Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 10, 2015

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 10, 2015

Button Gwinnett, one of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, was born on April 10, 1735 in Gloucester, England, though some authorities say it was his baptism that was recorded that day. Gwinnett also served in the Georgia legislature, where he wrote the first draft of the state Constitution and served as Speaker.

General Robert E. Lee gave his last address to the Army of Northern Virginia on April 10, 1865.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded on April 10, 1866.

On April 10, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American professional major league baseball player when the Brooklyn Dodgers bought his contract.

Winners of the Masters Tournament on April 10 include Sam Snead (1949), Gary Player (1961), Tom Watson (1977) and Tiger Woods (4th – 2005).

Fort King George State Historic Site in Darien, Georgia will host a program on historic weapons this weekend.

“Weapons that Made America” from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday at the park in Darien.

The program will trace the history of black powder weapons from their origins in the 14th Century through the end of the muzzle-loading era of the 19th Century.

There will be several living history interpreters presenting more than two dozen black powder weapons and weapons will be fired periodically through the day.

Rare, specialty and hand-crafted guns, artillery pieces and other defensive devices will be on display.

Fort King George is at 302 McIntosh Road SE in Darien and admission ranges from $4.50 to $7.50. For more information call (912) 437-4770 or consult the website www.gastateparks.org/fortkinggeorge.

The Augusta Chronicle profiles Lee Elder, who was the first African-American to play at the Master Golf Tournament.

To honor 40 years since Elder broke the color barrier in golf’s most revered event, about 300 supporters, family and celebrities gathered in The Lodge hospitality house on Thursday, sharing stories of their friend and thanking him for his bravery.

“He was not afraid to be the first,” said 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain. “It wasn’t easy for him to succeed…but he put up with it all and stayed in the sport, which is beyond admirable.”

Comedian and actor Chris Tucker, who emceed the dinner reception, said he considers Elder to be “one of my dads” even though “he’s been trying to teach me how to play golf for about 20 years, and I still don’t know how to play.”

Between the stories and thanks from various supporters, Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis’ assistant Tonia Gibbons presented a proclamation in Davis’ absence making Thursday “Robert Lee Elder Day.”

Georgia icon Sonny Seiler, who owns another Georgia icon, Uga, the Athens college mascot, reflects on 63 years of attending the Masters.

But when Georgia holds its annual G-Day football game Saturday, Seiler will be in Augusta for the 63rd consecutive year, while his son, Charles, tends to Uga in Athens.

Seiler’s history at the Masters Tournament began in 1953, when college roommate – and Orangeburg, S.C., native Howard Holladay – needed another rope holder on hole 17. As a Ben Hogan admirer, Seiler agreed to volunteer, and was given an Academy of Richmond County hat to show he belonged on the rope.

“I was asked to play Augusta National several times when I was president of the State Bar,” Seiler said. “But work obligations forced me to turn down the offer each time. To this day, I can’t believe I’ve never played the greatest course in the world.

“If I were to ever get another invitation, it would probably be my last round of golf.”

In the Dalton Daily News, writer Loran Smith reflects on many years of covering the Masters.

Eavesdropping on conversations was an early-on pastime in the 1960s, when technology was not troublesome the way it is today. The old guys would discourse on the latest developments with respect to golf equipment advances, but they seemed to have affection for subjects relating to life and humor. They never had to say, “This is off the record.”

I always tried to find respite in the lower locker room (which is now a grill room) or on the upstairs veranda of the clubhouse. You never knew who would pull up a chair. It could be Sam Snead or Gene Sarazen. They were easy and generous with their stories.

Snead was always a favorite of the writers. He was colorful and insightful. He also had a bent for ribald humor. Listening to Snead talk was a highlight every April.

An indelible memory came when Snead — well past 70 at the time — walked into the locker room, then kicked his right leg up and placed his foot on a doorway lintel that had to be at least 7 feet high. He was as limber as a cane fishing pole.

