Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November 30, 2012


The litter of five puppies above was abandoned in a convenience store parking lot and the three girls and two boys will be available for individual adoption beginning Sunday from the Bainbridge Humane Society.

A popular Christmas season fundraiser for local rescue groups and humane societies is the Pet Pic with Santa. Here’s a list of several places to have your dog or cat photographed with Santa.

Gwinnett County is having photos with Santa at their Animal Shelter, as well as discounted $30 adoptions through December 23d.

We understand the potency of using dogs in marketing, but sometimes you really need an outside opinion on whether your business can really use a dog in its ads. Exhibit one is this display ad from a Hall County urologist.

While they don’t say it, I can only assume from the advertisement that “no needles” combined with a photo of a dog with two tennis balls in its mouth means your vasectomy will be performed by a labrador retriever working without benefit of anesthesia. Hope the dog isn’t named Chopper. [language warning at that link]

Angels Among Us rescued one of the most pitiful severely-neglected dogs I’ve seen and is racking up veterinary bills to find out what he needs. Please consider donating to his care if you are able. If you give online, please note in the online form that you learned about Harding from GaPundit.com. When rescues know where the money comes from it is helpful to them, and to us as we are gaining credibility with rescue groups, which I believe will help us save more animals.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Governor Nathan Deal’s experience in Congress will be useful as he monitors the fiscal negotiations and assesses the impact on Georgia.

“When you’re looking at a project where 70 percent of the cost is expected to be paid by the federal government, that first step of getting it into the federal budget and approved is critical.”

Deal recently said he’d ask state lawmakers for an additional $50 million this year to deepen the port so it can accommodate the larger cargo ships expected when the Panama Canal is expanded in 2015.

If Deal’s request is approved, it’ll bring the state’s share to $231 million. The project’s total price tag is $652 million.

Whether or not Congress can reach a debt reduction deal by the end of the year, federal funds are expected to be tougher to come by in 2013. Nonetheless, Deal says the project is in a good position.

“This is a difficult time to get any new projects in the federal budget but we are hopeful. We think the merits of the project hopefully will be able to convince those in Washington to include it in the next budget.”

State Senator Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and spoke with WABE’s Dennis O’Hayer about the impact of Washington’s negotiations on Georgia’s budget.

“As far as the state budget is concerned, there are some effects that would happen that maybe aren’t as severe as the overall impact on the state from sequestration. What we as a state would do, as far as those cuts that flow through our budget, we’re going to look at those individually and on a case-by-case project decide if we need to try to find the funds to replace any or part of that.”

Mediation with attorneys involved in the lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to stop the Savannah Harbor Expansion and dredging of the Savannah River is taking place in Charleston. Because Charlestonians are historically dispassionate about negotiations involving the federal government.

The Georgia Ports Authority approved spending $2 million to upgrade the roll-on/roll-off cargo capacity at Savannah’s Ocean Terminal.

Restoring the full Pre-K calendar will be another of Governor Deal’s priorities in the 2013 Session of the General Assembly.

Gov. Nathan Deal says he’ll put money in his proposed state budget next year to restore all the days cut from pre-K programs.

Reducing them by 20 days, Deal noted in an interview Wednesday, was part of a bail-out for Georgia’s financially strapped HOPE scholarship program.

It’s funded by state lottery revenues, which have failed to keep pace with HOPE-related costs.

Ten days were restored in this year’s state budget.

“And being able to put 10 more back will bring us back to where we were,” Deal said.

Not certain of retaining their spot as the most embarrassing County in Georgia as Honey Boo-Boo’s Wilkinson County home makes a strong play, Clayton County voters will head to the polls again on December 4th to decide runoffs for the School Board. Whoever’s on the ballot, we can county on Clayton County to make the abosolute worst choice.

Republican District Attorney-elect Meg Daly Heap is preparing to take office in Chatham County.

One priority Heap has set is ramping up prosecution of repeat offenders.

A defendant with three prior felonies can be charged as a recidivist, which means even at the state level, they would not be eligible for parole.

“This is a tool we have, and we need to use it,” she said. “They’re getting out and committing more crimes.”

The State Elections Board informed Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry that he’s not allowed to visit election precincts while he’s a candidate on the ballot unless he is actually voting at the time.

Brink Bradshaw and Kelvin Williams, the director of Thomson-McDuffie County Elections and Voter Registration, lodged the complaint with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections. They accused Usry of intimidating voters by visiting three polling places during last year’s municipal election.

Usry told state investigators that he had heard rumors of irregularities and wanted to check them out. He said he didn’t know it was illegal for a candidate to visit polling places for any reason other than voting.

