Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 17, 2019

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 17, 2019

On July 17, 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman set up headquarters in Fulton County on Powers Ferry Road near the Chattahoochee River. Late that night, Confederate General Joseph Johnston was replaced by newly-commissioned Gen. John Bell Hood.

For nearly three months, Johnston and Sherman had maneuvered around the rugged corridor from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Although there was constant skirmishing, there were few major battles; Sherman kept trying to outflank Johnston, but his advances were blocked. Though this kept losses to a minimum, there was also a limit to how long Johnston could maintain this strategy as each move brought the armies closer to Atlanta. By July 17, 1864, Johnston was backed into the outskirts of Atlanta. Johnston felt his strategy was the only way to preserve the Army of Tennessee, but Davis felt that he had given up too much territory.

Georgia-born Ty Cobb died on July 17, 1961.

The Beatles premiered The Yellow Submarine on July 17, 1968 in London.

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed by Congress on July 17, 1984. From the New York Times:

President Reagan, appealing for cooperation in ending the “’crazy quilt of different states’ drinking laws,” today signed legislation that would deny some Federal highway funds to states that keep their drinking age under 21.

“We know that drinking, plus driving, spell death and disaster,” Mr. Reagan told visitors on a sweltering afternoon. “We know that people in the 18-to-20 age group are more likely to be in alcohol-related accidents than those in any other age group.”

“’It’s a grave national problem, and it touches all our lives,” he added. “With the problem so clear-cut and the proven solution at hand, we have no misgiving about this judicious use of Federal power.”

Under the law Mr. Reagan signed today, the Secretary of Transportation is required to withhold 5 percent of Federal highway construction funds from those states that do not enact a minimum drinking age of 21 by Oct. 1, 1986. The Secretary is required to withhold 10 percent of the funds for states that do not act by Oct. 1, 1987.

The President said he was “convinced” that the legislation would “help persuade state legislators to act in the national interest to save our children’s lives, by raising the drinking age to 21 across the country.”

A senior White House official said after the ceremony that it was not clear that the new law would compel states to raise their drinking ages, even with its incentives and penalties.

He said some states, such as Florida, were proving resistant to the changes because people considered it unfair to allow residents to vote and serve in the armed services at the age of 18 but not to drink in public.

The University of North Georgia Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Dahlonega Science Council will discuss the Apollo 11 moon landing, according to AccessWDUN.

The keynote speaker is NASA aerospace engineer Sabrina Thompson, who works at Goddard Space Flight Center.

Thompson will speak about the historic mission at 7:30 p.m. July 20 in the Health and Natural Sciences (HNS) building at University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega Campus. Thompson said she will share the history of the space program, but she also plans to discuss what’s in the future for space exploration.

Before and after the speech, activities include hands-on projects for children, planetarium shows and solar observations. If the weather is clear, telescopes for observing will be set up at HNS, the observatory, or both.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Drive safely, and remember that the Georgia State Patrol and local authorities will be teaming up for additional traffic enforcement. From the Ledger-Enquirer:

The third annual Operation Southern Shield launched Monday, and is an effort by agencies in [Georgia and Alabama,] plus Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee to enforce speed limits and promote safe driving through midnight July 21.

“The goal of Southern Shield is not to write a lot of tickets, but to show drivers how speeding drastically increases their chances of being in a crash,” said Allen Poole, director of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

In 2018, 268 people were killed in speed-related crashes in Georgia, according to preliminary numbers from the Georgia Department of Transportation. That’s an 8% increase from the previous year.

Belinda Jackson, regional program manager with the NHTSA, said there are several groups of drivers who are more likely to be involved in speed-related crashes: young males aged 15-24, people who don’t wear their seatbelts, motorcyclists and impaired drivers.

“During this week’s enforcement blitz, the blue lights will be out there in full force,” Jackson said. “Officers will be vigilant regarding enforcing speed limits but also seat belt, distracted driving and impaired driving violations as well. Our goal with the Southern Shield campaign is simply this: it’s to save lives.”

During the 2018 Southern Shield, law enforcement agencies in Georgia wrote more than 11,000 citations[.]

The Gainesville Times notes that turtles are increasingly crossing roads.

“They’re particularly prevalent during this time of year, especially after a rainstorm,” Gordon said. “People will see them crossing roads and around their homes.”

Gordon said adult eastern box turtles can live as long as 40-60 years in the wild, and exhibit a range of brown, yellow and black shell color variations.