One day when Snead was in a good mood, I turned on a tape recorder for a memorable conversation. He moved easily through a number of topics, including his failure to win the U.S. Open — one of the most puzzling developments in the sport’s history. That circumstance makes you conclude that those who believe in fate have a point.

On Saturday, the Dalton Civil War Roundtable will hold a cleanup of the Confederate Cemetery.

There are more than 400 soldiers buried within the Confederate Cemetery with four of those being known Union soldiers. There still are some unknown soldiers interned within this cemetery.

Many of the soldiers buried in this cemetery were wounded in distant battle sites such as Shiloh and Chickamauga and in Alabama, or contracted a deadly disease, and then were brought to Dalton on “sick trains,” destined for one of the many hospitals that existed in Dalton at that time. Some historians have estimated that as many as 50 to 150 sick or wounded soldiers would have been on these “sick trains” as they moved to Dalton and through Dalton to other cities further south. Some have concluded that there may have been as many as three to four of these trains each week during the later war years of 1863 and 1864.

In some cases soldiers buried at this location had been originally buried in other nearby locations, their remains removed, and then reburied in this cemetery.

The Confederate Cemetery in Dalton was first used for a public Memorial Day Service on April 26, 1866. The public is invited to join with Roundtable members and with other volunteers in this annual event.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Earlier this week, WSB-TV reported that the City of Brookhaven fired its Communications Director for an allegedly racially-insensitive remark. A media pile on ensued.

Here are the original allegations,

Channel 2 Action News reports that City of Brookhaven Communications Director, Rosemary Taylor, has been fired because of statements she made regarding models a photographer brought along to assist him while he covered the Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival.

Photographer Nelson Jones, who was hired by the City, told WSBTV’s Erica Byfield that shortly after he made a test shot of the two models with Tourism Director, Mike Vescio, Taylor told him the models “were not the type of people the City of Brookhaven wanted representing them.”

Jones says moments later, another City Official escorted them from the site of the festival, Blackburn Park. He also said the City is refusing to pay him.

In a statement, Brookhaven City Manager Marie Garrett said, “On Monday, Rosemary Taylor was relieved of her duties as the city’s communications director after she exhibited conduct unbecoming of a city employee at the Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival last month. The change in staffing follows a thorough investigation by the city’s human resources director. This is a personnel matter and that investigation is ongoing. Taylor was hired in March.”

Now Rosemary Taylor, the former Communications Director, has spoken up with her side of the story.

From Rosemary Taylor: Let me say this clearly – racism had absolutely nothing to do with my interactions with the photographer and his hired models at the recent Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival. It all had to do with a lack of professionalism on behalf of the photographer, a conflict of interest, misuse of city funds and money spent unnecessarily.

The photographer, Nelson Jones, was hired in advance of me coming to the city. The tourism manager told me Mr. Jones was a “political hire” and that he had been paid in advance for all three days of the festival plus a precluding kick-off party.

I thought the advance payment was unusual and when I asked for specifics on the “political hire” the tourism manager simply said that the mayor and council knew him. He later said he had worked with the photographer at a motel chain when he worked in that industry.

On viewing the photographer’s work from the kick-off party, the event producer, communications manager, and I agreed that the quality of the photos was simply not acceptable. We decided to hire another photographer at extra cost to assure we had photos from the festival that were of magazine quality for publicity purposes.

In no discussions with anyone in the city’s communications department was the subject of hiring models raised prior to the event. If it had, we would have nixed that idea immediately because a park filled with thousands of people provides enough opportunities for good, authentic photos — a standard industry practice —without hiring models to stage anything. In my professional opinion, it simply wasn’t necessary.

When I questioned him about the models and why he was posing them in the festival’s VIP tent, against the festival’s branding, etc., as if it was a photo shoot, he got agitated and defensive. My mistake was getting agitated back, as he continued to tell me he was the official photographer and he had hired top models and this was going to be good for the city. I told him it wasn’t and that it was not what we wanted. It was simply a matter of the photographer not honoring the requests of what we needed for future publicity use — authentic photos of attendees at the event.

