Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 3, 2021

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 3, 2021

On June 3, 1941, Georgia voters ratified a Constitutional Amendment extending the term of office for Governor and the other Constitutional Officers from two years to four. Governor Eugene Talmadge campaigned for the Amendment, hoping to serve a four-year term after the two-year term he currently held, but was defeated in the 1942 Democratic Primary by Ellis Arnall. Remember this phrase: legislation almost always has unintended consequences.

On June 3, 1942, Curtis Mayfield was born in Chicago, Illinois and would later live in Atlanta, dying in Roswell in 1999.

On the morning of June 3, 1962, a plane carrying 106 Georgians crashed on take-off from Orly near Paris, the deadliest crash in aviation to that date.

On June 3, 1980, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter had amassed enough delegates to assure his nomination in the Democratic Primary for President.

Today is the anniversary of the beginning of the Tiananman Square Massacre in Beijing, China. Pro-democracy protests had begun on April 15, 1989 and on May 20, martial law was declared. The People’s Liberation Army began taking the square back on the evening of June 3d.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Two State House Districts have in-person early voting today, according to the AJC:

Early voting is underway for House District 34 and House District 156, which became vacant with the resignations of Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, and Rep. Greg Morris, R-Vidalia, respectively.

Running to replace him are Democrats Sam Hensley, Jr. and Priscilla Smith, along with Republicans David Blinkhorn and Devan Seabaugh, and Libertarian Chris Neill.

Morris vacated his House seat in his 11th term for an appointment to the powerful state Board of Transportation. Running to fill his seat are Republicans Leesa Hagan and Wally Sapp, and Democrat Wright Gres. House District 156 includes Montgomery and Toombs counties, as well as portions of Appling and Jeff David counties.

Early voting ends June 11th and Election Day is scheduled for June 15th.

Governor Brian Kemp suspended Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill after Hill was indicted for alleged federal civil rights crimes. From WSB-TV:

Governor Brian Kemp’s commission tasked to investigate Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill has recommended that he be suspended from office.

Kemp signed an executive order Wednesday afternoon suspending Hill effective immediately. The suspension will last until the case is decided or the end of Hill’s term in 2024, whichever comes first.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne spoke exclusively with Hill’s attorney, Drew Findling, who said, “We are disappointed by Gov. Kemp’s executive order. However, we remain confident that ultimately Sheriff Hill will be completely exonerated. Thereafter, the executive order will be moot and the citizens of Clayton County will have Sheriff Hill, their duly elected sheriff, back in office.”

The panel was made up of Attorney General Chris Carr, Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams and Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds.

Georgia law allows the governor to convene a review commission made up of two sheriffs and the state attorney general to investigate and recommend whether a sheriff facing criminal or ethics charges should be suspended pending the outcome.

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post:

Hill was indicted in federal court in April on four counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, charges that carry a maximum of 10 years in prison.

He is accused of ordering his employees to strap four pre-trial detainees at the Clayton County Jail into restraint chairs last year and leaving them there for hours.

“Our constitution prohibits law enforcement officers from using unreasonable force,” Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine said at the time of the indictments. “Sheriff Hill’s actions, as alleged by the grand jury, deprived the citizens he was sworn to protect of their civil rights. Such abuses of power not only harm the victims, they also erode the community’s trust in law enforcement.”

Gov. Kemp also suspended Robert Lee Lanier from his position as District 1 Commissioner of Talbot County after Lanier was indicted for possession of methamphetamine.

Gov. Kemp appointed Ashley J. Palmer as a judge for State Court of Cobb County, Division II.

Seventeen-year old driver’s license applicants will now be required to take a driver’s ed course, according to WTOC.

Right now, only 15 and 16-year-olds are required to take a driver’s education class before getting their first license, but soon that will also include 17-year-olds.

Beginning July 1, 2021, 17-year-olds will be required to successfully complete the Joshua’s Law component of Georgia’s driver training program, which is 30 hours of classroom or online instruction plus six hours of on-the-road training.

The Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission is accepting applications for a Superior Court judgeship, according to the Augsuta Chronicle.

The Georgia Judicial Nominations Commission has applicants to distribute to any attorney who lives in the Augusta Judicial Circuit to apply for the judgeship being vacated by retiring Chief Judge Carl C. Brown Jr.

The commission will take applicants, interview potential candidates and prepare a short list of qualified candidates for Gov. Brian Kemp’s consideration. The governor will appoint Brown’s replacement.

The twist for this appointment is that the Augusta Judicial Circuit is set to split July 1, barring court action to stop it. That means the Republican governor’s appointee will have to run for re-election in predominately Democratic leaning Richmond and Burke counties. If the split goes through, heavily Republican Columbia County will be its own judicial circuit.

The deadline for applicants is June 14.

Whoever Kemp selects to serve on the bench will have to run for election next year if the appointment is made six months before the next general election in May 2022.

Gwinnett County Public Schools will no longer require masks, according to the AJC.

“As of June 1, 2021, masks are strongly recommended but not required,” the Gwinnett school district said on its website.

The school district also attributed its decision to declining COVID-19 case rates in Gwinnett County and the availability of vaccines to people age 12 and older.

Gwinnett’s new policy applies to in-person summer school, which begins on the 14th, and to district headquarters, where almost 100 people caused a disturbance during a board of education meeting last month when they refused to wear masks or leave.

Sandy Springs City Council amended its alcohol ordinance to allow liquor tastings, according to the AJC.

