Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for December 4, 2012

Donner is a 1-2 year old boxer mix male who is good with people, dogs, and appears to not chase cats. He is available for adoption from the Walton County Animal Shelter.

Brandie is a 4-year old, 29# low-rider who’s about the size of a beagle. An owner turn-in, she’s said to be good with kids and other dogs. She’s available today from the Walton County Animal Shelter.
28845 is a pibble mix puppywho is friendly and playful. She and a number of other puppies, dogs and cats, is available for adoption from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter for the discounted adoption fee of $30.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

For a small number of voters across the state, today is Yet Another Election Day. I’ll be heading across the street shortly after publication this morning to vote in the runoff election for Mayor and City Council of the City of Brookhaven.

The first vote I will cast will be for J. Max Davis for Mayor. J. Max is a conservative who will help ensure that the City of Brookhaven fulfills its promise of lower taxes and better services. He led the group that worked for incorporation and is the best choice today. Davis is endorsed by State Rep. Mike Jacobs and State Senator Fran Millar.

His opponent, Sandy Murray, ran against State Rep. Mike Jacobs, who sponsored the incorporation legislation, and qualified to run against him this year before dropping out of that race and entering the race for Mayor. Murray opposed incorporation and worked to defeat the measure. She is supported by the Democratic Party of Georgia, with DPG Political Director Rashad Richey sending a mass email yesterday saying, “Sandy Murray is a solid Democrat running for Mayor of Brookhaven who will work with progressives….”

If I lived in her district, I would be voting today for Rebecca Chase Williams for District 1 City Council.

Senate District 30 voters will choose between State Rep. Bill Hembree and Mike Dugan in today’s runoff election, leading to the General Special Election on January 8, 2013.

Turnout could be light, if advance voting figures are any indication. Only 922 voters cast early ballots in Carroll County, about 1.8 percent of the 52,412 eligible voters.

Voters in Augusta City Commission District 1 will return to the polls today in a runoff election between Commissioner Matt Ait­ken and challenger Bill Fennoy. Aitken was first elected three years ago in a runoff against Fennoy.

Clayton County voters will fill two seats on the county board of education today. Clayton County is currently under investigation by SACS for board in-fighting.

District 2 incumbent Trinia Garrett will face Judy Johnson, and District 7 incumbent Wanda Smith will face Mark Christmas.

Currently, there are 18,600 registered voters in School Board District 2 and 13,775 in School Board District 7.

Early voting for the Dec. 4 election closed Friday, but the Elections and Registration Office has only received 9 in-person voters and 62 mailed absentee ballots.

“Observing the turn out for early voting, I do not anticipate a high volume of voters to turn out Tuesday,” said Elections Director Annie Bright.

Last week the State Elections Board fined Blackshear City Council Member David Broady $5500 for illegally handling 55 absentee votes in 2009 during his reelection campaign.

The civil fine amounts to $100 for each absentee vote the Georgia Secretary of State’s office investigation said Broady handled and delivered to the Blackshear post office just prior to the Dec. 1, 2009 city council District 4 runoff election.

Broady was accused of 55 felony counts of unlawful possession of absentee ballots. State law says it is illegal for anyone other than a person with legal authority to possess others’ ballots – such as an official overseeing an election – outside of the polling place.

State election officials launched a probe in January, 2011 following a complaint regarding the 2009 runoff between District 4 incumbent Broady and challenger Bernice Blakely Bowles. The State Election Board forwarded the case to the Attorney General’s office after a presentation in February this year after finding probable cause to proceed.

The absentee ballots allegedly handled by Broady were counted in the runoff election, in which Broady defeated Bowles 90-57.

In Troup County, there will be a rare runoff election for Sheriff as an independent candidate forced Democrat Ruben Hairston and Republican James Woodruff into a second round of voting. Hairston played professional football and was endorsed by the outgoing Republican sheriff.

Wilcox County also has a runoff election for Sheriff with Republican Mike Martin and Democrat Lonnie Curry on the ballot today.

McIntosh County hosts a runoff election for board of education between Republican Bonnie Caldwell and Democrat Vicky Persons after an independent ran in the general election.

Putnam County hosts a runoff election for District 1 County Commissioner with Republican Kelvin Irvin and Democrat Fred Ward making the cut.

