Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 21, 2020

21
May

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 21, 2020

Georgia Colonists signed the Treaty of Savannah with the Lower Creeks on May 21, 1733.

George Washington left Georgia on May 21, 1791, crossing a bridge over the Savannah River at Augusta.

American Charles Lindbergh landed at Paris on May 21, 1927 in The Spirit of St. Louis, completing both the first nonstop transatlantic flight and the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris.

On May 21, 1942, German authorities removed 4300 Polish Jews from Chelm to an extermination camp at Sobibor and killed them by poison gas. The Sobibor camp’s five gas chambers would kill 250,000 Jews during 1942 and 1943.

On May 21, 2011, Herman Cain announced his candidacy for President of the United States at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Vice President Mike Pence comes to Atlanta on Friday, according to the AJC.

Vice President Mike Pence is set to visit Atlanta on Friday to meet with Gov. Brian Kemp to discuss Georgia’s aggressive approach to reopening Georgia’s economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

He also plans to gather with restaurant executives to highlight their plans to resume dine-in operations, as well as talk about safety precautions they’re taking to bring their employees back to work.

Governor Brian Kemp will give a COVID-19 update today at the Georgia State Capitol.

Governor Brian P. Kemp; Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Public Health; Homer Bryson, Director, Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency; Adjutant General Tom Carden, Georgia National Guard; Colonel Gary Vowell, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Public Safety; Mark Williams, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Natural Resources; Gary Black, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Agriculture

WHEN: Thursday, May 21 at 4:30 PM

WHERE: North Wing, Georgia State Capitol

The briefing will be live streamed at facebook.com/GovKemp or gpb.org/coronavirus.

From the AJC:

Kemp plans a Thursday press conference to detail efforts to prepare for increased crowds at parks and beaches over Memorial Day weekend. He also could issue more guidelines to allow shuttered bars, nightclubs and live music venues to reopen.

Kemp said fans can expect a “new norm” when they return to sports stadiums.

“I’m reserving judgment now, but believe me: I’m an optimist, and I want to see that happen if it’s at all possible. We’ll try to be working with folks to do that if it makes sense from a public health standpoint.”

New guidance for businesses may be discussed during that update. From the Associated Press via AccessWDUN:

In an interview with WSB-TV, Kemp said that state officials are aiming to make public new guidelines regarding businesses “over the next several days.”

“They’re wanting to open back those businesses, and people want to go participate in those activities, and I get that. We just got to make sure we do it in a way that’s safe for Georgians,” Kemp said.

Voting precautions to prevent spread of COVID-19 are slowing down voting, according to the Albany Herald.

The demands of social distancing and other COVID-19 related health precautions has lowered the capacity polling locations around the state have for in-person voting, and has increased wait times for Georgians looking to cast their ballots in person.

Additionally, many absentee ballots are still on the way to Georgia voters who requested them. When these Georgians opt to vote in person, their absentee ballot must be cancelled at the polling site, an extra step that further slows down the voting process.

Almost 1.5 million Georgians have submitted a request for absentee ballots for the upcoming election with more than 1 million absentee ballots already sent out to Georgia voters. Each absentee ballot mailing has a bar code allowing the Secretary of State’s office to track it as it moves through the state’s postal system and to the voter’s mailbox. This allows the secretary’s office to ensure that the ballots get where they are supposed to go.

Georgia voters have already returned 400,000 absentee ballots with three weeks to go until Election Day.

Long waits to vote are being seen at polling locations, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle.

Polls opened Monday across the state for the three-week early voting period ahead of the primary election, which was delayed from March 24 and May 18 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Precincts have already seen long lines despite relatively small turnout with voters forced to keep their distance from each other and spend time canceling absentee ballots they requested since they are voting in person.

McDuffie County voting may be impacted by COVID-19 as elections staff is down to two people, according to the AJC.

Two McDuffie County elections employees tested positive for the coronavirus Tuesday, and six temporary employees were also sent home, said Elections Director Phyllis Wheeler. Their departures leave just two staff members and 13 poll workers left as early voting is underway.

“We’re very short-handed,” Wheeler said Wednesday. “We’re going to try. We’re not completely down. It might take a little longer, but we’ll get it done.”

Wheeler and her assistant elections supervisor are awaiting results of their coronavirus tests, but they’re not showing symptoms. If they have the illness, Wheeler said she doesn’t know what she would do.