The city passed a law Tuesday allowing retail package liquor stores to host tastings for distilled spirits.

Licenses for alcohol tastings were previously only issued for beer and wine samplings. Similar to those events, the new law will allow distilled spirits tastings 52 days per year. Events can run no longer than four hours.

License fees for each of the three types of alcohol tastings is $75.

The state requirements for alcohol tastings changed last year when Governor Brian Kemp signed into law HB 879 which allows home delivery of alcohol. The changes also permitted cities to pass ordinances for distilled spirits tastings if officials chose to do so.

Savannah-Chatham County Board of Education members voted to adopt a a FY 2022 budget and property tax millage rate, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Savannah-Chatham County Public School board members voted to approve a proposed millage rate of 18.131 mills for 2022. In a $100,000 home, property owners will pay the school system $725. 24 annually in taxes. That’s $30 less than what they paid last year.
Board members say this is what taxpayers have been asking for.

“It’s not quite as much as I would’ve liked to see. However, I do know that we can’t be overly aggressive with the millage rate not knowing what will be going on in the future. However I do appreciate all the hard work that was put in into being able to get the maximum amount of a decrease to help with the property owners in the county,” said Michael Johnson, District 7.

The board also approved the fiscal year budget for 2022. Over $465 million has been allocated for the general fund. Over $131 million will be used for special revenue funds like from the CARES Act and for food services.

Savannah-Chatham property owners may see lower tax rates, according to the Savannah Morning News.

At the school board meeting Wednesday afternoon, the board voted unanimously to approve the millage rate recommendation made by the finance department. They will have a final hearing at 6 p.m. June 16 for the public to comment. They will then take a final vote after the public comment. The millage rate recommendation will then be forwarded to the Chatham County Commission for its approval.

Paige Cooley presented a Fiscal Year 2022 budget report to the School Board on Wednesday at its informal meeting, prior to the board meeting. The report proposed a 0.75 reduction in the millage rate based on the current tax digest and the school district’s projected expenses.

The proposed rate is 18.131, down from the current mark of 18.881.

A public hearing on the millage rate proposal is set for 6 p.m. June 16 at the Whitney Administrative Complex, 2 Laura Ave.

Cooley explained the proposed millage rate reduction is mainly due to the steady flow of income from property taxes. The tax digest has expanded by 5% over the past year, Cooley said.

“We have been very blessed with property values,” said Larry Jackson, the district’s chief financial officer. “[In the] late ’90s and early 2000s, we benefited from the housing boom, but since that time there have been some ups and downs. We also try to not go overboard with programs. We’ve been conservative in nature. The main cause is we live in a county where property values have been in our favor.”

Brunswick City Commission heard their proposed FY 2022 budget, according to The Brunswick News.

City manager Regina McDuffie initially proposed a $17.1 million budget. But at Wednesday’s public hearing, she presented a $17.3 million proposal.

The additional money will be used to purchase a lift truck for the city’s public works department, which was its No. 1 request when it submitted its annual budget request.

The city plans to use goats to help maintain drainage ditches. The animals can reach areas workers can’t and they do a good job, she said.
Ivan Figueroa, of Brunswick, was the only person to speak during the public comment period. He said the city has lots of needs and limited resources, but he expressed concerns about the city’s staff shortage in public safety. He asked city officials to “redouble” their efforts to hire more staff and ensure officers have the best equipment to work with.

A final reading of the budget will be held at the June 16 meeting.

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller announced the city’s next round of blighted properties to be demolished, according to 13WMAZ.

The Chatham Area Transit Authority Board voted to censure Board member Clinton Edminster for ethics violations, according to the Savannah Morning News.

In a letter sent to board members this week, CAT Authority Chairman Deidrick Cody alleged that Edminster had committed four violations of the agency’s Code of Conduct. The violations stem from actions and events following the board’s abrupt termination of former CEO and Executive Director Bacarra Mauldin in late January.

Edminster admitted to all of the accusations brought against him during the meeting, which included secretly recording an executive session on Jan. 26; disclosing information to Mauldin’s attorney relevant to her lawsuit against CAT; disclosing internal CAT information to Mauldin following her termination and communicating with current CAT staff, including operators, regarding Mauldin’s termination and CAT business and financial affairs, including addressing staff’s complaints and grievances.

Edminster, who was appointed to the CAT board by the City of Savannah in 2018, has been an outspoken critic of the board’s handling of Mauldin’s termination. He was one of three board members to vote against the termination and has called for her reinstatement.

Addressing the board after the vote, Edmisnter apologized and said that he had been troubled by the decisions of the board and didn’t always do his best to communicate his concerns.

Peachtree Corners will pay Gwinnett Tax Commissioner Tiffany Porter to bill property taxes for the municipality, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

They said they didn’t have any other choice after she told the city she wouldn’t do billing for non-tax fees without additional compensation. City officials said they looked at creating the city’s own billing department or hiring a third-party agency to do the billing, but increased costs to Peachtree Corners would have ranged from $500,000 to $1 million per year.

“Using her office to continue billing and collecting on behalf of the city was a simple business decision,” City Manager Brian Johnson said. “It was the only fiscally prudent option we had.”

After news of Porter’s proposal to eight cities, with the additional compensation, was made public in March, state Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, and state Sen. Nikki Merritt, D-Grayson, worked on an amendment to a bill moving through the legislature to block tax commissioners in counties with more than 14 cities from negotiating billing services with municipalities. It is structured in a way that it only applies to Gwinnett and Fulton counties.

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