In various articles, the photographer has said he was “photographing the models for a separate promotion of his own company, and he was not planning on handing those photos over to the city.”

If that was indeed the case, then he shouldn’t be asking for reimbursement for his models…and, in fact, he should return part of his advance pay to the city as he wasn’t really doing our work. He showed up several hours late on top of all this. Bringing models for his own promotional purposes was a conflict of interest.

I believe strongly that when I complained about this photographer’s work and the tourism manager said he would not hire him again, that the photographer saw the end of his money from the city and blamed me. Thus, a completely fabricated racism accusation towards me, while generating tons of publicity for the photographer and his models.

Anyone who knows me knows that this accusation is untrue. My main concern was for the City of Brookhaven when I saw a blatant misuse of the festival brand and potential waste of city funds. I stick to my professional decision behind the reasons not to utilize the photographer’s services.

On Facebook, former Johns Creek City Council member Ivan Figueroa wrote,

I’ve known Rose for eight plus years. Never have I heard a racist word or thought from her. Nothing but professionalism from her. Sad that she has to go through this political b.s.

Taylor was a Communications Manager for the City of Johns Creek prior to her hiring by Brookhaven.

Is Sandy Springs too expensive for its own good?

A story in the Reporter Newspapers highlights what may be an increasingly common issue with corporate headquarters relocations – offices are located in areas convenient for the senior management who makes the determination, but middle-income workers may be priced out of the immediate area.

While Mercedes Benz USA plans to bring and employ hundreds in Sandy Springs, those employees may not be able to afford to live in the area, and have been scouting locations such as Alpharetta and Crabapple.

“In Sandy Springs we have an abundance of housing for upper income, and an abundance for lower rental income,” said Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul. “We’ve heard from Mercedes families that they can’t afford to live in Sandy Springs.”

Paul said that points to a larger problem for the city and its workers overall, and that the lack of affordable workforce housing contributes to traffic congestion.

“What’s missing is owner-occupied housing in Sandy Springs that police, firefighters, teachers, nurses and medical personal can afford to live in,” he said. “This is a major issue; our congestion issues are built around the fact that an overwhelming number of people who work here live elsewhere.

“Our population of 100,000 grows to 200,000 during the day. If we could create an environment where employees could live in Sandy Springs, that would have an enormous impact on traffic congestion.”

Last year I was at dinner with a number of people that included a state employee who worked economic development and had worked on a large corporate project near Athens. The economic developer related that during the planning for that project, the company’s management made a specific request to see the neighborhoods where middle-income and hourly workers would be able to afford to live as part of determining the suitability for their project.

Former State Rep. Tyrone Brooks resigns, pleads to federal charges

Before he was due in federal court yesterday on a plea, Rep. Tyrone Brooks sent Gov. Deal a hand-delivered letter resigning his seat in the Georgia State House of Representatives. The letter made no mention of his federal issues,

After 35 enjoyable and successful years in the Georgia House of Representatives, I have decided
to shift my priorities and transition back to fulltime Civil Human Rights work.  I have decided to make the Moore’s Ford Bridge Lynching’s in Monroe, GA, my number #1 priority.

Therefore I am hereby resigning from House District 55, immediately effective today.

But later yesterday, Brooks plead guilty to federal charges involving the disposition of funds allegedly raised for an organization he ran. From the Atlanta Business Chronicle,

Former Democratic State Rep. Tyrone Brooks Sr. [plead] guilty to tax fraud and taking almost $1 million in charitable funds from Universal Humanities and the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials to pay for personal expenses for himself and his family.

Brooks, 68, of Atlanta, [plead] nolo contendere guilty to five counts of mail and wire fraud and fully admitted his guilt on one count of tax fraud.