While there are enough poll workers at early voting sites, the county lacks staff needed to manage the election.

From the Cherokee Tribune-Ledger News:

Early voting began Monday at both the Elections and Voter Registration office in Canton and the South Cherokee Annex in Woodstock, and the number of early votes cast has been fairly steady. According to information from the elections office, a grand total of 590 early ballots had been cast during the first two days of early voting in the county, of which 387 came from the Canton office and 203 were tallied at the South Cherokee Annex. Stancil said, while the Woodstock location was not seeing as much traffic as Canton due to it being a fairly new location for early voting, it was doing just fine.

Of the 43,134 ballots mailed out to Cherokee County voters so far, 16,687 have been returned and tallied as of the end of the day Tuesday. Along with this, another 273 mailed out and returned were labeled as canceled, rejected or spoiled. However, Stancil said a large majority of those in this classification were considered canceled, due to people who received them and filled them out, but then brought them in and asked to have them canceled so they would be able to vote in person.

This election cycle marks the first use of the new voting machines approved by the state, which have not presented any problems for early voters in Cherokee County.

“The new machines have been working great,” Stancil said.

From a press release by Emory University:

[Political Science Professor Andra Gillespie] adds that according to the website Georgia Votes, African Americans are underrepresented in the number of requested absentee ballots. “And the question I would ask is whether or not we’re going to have problems with people’s absentee ballots getting rejected because of allegations of signature non-matches.”

Whatever the public health situation is in November, “vote by mail looks like something we’re going to have to plan,” says Gillespie, adding that election officials need ask the right questions now. In addition to whether the process works well, she says, local election officials need to determine “whether they’re ready and have the staff to handle a large number of absentee ballots that must be counted quickly.”

Governor Kemp discussed something near and dear to his heart: college football. From the Athens Banner Herald:

In an appearance on the Paul Finebaum Show on the SEC Network, Kemp spoke about Georgia’s scheduled football season-opener against Virginia on Labor Day in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“I believe it’s a little too early to tell whether we’re going to open on Labor Day with a packed house or a sparse crowd or no crowd at all,” Kemp said. “I know everybody wants to have a crowd there. I would urge people to continue to follow the guidance so we can drive these numbers down so that we can do that, but we stand ready to work with them.”

UGA has worked on models for reduced crowds in Sanford Stadium to account for fans being able to socially distance, but has not revealed any plans yet.

The NCAA Division I Council Wednesday voted to allow football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball players to return to campus starting June 1 for voluntary workouts. SEC presidents are expected to have a similar vote on Friday and then the University System of Georgia would need to give the go-ahead for the campus to open for such activities.

“It’s going to be a new norm on the practices when people do go back to our sports stadiums,” Kemp said. “But there’s also a lot of really smart people that are working on new technologies and new ways of doing business to protect people so we can do that. I’m reserving judgment now, but believe me I’m an optimist and I want to see that happen if it’s at all possible. We’ll try to be working with folks to do that if it makes sense from a public health standpoint.”

Georgia unemployment was over 11 percent in April, the highest rate on record, according to AccessWDUN.

As the coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses across the state, Georgia’s unemployment rate hit an all-time high of 11.9% in April, according to State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.

The jobless rate increased by 7.3 percentage points over March. In April 2019, the rate was 3.6%.

“This is the highest unemployment rate on record, eclipsing the previous high of 10.6 percent that occurred in December 2010,” said Butler in a Thursday-morning press statement. “However, the cause of this high unemployment rate differs greatly from that of the previous record, and I have no doubt that we will recover just as quickly and get back to our record lows once again.”

Domestic violence calls were also up in at least a couple jurisdictions, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The Floyd County Police Department filed 430 domestic violence incident reports in April, compared to 380 reports in April 2019.

However, April 2020 saw a decrease in fight reports from last year, dropping from 239 to 206.

“The difference between a fight and a domestic are two people fighting on the side of a road and somebody sees that and calls that in,” said FCPD Sgt. Chris Fincher. “A domestic would be two partners living together in a home.”

Rome Assistant Police Chief Debbie Burnett found there was only a slight increase in domestic violence calls in April 2020 compared with the same time last year. The Rome Police Department received 231 calls for the month, only 12 more than in April 2019.

Dougherty County is encouraging mask-wearing, and Albany will consider a similar measure, according to the Albany Herald.