Electric rates will be lower beginning in January for Georgia Power customers after action by the Georgia Public Service Commission.

“We have low natural gas prices to thank for this rate reduction,” said Georgia PSC Chairman Tim Echols, in a statement. “But I believe our investment in new nuclear will be our saving grace when gas prices rise again decades from now.”

CobbEMC rolled back electric rates while upping the monthly service charge, but says that most ratepayers will pay less net.

The company and its chairman insist the changes will result in unchanged or lowered bills for more than 80 percent of members.

“Apples to apples, whatever you spent in July of 2012, in July of 2013 you’re going to pay less,” Chairman Ed Crowell said. “The service charge accounts for the fixed costs of every customer, whether they have electricity flowing or not. The wiring, the meter, that stays the same. What we found when we tried to reduce rates was that the Wholesale Power Adjustment had been built up over the years with fixed costs, rather than increasing the base service fee. It hasn’t been bill clearly in the past.”

Georgia Solar Utilities will get stomped on by an 800-pund gorilla attempt to revise the Territorial Electric Service Act in the General Assembly in order to compete with Georgia Power, EMCs and municipal electric utilities.

Economic forecasts from the University of Georgia suggest our state’s economy should slightly outpace the rest of the country in 2013.

“We will outperform the average state in 2013,” Robert Sumichrast, dean of UGA’s Terry College of Business, told hundreds of businessmen, politicians and academics Thursday at the Georgia World Congress Center. “The massive restructuring of the state’s private sector is complete and the real estate bubble is over.”

The economist predicted Georgia will achieve a 2.1 percent growth rate next year, compared with a national growth rate of 1.8 percent. That would reverse several years in which Georgia largely lagged the nation in major economic measures such as job losses, home values and personal income.

The UGA forecast cites a dropping unemployment rate, strengthening job growth and a mild rebound in home values, which it expects to grow 3 percent to 5 percent.

Augusta won’t be as lucky.

the forecast … calls for the Augusta area’s employment to grow by 0.4 percent in 2013. That would be an improvement over the negative 2.1 percent pace for this year.

The metro area will lag the rest of the state’s 2.1 percent expansion and the nation’s 1.3 percent.

“Strong performance of the metro area’s services-producing industries, notably health care and private education, will be a positive for the local economy,” the economists wrote.

Hall County’s housing market is near the bottom of the list of metro areas nationwide.

Among 304 metro areas, the Gainesville MSA, which is basically Hall, is ranked No. 301, with a 5.75 percent drop in housing values over the past year. The report is based on the housing price index, which takes into account new and refinanced mortgages.

Two Florida cities — Gainesville and Tallahassee — and Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, N.Y., are the only metro areas that have worse showings, the 77-page report states.

Ends & Pieces

Dahlonega will display what is thought to be the only diving bell that survives from Georgia’s gold rush era. The diving bell was used to prospect on the bottoms of rivers near the town.

The Trust for Public Land is working to link the southern end of the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain to the Chattahoochee River to provide for expanded recreation opportunities.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November 28, 2012

The Murray County Animal Shelter in Chatsworth, Georgia has impending deadlines on Thursday before dawn for a number of dogs.

This is a one-and-a-half year old Lab boy who is great with other dogs and with people, available from the Murray County Animal Shelter with a deadline of 2 AM Thursday morning.

This sweet brown dog is a mother at ten months of age, and she and her puppies are destined to be euthanized tomorrow morning if no one steps up to adopt or foster. They are available for adoption immediately and transportation can be arranged.

These two 16-week old lab puppy males are still available for adoption.

Six black lab mix puppies (above) and their mother (below).

 

The year-and-a-half Boxer female above is the shelter volunteers’ favorite because she’s sweet to people and other dogs.

This black lab mix male is about ten months old and has the beginning of mange, but it’s easily treated.

There are a half-dozen other dogs in dire need before Thursday. Transportation for any of these dogs to the Atlanta area is available for free and we have sponsors who are willing to pay the adoption fee for any of these dogs. Email me if you’re interested in adopting and have any questions.

To save one of these souls, here is the contact information:

Lisa Hester, volunteer
[email protected]
[email protected]

Megan706-260-5251 (daytime Tu,Th,F)(TEXT or call)
706-695-8003
[email protected]

Pauline Davis
[email protected]
706-463-2194, TEXT messages only

If you are not able to save a dog at this time, you also may make a donation on behalf of one of the dogs or for a “hard to place” dog. To make a donation, simply go to www.paypal.com, click on the “send money” tab on the home page and enter the shelter acct, [email protected]. In the subject line, indicate this is a donation for the (brief descrip and/or ID # of animal or “hard to place dog”). IMPORTANT: Be sure to designate the payment as a “gift” or PayPal will take part of it.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Early voting has started in the runoff election for Senate District 30 between Bill Hembree and Mike Dugan.

