Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 1, 2021

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 1, 2021

Former Vice President Aaron Burr was acquitted of treason on September 1, 1804.

On September 1, 1865, Confederate Lieutenant General John Bell Hood withdrew his troops from Atlanta, destroying supply depots and setting ablaze 81 railcars loaded with ammunition.

The last hanging in Atlanta took place on September 1, 1922 outside the Fulton County jail.

Approximately 5,000 people gathered outside the Fulton County jail to witness the hanging.

On September 1, 2004, United States Senator Zell Miller, a Democrat, spoke at the Republican National Convention.

Robins Air Force Base is celebrating the 80th anniversary of groundbreaking, according to 13WMAZ.

In 1941, the Department of Defense wanted to build a new maintenance depot in the southeast. After lobbying by local, state and congressional leaders, the site that is now Robins Air Force Base got selected.

It was mainly farmland at the time. Macon and Bibb County bought the first 3,100 acres from several dozen families and donated it to the Army Air Forces.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Glynn County Commissioners will consider an alcohol ban for the Georgia-Florida game weekend, according to The Brunswick News.

That’s because one of the staff recommendations in anticipation of crowds for the game in October that will be discussed at Thursday’s Glynn County Commission meeting.

The proposed alcohol ban includes “common source” containers such as milk jugs. Glynn County Police will patrol beaches and check IDs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

I’m not sure I can think of something more tone-deaf than Democratic Party officials taking a victory lap right now. From the Augusta Chronicle:

Tuesday morning the Democratic Party of Georgia stopped in Augusta for its “Democrats Deliver” tour, a cross-state trip to promote the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan Infrastructure bill – particularly for organized labor.

“Whether the $100 for vaccines locally, blight mitigation, job programs or solutions for food deserts, the American Rescue Plan is helping not only on a national level, the state level, but right here in Augusta, Georgia,” said State Sen. Harold Jones II.

Court shutdowns are contributing to the crime wave in Georgia, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Rome News Tribune.

The partial shutdown of the court system in Georgia during the coronavirus pandemic is contributing to the crime wave plaguing Atlanta and other cities, a representative of the state’s prosecutors said Tuesday.

“We have to get our courts operating again,” Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, told members of a legislative committee. “If we get COVID under control, jails will be able to hold people longer.”

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston asked the House Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee last spring to hold hearings this summer to examine what’s behind a rise in violent crime across the state — particularly in and around Atlanta — and look for solutions.

Skandalakis said there’s a limit to what law enforcement can do to fight violent crime when a lack of indictments and jury trials has created a backlog of pending criminal cases. The backlog is causing jails to become overcrowded with suspects awaiting trial, which forces authorities to release repeat offenders charged with violent crimes on bond, he said.

“We can’t arrest our way out of the problems occurring today,” he said. “With the pandemic, we’ve had a perfect storm of repeat offenders with access to firearms.”

From the AJC:

“There’s just no way to tell exactly why it’s hitting the way it’s hitting,” said Pete Skandalakis, director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia. “You can’t blame it all on the pandemic. You can’t blame it all on guns. You can’t blame it all on the criminal justice system. You can’t blame it on the police. You can’t even blame it all the riots that occurred out west or even in the city of Atlanta. There’s no one cause that causes a surge in crime rates.”

Atlanta had a historically deadly 2020, when authorities investigated 157 homicide cases — the most in more than two decades. This year, as of June, homicides had increased in Atlanta by more than 50% and shootings were up by 40% compared with the same time period in 2020.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety earlier this year created a “crime suppression unit” that will be staffed by 10 officers focused on the Atlanta area, the agency’s commissioner told lawmakers. He, Skandalakis and Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said more police and increased visibility will help tamp down crime.

“We must all be mindful that we will not be able to police our way out of this. We will not be able to lock up enough folks, regardless of how many police officers we have,” Bryant said. “But having a police presence does have an effect on both the perception of crime plus the ability for an individual to commit a crime.”

State Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, pushed back on the idea of devoting funds to anti-crime groups.

“First and foremost, I tend to believe the first obligation of the government is public safety,” Powell said. A lack of police “is what creates anarchy,” he added, “and that’s what we need to be dealing with at this time.”

Richmond County schools will go virtual for two days after the Labor Day holiday, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Richmond County students will not physically be back to school following the Labor Day holiday.

The school district reported via email and on its social media channels Tuesday that schools will be closed on Tuesday, Sept. 7, and Wednesday, Sept. 8, and teachers will be conducting distance learning during that time.