Early voting in the special election runoff for the District 1 county commission seat ended Friday with a total of 317 ballots cast, according to the BER office. In addition, 62 absentee ballots had been returned by 5 p.m. Monday.

The Taylor County Commission District 4 seat is up for grabs today in a runoff election between incumbent Commissioner Jerry Albritton and challenger Russell Pounds, who tied in the general election with 343 votes each.

Brunswick sees a runoff for the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission between Clifford Adams and Sandy Dean after a ten-candidate free-for-all general election.


Lobbyists are reminded that registration is due soon and the online renewal system will be available from December 17, 2012 through January 9, 2013. At least in theory. The computer system at the Commission appears to be down this morning. Consider yourselves warned.

Governor Nathan Deal named Senators Rick Jeffares and Charlie Bethel as Administration Floor Leaders, who join Senator Bill Jackson.

Deal also appointed two judges in the Bell-Forsyth Judicial Circuit.

Deal announced Monday that he tapped State Court Judge Philip C. Smith, 57, to the superior court. He then selected Forsyth Solicitor-General Leslie Abernathy, 45, to fill Smith’s seat on the state court.

Deal’s Judicial Nominating Commission had put both Smith and Abernathy on the short list for the superior court seat. The vacancy created by Smith’s promotion to the superior court was not advertised and did not go through the usual JNC vetting process, although previous governors have made similar moves.

The Atlanta City Council voted themselves pay raises yesterday, going from $39,000 to more than $60,000 and raising the Mayor’s pay from $147k to $184k per year. Because they deserve it.

The raises were pushed by an independent review committee that looked into compensation for Atlanta’s elected officials.  Supporters say bigger salaries would bring better candidates, but some union officials think the money would be better spent on those supplying city services.  Taxpayer watchdogs also wonder about the wisdom of giving elected officials big raises.

While most council members chose to remain silent on the issue, veteran council member Cleta Winslow defended her vote for the pay raise.

“There have been a lot media that’s been running around today — I’m not afraid of the media. I believe that we deserve the raise and I’m just going to say it,” Winslow said after listening to numerous speakers question the timing and amount of the proposed salary hike.

Fulton County will consider on Wednesday hiring Arnall Golden Gregory to lobby the General Assembly at a cost of more than $260,000.

After months of deadlock over how to handle the upcoming state Legislative session, on Wednesday the Fulton County Commission will consider hiring an outside lobbying firm at a cost of $260,416. Arnall Golden Gregory scored the best out of three bidders for the state- and federal-level lobbying job. Rusty Paul, a former Republican state senator and leader of the Georgia GOP, is a senior policy advisor at the law firm and co-chairs its government affairs team.

Paul was last seen on Fox5Atlanta defending the exorbitant lunch and flower bills of the Development Authority of Fulton County.

WABE asks “Who steals 20,000 bags of dog food,” after a theft of more than $30,000 worth of kibble from a warehouse. This guy, that’s who.

Ethics Commission declines to make George Anderson pay for frivolous complaints

From the Rome News-Tribune:

Rome’s George Anderson, who accused Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal of ethical wrongdoing, will not have to pay the governor’s attorney fees over three complaints that were dismissed.

The Government Transparency Commission voted 3-1 on Friday against making Anderson pay a portion of the legal fees that Deal spent to address complaints from Anderson dealing with Deal’s daughter-in-law, appointees and others.

Anderson said he was being asked to pay $10,387.50.

“I’m going home relieved,” Anderson said in a phone interview with the Rome News-Tribune. “I’m on cloud nine. I’ve been very stressed about (it). I’ve been working for 10 months at the Subway at night and substitute teaching, but I didn’t need to face trying to come up with money to pay Gov. Nathan Deal.”

Deal attorney Randy Evans said Anderson’s complaints were meritless and slanderous.

Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission will be offline

According to their website, the Commission formerly known as the State Ethics Commission will take its reporting system offline from Midnight on December 21 through 6 AM on December 26, 2012 for upgrades.

The Commission will also close its office early on Wednesday, November 21 and remain closed on Nov. 22-23d for the holiday.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 17, 2012

Wilma (ID 545273) is a darling little 8-month old puppy who needs a home. She is in cage 301 in the Puppy Room at Cobb Animal Shelter and is available for adoption today. She is up to date on shots, spayed & neutered, heartworm negative and will be microchipped; she is being treated for non-contagious demodex mange.