For the past week, Hall County Parks & Leisure has been pushing turtle-related education to the community.

Becky Ruffner, the department’s marketing and public relations specialist, said the idea was inspired by the increased activity of turtles during the summer.

Like Gordon, Ruffner stresses the importance of not taking turtles home. Unbeknownst to many, Ruffner said the eastern box turtle is a protected species under Georgia law, making it illegal to remove one from its habitat.

“Humans are one of the biggest threats to the box turtle population by removing them,” she said. “And that box turtle is probably not going to survive.”

Kathy Church, program coordinator with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said out of the approximately 27 species of turtles in Georgia, 13 are protected.

Those that are unprotected, including the common snapping turtle, can be caught and eaten for dinner. Church said people can legally trap up to 10 turtles per session for food purposes.

So, there is a bag limit for turtles. Who knew?

Governor Brian Kemp swore in two new members of the Board of Regents, according to the AJC.

Kemp used the openings to appoint Sam Holmes, a commercial real estate executive with CBRE; and Jose Perez, the retired head of Target Market Trends and a Gwinnett Republican. He also re-appointed Dean Alford, a veteran regents member with ties to the state’s GOP establishment.

They replace Richard Tucker and Don Leebern Jr., who have been mainstays on the board, which oversees 26 institutions including Georgia’s largest colleges and universities and is considered one of the most coveted posts in state government. The 12-month total budget for the University System of Georgia, about $9.6 billion, is about one-third the size of the entire state budget.

The appointees will serve seven-year terms.

Governor Kemp will speak at the ribbon-cutting for PCOM South Georgia, according to the Suwanee Democrat.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has confirmed that he will address attendees as the first four-year medical school in Southwest Georgia opens its doors.

PCOM South Georgia consists of a 75,000-square-foot facility on a 31-acre campus led by 30 faculty and staff members. The campus, located on Tallokas Road in Moultrie, will welcome 55 Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine students to orientation on Aug. 5 with classes starting on Aug. 12.

Jay Feldstein, DO, president and CEO of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) said, “We are very happy to be partnering in the region to bring our 120 years of experience in educating physicians and health sciences professionals to Southwest Georgia.”

Official actions to bring a campus to the Southwest Georgia region began in October of 2016 when a Memorandum of Agreement was signed that laid out a plan to begin the extensive accreditation process with the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA), the college’s accrediting agency.

“The impact this medical school will have on the South Georgia region is going to be monumental. Our ability to reduce the physician shortage in rural areas and thereby meet the increasing healthcare needs of this population is going to improve,” said Colquitt Regional President and CEO Jim Matney. “I am just overwhelmingly proud of all of the stakeholders who have come together to make this possible and we are appreciative of PCOM for their willingness to step outside of the norm and place this campus in Southwest Georgia.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is asking for public comments on a proposal to mine heavy minerals near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, according to GPB News.

Twin Pines Minerals has submitted a permit application, seeking permission to mine for heavy minerals in a 2,414-acre area. That would be phase one of the mining. The total proposed area is about 12,000 acres.

The company plans to mine in phases, according to the application, to an average of 50 feet below the land surface. The application proposes to backfill mined areas within 30 days, and replant during the appropriate planting season.

The company estimates 65 acres of wetland and 4,658 linear feet of tributaries will be permanently impacted if the project goes forward.

Spokesman Billy Birdwell stressed that the Corps is seeking new information to inform the permit review process. Public comments, he said, are not a referendum that measures public sentiment.

“Their purpose is to give us information that we don’t have or that the public deems that we really need to consider before we make our decision,” said Birdwell. “And it may lead to something that requires more study. So that’s why we have these public comment periods, and we encourage people to get involved.”

The Georgia Public Service Commission approved Georgia Powers Integrated Resource Plan, according to WABE.

Public Service Commission chairman Bubba McDonald has directed Georgia Power to add more solar power in past integrated resource plans, and continued to do so with this one.

“With our partnership with Georgia Power Company, we have been able to methodically move it forward. Step-by-step, not overdoing it, not underdoing it,” he said. “By doing that, we have stayed with no upward pressure on the ratepayer, and no state subsidies at all. Totally market driven.”

The addition of biomass had not been something that Georgia Power initially proposed, but the Georgia Forestry Commission, among others, encouraged regulators to consider it in an earlier hearing on the long-range plan. Georgia Power already buys some power from biomass companies; now it will issue a request for proposals for a new 50 megawatt biomass facility in Georgia. Biomass is not as economically efficient as other sources of power, and environmental groups say it’s not good for climate change.

