Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 2, 2021


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 2, 2021

On June 2, 1774, Britain’s Parliament passed the Quartering Act, the last of the Coercive Acts, meant to punish the American colonies and reassert British control. Eventually, the Third Amendment to the United States Constitution would prohibit the forcible quartering of soldiers in private homes.

Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding forces west of the Mississippi, surrendered on June 2, 1865, and this date is generally considered the end of the Civil War.

Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on June 2, 1953.

On June 2, 1962, Georgia-born Ray Charles hit #1 on the charts with “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Gwinnett County Public Schools face an accreditation review after complaints were filed with the accrediting agency, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Cognia spokeswoman Mariama Tyler confirmed the accrediting agency has received “several” complaints about the district, with at least one of them being about governance, which refers to the Board of Education. That has prompted a special review of the district which is expected to be conducted this month, where the district will have to answer questions from a team assembled by Cognia.

“If a special review is warranted, that means there is something that came up outside of the regular five-year cycle of review, and it usually is initiated by a complaint,” Tyler said.

Gwinnett County school board members have faced criticism in recent months over the decision to terminate Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks’ employment contract, effective the end of July, which is 11 months before the contract was set to expire. Wilbanks had already said he did not plan to seek a renewal of his contract.

The issues have touched off sensitive racial and political tensions — two new board members took office and joined board Chairman Everton Blair to create a new majority on the board that is majority Democrat and majority minority.

“Gwinnett County Public Schools has been notified and is preparing for a special review by its accrediting agency, Cognia,” Wilbanks said. “While we were disappointed to learn that Cognia felt a Special Review was necessary, it did not come as a surprise. I had warned our School Board that this was a possibility.”

“It is our understanding that the complaints primarily center on our board upholding its duties as a governing body and selected members adhering to their roles and responsibilities as members of the board,” Wilbanks said. “The special review, which will be conducted in June, will include interviews with a wide range of community members, including our Board members, the superintendent, teachers, administrators, students, parents, and other community members.”

The Georgia Board of Public Health will resume meetings, according to the Georgia Recorder.

The advisory board for the state’s public health agency plans to resume its regular public meetings this fall after not holding any since before the COVID-19 pandemic first reached Georgia early last year.

The public health board met virtually during a special meeting Tuesday to approve a bond spending package. The public could listen to the meeting by phone.

It was the nine-member public health board’s first gathering since February 2020, when no one in Georgia had yet tested positive for coronavirus. The emphasis at the time was still on monitoring people who had recently traveled to China.

“I’m a happy defender of the decision not to have open board meetings to go along with the weekly or biweekly press conferences,” Dr. James Curran, who is the dean of Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and who chairs the board, said during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I have a lot of sympathy for what it’s like to work on the frontline in the midst of an epidemic, when you don’t have enough people on your side and you don’t have enough people working for you,” he added.

The board, which typically meets monthly, plans to start back with its regular meetings this September.

The Georgia Supreme Court allowed to stand a lower court ruling that Mercedes-Benz Stadium is exempt from property taxes, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

A group of Fulton County taxpayers sued the Fulton Board of Tax Assessors in 2017, the year the new home of the Atlanta Falcons opened, challenging the board’s determination that the stadium property should not be taxed.

The Georgia Court of Appeals dismissed the suit in 2018 because the stadium – like its predecessor, the Georgia Dome – is owned by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, a public entity.

Governor Brian Kemp will attend the Georgia Republican Party Convention this weekend, according to Fox5Atlanta.

“These are the times where you really need tough leaders. You’re having to make tough decisions. I haven’t shied away from that,” said Kemp in a one-on-one interview Tuesday. “I campaigned on putting hardworking Georgians first ahead of the status quo and the politically correct and that’s what I want to continue doing. Our state deserves that.”

Two Republicans have announced they will challenge Gov. Kemp in the primary–former DeKalb County CEO and state lawmaker Vernon Jones, who recently switched parties, and Kandiss Taylor, a south Georgia educator.

“I learned a long time ago, you know, you can’t control what other people do in politics. My focus is running for re-election on the record that I have. I’m glad to talk to anybody about that record, because it’s a good one–number one state in the country for business, largest teacher pay raise in state history, our focus on strengthening rural Georgia, what we’re doing for rural broadband, our road and logistic infrastructure. I could go on and on about the great things that we have in our state and that’s what voters want to hear. They want to hear, ‘what are you going to do for me?’ They could care less about what happened yesterday.”

Governor Kemp swore in Francis “Frank” O’Connell as interim Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Revenue after the sitting Commissioner resigned to run for Congress. From the press release:

“Frank O’Connell has the experience necessary to guide the Department of Revenue and help protect our pro-business, pro-jobs environment here in the Peach State,” said Governor Kemp. “Commissioner O’Connell’s leadership will ensure efficiency at the Department of Revenue and keep Georgia the best state to live, work, and raise a family. I also want to sincerely thank former Commissioner David Curry for his great service to our state and wish him the best in the future.”

