Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for December 5, 2013

5
Dec

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for December 5, 2013

Victory Lap

Bruce Thompson Brian Kemp

Freshly-minted Georgia State Senator-Elect Bruce Thompson visited the Capitol yesterday for the Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting and to get his bearings at his new place of business.

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Georgia Capitol Christmas Tree 2013

Randy Toms elected Mayor of Warner Robins

The interesting part to me is not the wide margin in the nearly 2-1victory by Randy Toms over Joe Musselwhite, but the relatively robust turnout for a December runoff election.

Toms garnered 65.5 percent of the vote, earning 3,159 votes to Musselwhite’s 1,662. Results are unofficial until certified by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

About 4,700 people — or 14.5 percent of registered voters — cast ballots in the runoff. That compares to a 20 percent voter turnout for November’s general election.

Opposition emerges to tax abatement

Opposition to a tax abatement for development near a new Braves stadium in Cobb County surfaced after it was revealed that a development that doesn’t meet the usual standards might be on a fast track for alternative approval, according to the Marietta Daily Journal.

In a Nov. 18 letter, Lee told the developers their project won’t add the 25 jobs and $500,000 to the county’s tax digest needed to qualify for a waiver of permitting fees.

But he encouraged them not to give up on striking an incentives deal geared toward tax abatement.

“To that end, I want to express the county’s support of your efforts as they relate to working with the Development Authority of Cobb County as well as the Board of Tax Assessors to secure other incentives for this project as they determine are appropriate,” Lee wrote in the letter.

The developers’ application appears to be on a fast track toward final approval. If it gets that approval, it will mean Riverwalk pays no property taxes in year one of the 10-year abatement, then pays on 10 percent of the property value in year two, 20 percent in year three and so on until year 10 when it assumes 100 percent ownership in the property.

Lance Lamberton, president of the Cobb Taxpayer’s Association, said the lack of oversight on the Development Authority’s deals allows well-connected developers to use their power and influence to “get preferential treatment from governmental bodies that are supposed to be fair and impartial, but as we can see here, are anything but.”

It’s a situation that “cries out for reform,” Lamberton said.

“It un-levels the playing field, giving the well-connected player, Williams, an unfair advantage over other competitors in the local real estate market,” Lamberton said.

There are two ironic twists to the proposed tax abatement:

The abatement would also allow Williams and his investors to avoid the coming three mill tax increase the Board of Commissioners is expected to approve later this month to be levied on owners of apartment complexes and commercial properties in the Cumberland CID. That new tax will be used to help pay for the Atlanta Braves stadium deal.

and there’s this:

Though real estate magnate Williams and Greenstone Properties are behind the development, their names don’t appear on the first pages of the two 100-page applications for the tax break.

Tad Leithead is the applicant.

Leithead is also the chairman of the Cumberland Community Improvement District, which includes the site of the development, a body chartered by the state made up of commercial property owners who agree to tax themselves at a higher rate to pay for improvements to their community.

Leithead is also chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Leithead said he’s acting as a consultant for Williams’s apartment company on zoning and incentives.

The other source of opposition to the tax abatement is the Cobb County School System, which complains that the proposal will take $765k from school coffers.

Cobb schools officials aren’t happy about a tax break for a wealthy developer’s $103 million project that could take away as much as $756,000 annually from county schools.

Cobb School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said the process is moving too quickly, and he needs time to determine how losing that tax revenue could affect the school system that is facing an $80 million deficit.

Hinojosa sent a letter to the Cobb Board of Assessors saying he had “only recently learned of this initiative” and “this has the potential to have a significant impact financially on school funding,” but the board opted not to delay action.

Typically, Development Authority projects are filed with the assessors’ office 30 days before action is taken, providing time for review. Though the project was filed on Nov. 20, just 14 days before Tuesday’s meeting, the assessors’ office voted to waive its review period and move forward.

Cobb Schools Chairman Randy Scamihorn said he supports local businesses but is concerned about how quickly the tax deal is progressing. He’s not for or against Riverwalk’s tax break, but wants to learn more about how it could affect education in the county.

