Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 18, 2019

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 18, 2019

The greatest political journalist to ever put pen to paper, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, was born on July 18, 1929. That makes today “Gonzo Day.” You have been warned.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated for a third term at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago on July 18, 1940.

President Harry S. Truman signed the second Presidential Succession Act on July 18, 1947

The original succession act designated the Senate president pro tempore as the first in line to succeed the president should he and the vice president die unexpectedly while in office. If he for some reason could not take over the duties, the speaker of the house was placed next in the line of succession. In 1886, during Grover Cleveland‘s administration, Congress removed both the Senate president and the speaker of the house from the line of succession. From that time until 1947, two cabinet officials, (their order in line depended on the order in which the agencies were created) became the next in line to succeed a president should the vice president also become incapacitated or die. The decision was controversial. Many members of Congress felt that those in a position to succeed the president should be elected officials and not, as cabinet members were, political appointees, thereby giving both Republican and Democratic parties a chance at controlling the White House.

In 1945, then-Vice President Truman assumed the presidency after Franklin Roosevelt died of a stroke during his fourth term. As president, Truman advanced the view that the speaker of the house, as an elected official, should be next in line to be president after the vice president. On July 18, 1947, he signed an act that resurrected the original 1792 law, but placed the speaker ahead of the Senate president pro tempore in the hierarchy.

On July 18, 1988, the Democratic National Convention opened at the Omni in Atlanta. That night, actor Rob Lowe would shoot a videotape in a hotel with two hairdressers, one 22 and one 16. Several weeks later, the era of the celebrity sex tape began.

On July 18, 2000, United States Senator Paul Coverdell died of a cerebral hemorrhage. I remember where I was when I heard the news.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp signed an Executive Order suspending Bacon County Sheriff Mark Cothren for twenty days.

Senator Johnny Isakson was hospitalized after falling and breaking several ribs, according to the AJC.

Isakson’s communications director, Amanda Maddox, released details of the hospitalization Wednesday night. She said he was admitted to George Washington University Hospital after the fall.

He has four fractured ribs.

“He is in pain, but resting and doing well,” Maddox said. “Senator Isakson looks forward to fully recovering and getting back to work for Georgians.”

“The Kemp family asks Georgians across our great state to join them in praying for Senator Johnny Isakson’s swift recovery,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a statement of Facebook after news broke about Isakson’s hospitalization.

Avery Niles was fired as Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, according to the Gainesville Times.

“Commissioner Avery Niles submitted his resignation to the Board of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice effective Sept. 1,” reads a statement from the DJJ. “Following an executive session, the board voted not to accept the resignation and voted to remove him from the position of commissioner, effective immediately. Gov. Brian P. Kemp has approved the board’s decision.”

In published reports, Niles recently came under fire when it was revealed that he lied under oath in a deposition related to a lawsuit against the DJJ. Niles claimed he had earned an associate degree in criminal justice that he later admitted he did not possess. It is unclear whether this was the reason his employment with the agency was terminated.

State House District 71 qualifying runs through Friday, according to the Newnan Times-Herald.

Candidates wishing to run for the house seat, which was vacated by David Stover, qualify at the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office Elections Division, at 2 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Suite 802, Atlanta.

Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday. The qualifying fee is $400.

The special election will be held Sept. 3. Because it is a special election, all candidates run together, regardless of party, and there is no primary. If a runoff is needed, it will be Oct. 1, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.

There were five declared candidates for the seat, but one, Sam Anders, has withdrawn from the race.

The other declared candidates are Republicans Nina Blackwelder, Marcy Sakrison and Philip Singleton and Democrat Jill Prouty.

District 71 encompasses most of the eastern half of Coweta County, except for the Senoia and Haralson areas, as well as a section west of U.S. 29 between Palmetto and Madras. It also includes a sliver of Fayette County in the Kedron area of Peachtree City.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs declined a grant application by Statesboro, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has denied, at the pre-application stage, the city of Statesboro’s request for $2 million in Community Development Block Grant funding for the Creek on the Blue Mile project.