“I am deeply honored to serve as Revenue Commissioner for the great State of Georgia. Through our combined efforts, we can continue to strengthen our economy by making Georgia the best state to start, operate, and grow a small business,” said Commissioner Frank O’Connell.

Gov. Kemp also announced $15 million in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds being made available to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Georgia, according to a press release.

Specifically, $15 million will be awarded to serve 9,000 youth. Sub-awards from the Georgia Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs will be made to local Boys & Girls Clubs on number of youth served at an average cost of $1550/child. These funds will be distributed across 34 Boys & Girls Clubs organizations, 141 sites, and 62 counties in Georgia.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Georgia have done a remarkable job of serving the needs of youth across the Peach State,” said Governor Kemp. “With this GEER funding, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Georgia will be able to further enhance student academic achievement by addressing educational gaps caused by the pandemic. I look forward to seeing the positive impact this funding has on youth across the State of Georgia.”

The program goals include ensuring 65% of youth below grade level will return to grade level by the end of the program term, and 35% of youth will show an increase or progress toward grade level achievement.

The funding period is between June 2021 through September 2022, inclusive of summer camp, school breaks, and holidays (fall/spring/winter camps); and the afterschool program for youth ages 5–18 (K-12), to be served at club sites across the Boys & Girls Clubs in Georgia (at $1,550 cost per child) with targeted academic support. $4 million will go toward the grant kick-off and summer costs for 2021; $7 million will go toward the 2021-2022 school year costs; and $4 million will go toward summer 2022 and the grant closeout.

I’m just not sure what to do now that the Governor’s press office apparently had “curly quote” keys installed on their keyboards.

The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office said that November 2020 ballots stored in a warehouse are secure despite an alarm over the weekend, according to GPB News.

The Fulton County Sheriff’s office is investigating why an alarm went off over the weekend at a warehouse that stores election equipment, the latest bizarre twist in an ongoing lawsuit seeking to prove thrice-counted absentee ballots were marred by fraud.

But Fulton officials say the actual facility rooms that are holding ballots from November’s presidential election is and has been secure. The investigation into what happened should be wrapping up soon — including a look at whether two off-duty officers hired as private security by plaintiffs in the suit were trespassing by entering the building.

“I am 3,000% confident that the ballots are secure,” [Fulton Sheriff Patrick] Labat said at a Tuesday press conference. “And there is no question about that.”

Former President Trump, who unsuccessfully tried to overturn his election defeat in Georgia and other states, issued a statement over the weekend urging “Republicans and Patriots” to show up to the warehouse and protect it, continuing to push false claims of fraud.

“We must not allow ANYONE to compromise these ballots by leaving the building unsecured, which was done late Friday,” he said about the Saturday incident that did not actually see the ballots left unsecured. “The Left talks about election security but they do not practice what they preach because they are afraid of what might be found.”

The Ledger-Enquirer follows up on the issue of whether Gov. Kemp’s latest COVID guidance Executive Order really bans mask mandates by schools.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued a new executive order Friday that eliminates most of Georgia’s remaining COVID-19 but doesn’t outright ban schools from having mask requirements.

The new order prevents local schools and school districts from relying on Georgia’s public health state of emergency to require masking among workers and students while on campus. Cody Hall told McClatchy News that previous executive orders granted schools and their districts this option.

Hall said it would not be illegal for the district to implement a mandate if they justified it using other reasoning.

“Anyone can do anything,” Hall said when asked if a school could impose a mask mandate. “The legal and practical method would no longer be available to them.”

“If they wanted to use a different reason, they’ll have to answer to voters. Because a (public health state of emergency) is really the only mechanism used prior to now,” he added.

Local governments are still allowed to mandate mask use if the 14-day case rate is equal to or greater than 100 cases per 100,000 people under the order.

The Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC) faces criticism over its per diem policies for Board members, according to the AJC.

The Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC) said board officers, who aren’t employees, were paid on occasion by agenda item to reflect work performed on matters leading up to board meetings. But the authority’s new chairman acknowledges board officers typically didn’t log their time.

A joint investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News found tens of thousands of dollars in questionable per diem charges at the Fulton authority since January 2019. Some members received multiple payments for official duties performed on the same day and for signing documents, even though such payments are, by definition, reimbursements for each day.

For years, DAFC paid per diems to its appointed board of directors, mostly business executives, without a written policy, handing out $200 daily fees in ways that make it difficult to determine if they were legal or appropriate.

From January 2019 through April of this year, DAFC paid its nine-member volunteer board nearly $300,000, an AJC analysis shows. Critics contend Fulton taxpayers pay a high cost for a public service that other communities get for free.