Dougherty County commissioners unanimously approved the mask resolution during their Monday meeting. Governments cannot require that people wear masks, but the resolution encourages them to do so during the health crisis.

On Tuesday, Albany City Commission members also indicated their approval. Commissioners could not vote during their Tuesday work session, but gave the proposal overwhelming support during an unofficial “straw vote” held during the meeting.

The commission is scheduled to take a vote during a regular meeting on Tuesday.

“We know for a matter of fact the wearing of masks reduces the transmission of the virus and the receipt of the virus,” Dougherty Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas said. “Our recommendations to wear masks are (tied) to what the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends and what we know will reduce the spread of the virus.”

Georgia Senate budget-writers will return to the State Capitol for in-person meetings, according to the AJC.

Senate budget subcommittees will begin meeting Tuesday at the Capitol, starting work on the fiscal 2021 budget that is expected to include more than $3.5 billion in spending cuts because the pandemic shutdown caused tax revenue to plummet.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, said at least the chairmen of the subcommittees and budget staffers would attend live. Other lawmakers could attend, or they could watch it, along with the public, on the statehouse stream.

Lawmakers are still working on details for how they will hold a live legislative session at the Capitol while keeping the General Assembly safe from the coronavirus. At least five senators and one House member caught the virus. They all recovered.

The House and Senate appropriations committees have been holding joint, virtual meetings for a few weeks.

The Gainesville Times looks at the contact tracing process for COVID-19.

When someone tests positive for COVID-19, the Georgia Department of Public Health’s contact tracers step in to help stop the spread.

“When someone tests positive for COVID-19, the contact tracer makes a call to that individual to identify potential contacts and lists them out for follow-up,” Ndubuisi Anyalechi, infectious disease coordinator for District 2 of the Department of Public Health, said.

Anyalechi said contact tracers focus on primary contacts like friends and family members. They reach out to people who came in contact with a COVID-19 positive person by being less than 6 feet away from them for at least 15 minutes.

Contact tracers reach out either by phone or text message to people who may have been affected to inform them that they have come in contact with someone with the virus and to enroll the contact in symptom monitoring. People will be asked to monitor and report any symptoms through a text messaging system, or they can call the Department of Public Health if they are unable to text. They are asked to stay home for 14 days after their last contact with the person who tested positive.

People who develop symptoms will be asked to isolate themselves at home and will be referred for COVID-19 testing, or to seek medical care if necessary. The process is voluntary, and information will be kept confidential under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, according to the Department of Public Health’s guide to contact tracing.

Savannah City Council is working to draft an ethics ordinance, according to the Savannah Morning News.

City Attorney Bates Lovett presented options at the May 14 workshop based on feedback from council members. Lovett’s findings were in response to the mayor’s and aldermen’s goals, as voiced during a January visioning retreat, just weeks after members had been sworn into office.

Bates told the group at the workshop that the goal of the ethics ordinance is to “keep money out of the decision-making process.”

One of those changes involves campaign donations.

Lovett presented two options towards that end: one would prohibit council members or the mayor from receiving campaign donations of $250 or more from anyone that has a contract valued at $25,000 with the city. The second option would allow acceptance of a donation of $250 or more, but prohibit the elected official from discussing or voting on an item involving the donor. State law allows up to $2,800 of donations. .

The removal process presented would include a hearing conducted by a panel chosen by council.

[Mayor Van] Johnson said he had concerns about the voting members being both “judge and jury.” Alderman Nick Palumbo and Linda Wilder-Bryan agreed with Johnson.

Savannah Bar Association members voted on the qualifications of two candidates for an open seat on Superior Court, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Candidates for Floyd County Sheriff discussed mental health issues in an online forum, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar launched a program to support local businesses impacted by the pandemic, according to the Statesboro Herald.

With the help of local businesses and community leaders, the campaign is set to run through June 1, 2020.

“The nation has felt and will continue to feel a significant impact from the COVID-19 pandemic,” McCollar said. “As we’ve started to settle into what may very well be our new normal, I couldn’t help but wonder if our community will ever be what it once was – with small businesses thriving and families reaping the benefits of a robust economy.”

McCollar went on to explain that he thought it was imperative to create a capital campaign to benefit the citizens of Statesboro that have been most affected financially by COVID-19.

