Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 1, 2012


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 1, 2012

“Stanley” is a 40-pound American Staffordshire mix described as a “wonderful, happy little guy,” who is available for adoption from Macon Animal Control for $75, which includes neutering and vaccinations.

Macon Animal Control needs to find homes for thirty dogs by June 7th or they will be euthanized. Following a Georgia Department of Agriculture inspection that found the shelter infested with mice and roaches, the shelter will close temporarily for pest control and must find homes for all its remaining dogs.

Here are some of the available dogs on Petfinder and some on Facebook; if you are interested in adopting a dog may call (478) 751-9200 or visit the facility at 1010 11th St. in Macon.

Bibb County will take over the Animal Shelter next month and proceeds from a Special Purpose Local Sales Tax are expected to pay for a new facility.

A reader wrote in yesterday via the tipline to ask for your help in finding a new home for a neutered, female boxer. The dog is sweet and house-trained but doesn’t get along with the already-resident Jack Russell Terrier. Click here to email me for more information.

Also seeing big changes will be Gwinnett County Animal Control, as three employees have left following an internal report that found unprofessional conduct, and complaints of bigotry.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Pro-tip: when the guy offering you a bribe starts talking about laundering drug money, walk out immediately, and contact law enforcement; do not accept any money. That’s the lesson to be learned from former Congressman Pat Swindall’s 1989 conviction for perjury.

Swindall’s conviction resulted from his lying to a grand jury about a loan that undercover agents told him was being made from laundered drug money, and the topic of laundering drug money also played a role in the sting operation that netted a guilty plea and resignation from former Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Fanning-Lasseter.

From Channel 2, WSB-TV:

“These defendants used the office of a County Commissioner to line their pockets by taking payoffs from individuals whom they believed to be drug traffickers.  These defendants broke the public trust and the law.  We will continue to aggressively pursue corrupt public officials and those who conspire with them,” U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said in a news conference Thursday.

Prosecutors told Channel 2′s Kerry Kavanaugh that Lasseter and her son, John Fanning, were involved a plan where Lasseter and Fanning would accept bribes from a businessman for them to change zoning on a piece of property that they wanted to build a pawn shop on.

The investigation showed the pawn shop would be used to as a front to launder money and distribute narcotics.

Investigators said Lasseter received $36,500 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent in exchange for her official action on the proposed development.

Fanning was to receive an ownership stake in the business once everything was settled.

“Citizens of this district has the right to expect that officials are not going to use their positions to line their pockets with payoffs from developers and certainly not from drug dealers,” Yates said.

Lasseter could receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 6.

and from the AJC story:

In August, Lasseter received the final $26,000 payoff from the undercover agent at an Atlanta hotel. During that meeting Lasseter and Fanning each counted the dollars, “roll by roll,” Gilfillan said.

Before the undercover agent left, he told Lasseter and Fanning that he was laundering money for drug traffickers and said some of that money was being used to pay for the Boggs Road project, Gilfillan said.

As it turns out, the feds were attempting to lure the Commissioner’s son into drug-related activity:

the undercover agent had previously asked Fanning whether he was willing to become involved in illegal money laundering. According to the complaint, Fanning was all in.

“I’m totally on board,” he said. “I don’t mind doing any of this and I’ve definitely done things under the table before my whole life. I mean, I got no problems doing stuff like this. That’s how we all get by,” the complaint said.

Steve Oppenheimer was not the only Democrat to qualify for Public Service Commission against Chuck Eaton, despite his hiring his former opponent Daniel Blackman to keep him out of the primary election.

An email from Oppenheimer claimed:

Last week, I officially qualified as a candidate for Georgia Public Service Commission. I am proud to share, that I am the only Democratic candidate this year for statewide office….

I am pleased to announce the addition to our campaign team, of sustainability consultant Daniel Blackman. Daniel is a Columbus, GA native and has provided services to numerous corporations, universities and government agencies. I welcome his collaboration as the campaign continues its focus on putting Georgia consumers first. With Daniel as an advisor, our team becomes even stronger.

As of last week, Blackman was saying he would run as a Democrat for PSC.

Matt Reid, a 2008 Democratic Presidential Preference Primary  and General Primary voter, who made a $250 contribution to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, must have gotten confused, because Reid mistakenly qualified for the GOP Primary. I’ll be posting Reid’s voting record and contribution to Obama on later today.