Both Hembree and Dugan are expected to speak at the Dec. 1 county Republican meeting at Sunnyside Cafe in Carrollton, likely their last joint appearance before the election.

On the campaign trail, Hembree is emphasizing his years of experience as a legislator and his conservative background, while Dugan is running as a new face, with a new approach to the problems facing the state.

Hembree, 46, a Douglas County insurance agent, served 18 years as a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives, chairing higher education, rules and industrial relations committees. On Sept. 6, he resigned from the House to enter the state Senate race.

Dugan, 49, is making his first run for public office. He is emphasizing his military and business experience as training for the Legislature. He has pledged to hold regular town hall meetings, if elected, and to work for term limits. He said it’s time for new ideas and new leadership.

Hembree was strong in the early voting phase of the general election when he received more votes than he did on Election Day.

District 30 comprises portions of Carroll, Douglas and Paulding counties.

Extra points are awarded to the Douglas County Sentinel writer who actually used the word “comprise” correctly.

The nascent City of Brookhaven will also elect a Mayor and three City Council members in runoff elections. I’ll be voting for J. Max Davis for Mayor.

 During his campaign, Davis said he had a great experience connecting the voters with his campaign, which showed in his voting results numbers.

His campaign style also includes going door-to-door and phone calling — but Davis also held meet and greets in the homes of his supporters, as well as restaurants.

“I did meetings anywhere people wanted to meet and I would come and meet and talk with them,” he said.

On his continuing campaign before the runoff, Davis does not plan to change anything, but would like to replicate the results of last Tuesday.

“We’re just focused more on getting people out to vote,” he said.

In Brookhaven District 2, Rebecca Chase Williams is the likely winner and I would vote for her if I lived in that district.

In Brookhaven District 3, Kevin Quirk came in ten votes behind Bates Mattison in the initial election. Quirk has been going door-to-door, while I haven’t seen Mattison in my neighborhood.

In Brookhaven District 4, Joe Gebbia has been endorsed by State Rep. Mike Jacobs and will likely win.

“Joe Gebbia has displayed the ability to reach out to all individuals in his district,” said state Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Atlanta, who was theauthor of the Brookhaven cityhood bill. “Whether you were for or against cityhood, Joe has proven that he’s committed to bringing our city together.”

The Brookhaven Patch has a pretty good analysis of the runoffs.

Plant Vogtle’s new reactors may be later than previously thought in being brought online as construction is running behind schedule. According to a story by Kristi Swartz in the AJC:

Worker training, increased project oversight and stiffer regulatory requirements are chief reasons behind the delay, tacking on six months’ worth of additional labor costs, Georgia Power has said. The project’s main contractors say the delays could be even longer, with the first reactor starting up in early-to-mid 2017 and the second one a year later.

The first of the $14 billion reactors was originally scheduled to be finished in April 2016, and the second one a year later. Regulatory and other pre-construction delays had already changed the estimate to six months later than that.

The delay had lead to a 1 percent increase in Georgia Power’s $6.1 billion portion of the project, but customers currently are not paying any of those additional costs because the utility has not asked utility regulators for permission to recoup that money.

David McKinney, Southern Nuclear’s vice president of construction support for Vogtle 3 and 4, revealed the contractors new estimated dates of “early to mid 2017, 2018” in a hearing Tuesday before the Georgia Public Service Commission.

The new reactors at Vogtle are the first to be built from scratch in the United States in 30 years. Georgia Power officials acknowledged that the project is under intense regulatory scrutiny from a cost and safety standpoint.

Frank Poe, Executive Director of the Georgia World Congress Center announced that a deal for a new Atlanta stadium should be ready by December 31st. Taxpayers will be on the hook for roughly one-third of the estimated $1-1.2 billion cost through the hotel-motel tax. Common Cause is rightly raising questions about the process and the public’s role or lack thereof.

Leaders with the Atlanta Falcons and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority have talked privately about a new stadium. Those talks are legal as long a quorum of a government board is not present.

Common Cause Georgia Executive Director William Perry stands across the street from the Georgia Dome, where the Atlanta Falcons play. Perry has questions about plans for a new Falcons stadium
Even if they are not breaking the law, Common Cause Georgia head William Perry argues the groups should add seats at the table for the public.