The Love Ur City campaign proceeds are set to benefit two funds: the Statesboro COVID-19 Family Relief Fund and the Statesboro COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund. The family fund applications and grants will be managed and administered by local nonprofit United Way of Southeast Georgia while the small business fund will be handled by Georgia Southern’s Business Innovation Group (BIG).

Athens-Clarke County could see higher property taxes offsetting cratered tax revenues due to the pandemic, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Athens-Clarke County will hold its first public hearing on the proposed 2020-21 budget Thursday evening, but it won’t look like such hearings in the past.

The proposed $140 million budget proposal includes a slight reduction in the property tax rate, but property owners would pay more on average because of increases in property values, based on sale prices.

The tax digest — the inventory of all taxable property in the county — is up 7.47 percent this year. Most of the increase, 5.83 percent, is due to rising real estate values in the county; only 1.64 percent of the increase in the digest is because of new construction.

Athens-Clarke planners expect property tax revenues to increase by about 5 percent, according to the proposed budget, but sales tax revenues are expected to decline from this year.

Social distancing will be enforced for those who show up to speak. People who come to speak will be allowed in one door, but must exit through another so that paths will not cross.

The commission has been meeting remotely via Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency, with meetings broadcast on the Athens-Clarke government’s YouTube channel and on Charter Spectrum cable channel 180. Thursday’s meeting is no exception, aside from the provision for people to come to City Hall to address the commissioners, who will be listening in via Zoom.

Two more public hearings are scheduled. One is next Tuesday at 6 p.m., with the same arrangements.

The Richmond County school system is considering how to run online classes for the summer and possibly beyond, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

[Summer school] courses will be operated through Canvas, a learning management system that covers a wide range of education facets from posting content and managing due dates to creating personalized learning and providing more detailed feedback to students.

While the district plans to re-open in the fall, any online education will be provided through Canvas.

The school system wants to have enough devices to check out to at least 60 percent of their students by August. It has received $2,564,200 from the Georgia Department of Education to purchase 3,205 additional devices for 20 of its schools. On top of that, 31 grants have been submitted for $10,000 each to purchase additional Smartspot devices and cover other COVID-19 support costs.

Lowndes County Tax Commissioner Rodney Cain has for years been waiving penalties and interest without seeking required approval of the county commission, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Glynn County Commissioner David O’Quinn is calling for the removal of the county police chief after the Ahmaud Arbery slaying, according to The Brunswick News.

In a May 6 email to fellow Glynn County Commissioners, at large commissioner David O’Quinn, calling Powell “incompetents” and “a cancer in the community,” made it known where he stands. He also noted in the email the county had offered Powell a “nice” package to resign, but the police chief rejected it.

“I want to be clear that I support firing John Powell immediately,” began O’Quinn’s email, which he sent to fellow commissioners at 10:17 p.m. Greg McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, were arrested by the GBI and charged in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, on May 7.

Former State Rep. Deborah Gonzalez (D-Athens) is suing the state over a canceled election for District Attorney, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

She is the second Athens candidate to sue state officials this year after an election was canceled.

Gonzalez, a Democrat, announced last July 11 that she would run to succeed former Western Circuit District Attorney Ken Mauldin, also a Democrat. Mauldin had just announced he would retire effective Feb. 29, 10 months before his term expires at the end of this year.

But under the provisions of a law passed by the Republican-majority legislature in 2018, Kemp was able to effectively cancel that election if he did not appoint a new district attorney by May 3.

Kemp did not make an appointment, delaying an election until 2022. Meanwhile, Brian Patterson, an assistant district attorney under Mauldin, is the acting district attorney. Patterson had also announced that he would run for the job as a Democrat.

Coastal celebrations of Independence Day have been canceled, according to The Brunswick News.

Glynn County’s fireworks display on St. Simons Island typically draws a big crowd to Neptune Park, but county government plans to forgo the event.

Jekyll Island’s Independence Day event also has been canceled, according to Alexa Orndoff, spokeswoman for the Jekyll Island Authority. She also cited social distancing guidelines as a reason.

While the city of Brunswick hasn’t officially announced its intentions, Mayor Cornell Harvey said the city commission will discuss it and likely come to a decision in line with the county and Jekyll Island.

In Camden County, St. Marys will not celebrate the nation’s birthday for the first time in 51 years. The annual festival, sponsored by the St. Marys Kiwanis Club, typically attracts 20,000 to 25,000 people, many staying for the fireworks display.

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