Under Georgia law, development authority board members cannot receive compensation for their services, but they can be reimbursed for actual expenses incurred such as travel and meals.

In jurisdictions of more than 550,000 people, such as Fulton, authorities can reimburse board members for their time by paying a per diem “for each day, or part thereof, spent in the performance of their duties.”

State Rep. David Clarke (R-Buford) announced that he will not run for reelection, according to the AJC.

He tweeted his decision not to run again and sent a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, citing a belief that “politics is not meant to be a career.”

“It is time for me to allow someone else to serve, be a voice and fight to preserve our community,” he said.

When asked for comment on Clark’s announcement, Ralston spokesman Kaleb McMichen responded, “Who?”

Athens Clarke County lags behind the state average for vaccinations, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

One in three Georgia residents are fully vaccinated, and those residents with at least one dose of the vaccine sit at 39%. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 51% of the nation’s population has received at least one dose and 41% are fully vaccinated.

In Clarke County, only 15% of those 20 years old to 24 years old have received one dose of the vaccine.

The University of Georgia has not announced that the vaccine will be required for the fall semester. The University System of Georgia issues guidance to universities within its system, and a petition has been circulating online for USG to require the COVID-19 vaccine.

Oconee County currently surpasses the state’s vaccination rate and falls shy of the nation’s rate. In the county, 47% of residents have received at least one dose and 41% of residents are fully vaccinated.

Barrow County has the lowest rate of the Athens adjacent counties, with 27% of residents with at least one dose and 23% fully vaccinated.

Madison, Oglethorpe, and Jackson counties have similar numbers, with anywhere from 30% to 32% of residents with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and anywhere from 26% to 28% of residents fully vaccinated.

Statesboro City Council declined to move forward yesterday with a referendum to allow liquor sales, according to the Statesboro Herald.

City Council did not vote Tuesday to put a referendum on allowing liquor stores on Statesboro’s Nov. 2 city election ballot, instead splitting 2-2 on an abortive motion before the fifth council member, Paulette Chavers of District 2, requested more time to decide.

Mayor Jonathan McCollar, who is up for election Nov. 2, urged that the referendum be delayed until the May 24, 2022, state and county primary. District 1 council member Phil Boyum and District 3 member Venus Mack had asked that the resolution to initiate a Nov. 2, 2021 referendum be placed on Tuesday’s agenda, and they made the motion  and second. But with Chavers not ready to vote, Boyum withdrew his motion rather than force McCollar to break a tie.

“Alcohol is the most divisive issue that we’ll ever come across. …,” [District 4 member John] Riggs said. “We all know that alcohol is a lightning rod. I believe that we would need at least a year of work sessions, inviting the public, before we call a referendum.”

What the mayor and council arrived at Tuesday was not that lengthy a delay – not yet, anyway – but a two-week postponement. They are slated to receive more information and discuss the issue further during a 3 p.m. June 15 work session and could vote during the 5:30 p.m. meeting that follows.

Dougherty County Commissioners heard a report from county tax officials, according to the Albany Herald.

During an update to commissioners during a Tuesday-morning work session, representatives of the Dougherty County Tax Department reported that property tax collections exceed 99 percent annually. But Mayor Bo Dorough suggested that the number of properties that have been habitually delinquent is closer to 6 percent in the city.

Those properties often have dilapidated houses and present an issue for the city, said Dorough, who has made it no secret he would prefer that the city have an elected tax commissioner.

Dougherty is the only county in the state that has its tax department head appointed by the County Commission rather than an elected tax commissioner.

Albany City Commissioners are working to finalize the FY 2022 budget, according to the Albany Herald.

With the due date to complete a nearly $190 million budget coming on June 22, the Albany City Commission is sprinting toward the finish line.

On June 8, commissioners will hear budget updates pertaining to the police and fire departments, recreation, utility operations and Code Enforcement. The commission will receive a final draft of the document on June 22 for approval for the budget year that begins on July 1.

One bright spot is that sales tax receipts seem to be recovering after the decline during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sales taxes have started to rebound kind of back to before,” Carter said. “The city of Albany is in sound financial condition. We have a strong push forward to continue to be so.”

Albany Mayor Bo Dorough agreed with that assessment.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape considering what we’ve been through the last year,” he said in an interview after the meeting.

Richmond County Board of Education members finalized their FY 2022 budget, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Paraprofessionals and custodians will see raises of $1 per hour and, for substitute teachers, an increase of $20 per day. Custodians, who chief financial officer Bobby Smith said on May 18 “work really hard during this COVID-19 environment,” will also receive an 11th step increase.

The general fund is set at about $283 million in revenue and expenditures. Three assumptions have been made in the estimates: using $8 million of CARES II to make up for certain cuts, using some of the $6.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds to pay for administrative fees and using FICA savings set aside for employee benefits to offset increased retirement plan costs of approximately $750,000.

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