Statesboro still has the promise of a $5.5 million state direct investment and an up to $15.5 million line of credit for the project, both through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority. The $5.5 million would not have to be repaid, but it is meant for engineering and construction of the flood control lagoon. The $15.5 million would have to be repaid in 30 years, although at a very low annual interest rate of 2.25 percent.

“After a review of the pre-application, we do not find that the city’s proposal addresses eligible CDBG activities to directly benefit low- and moderate-income persons; therefore, the city is not being invited to submit a full application,” Georgia DCA Deputy Commissioner Rusty Haygood stated in a June 20 letter to Mayor Jonathan McCollar.

Savannah City Council will consider approval of an Intergovernmental Agreement governing a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) with Chatham County, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The agreement is needed for a new Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum that will be on November ballots for voters to approve or deny.

The sales tax, if approved, would begin collections on Oct. 1, 2020.

The city originally asked the county for $225 million from the SPLOST 7 collection.

The county has determined Savannah will receive $156.07 million, according to Pat Monahan, Savannah’s interim city manager.

In May the other municipalities also presented their requests that included, $8.2 million for Bloomingdale; $13.15 million for Garden City; $64.2 million for Pooler; $11 million for Port Wentworth; $5 million for Thunderbolt; $20 million for Tybee Island, and $200,000 for Vernonburg.

The County Commission is expected to call for the election on July 26, which will then set the deadline for finalizing the intergovernmental agreements.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission will meet Thursday to approve a final project list for the upcoming SPLOST 2020 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.

Public comment is allowed and expected at the 6 p.m. meeting in Athens City Hall on the “SPLOST 2020” package, pegged at about $330 million. The special purpose local option sales tax is a 1 percent tax governments with voter approval can use to fund construction of buildings, parks and other public projects.

Under Georgia law, a governing body such as the commission can choose to ask voters to approve the tax for a set time such as five or six years, or until it reaches a certain amount. In this case, $330 million, which would extend the tax for about an additional 11 years.

Voters will get the final say in a November referendum.

[Commissioner Melissa] Link said she’s heard opposition from some of her constituents that they might vote against continuing the SPLOST if the arena is on it.

Glynn County is paying more attention to who claims homestead exemptions, according to The Brunswick News.

“I think probably what has brought this to the fore more than anything is the county’s lawsuit … The Coleman class action and the school board. They have over 6,000 people, I think now, eligible for the school board exemption,” said Glynn County Tax Commissioner Jeff Chapman.

In the class-action lawsuit Chapman referred to — originally files as three separate lawsuits in 2012, 2013 and 2014 — county residents alleged the tax commissioner had overcharged on property taxes going back to 2001.

The plaintiffs claimed the county had selected the wrong year on which to base their Scarlett Williams homestead exemptions. In a Scarlett Williams exemption, a full-time resident’s property value is “frozen” for tax purposes at the year in which their exemption was approved.

The tax commissioner’s office should have frozen values at the year prior to approval, the Georgia Court of Appeals found. As such, the county had overcharged residents on property taxes going back at least to 2001, according to court filings.

“The county commission and school board both realize how much money is at stake with an incorrect exemption, or someone who’s not eligible and getting it,” Chapman said. “I think they see how much money it is. I think that’s being discussed. It’s thousands of dollars (per incorrect exemption).”

As such, he was encouraged to begin cracking down on all homestead exemptions, an easy target given that, until now, they’ve been policed via “honor system.” In its most recent budget, the county commission increased the staffing in his office to facilitate the effort.

The point at which a short-term rental becomes a lodging business is identified differently by different tax commissioners, but Chapman sees it as a clear, black and white distinction. The bottom line: anyone who rents out their home isn’t eligible for a homestead exemption.

“You can’t have a boarding house or a weekend rental and get the discounts from taxations like a homestead can get,” Chapman said.

Anyone who rents out a portion of their home as an apartment or efficiency could lose their exempt status unless the portion of the property being rented is on a separate tax parcel from the owner’s residence.