When calling the shelter about a cat or dog, please use THE ID NUMBER, the names are oftentimes made up by volunteers. This beautiful pet and many others need a forever, loving home and are available for adoption from the Cobb County Animal Shelter, 1060 Al Bishop Drive Marietta, Georgia 30008, call (770) 499-4136 for more

I am re-running the following dogs because they are still available and are in danger of euthanasia.

Rally is a 5-month old, 30 pound Shepherd mix who is available for adoption today from Walton County Animal Shelter. The adoption fee is $40, which includes full vaccinations, a voucher for reduced cost neutering and a sack of dog food. Because Rally looks just like my blind, old dog Roxy did when she was young, I will sponsor her adoption; this means that if you adopt her, I will reimburse the $40 cost. Seriously.

Dolly is a senior lab mix who looks like she was somebody’s dog, and she has ended up at Walton Animal Shelter, where she will be available starting tomorrow. She has possible arthritis, as it’s difficult for her to stand up, but in my experience with a senior Golden Retriever, it can likely be managed with medication and/or acupuncture and chiropractic. If you have questions about canine acupuncture or chiropractic, I am not an expert, but can provide a referral and tell you about our experience and how it changed our senior dog’s life. There is a place in heaven reserved for people who adopt senior dogs, and if you’re looking for a mellow, low-maintenance best friend, maybe there’s a senior for you.

Anna is still waiting for a home at Walton County Animal Shelter. Her picture has captured many peoples’ imaginations, and she has an online fan club. Maybe you’re the person for her.

Puppies are being adopted at a two-for-one rate at Walton County Animal Shelter currently, as they are overflowing and don’t wish to euthanize them.

Nat and his brother Geo are 2-month old, 15# Shepherd mix puppies who are available for adoption today from Walton County Animal Shelter.

Also available from Walton Animal Shelter are Duncan, Davie and Darla, who are three months old and weigh about 7 pounds each.


These last two puppies were turned in by their owner, which typically means no mandatory hold time, and they are immediately at risk of euthanasia, especially during this time of the year when shelters are overflowing.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Photographed 9/5/2012 in Columbus, GA

Indicted former Gwinnett County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly says that the evidence against him shows that the $1 million he accepted from a Gwinnett County developer was a routine business transaction between him and a long-time business partner, rather than a bribe.

[P]rosecutors have granted immunity to the developer who allegedly slipped Kenerly $1 million. It’s a move prosecutors call necessary, and one the defense says has all but exonerated the embattled government leader.

Jenkins was granted immunity that February in return for his cooperation and testimony regarding his business dealings with Kenerly, Porter said after the hearing.

That cooperation thus far has been a boon for Kenerly’s defense, McDonough told the Daily Post, because court paperwork that outlines transactions involving Jenkins and Kenerly makes no mention of bribery, calling the $1 million legitimate and related to another deal.

“If (Jenkins) said he bribed Kenerly, he is protected by immunity,” McDonough said. “That’s not what he said — he said he never bribed Kenerly.”

Porter said he doesn’t believe everything that Jenkins has told prosecutors, noting that Jenkins could be prosecuted if he violates his immunity agreement.

Jenkins, a residential land developer and home builder in Gwinnett, owned Winmark homes.

After 16 years, Kenerly resigned as Gwinnett’s longest-serving commissioner in 2010, when he was first indicted on bribery charges. He also faces two misdemeanor counts of failure to disclose a financial interest in two zoning cases dealing with the same developer.

McDonough argues that the $1 million that provides the basis for the re-indicted bribery charge did not involve the Dacula park, but a townhome development called Silver Oaks in Lilburn. In a commission vote on that development, “everyone concedes Kenerly followed the law by filing his letter stating he had a financial interest, walked out of the board vote and did not vote,” the attorney said.

After the hearing, Kenerly expressed relief that the arrangement between Jenkins and prosecutors was made public. He reiterated that the Las Vegas trip was merely a gathering of friends, saying he paid the group’s $20,000 tab at Ceasars Palace. He pointed to the absence of bribery allegations by Jenkins.

“That’s what confuses me — I’m trying to figure out who (prosecutors believe) bribed me,” Kenerly said.