Public Service Commissioner Jason Shaw said that will be good for South Georgia’s economy and its tree farmers, even if it is a relatively small power plant.

“It will allow the industry to continue to grow and expand, and I do see that adding resilience to rural communities,” Shaw said.

The Gwinnett County Commission backed away from proposed property tax millage rate hikes, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Gwinnett county commissioners retreated from a plan to raise the county’s millage rate that had drawn vocal opposition from property owners.

The commission voted 3-2 to keep the millage rate at its 2018 level, with the general fund rate set at 7.209 mills. Commissioners Tommy Hunter and Ben Ku voted against the rate.

Commissioner Jace Brooks, who made the motion to keep the rate the same as last year, said he had been leaning in that direction the entire time and said the public feedback opposed to the rate increase was appreciated.

Since the county’s tax digest grew this year at least partially due to an increase in property values, some residents may still end up paying more in taxes despite the millage rate staying the same. That will depend on what exemptions they have, however.

The proposed increase in the rate to 7.4 mills drew pushback from residents in recent weeks over the increased money they’d have to spend in taxes. Some residents also called on county leaders to tighten the county’s belt on spending.

Ku said he voted against keeping the rate at the same level as last year because he “didn’t think that was the best direction for the county” because the county has to dip into reserves to cover a gap between tax revenues and expenditures.

Two things I note: first, keeping the same millage rate as last year if the property digest increased means higher county revenues and some would say that is a tax increase (see also, Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights); second, does Commissioner Ku’s comment mean he would have preferred the higher property tax rates? I think that’s what he’s saying, but it’s unclear.

Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter (R) and State Rep. Donna McLeod, (D-Lawrenceville) had an exchange of ideas, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Gwinnett County commissioners usually do not respond to people who address them at commission meetings, but Commissioner Tommy Hunter broke with that tradition Tuesday and criticized a state legislator who had criticized him during her remarks to the board.

State Rep. Donna McLeod, D-Lawrenceville, stood before the board at its business meeting Tuesday and took the opportunity to address Hunter over, among other things, a $5 million federal lawsuit he has filed against his fellow commissioners over a written reprimand issued against him in 2017 for calling U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig.”

“You need to act like a representative, ma’am,” Hunter said.

Hunter’s response to McLeod prompted an intercession from commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, who immediately told him “let’s not engage here.”

The Dalton City Council accepted an Intergovernmental Agreement with the Whitfield County Commission governing use of encrypted radios, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen.

The Dalton City Council voted 4-0 on Monday to approve the agreement, which says the radios can only be used for public safety purposes. The county Board of Commissioners approved the agreement last week.

The agreement also says each government is responsible for paying the subscriber fee for each of the radios it is assigned to the Tennessee Valley Regional Communication System, codifying what had been the practice. The city of Dalton has 402 handheld and vehicle-mounted radios and its annual subscriber fees total $45,285.

Whitfield County adopted a new digital emergency radio system in 2017, replacing the 40-year-old analog technology the county had been using. The system, which cost some $12 million, was the top priority under the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) approved by voters in 2015. It serves all county first responders as well as those in the cities of Dalton, Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell.

The new agreement says the cities can’t give or sell the radios to anyone else.

The Floyd County Board of Education heard about school safety and security, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The system will be rolling out the Raptor Visitor Management Program, which will cross reference every visitor and volunteer with the U.S. National Sex Offenders Public Registry. The system will be implemented at every front office across the system, Flanigen said.

“This way we will have an electronic database of who is in that school,” he said.

Visitors and volunteers will be required to insert their driver’s license or government issued ID card into a card reader which will alert front office staff if a registered sex offender is trying to enter the building. According to Superintendent Jeff Wilson, the system will be paid for with help of federal grant money marked for security and will cost around $1,000 per school. The system will be ready to roll by the first day of school, he said.

The system will not perform a background check on the visitors, Flanigen said. Only the sex offender registry will be checked since it is public record. Other public records such as active warrants will not be checked by the system, he said.

The Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center is criticized in a new report from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The report, based largely on anonymous complaints, [] is the latest mark against the Augusta center. It came under fire in 2013 for being part of a nationwide VA backlog of patient consults, with some veterans dying while they waited for an appointment. In 2016, Augusta VA supervisor Cathedral Henderson was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for falsely reporting that veteran requests for care had been fulfilled to address the backlog.