Tift County is becoming more Republican, as only Republicans qualified for Sheriff, Coroner, Clerk of Courts, Tax Commissioner, and Commission Chair.

Towns County has a single commissioner who is a Democrat, despite nearly 72% of votes for Governor going to Nathan Deal in 2010, but that may change as Republican Steven G. Gerdes qualified last week.

Cook County, Georgia, is turning red, as all incumbent Democrats except for the Tax Commissioner qualified as Republicans this year; a total of 16 GOP candidates signed up for the July 31st Primary Election there against a previous high of five candidates.

Pierce County appears to have qualified only Republicans this year as well, according to Mittie Vaughn or the Pierce County Press. Oconee Democrats must have gotten bored, as only Republican candidates qualified there as well, according to Jay Hanley, chairman of the Oconee County Republican Party.

Former state representative and DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones dropped his bid for a return to the state capitol from District 94.

Metro Atlanta T-SPLOST tax-and-spend proponents are touting 300,000 phone calls made by volunteers.

The campaign hopes to win 35 percent of Republican men who come out to vote in the primary. It’s aiming for 50 percent of Republican women voting that day.

Campaign leaders insist those goals are doable. They think they currently have a razor-thin majority.

Opponents say, no way.

“I can understand them doing everything in their power and imagination to get out there and sell as many people as they can on this ridiculous program,” said Harold Bost, a Fayette County resident [and former Commission Chair] who has been organizing against the measure for more than a year.  “I’ll be very disappointed if 35 percent of Republican men vote for it. And for them to think that the women are not smart, too? I just can’t buy that story.”

Maybe the free beer provided to some Cobb County T-SPLOST volunteers helped them to actually support the bill make their phone calls..

Good luck with that, as an ARC employee admits that “the average commute time really doesn’t change a lot.” Hat tip to Bill Simon at Political Vine.

State Rep. Sean Jerguson (R-Woodstock) says he recently realized that T-SPLOST may have problems:

Jerguson said he just this week realized he believes the project list’s entries for rehabilitating MARTA conflict with state law.

The law says the tax money can’t be spent on operations and maintenance for MARTA’s existing system. But the project list includes $600 million for projects that include rehabilitation of tracks and escalators.  MARTA officials said the spending met legal requirements.

Jerguson said he was seeking legal counsel.

Attorney General Sam Olens is preparing to defend the T-SPLOST spending list against a possible lawsuit.

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens didn’t want to comment on the lawsuit, because he may have to defend it. In a statement, however, his office said the T-SPLOST project list fully complies with the law.

Macon City Councilman Tom Ellington announced his opposition to the consolidation of Bibb County and Macon City governments that voters will see on the July 31st ballot, joining council members Henry Ficklin and Elaine Lucas.

Residents of Dalton and Whitfield County won’t get a chance to vote on consolidating those two local governments, as the Commission studying the issue will not be recommending the measure.

Georgia Gun Owners, Inc. criticized Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver for his membership in Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Organized labor will protest against Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler today.

Dr. Bernice Brooks qualified for reelection to the Carroll County School Board.

Death & Taxes

Some Columbia County residents are complaining about property tax reassessment notices:

[U]nhappy taxpayers are packing the Evans Government Center.

“The lobby was full, and people were furious,” said Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen.

Reassessment notices showed sharp increases in property tax values in some cases and significant decreases in others, Columbia County Chief Appraiser Debbie Rob­ertson said.

DeKalb County taxpayers are ready to march on downtown Decatur with pitchforks and torches, as reassessment notices are appearing in mailboxes. Property tax assessments in my neighborhood are up more than 150% over last year, and we’re hearing reports from other parts of the counties of reassessment being jacked up by 50-100%.

Meanwhile, the DeKalb School Board is putting on a kabuki show, holding Fernbank Science Center hostage and threatening its closure unless school board property taxes are raised to fill a $73 million “shortfall.” Another word for “shortfall” is “lack of self control with other peoples’ money.” Nancy Jester, a member of the school board from North DeKalb opposes raising property taxes, making her the Elaine Boyer fiscally responsible member of the School Board.

Speaking of Elaine Boyer, the Republican DeKalb County Commissioner picked up a primary challenge by Larry Danese, who last ran against Boyer as a Democrat.

South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control will not hear appeals by the US Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia Ports Authority to the decision of the Savannah River Maritime Commission that purported to restrict an earlier DHEC decision to grant a permit for the dredging of the Savannah River to deepen river access to the Port of Savannah. We may very well finish dredging the harbor before South Carolina finishes fighting herself.