The same rule stands for short-term rentals, he said. The amount of time one spends at home or away doesn’t matter. Once rented, it’s no longer a homestead and is therefore not exempt, no matter how long the rental period is.

Floyd County Board of Education set the millage rate for FY 2020, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The board heard the proposed millage rate of 18.25 mills for a third time at 7:30 a.m. Monday. The rate saw no changes from the last two hearings. The millage rate is a combination of a proposed 9.480 mills for county government services and 18.25 mills for the school system.

“Even when times are tight we have been trying to give the taxpayers a break,” Superintendent Jeff Wilson said.

Some Henry County residents spoke against a proposed property tax millage rate hike, according to the Henry Herald.

The county has proposed an increased millage rate of 12.995, which, according to officials, would generate tax revenue of $94,672,038.

If the county declined to increase its millage rate and instead maintain its millage rate of 12.733, the county would generate $92,709,424.

In May, the county passed a $163,045,000 general fund budget, which includes funding for around 20 new law enforcement officers, extra constituent aides for the Board of Commissioners and the county absorbing 100% of health insurance rate increases.

Around $295,000 in the county’s fund balance was used to help balance the general fund budget, which was something county leaders had discouraged commissioners from doing in budget hearings held earlier this year.

The Cherokee County Commission approved the property tax millage rate for 2020, according to the Tribune-Ledger News.

[C]ommissioners unanimously approved a motion to set the tax millage rate at what had been recommended, with a full rollback in millage for both the general fund and the park bond debt service and no rollback on the rates for the fire fund. It was recommended not to roll back the tax mills on the fire fund so that the county could continue pushing toward its goal of having three firefighters per apparatus, which would also help lower the county’s ISO rating to help with insurance rates.

Along with approving the tax millage rates for the county’s general fund, fire fund and park bond debt service, the commissioners approved the 19.45 mills set by the Cherokee County School District for the upcoming year as a formality.

The Augusta Commission approved a new EMS agreement with Gold Cross EMS, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The commission approved a Memorandum of Understanding with Gold Cross by a vote of 6-4, with Commissioners Bill Fennoy, Dennis Williams, Sammie Sias and Ben Hasan voting against it. The terms of the agreement were approved by the commission a month earlier after months of negotiations with Gold Cross, which is the state-designated emergency ambulance provider for Augusta but has been without a contract with the city since the end of 2016.

The agreement pays Gold Cross a $400,000 subsidy for the remainder of the year, a $600,000 subsidy in 2020 and $650,000 in 2021 and 2022. The city will set the billing rates for Gold Cross subject to an annual review of market conditions. Gold Cross will provide eight ambulances around the clock staffed by at least an advanced EMT while Augusta Fire Department will provide three with similar staffing.

Both Sias and Fennoy contended that the agreement ran afoul of the city’s procurement policies.

“This to me is a back door method to get around our Procurement code,” Sias said, an objection that had been made a month earlier when the commission approved the terms. General Counsel Wayne Brown said the agreement did not subvert the code because there was no way the contract could have been competitively bid because Gold Cross is the sole state-designated provider.

McDonough City Council voted to accept a proposed 75/25 split of SPLOST funds with Henry County and its other municipalities, according to the Henry Herald.

The McDonough City Council voted to support the IGA following an executive session at Monday’s meeting, but didn’t explicitly say what the intergovernmental agreement contained.

However, according to agreement documents supplied to the Herald by McDonough City Clerk Janis Price, the IGA explicitly states that 25 percent of SPLOST revenue would be distributed to the four cities for the funding of their own SPLOST projects.

This is a departure from a late-stage proposal brought out by several cities, but most notably the city of Hampton. That proposal would have called for 30 percent of SPLOST revenues distributed between Henry County’s four cities, while the remaining 70 percent would be used by the county for its projects.

Supporters of the 70/30 revenue split argue that the cities would get more of a fair share of the sales tax proceeds since the four cities make up around 30 percent of the county’s population.