In the new report, investigators said they were repeatedly told hiring at the Augusta VA is inefficient and takes months. Those interviewed called it “awful,” “extremely difficult” and “exquisitely problematic.” with an average hiring action held up by one of several procedural step for nearly 58 days.

Though an early 2018 VA report found staffing levels to be adequate, in February both CCU and RN staffing was “substantially below” authorized levels, with 11 of 53 CCU nursing positions vacant and six of 36 ER nurse slots open.

“Staff absences frequently impacted the facility’s ability to maintain safe CCU staffing levels and that unit managers failed to consistently use the available administrative actions to address unexcused staff absences,” the report said.

The Gwinnett County Board of Elections named an interim director, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The county’s Board of Registrations and Elections voted Tuesday night to appoint county Voter Registration and Elections division Deputy Director Kristi Royston as the acting elections supervisor. She will replace Lynn Ledford, the longtime supervisor who began her new position in a special projects-oriented division director Tuesday.

“I just wanted to make sure we have someone who knows what they’re doing and she’s been here for a long time and she’s very good at her job,” said elections board member Beauty Baldwin, who made the motion to appoint Royston to the position.

She comes into the interim position with plenty of experience with elections. Ledford said she has been with Gwinnett’s Voter Registration and Elections Division for about a decade. She served as the division’s deputy director for that entire time.

“I think she’ll be fantastic,” Ledford said.

Prior to coming to work for Gwinnett, Royston worked for the Secretary of State’s Office when Cathy Cox held that office, then as a clerk in Athens-Clarke County’s elections office and then as elections director for Barrow County, according to Ledford.

Agricultural Education is increasingly available in Georgia public schools, according to the Associated Press, via the Statesboro Herald.

The program will begin with 20 Georgia elementary schools that will roll out the agricultural education courses.

Agricultural education is offered in middle and high schools in metro Atlanta, the newspaper reported. But this new effort makes the first time it is being offered by the state to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“Even if you’re not a farmer, the agriculture umbrella covers so many other opportunities. We want to make sure kids understand that,” Steinkamp said.

The Georgia Legislature approved the agricultural education curriculum for elementary schools during the 2018 legislative session. Teachers across the state are now working with the Georgia Department of Education to finalize lesson plans for the 2019-2020 school year.

State Sen. John Wilkinson, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee and is co-chair of the education committee, said the lessons will prepare students for careers in agriculture and give young people a greater respect for the food they eat.

“There was a time where the majority of people were involved in farms,” said Wilkinson, R-Toccoa. “As we get farther and farther away from the farm, a lot of our young people think food comes from a grocery store. We thought it would be good for all our students to at least have an idea of where their food comes from and what it takes to produce it. A lot of times, we take our food for granted. It’s really easy to do.”

Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College will offer a new four-year degree in Agricultural Technology and Systems Management, according to the Albany Herald.

ABAC President David Bridges said he believes a new ABAC major in Agricultural Technology and Systems Management will quench the thirst of those students who want the AET background but need a four-year degree for their chosen profession.

“Jobs are available for students who complete this major,” Bridges said.

“These are the type of employees that companies are looking for. These graduates have applied skills. They have been in the shops. They can solve problems in the field.

“Control systems, guidance systems, irrigation equipment. These graduates are all over that type of thing. I think farm equipment dealers such as John Deere, Caterpillar, R.W. Griffin and Kelley Manufacturing Company will be looking for these graduates.”

A deal to build a hotel at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry cratered between The Georgia Agricultural Exposition Authority and a private company, according to the Macon Telegraph.

The Georgia Agricultural Exposition Authority in January approved a preliminary agreement with Bran Hospitality to build the hotel, but final terms could not be reached.

Stephen Shimp, executive director of the fairgrounds, said a key sticking point was a requirement for a performance bond. That forced the developer to put up a bond guaranteeing the hotel would get built. Shimp said it was an extra cost the developer did not anticipate.

The deal for the hotel is identical to what the state uses to build hotels on Jekyll Island, which the state owns, Shimp said. The performance bond is part of the Jekyll Island projects as well.

Shimp said a new request for proposals will be sought from developers. Bran Hospitality, based in Perry and owner of 13 hotels, made the only offer when the state sought proposals last year, but Shimp said he is optimistic a new developer will step up.

Corina Newsome, a graduate student at Georgia Southern University, will present on how climate change is affecting seaside sparrows, according to The Brunswick News.

