amendment at a forum hosted by the Carroll County Tea Party. The leading candidate, State Rep. Bill Hembree said he supports the Amendment

Hembree, who resigned his House seat this month to campaign for the Senate, said he fully supports the charter school amendment and he will vote for it, if elected.

“No local funds will be used for state charter schools, that’s in the bill,” Hembree said. “There will be no reduction in state funding for local schools. The local schools can still create charter schools.”

He said charter schools would have to be reviewed by local boards before they are submitted to the state.

“The state role is to provide a checks and balance system,” he said.

Hembree said he believes in public, private, homes and charter schools, and the online option of virtual schools.

“For every kid, there’s different options,” he said. “That’s the way it needs to be. In the state of Georgia, we’re just trying to get those options and make them available.”

Former Speaker Glenn Richardson also supports the Amendment.

Richardson said he counted three of the other candidates on the fence and said it’s an issue where you can’t be on the fence.

“I intend to vote yes,” he said. “I support every time you give a parent a choice on how to educate their child. I hear cries of educators who say we’re going to take money away from schools. It’s not about money, it’s about kids. Why would you vote against parents starting a charter school?”

He said the General Assembly tried passing a charter school law, but the courts ruled that money couldn’t be given to charter schools without a constitutional amendment.

“It’s not an attack on educators, but a chance to give parents a choice,” he said.

The University of Georgia’s University Council will vote on whether employment benefits should be extended to domestic partners.

SACS, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, is once again warning Clayton County that it is the most embarrassing county in Georgia is at risk of losing its school system’s accreditation.

The accrediting agency revoked the district’s accreditation in 2009. In its letter Tuesday, SACS President Mark Elgart cited concerns about conflicts between board members.

The school system has until Jan. 15 to respond to the concerns before the accrediting agency decides whether to investigate the board’s actions.

Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell has proposed that the County “disinvest[] all funds managed by, for and on behalf of Hall County and any ancillary components of Hall County, in any company with active business operations in the petroleum and energy industry in Iran or Sudan; and for other purposes.”

Republican Freddie Sanders says he’s more qualified than his Democratic opponent to run the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

Sanders, a Republican, said the difference between him and his Democratic opponent, Richmond County school Public Safety Lt. Richard Roundtree, is that he has the experience and the knowledge to run a department with a $56 million budget.

“This is not about race, and this is not about party. This is about qualifications,” he said.

Sanders, an attorney who last wore a police uniform 27 years ago, said that his critics – including Roundtree – have implied that he comes form another generation and that he isn’t familiar with modern technology. He said he defied anyone to test him.

Sanders said his campaign had tried to get Roundtree to show up at several events, including Tuesday’s meeting, to debate him of those issues, but his opponent has always declined.

“I want him to show up somewhere and debate me and tell me what I don’t know about the Richmond County sheriff’s department,” he said.

Cherokee County voters had a chance to learn about the proposed HOST Homestead Option Sales Tax that, if passed, will levy an additional penny sales tax and apply the proceeds to reducing property taxes.

Cherokee County Commissioners have invited the GBI to investigate issues surrounding Ball Ground Recycling.

At the Sept. 18 county commission meeting, commissioners unanimously approved their official response to Grand Jury recommendations following its investigation of the failed Ball Ground Recycling (BGR) venture by businessman Jimmy Bobo, which the county approved backing with an $18.1 million resource recovery bond issue.

Since Bobo filed bankruptcy in May, the county has been responsible for paying the $100,000-a-month debt service on the bonds. Currently, the tally on county taxpayers for the failed venture is $2 million. The property and the operation, according to the terms of the lease with Bobo, have reverted to the county’s ownership.

The county has obtained an appraisal of the BGR facilities and equipment, which it is utilizing in its negotiations with prospective new operators and/or owners. The estimated value of the operation is $10 million, County Manager Jerry Cooper said.

Forsyth County Tea Party Patriots Alliance will hold a roundtable for candidates for the Seventh and Ninth Congressional Districts on Thursday, September 27th, beginning at 7 PM at the Forsyth County Administration Building. Twelfth District Congressional candidate Lee Anderson won’t attend that one either.

Bibb and Monroe Counties continue to dispute the exact border between the jurisdictions.