It’s Electric!

A dispute over $400 million in additional costs at Plant Vogtle’s nuclear reactor units 3 and 4 may end up costing ratepayers, according to some observers, but Georgia Power disputes responsibility for the overruns.

The consortium that includes Westinghouse and the Shaw Group — makers of the twin 1,100-megawatt reactors at Vogtle — has pegged $400 million worth of scheduling delays at the plant on Georgia Power. Utility executives are adamant that the opposite is true and assured the Georgia Public Service Commission at a hearing Wednesday that a settlement can be reached soon.

State utility regulators now must review and approve the project’s costs every six months to head off any major problems. For its part, Georgia Power must signal any changes to the schedule or cost, regardless of whether they would impact the overall budget in the end.

Meanwhile, company executives touted saving customers $2 billion because of low interest rates and a combination of tax breaks and other incentives.

The Public Service Commission’s independent construction monitor warns that in his opinion costs for construction at Vogtle will exceed its budget.

The warning from nuclear engineer William Jacobs. Jr. was his bluntest assessment yet on the possibility that Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power will need more money to construct two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta. Cost overruns plagued the industry during the last round of nuclear construction years ago. The 2.4 million customers of Georgia Power ultimately pay for the building costs.

“In my opinion, the Company will need to request an increase in the certified cost and a change in the certified schedule to a later completion date,” said Jacobs, who was hired by the state’s Public Service Commission to monitor construction progress.

Jacobs said the amount of the increase will depend on progress made at the construction site and the outcome of negotiations between Southern Co. and other firms over costs related to design changes and licensing delays.

Seven companies are vying to build natural gas fueling stations under a Public Service Commission-approved proposal by Atlanta Gas Light.

The firms seek part of $11.6 million the Georgia Public Service Commission is making available for the station network. The goal is to jumpstart consumers’ use of alternative-fuel vehicles by creating ample opportunities for them to refill their tank wherever they drive away from home.

The first step is to build the stations, mainly for commercial fleet owners initially.

To qualify, the developers must have commitments in hand for at least 20 percent of the fuel available. They also have to demonstrate the wherewithal to secure the land and local zoning as well as build the station. Atlanta Gas Light will own the equipment.

Commissioner Doug Everett, who began pushing Atlanta Gas Light to build fueling stations as early as mid-2009, said Wednesday that he’s happy with the progress now.

“My goal, and the goal of my fellow commissioners, was to encourage economic development in Georgia and to support a program where vehicle owners and station owners made investments under market conditions where supply and demand would occur simultaneously,” he said. “Georgia is on its way to becoming a leader in (compressed-natural-gas) activity in the Southeast without a negative impact on Atlanta Gas Light’s ratepayers.”

Ends & Pieces

Norfolk Southern Corporation celebrates its 30th birthday today, marking the consolidation of the Norfolk & Western Railway and Southern Railway. For years, the operations of Southern Railway were based in Atlanta, and NS still maintains a strong presence here with major yards and a building on Peachtree Street.

As part of its birthday celebration, NS has brought the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s steam locomotive 630 to Atlanta to run employee specials. The train passed through Dalton on the way from Chattanooga to Atlanta yesterday.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is offering free fishing the next two Saturdays as part of National Fishing and Boating Week.

Today is the last day of oyster harvesting until after September 30th, after warm waters caused Georgia DNR to put an early end to oyster season.

Officials say the closure is part of a plan to control a naturally occurring bacteria in shellfish which can sicken people who eat raw oysters. Vibrio parahaemolyticus — or VP — is found in higher concentrations during warmer months, when water temperatures can reach 81 degrees and higher.

Authorities say the closure is only for oysters, not for other shellfish, because oysters are the only shellfish humans routinely eat raw.

In honor of Georgia’s oyster fishermen and -women, I’ll be eating a Po’ Boy at the Crawfish Shack for lunch today.

Today is national donut day, and Krispy Kreme locations will be giving out free manna donuts today. Guess where I’ll be headed after lunch. Krispy Kreme is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

Tim Moon will go for a world record bench press in excess of 700 pounds this weekend at the American Powerlifting Committee’s national championship this weekend in Jonesboro. Garry Glenn, also of Hall County, will seek another national title as he nears the age of 58.

Former Ansel Adams assistant Alan Ross will address the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce at 7 PM next Thursday, June 7, at Effingham County High School.

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