“Through two charitable organizations he led, Representative Brooks raised over one million dollars for the causes of illiteracy, crime and voter disenfranchisement that plague our disadvantaged communities, especially ones in poor and rural areas,” said Acting U.S. Attorney John Horn. “Sadly, Representative Brooks misappropriated nearly all of the money to pay personal expenses for himself and his family. By diverting these funds, he deprived those communities from receiving the literacy training and other assistance that they so desperately needed.”

On Twitter, Richard Segall noted something interesting

A quick check of the Georgia State Ethics Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission website shows that Tyrone Brooks, Jr., son of the now-former State Rep., registered a campaign committee for the same State House seat less than two weeks ago. Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington, Jr. is listed as campaign chair for Brooks, Jr.

State Legislation

The Cherokee Ledger-News discusses the Opportunity School District referendum, which will be on the November 2016 ballot.

The most significant education-related legislation that was achieved during the 2015 General Assembly was the constitutional amendment, Senate Resolution 287, and its accompanying legislation, Senate Bill 133, calling for Opportunity School Districts.

Because of the passage of the legislation, voters will decide in November 2016 whether low performing schools in the state will be grouped in a statewide school district, based on a program for failing schools in New Orleans.  That district could remove principals, transfer teachers, change what students are learning and control the schools’ budgets. The state OSD, according to the legislation, could add no more than 20 schools per year, for a total of 100 at any given time. The schools would remain in the OSD for no less than five years and no more than 10 years.

Gov. Nathan Deal has spearheaded OSDs as a way to address poor test scores and the dropout rate in Georgia.

The Georgia Federation of Teachers and Empower Ed Georgia have strongly opposed the legislation.

Cherokee School Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo said while the Cherokee school district has no schools eligible under the current definition of the takeover, it has two schools that have had CCRPI scores close to and within the targeted range; and the law is unclear when the clock would start on the “three consecutive years” of CCRPI scores below 60.

“With the introduction of the new Georgia Milestones assessment (which Cherokee County students will take this month), it is widely believed that CCRPI scores will dip statewide as students adjust to the new assessment format, which is both computer-based and includes a new writing component. Even a slight drop in scores could cause several CCSD schools (specifically those which serve a high-poverty population where, also, a third to half of the students need English language support services), to fall within the eligibility for state takeover, as currently defined,” Petruzielo said.

It’s a very good article by a local news outlet that goes on to cover additional education legislation from this session of the General Assembly, and it’s worth reading in its entirety.

The Rome News-Tribune spoke to State Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) about her bill, the Jason Flatt Act,

Youth suicide “is a hugely growing problem and is heartbreaking,” says state Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, the legislation’s lead sponsor.

Under the legislative measure, if it is signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgia public school educators would get annual suicide prevention training as part of their in-service training work.

It would not require additional state funds, Dempsey said. “I think it will be very helpful,” Dempsey said, pointing to statistics on youth suicide.

Within the 10-to-24 age group, suicide is the third leading overall cause of death, according to the CDC.

Proponents of the bill say the training does not turn teachers into counselors, but helps them recognize warning signs and know how to make referrals for help.

Tim Callahan, a spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Education, told GHN, “We didn’t oppose the legislation, knowing as we do that adolescence can be a very difficult time for some of our students. We’ll see how the guidelines come out from the (Georgia Department of Education) for how to achieve the aims of the bill.”

The state Department of Education says it supported the bill “because it is good for children and does not add any cost for school districts.”

Former State Senator Cecil Staton will serve as Interim President of Valdosta State University, beginning July 1.

Local Politics

Legislation to clarify the responsibilities of the Henry County Commission Chair and Board of Commissioners that was passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Deal is under fire from Henry Commission Chair Tommy Smith, according to the Henry Herald.

Smith filed suit against his fellow commissioners last year, asking that a Superior Court judge clarify the duties of chairman and county manager.

Instead, the delegation presented the responsibilities in legislation, which is now law.