“I’m pro-Cobb County development, but we also have to make sure that our school systems have enough money to maintain our excellence in education,” Scamihorn said. “That’s why people want to come here.”

The Cobb County Commission having decided that corporate welfare tax incentives are a useful tool for attracting a major league baseball team is fine. They’re entitled to make that choice.

But the model for Cobb County government decision-making seems to now be to rush through major financial decisions without taking time to discuss the ramifications on the rest of the community, in order to avoid public comment protracted fighting. It’s a shame when the lesson of the fight over the Atlanta Falcons Stadium is “do it quickly before anyone knows what’s happening.”

Mike Collins channels Jean-Claude VanDamme

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rzKp6gYpSU

Mike Collins, who is running for Congress in the Tenth District to succeed Rep. Paul Broun, has released an online video that parodies the recent Volvo ad by 80s cheesy-film icon Jean-Claude VanDamme.

Reaction has been split, with some calling it bizarre or likening it to a desperate plea for attention. But I like it for two reasons.

First, I think more candidates should be taking risks (figuratively, not necessarily literally) in their online work. A video or image doesn’t go viral unless it’s different, funny, clever, or all three. Hitting the mark on that is a balancing act as difficult as staying astride two semi tractors. But if you don’t try, you’ll never get it.

Second, more candidates should embrace the internet ethos of “haters make me famous.” So what if some liberal squish who wasn’t going to like a Conservative Republican anyway mocks you online. At least they’re talking about you. And being ignored is far worse for a candidate than having your ideological foes say snarky things about you.

And Mike Collins made Roll Call with the video, which for a candidate in an open field primary is pretty good.

Someone messaged me on Twitter about it and also asked if the ad violates the law because it doesn’t contain the familiar “I approved this ad” vocal. The “Stand By Your Ad” provision requiring that disclaimer applies only to radio and television. It also doesn’t apply to state candidate ads. From the Federal Elections Commission website:

  • No other forms of communication (e.g. mail, telephone, Internet, etc.) are covered by these restrictions.
  • The restrictions do not apply to broadcast ads by state or local candidates that refer to a federal candidate so long as the ads do not promote, support, attack or oppose the federal candidate.

That doesn’t mean that no disclaimer is required however. Look closely at the closing of the ad, and you’ll see that it does contain the written disclaimer in a box.

Mike Collins Epic Split

If it were me, I’d be concerned whether the disclaimer is of sufficient size to be legible, but that’s a very fine point.

Alternative Energy doesn’t mean free

Kaveh Kamooneh was arrested for plugging his Nissan Leaf electric car into a socket at Chamblee Middle School, where his son was playing tennis. The charge? Stealing a nickel’s worth of electricity.

Kamooneh said he’d been parked and plugged at Chamblee Middle School only about 30 minutes when he spotted a Chamblee officer. Kamooneh says the officer said he was going to arrest him for stealing electricity, but then said he was free to go.

Kamooneh says about 10 days later a DeKalb County sheriff’s deputy arrested him for misdemeanor theft by taking.

Kamooneh says he quickly paid the $1,500 bail but he wasn’t released for another 15 hours.

No one from the Chamblee police would talk to Channel 2′s Diana Davis on camera.

She finally reached the chief by phone.
He claims Kamooneh was difficult and uncooperative with the officer and that the school had asked Kamooneh to leave the property. Kamooneh says that never happened.

I’m inclined to believe that the police department overreacted and that there should be something short of arrest that could have been used. Would a citation have sufficed? If the truth is that he was arrested for being belligerent, I’m not sure coming for him at home is appropriate if the officer didn’t think arresting him at the scene was required.

I understand that stealing is stealing, but I also think we may need some clarity on the issue of electricity.

Most people in a Starbucks don’t think it’s a problem to plug their cell phone or laptop into an available outlet without specifically asking permission. But absent some form of consent, how does this, or the average Gold Dome journalist or lobbyist who plugs into a state-paid outlet at the Capitol, differ from the electric car guy?