Monroe County had filed a lawsuit challenging a decision by Georgia’s secretary of state in Bibb’s favor, but that lawsuit was dismissed Friday in Fulton County Superior Court.

Bibb County Attorney Virgil Adams said the judge’s decision was not surprising because the law gives the secretary of state final say-so in border disputes. However, Adams says Monroe County officials only filed the lawsuit to “craft a back door avenue for an appeal.”

“I’m sure they’re going to appeal to the state Court of Appeals,” he said. “They’re trying to back door an appeal because the statute that deals with border disputes does not provide for appeals.”

Bibb County was added to the lawsuit between Monroe County and Secretary of State Brian Kemp in which Monroe sought to overturn Kemp’s ruling that rejected a border survey favored by Monroe officials. Kemp said that two surveys should have been provided.

The border’s location has been in dispute for decades. The state Legislature set the boundary in 1822, with a corner on the Ocmulgee River. The legislation is ambiguous about whether there was one ferry site or two, among other questions.

Caught in the dispute are residents, infrastructure and part of Bass Pro Shops. Kemp said the missing 1822 survey made it harder to decide where the border is supposed to be.

In a filing in Fulton County Superior Court, Bibb County said that should it lose the dispute, the tax hit to the county government, county schools and unincorporated county fire tax would be exactly $1,376,591.

Ends & Pieces

The New York Times has an interesting article on a threat to long-standing Geechee/Gullah families on Sapelo Island.

These Creole-speaking descendants of slaves have long held their land as a touchstone, fighting the kind of development that turned Hilton Head and St. Simons Islands into vacation destinations. Now, stiff county tax increases driven by a shifting economy, bureaucratic bumbling and the unyielding desire for a house on the water have them wondering if their community will finally succumb to cultural erosion.

“The whole thing just smells,” said Jasper Watts, whose mother, Annie Watts, 73, still owns the three-room house with a tin roof that she grew up in.

She paid $362 in property taxes last year for the acre she lives on. This year, McIntosh County wants $2,312, a jump of nearly 540 percent.

Where real estate is concerned, history is always on the minds of the Geechees, who live in a place called Hog Hammock. It is hard for them not to be deeply suspicious of the tax increase and wonder if, as in the past, they are being nudged even further to the fringes.

Theirs is the only private land left on the island, almost 97 percent of which is owned by the state and given over to nature preserves, marine research projects and a plantation mansion built in 1802.

The relationship between Sapelo Island residents and county officials has long been strained, especially over race and development. In July, the community relations division of the Justice Department held two meetings with residents to address charges of racial discrimination. A department spokesman said the meetings were confidential and would not comment.

Neither would the chief tax appraiser, Rick Daniel, or other elected county officials. But Brett Cook, who manages the county and its only city, Darien, says local government does a lot to support the Geechee culture.

“It’s a wonderful history and a huge draw for our ecotourism,” he said.

This summer, he pointed out, the county worked with the Smithsonian to host a festival that culminated in a concert with members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters, who practice a style of singing and hand claps developed by slaves.

State Senator William Ligon, who represents the county and is a real estate lawyer, suggests that residents file a lawsuit if they do not get relief.

“In an economy where property values have been declining, I think I would want to look very, very closely at what had been done at the county level,” he said.

None of that offers immediate relief to residents who have tax bills piled up on kitchen tables and in desk drawers.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that will allow driverless cars on California’s roadways. Of course he took a ride in a driverless Prius to celebrate the occasion.

The bill by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla will establish safety and performance regulations to test and operate autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways.

“Today we’re looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality — the self-driving car,” Brown said. “Anyone who gets inside a car and finds out the car is driving will be a little skittish, but they’ll get over it.”

Google Inc. has been developing autonomous car technology and lobbying for the regulations. The company’s fleet of a dozen computer-controlled vehicles has logged more than 300,000 miles of self-driving without an accident, according to Google.

“I think the self-driving car can really dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin said.

Autonomous cars can make roads safer, free commuters from the drudgery of driving, reduce congestion and provide transport to people who can’t drive themselves, such as the blind, disabled, elderly and intoxicated, Brin said.

Let’s just hope the driverless cars aren’t guided by the new iOS 6 version of Apple’s maps.