Smith said the people should have decided, not lawmakers.

“The same people that will not allow a referendum on HB554 voted on other local bills for other counties that mandated a referendum,” he said. “Why would they not allow their constituents the same courtesy in HB554?”

The law assigns duties and responsibilities exclusively to the Board of Commission to appoint a county manager and assistant county managers; county clerk and assistant county clerks; and county attorneys; and delegate duties to those appointees, establish qualifications, compensation and job description of those employees.

Powers given to the chairman include being able to cast a vote with the rest of the board and not just to break a tie; serve as presiding officer over BOC meetings; submit an annual budget after consulting with the county manager; ensure ordinances, resolutions and regulations of BOC and laws of the state are executed and enforced; coordinate intergovernmental activity; and represent Henry County at ceremonial functions.

If you enjoy political fireworks, the next meeting of the Stockbridge City Council may provide some entertainment, following a recent censure of the Mayor by the members of Council. A topic at the next meeting will be the veto by Mayor Tim Thompson of a measure to give raises to both Council members and Mayor.

Mayor Tim Thompson has vetoed an ordinance approved by council this month that gives the mayor and council a pay raise.

Thompson was not at the March 9 meeting when the ordinance was approved, but in previous meetings had indicated he was against the raises largely because of the amount the city offers the council in healthcare benefits and he did not feel that it was deserved.

“I felt really strongly about this from the beginning,” he said.

Thomas said he plans to respond to the veto at the next city council meeting.

“It will come back up in the next general meeting and I will have a statement in regards to that,” he said. “It takes all five members to override the veto but I have not heard from them. But I will personally be responding to the veto.”

Community Improvement Districts appear to continue their increasing popularity, with a group in Clayton County exploring the creation of a new CID.

JONESBORO — Business owners in the Phoenix Boulevard area have decided they are potentially willing to pay a higher tax to see economic improvement there.

Steve Bearman, whose company owned property in the area, said his and other businesses came together to put out a request for proposal for a consultant who could help them turn the region into a Community Improvement District. They have hired consultant Nicole McGhee Hall.

Hall said a CID is an area in which business property owners agree to pay an extra tax in order to see improvements in the area. In this case, the initial proposed boundaries of the area in question includes area around I-285, Sullivan Road, the Phoenix Boulevard area, Riverdale Road, West Fayetteville Road, and also in the top Camp Creek area near the Georgia International Convention Center.

Hall said she believes the CID could bring in about $400,000 to make improvements in that area. To get there, she needs to ensure enough property owners are on board to represent 75 percent of the total tax value.

An investigation of questionable purchasing practices led to the Floyd County Board of Education accepting five resignations in an emergency meeting.

Superintendent Jeff Mc­Daniel, however, refused to say if the departures were connected with the criminal investigation into the suspected misuse of funds, saying he wouldn’t discuss personnel issues.

Officials discovered the suspected misuse of county school money several days ago as they tested new software used for human resources and purchasing, said Tim Hensley, assistant to the superintendent. Employees wanted to examine how the software would handle purchase orders, leading them to pull old orders, McDaniel added.

Certain items purchased on those orders led employees to further investigate. Floyd County police were called either on April 2, April 3 or Monday, McDaniel added.

The Robotics Club at Columbus High School finished first in their regional competition to advance to a world championship.

Now, there is another problem for the Columbus team’s 14 members – all from Columbus High this year, although it is open to any Musocgee County School District student in grades 9-12: They need an estimated $18,000 to vie for the FIRST Robotics Competition title along with approximately 600 teams April 22-25 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. FIRST means For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — and Aflac and United Technologies have been inspired to recognize these students for their excellence in science and technology by donating $5,000 each.

This year’s competition requires their robot to act like a forklift, stacking storage trunks (called totes) and garbage cans and placing foam noodles inside them. They have 2½ minutes. The first 15 seconds is the autonomous period, when the robot must perform by itself. It can operate by remote control the rest of the time.