 More from the AJC:

Court record released Friday show Kenerly has admitted he agreed to accept $1 million from developer David Jenkins to cash out of a partnership on a Lawrenceville real estate development in 2007 – just a few months before Kenerly voted for Gwinnett to buy land from Jenkins to expand Rabbit Hill Park in Dacula.

District Attorney Danny Porter contends the $1 million was a payoff for Kenerly’s support of the Dacula land purchase. Gwinnett paid Jenkins $7.3 million more for the property than he paid for it a year and a half earlier.

But Jenkins, granted immunity from prosecution if he testified truthfully, told investigators the $1 million in payments to Kenerly were “completely unrelated” to the county’s purchase of the park land, court records show.

“He says he didn’t bribe me,” Kenerly said after a hearing in Gwinnett County Superior Court. “I still get charged with bribery.”

The Georgia State Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission has lost 41% of its budget over the past five years and critics say the state legislature is strangling the agency to prevent it from doing its job.

“There is no question in my mind they are being strangled by the Legislature in order to keep them from enforcing the ethics law,” said attorney Michael Jablonski, who often represents Democratic clients before the commission. “These are people who want to do their job. They just are not given the resources to do it.”

Marshall Guest, spokesman for House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, noted last week that the commission’s budget is about $250,000 larger than it was last year — the commission’s first budget increase since 2008. Guest said the increase went to hire a new auditor, a data programmer and for computer upgrades.

Taking a longer view, Guest said the commission’s budget today is 60 percent larger than it was in 2005 when Republicans took over both legislative houses.

“Even with the commission’s added responsibilities, overall, this is a dramatic step up in state funding given the economic downturn,” he said.

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reviewed budget, staffing, revenue and case resolution records over the past decade to measure the arrhythmic pulse of the ethics commission over time. What the AJC found was a close parallel between the commission’s funding and its output.

In 2008, the commission closed 116 ethics cases, collecting $195,000 in civil penalties.

That year, the commission had a budget of $1.9 million and 18 staffers, including several investigators, a certified fraud examiner, and multiple employees dedicated to keeping the agency’s farm of computer servers humming. Using the measures of resources and production, that year was a high-water mark for the ethics commission.

In 2011, the commission closed just 15 cases, according to a database of resolved cases on the ethics commission website. On May 22, 2008, the commission closed 16 cases in one day.

On that day, commissioners assessed more than $172,000 in fines, including a record $80,000 penalty against the Georgia Association of Realtors for failing to disclose $585,000 in campaign donations made through the group’s PAC. The commission also fined two members of the Georgia Board of Regents a combined $77,750 – one for making “proxy” donations to campaigns through family and friends to get around contribution limits and another for failing to disclose his business interests, including one that got a lucrative contract with the university system. Smaller fines were levied against state and local public officials and candidates for less extreme abuses.

The commission’s executive secretary that year, Rick Thompson, said the agency had turned a corner.

The commission’s aging network of computer servers has become increasingly creaky, and officials who rely on it to file their required paperwork complain of outages during peak times. Brian Hess, a Marietta-based information technology consultant who built the system, blamed the computer system’s unpredictability on budget cuts.

“You know the Legislature on ethics,” he said. “In front of people, ‘We support it.’ And behind their backs they don’t fund it.”

Hess worked for the commission as its computer chief during Thompson’s administration. At the time, the system had built-in redundant servers and a full IT staff supporting it.

“Before I left it was just me and one other guy,” he said.

This summer, LaBerge signed contracts to spend up to $240,000 a year to acquire server space for the commission’s massive databases and to shore up the system’s operations.

That the ethics commission is perpetually underfunded is just part of the problem, Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, said. Where it gets its money is another, he said.

“It’s difficult for there to be an independent investigative agency if they are annually at the mercy of the legislators that they are supposed to regulating,” he said. “They are the only ones who are in a position to regulate members of the General Assembly… . Unfortunately they’ve been largely sidelined by the changes that have been made in the law over the last couple years.”

Tom Baxter writes that a good example set from the top may be more important than a gift ban on its own.

You’d be right to be cynical about whether all this [talk about banning gifts from lobbyists to legislators] is actually going to have an beneficial impact, although positive change isn’t entirely out of the question. John Maginnis, one of the great chroniclers of what has been called “the Louisiana way,” said there has been a real change in ethics standards in his state in recent years, particularly during the tenure of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Maginnis said corruption is still evident at the local level – an FBI sting involving a bogus garbage can washing business snared several mayors recently, and former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard is under indictment. But at the state level, at least, standards have been raised, he said. The $50 limit has “kind of cleared out Chris’,” – Ruth’s Chris, a famous hangout for Louisiana politicos. And lobbyists, he added, are “delighted” with the new constraints on their credit cards.