“When we’ve got a state agency dealing with a $1.2 billion facility, a third of which will be funded by taxpayers, taxpayers and citizens have a right and need to be engaged in the process,” said Perry.

Georgia might appeal a decision by a Federal Court of Appeals that prevents HB 87′s prohibition on knowingly transporting or harboring illegal immigrants in the course of another crime to the United States Supreme Court.

The state had asked the appeals court to reconsider its decision against a part of the law that would punish people who knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants while committing other crimes. In August, the court ruled the measure is pre-empted by federal law, which already prohibits such activities.

Another part of the statute — nicknamed the “show-me-your-papers law” — has been on hold while the case was before the appeals court. That other provision would give police the option to investigate the immigration status of suspects they believe have committed state or federal crimes and who cannot provide identification or other information that could help police identify them.

Georgia has about 90 days to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could accept or decline such a case. Under that scenario, the state’s show-me-your-papers law could remain on hold until the Supreme Court acts.

“We are considering our options and no decisions have been made at this time,” the Georgia Attorney General’s Office said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Republican and Democratic legislators representing Macon and Bibb County are at odds whether to change local elections to non-partisan following the merger of the city and county governments.

A Republican-led push for nonpartisan elections in Bibb County led to clear fissures in the county’s legislative delegation hearings Tuesday at the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce.

State Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, said partisan elections were continued in the consolidation proposal that voters approved this year.

“Are we saying, ‘We got you to vote for it, now we’re going to change it?’” Randall asked. “Some may consider it to be a deceptive act.”

Randall said she expected bills for nonpartisan elections will be filed by state Sen. Cecil Staton and state Rep. Allen Peake, both Macon Republicans whom she thinks have the votes needed to pass them.

In a 2013 budget proposal released Tuesday, Nash unveiled a spending plan incorporating a new balance of funding created by a settlement with local cities over services. It divides the county into districts, ensuring that city residents do not pay county taxes for services they only receive from the city.

While that means all city residents will receive a break on paying for development and enforcement taxes, the biggest break will come for those in cities with their own police forces.

But Nash said the service from the county police department will change little. So with fewer taxpayers footing the bill for the county force, the tax bills for unincorporated residents (and those in cities without police departments) are expected to go up.

“Essentially, it’s a redistribution,” Nash said. “We feel like the safety of the residents is so important. I could not bring myself to make the cuts needed to balance the budget in the police district.”

The Gwinnett County Commission also approved an additional payment to Partnership Gwinnett, an economic development joint venture with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce that has been under fire over its spending and whether records of Partnership Gwinnett are subject to state Open Records laws.

Under a new agreement approved by the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, the funds contributed to Partnership Gwinnett will be public.

A progress and financial report for the new nonprofit entity, along with a Board of Directors formed by the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce will be approved by the county. It would also keep the money separate from the chamber’s private donations.

“Their records will be open to an open records process so the county and the public will be aware of how those funds are used,” said Bryan Lackey, director of the county’s planning and development department.

The Columbus City Council settled a lawsuit with Expedia.com and Hotels.com over hotel occupancy taxes owed the city and which resulted in the websites pulling Columbus accomodations from their listings.

Without discussion, Columbus Council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to approve a settlement of the city’s lawsuit against online travel websites Expedia.com and Hotels.com for approximately $586,000.

In addition to the money, the companies agree to remit the full amount of hotel occupancy taxes due to the city and to re-list local hotels on their websites, City Attorney Clifton Fay said.

The Expedia case is the second such case the city has settled with online travel sites. The city settled with Orbitz for $230,000 in 2010 and Priceline settled with the city for about $72,000 with no litigation. Those bring the city’s total in settlements to just over $888,000.

The litigation between the city and the online travel brokers began in 2006, when the city sued, claiming the companies were not remitting the proper amount of hotel occupancy taxes. Ostensibly in reaction to the lawsuits, many online brokers stopped listing Columbus hotels on their websites, costing local hoteliers business.

If travelers entered Columbus into the websites, they were directed to hotels in nearby cities instead.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will close its Georgia Rural Development Office in Baxley.

Sumter County Commissioner A.J. Hurley will face trial for bribery as jury selection begins today in federal court in Albany.

Hurley is accused of agreeing to accept $20,000 in bribes from an unidentified asbestos abatement company licensed in Michigan in order to influence the vote of a contract before the Sumter County Commission, according to the indictment levied against him by a federal grand jury in May.

The government contends Hurley received two bribes.

Hurley has denied the accusations and maintains his innocence.

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 November 26, 2012


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


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

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

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November 13, 2012

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

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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