Shivani Upadhayay, a senior, dropped out of the team after her freshman year.

“I was so intimidated,” she said. “It was male dominated, and I was scared that if I was working on something it would go wrong.”

But a friend convinced her to rejoin as a junior and work on the team’s outreach program, which conducts activities to promote science, technology, engineering and math education. Then she gained enough confidence to create on her own a pivot part for the robot. She received praise from Richardson and her teammates, Shivani said, “and that got me really interested in doing more design.”

Jinny Van Doorn, a senior, went through a similar evolution. When she joined the team as a sophomore, she stuck to the outreach program because she didn’t think she would be interested in robotics or engineering.

“After actually working on the mechanical side of things for a while,” Jinny said, “I really started to enjoy thinking about the problem, conceptualizing different ways to approach the problem.”

No wonder more than half of the team members now are female.

To help Columbus Robotics pay the estimated $18,000 in expenses for its trip to the FIRST world championship in St. Louis, you can donate online at www.gofundme.com/frc4188 or write a check payable to Columbus High School and note “robotics team” on the memo line.

Geeks and nerds unite, and help your people reach the Championship.

Drama surrounding a potential merger between Savannah and Chatham County police continues.

One week after Chatham County commissioners agreed to hire a search firm, County Manager Lee Smith and City Manager Stephanie Cutter will meet to potentially prevent the need for a county police chief.

City officials say they thought the framework for an agreement to preserve the Savannah-Chatham police department had been agreed to by Cutter and Smith.

That was two weeks ago, and now they are not so sure, according to a letter Mayor Edna Jackson sent County Commission Chairman Al Scott on Tuesday.

In addition to granting the county more say over department operations and reductions in some costs, the managers agreed to propose a two-year monitoring period before reaching a long-term agreement, said city spokesman Bret Bell.

The feds held a pair of public meetings to discuss seismic exploration for energy resources off the Georgia coast.

Kennesaw State University College Republicans will host Ann Coulter on campus later this month.

The Kennesaw State University College Republicans plans to host conservative columnist Ann Coulter as the university’s second “Marketplace of Ideas” keynote speaker at the Bailey Performance Center on Chastain Road on April 22.

Coulter, a political commentator and legal correspondent for the online newspaper Human Events, will discuss the GOP’s approach to the 2016 election in a presentation titled, “Republicans Could Win, if They’d Stop Doing Some of the Things They’re Doing.”

KSU College Republicans President Amber Kruger said the organization invited Coulter to speak as a preface to the 2016 election and wanted its members to hear about what was in store for the Republican Party.

“Our adviser, Dr. (Kerwin) Swint, made us aware that Ms. Ann Coulter was available … and we jumped on board,” she said. “Our reasoning behind that is because the College Republican group as a whole — we’re very interested in supporting the Republican message. This would be a great opportunity. I feel like (her presentation) topic is very relevant with the elections coming up in a year. We’re looking to hear from her what could happen in the Republican Party.”

Coulter would be paid a fee of about $20,000, which would be funded by the Kennesaw State University Foundation, according to KSU President Dan Papp.

Macon’s transit agency is asking citizens to support continued federal funding for operations.

[F]ederal funding for public transit and transportation infrastructure is scheduled to run out May 31. Unless Congress acts, that would cost the transit authority about half its regular operating budget and four-fifths of its capital budget, MTA General Manager Rick Jones said.

Losing that money would mean “real hardship” for transit riders, MTA board chairman Craig Ross said.

“Tell your local officials to call your state officials, tell your state officials to call your congressmen and senators,” he said.

For its operating budget alone, the transit authority gets $2.7 million each year in federal funds to provide bus and paratransit service. Expiration of federal funding would have a similar impact on transit agencies and infrastructure work nationwide. So the American Public Transportation Association called for a “Stand Up 4 Transportation” day, urging rallies across the country in support of renewed funding.

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