But Maginnis noted that the improvements in Baton Rouge have come “from the top down,” and there any potential usefulness as a model for the future in Georgia starts to slide. Deal began his term as governor on the defensive from a furious attack on his ethics during the governor’s race, and the cronyism which has marked his administration has dismayed even some of those who supported him in 2010. He seems an unlikely candidate to pick up the standard for truly comprehensive ethics reform.

As for the proposed changes to be taken up by the General Assembly, it might seem impossible for the legislators to twist an absolute gift ban into insignificance, but you watch ‘em. They’re good at this. There’s a certain amount of remorse among some Republicans that they haven’t behaved better than their predecessors during their first decade in power. But without a leader that comes to very little, and the Republican most likely to fill that role, state Sen. Josh McKoon of Columbus, is still young and relatively little-known.

But for our purposes it’s worth it just to look at the core charge leveled against the 66-year-old Democrat. He was convicted of a crime for reappointing HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy to a state hospital board in exchange for $500,000 to retire the debt from an unsuccessful campaign to pass a lottery-for-education referendum. No money went directly to Siegelman. Scrushy had recently been acquitted of charges not unlike those which forced the resignation of Rick Scott, now the governor of Florida, back when he was the CEO of Columbia/HCA.

Raise your hands, everybody who thinks that wouldn’t get a pass, in a state where the Oaky Woods deal got by unprosecuted, where board appointments have become open political currency and nepotism is a commonplace on state boards and commissions. There’s a lot of buzz about ethics in Georgia, but that’s all there is.

Jace Brooks will be sworn today in as Gwinnett County Commissioner to serve out the remainder of the term of former Commissioner Shirley Fanning-Lasseter, who pled guilty to federal bribery charges and has been sentenced to 33 months in prison. Brooks will serve a full four-year term on the Commission beginning in January.

Plains, Georgia shopowner Philip Kurland predicts that President Obama will be reelected based on the sale of political buttons to tourists. Given that tourism in Plains revolves around Jimmy Carter historical sites, perhaps the sample is non-random and composed primarily of Carter fans.
Property taxes may rise this year for some homeowners as a 2008 tax hike moratorium is expiring and some home values may be creeping upwards.

For the first time since 2008, state law allowed assessors to raise tax values if they believed rising sales prices justified it. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis found that while assessors cut far more home values than they raised this year, they took advantage of the change in state law to raise values in some neighborhoods, especially in affluent areas. That likely will mean higher property taxes this year for those residents.

Assessors say they cut far more values than they raised and say homeowners can appeal if they believe their value is incorrect. They say the expiration of the moratorium on raising values has allowed them to accurately appraise properties that have gained in value but have not changed on the tax rolls for years.

Next Wednesday, September 26, 2012 from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM, former member of the Federal Election Commission Hans von Spakovsky will sign copies of his new book, Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk, at Capital Grille in Buckhead, located at 255 E. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta, GA 30305.

Who’s Counting? will focus attention on many problems of our election system, ranging from voter fraud to a slipshod system of vote counting that noted political scientist Walter Dean Burnham calls “the most careless of the developed world.” In an effort to clean up our election laws, reduce fraud and increase public confidence in the integrity of the voting system, many states ranging from Georgia to Wisconsin have passed laws requiring a photo ID be shown at the polls and curbing the rampant use of absentee ballots, a tool of choice by fraudsters. The response from Obama allies has been to belittle the need for such laws and attack them as akin to the second coming of a racist tide in American life. In the summer of 2011, both Bill Clinton and DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz preposterously claimed that such laws suppressed minority voters and represented a return to the era of Jim Crow.

But voter fraud is a well-documented reality in American elections. Just this year, a sheriff and county clerk in West Virginia pleaded guilty to stuffing ballot boxes with fraudulent absentee ballots that changed the outcome of an election. In 2005, a state senate election in Tennessee was overturned because of voter fraud. The margin of victory? 13 votes. In 2008, the Minnesota senate race that provided the 60th vote needed to pass Obamacare was decided by a little over 300 votes.

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