Martha Zoller has written a piece on her website that discusses the issue of fees charged to electric provider customers who produce their own solar. It’s worth reading and considering seriously who should pay for the infrastructure that brings electricity to your home. Although the Green Tea Party will almost certainly attack Martha for raising the issue.

Clark Howard … was talking about his electric car and how he’s “freeloading” on the roads…  and I exchanged a couple of emails with him on the subject of who pays for infrastructure for roads as we get away from gasoline and the gasoline tax becomes obsolete.

That exchange made me think about the solar debate in Georgia. Somebody has to provide the infrastructure for power.  By law, where Georgia Power or the EMCs serve there has to be infrastructure there whether you use it or not. Whether it’s roads or power, someone has to pay for the infrastructure–and ultimately it’s going to be you.

Right now, roadways are funded through fuel tax.  It’s a social compact of sorts. The more you drive, the more you pay (in fuel tax), but in the end, everyone pays who uses the roads. Then came the electric car.

While cars that use gasoline pay for roadway maintenance, electric vehicles currently avoid covering their impact cost.

Similar to the fuel tax, a social compact exists to fund build-out and maintenance of the web of wires that run our modern economy.   As with the fuel tax, the more electricity you use the more you pay to “patch the potholes” in the electrical grid, so to speak.  That is, until the advent of solar energy.

Currently solar users are freeloading, just like electric cars, by not paying the backup and maintenance costs of the electrical infrastructure.  Yet solar users expect and the law requires a reliable electricity grid to be there for 100% of the year, even if solar panels fail to operate.

[T]he impacts of those that use an infrastructure (roadways or wires) will be freeloading on the backs of the full participants in a given societal compact that makes the infrastructure work and our society function.

In Arizona, the answer to the “solar freeloading“ issue is that the power company was authorized to charge a monthly fee to solar owners who also use their wires to provide electricity. Like at night, or when the solar output is insufficient to power the owner’s needs.

Arizona Public is required to buy solar power from customers with rooftop panels, and the commission agreed with its argument that the policy unfairly shifts some of the utility’s costs to people without panels.

Arizona is one of 43 states that require utilities to buy solar power from customers under a policy called net metering. This lowers the monthly power bills for people with solar systems and reduces revenue for the power companies. Arizona Public argued that the policy forces it to raise rates on all customers to cover the fixed costs of maintaining the grid.

There are important differences between Arizona and Georgia, but the issue is this: if your neighbor has solar panels on her home and you don’t, you are subsidizing any electricity they buy, whether it be from a private company, an EMC or a municipal provider, because they aren’t paying the cost of the wires that run to their home.

At this point, the cost of electrical infrastructure and “solar freeloading” may be minimal, but the problem is likely to become acute in the coming years. The problem is that the current electrical grid was designed to move electricity from large-scale plants to homes and businesses, not for the specific issues of alternative energy generation and customers that also feed electricity back into the grid. This is a massive, multi-billion dollar change that will require major improvements in the national grid.

Energy officials worry a lot these days about the stability of the massive patchwork of wires, substations and algorithms that keeps electricity flowing. They rattle off several scenarios that could lead to a collapse of the power grid — a well-executed cyberattack, a freak storm, sabotage.
But as states, led by California, race to bring more wind, solar and geothermal power online, those and other forms of alternative energy have become a new source of anxiety. The problem is that renewable energy adds unprecedented levels of stress to a grid designed for the previous century.
Green energy is the least predictable kind. Nobody can say for certain when the wind will blow or the sun will shine. A field of solar panels might be cranking out huge amounts of energy one minute and a tiny amount the next if a thick cloud arrives. In many cases, renewable resources exist where transmission lines don’t.
“The grid was not built for renewables,” said Trieu Mai, senior analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Concerned state and federal officials are spending billions of dollars in ratepayer and taxpayer money in an effort to hasten the technological breakthroughs needed for the grid to keep up with the demands of clean energy.
Making a green energy future work will be “one of the greatest technological challenges industrialized societies have undertaken,” a group of scholars at Caltech said in a recent report. The report notes that by 2030, about $1 trillion is expected to be spent nationwide in bringing the grid up to date.