The Henry County Commission voted to put a “Brunch Bill” referendum on the November 2019 ballot, according to the Henry Herald.

The board agreed, 5-1, with Johnny Wilson voting against, to put language on the November ballot that would allow restaurants in unincorporated Henry County to sell alcohol by the glass at 11 a.m. on Sundays rather than at 12:30 p.m. as has been custom.

Last year, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 17, which allows for local referendums on the “brunch bill.” The language of the bill states that between 10 and 60 days after a local government approves a resolution allowing a vote to take place, an election superintendent must call an election for the “brunch bill,” which would then take place between 30 and 60 days after it is called.

Valdosta will use most of its receipts from a new SPLOST for infrastructure, if voters approve, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

If the eighth special purpose local option sales tax is approved by Lowndes County voters, about $40 million of the city’s expected $65 million will be used to improve aging infrastructure such as sewer pipes.

City Manager Mark Barber said utility infrastructure impacts every resident in the city, which is why it is taking such a significant part of the SPLOST project list.

At a special called meeting this week, Valdosta City Council and staff broke down the city SPLOST project list for review and approval. The list included how much of the expected SPLOST money would go to which departments and for what purpose.

Voters will decide on the November ballot whether the one-cent tax on items bought inside the county should be approved. Residents are currently paying a similar tax as part of SPLOST VII which is coming to an end.

If the vote comes out against SPLOST, the sales tax will drop from eight to seven cents per dollar, meaning the city would not be able to make up the revenue necessary for utility and other infrastructure improvements, according to city officials.

Elections for Braselton City Council are set for November 5, 2019, according to the Gainesville Times.

Qualifying has been set for Aug. 19-21 to fill the District 1 and District 3 seats on the council, and will take place at Braselton Town Hall, 4982 Highway 53. Fees are $180.

District 1 is currently held by Becky Richardson and District 3, Tony Funari.

Under apparent cyberattack, Henry County took down online systems, according to the Henry Herald.

“At this time there is no access to public records including court documents, building permits, zoning permits, property tax information or business licenses,” the county said in a Facebook post. “At this time county e-mail, internet access and county servers have been taken down by Henry County Technical services in a proactive measure to safeguard county government information and networks.”

The Henry County Technology Services Department, Georgia Technology Authority and FBI are working on the issue, and backup server testing is underway.

Dunwoody Municipal Court is offering an amnesty program for some unpaid fines and warrants, according to the AJC.

For the month of August, the Dunwoody Municipal Court is implementing an “amnesty program” for people with overdue traffic citations or warrants for failing to appear in court, the city said in a statement Wednesday.

Those offenses can sometimes lead to an arrest. But contempt fees or warrants will be cleared for people who visit the court and settle up with city officials next month.

“Some people think this is a trick. It’s definitely not,” Dunwoody Municipal Court Clerk Norlaundra Huntington said in a statement. “We simply want to encourage people to come back to court by easing the financial burden.”

For overdue fines paid in full, the court will waive any extra contempt fees. If an offense requires a court appearance, “the individual will be granted a future court date to appear before a judge, and all warrants will be cleared and warrant fees forgiven,” the city said.

The amnesty program is designed to settle violations and ultimately reduce arrests.

Sandy Springs says its false alarm ordinance is reducing false alarms, according to the AJC.

The Sandy Springs City Council on Tuesday got its first sense from the police department of how the alarm ordinance is doing since the law started June 19: Capt. Dan Nable said false alarms were down 77% from the previous 30 days, when almost every call was false.

“The alarm ordinance is having a desired effect,” Nable said.

After eight years of tweaking the ordinance and traveling to research cities with similar laws, the city says it is now the first in Georgia whose police will not respond to home and business burglary alarms without video, audio or in-person verification that a crime is occurring. The law also includes steep fines on alarm companies for repeated false alarms.

Of the 8,000 alarm calls last year in Sandy Springs, 99% were false alarms, police previously said. That accounted for 17% of all calls to the 911 dispatch center. City leaders said they approved the law in part because false alarms distract police and dispatchers from actual emergencies.

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