Her talk is part of an ongoing Georgia Sea Turtle Center Seminar Series hosted at the center, which is part of the Jekyll Island Authority. David Steen, a research ecologist at the center, began the series in 2018 to provide opportunities for researchers to share their work with the center staff and JIA employees, as well as the local community.

“I think it’s really useful for the folks working at JIA and the GSTC in particular to understand that we are part of a large scientific community and see how our research projects are informed by the latest science,” Steen said. “I also think meeting new researchers and learning about how they conduct their research programs is valuable professional development for our staff and AmeriCorps members.”

Newsome’s talk will take place at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Mosaic Classroom at the center. Newsome’s presentation is titled “Climate Change and the Salty Sparrow: Understanding Seaside Sparrow Nest-Predation Threat in a Variable Landscape.”

Her research right now focuses on the conservation of the seaside sparrow, which is a species that is particularly threatened by climate change due to sea level rise.

Glynn County is considering regulating businesses operating on public beaches, according to The Brunswick News.

Existing county regulations don’t say much about selling services on the beach, [County Community Development Director] Thompson said. Businesses selling products, however, are subject to regulations. Sunset Slush, which sells frozen treats from a cart on East Beach, must contract with the county and pay upwards of $15,000 in taxes and fees.

Seven other businesses currently operating on the beach do pay taxes, but she said it isn’t a requirement. Both she and Gurganus said they believed regulating other types of business would be fair.

Also, the lack of oversight led to something of a kerfuffle earlier this month when a paraglider — which is classified as an ultralight aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration — started operating on the beach.

In particular, [Recreation and Parks Manager Lisa Gurganus] pointed the commissioners to Walton County, Fla., and Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

Both require beach-based businesses to hold permits and maintain liability insurance.

In Senoia, City Council is considering a new ordinance permitting food trucks, according to the Newnan Times-Herald.

Two restaurant owners expressed concerns to the Senoia City Council Monday night, as the council prepared to approve the second and final reading of a new ordinance that would allow food trucks in certain areas, under certain circumstances.

The new ordinance will allow food trucks on Mondays from 5 to 10 p.m. from May to October. Food trucks would only be allowed downtown in the area on Monday between Johnson and Seavy streets, and in the parking lot behind city hall. They could also be allowed in the Seavy Street and Marimac Lakes parks with a special permit, said Community Development Director Dina Rimi. There will be a $50 application fee.

Scott Tigchelaar is part owner of Nic and Norman’s. “We love food trucks,” Tigchelaar said. “We’ve talked about them from a landlord perspective, from a tenant restaurant perspective and from a restaurant owner perspective.”

“As a restaurant owner, I don’t know that we are ready in Senoia. We’ve got a lot of restaurants in town and they’re not as busy as they could be,” he said.

Jim White is owner of Jimmy Pomodoro’s and Bistro Hilary.

Food trucks don’t have to pay rent or have to have a full-time staff. “It’s a lot cheaper for them to operate, obviously. It’s the complete opposite of what we do downtown,” White said.

“The restaurant industry is one of the hardest around and to add something like that, as much as we love them… I think a Monday night addition could very much hurt the restaurant business downtown,” White said.

The Hall County Public Schools system is looking at $500 million dollars in school upgrades, according to the Gainesville Times.

Most of the district’s elementary schools are, on average, about 25-30 years old, officials said.

School security improvements, even at the elementary level, have become obvious needs with the growing frequency of mass shootings on campuses across the nation, but they were not primary concerns when these decades-old schools were constructed.

But in working toward developing a 10-year facilities plan to upgrade, renovate and develop new schools, [Board Chair Nath] Morris said it is critical that officials consider how to make schools more efficient and sustainable.

Matt Cox, executive director of facilities and construction, said Hall County Schools currently has about $537 million worth of project and maintenance needs identified among its 37 schools.

St Simons beachgoers saw dozens of pilot whales beach themselves, according to AccessWDUN.

State Department of Natural Resources whale biologist Clay George said the DNR planned to euthanize two incapacitated whales. The DNR says they will be autopsied.

George says the whales were likely confused as they normally stay more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) offshore. The American Cetacean Society says pilot whales are often involved in mass strandings partly due to their social nature.

From the AJC:

Glynn County EMA and Homeland Security officials reported all whales were back in the ocean as of 7:40 p.m. Tuesday.

According to the Wildlife Resources Division from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, while some animals were successfully pushed back out, two pilot whales died and were taken in for a necropsy.

“The remaining whales were last seen swimming in the sound, and it is hoped they will continue to keep moving out to sea,” officials said.

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