Already, power grid operators in some states have had to dump energy produced by wind turbines on blustery days because regional power systems had no room for it. Officials at the California Independent System Operator, which manages the grid in California, say renewable energy producers are making the juggling act increasingly complex.
“We are getting to the point where we will have to pay people not to produce power,” said Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, a system operator board member.
A bigger fear is that the grid is becoming more vulnerable to collapse, leaving the public exposed to the kind of blackouts that hit San Diego, parts of Arizona and a chunk of Baja California on a blistering hot September day in 2011.
Rush-hour traffic jammed as streetlights went dark. Flights were grounded. Pumping stations came to a halt, causing sewage to flow onto beaches. People were trapped in office elevators and on rides at Sea World.

Nelson Police Department temporarily closed

The City of Nelson (Cherokee and Pickens Counties) Police Department has been closed since October, when the Police Chief and sole officer resigned.

Edwards said Wednesday the candidates hoping to take over the now-closed Nelson Police Department will be interviewed next week by a panel of police officers, who will make a recommendation to the city council of the best prospects.

Eight applicants will interview with the panel, and the strongest three will be recommended to the council, said Capt. Frank Reynolds, of the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office, who will be the moderator of the panel.

Unlike Mitchell, the new police chief will be part-time, Edwards said, adding the city council may choose to hire a few part-time officers to work under the leader at some point.

Until the new chief is hired, the town of about 1,300 residents will continue to get backup from both the Cherokee County and Pickens County sheriff’s offices, as has been the case for years when the police chief was off the clock.

Councilman Jackie Jarrett said Wednesday things have been pretty normal in Nelson since Mitchell resigned and left only the two counties’ sheriff’s offices on the beat in the town.

Ahrens seeks third term in Cherokee

Cherokee County Commission Chair Buzz Ahrens announced he will seek a third term, but has at least one announced challenger.

Ahrens, who is the only two-term chairman in Cherokee County history, made the announcement Monday night during a town hall meeting hosted by Commissioner Harry Johnston.

“There’re a lot of reasons for (running),” said Ahrens, who was elected first in 2007 and re-elected without opposition in 2010.

“Cherokee’s got a lot of really good things going on. We got through the downturn stronger. We’ve got excellent leadership in our public safety, our parks, our county manager.”

Ahrens will, however, have to stand up against some competition if he wants to become the first chairman to serve three terms in office since the multi-member commission was created in 1989.

In April, former Holly Springs City Councilwoman Jackie Archer threw her name in the hat to take over Ahrens’ seat once his term ends at the end of 2014.

Both Ahrens and Archer are Republicans.

Events Calendar

Senator Johnny Isakson will hold a Town Hall meeting in Milledgeville on Thursday from 11 to 11:45 a.m. in the Georgia College & State University’s Magnolia Ballroom on West Hancock Street.

Isakson plans to offer a brief update on things going on in Washington, but will spend most of his time taking questions, his staff said. Isakson lately has been discussing fiscal issues, Obamacare and gridlock in Washington.

Tonight from 5:30 to 7:30 PM, former State Representative Clint Smith will hold a book-signing for his first published novel, Faith and the Formula, described as “an inspirational thriller” at the Lumpkin County Library, 342 Courthouse Hill Dahlonega, GA 30533. The book is available through Amazon.com.

Tonight from 6:30 to 8 PM, the Hall County Republican Party will hold its Christmas Party at Recess Southern Gastro Pub, 118 Bradford St NW Gainesville, GA 30501. If you haven’t already sent your R.s.v.p., tickets at the door will be $20.

Tonight from 7 to 9 PM, the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce Georgia: HELP – Support Typhoon Haiyan Relief Efforts will hold a 6 course sit down dinner to help support typhoon Haiyan relief efforts at Happy Valley Restaurantm 5495 Jimmy Carter Blvd Norcross , GA.

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