Students are scheduled to return to in-person learning on Thursday, Sept. 9.

Bibb County public schools will all go virtual after the Labor Day weekend, according to a press release by the district.

The Bibb County School District will transition all schools to asynchronous learning for two weeks beginning Tuesday, September 7. Staff will continue to work from the buildings and students will return to school for in-person learning on Monday, September 20. Students should continue attending school in person for the remainder of this week in order to make sure they receive an electronic device and handouts and know how to log in for assignments during asynchronous learning.

“I am very confident our schools are safe. I believe the measures we put in place with requiring masks, socially distancing with the distance the CDC recommends, and frequent handwashing all help keep us safe,” Superintendent Dr. Curtis Jones said. “However, I also recognize community spread is very high; and I believe in some cases the students are bringing COVID-19 into the schools, and maybe it is spreading that way. Because of that and because Labor Day is about to occur, and because we know our number of COVID-19 positive cases increases over weekends, we are going to take the next two weeks to pause in-person learning and hopefully ensure that when students return, our schools will still be safe.”

The Columbia County Board of Education voted to offer stipends for substitute teachers in the face of high demand and low supply, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

At last Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting, superintendent Dr. Steven Flynt said the district has only filled approximately 60% of its needed substitutes to fill in for teachers when they are out.

Those who work 80-100% of school days will earn a $500 stipend at the end of each semester while teachers who work 50-79% will make $250 and those who work 25-49% will earn $125.

Chatham Area Transit buses are operating at 50% capacity due to COVID, negatively affecting some citizens’ mobility, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Because of COVID-19 precautions, Chatham Area Transit’s buses operate at 50% capacity. The restrictions mean fewer passengers can ride, exacerbating already complicated mobility issues for the 10% of Chatham County residents without access to a reliable vehicle.

One-third of low- and median-income (LMI) households in the Savannah-Chatham area lack reliable transportation, according to a survey of LMI households from nonprofit Step Up Savannah. About 15% don’t live near access to a bus route. Only 5% walk or bike.

“We’re almost wedging those people in (poverty) if they don’t have transportation,” Step Up’s CEO Alicia Johnson said. “We’re forcing them to stay in jobs that are not paying them livable wages.”

Reliable transportation disproportionately impacts people of color, who are most impacted by poverty and lack of access to resources in Chatham County, according to Step Up Savannah’s survey.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson says a vaccine mandate for municipal employees is still possible, according to WTOC.

Mayor Johnson has said less than 50 percent of city staff are fully vaccinated and he wants that number to grow.

“In terms of mandatory vaccinations for our employees, it’s still on the table,” he said.

Mayor Johnson is hoping to have more information on the vaccine incentive program for city staff by next week.

“Obviously we think cash incentives work. We think that it provides an immediate financial benefit,” he said.

Mayor Johnson says they didn’t consider vaccine incentive programs earlier because the City didn’t have the funding. The City’s one-day of pay incentive for vaccinated city employees ends tomorrow, just in time for a new program.

Whitfield County Tax Commissioner Danny Sane has closed his office to the public due to a COVID outbreak, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Columbus City Council passed a resolution declaring a state of emergency, according to WTVM.

Mayor Skip Henderson says a lot of boards and commissions in the city were unable to meet virtually unless they declared a local state of emergency.

Henderson says a number of people preferred to meet virtually because of COVID numbers and the hospitalization rate.

According to the Mayor, local hospitals say patients are getting younger and symptoms are getting worse. He says they’re not short on rooms, but stressing the capabilities of healthcare workers.

Mayor Henderson says the local state of emergency reiterates the intent to require masks in local government owned buildings.

Harris County public schools are warning of bus delays due to a COVID-driven shortage of drivers, according to WTVM.

Perry is re-implementing COVID restrictions, according to WTVM.

Mayor Randall Walker says new restrictions are the city’s way of helping healthcare providers.

“They are basically overwhelmed at the hospitals. They’ve got larger numbers at the hospitals right now than we’ve ever had going through the pandemic over the last 18 months,” he said.

As part of the city’s plan to help, they’ve set restrictions that cancel or postpone events, require social distancing and masks. He says they’ll use data to determine how long it’ll stay in place.

“We look at the numbers every Wednesday and determine what impact that’s going to have going forward for the next 21 days, and it’s a rolling 21 days,” he explained.

Columbus City Council voted to close Carver Park on weekends after two shooting deaths this year, according to WTVM.

Houston Medical Center is receiving National Guard members to help with COVID, according to WTVM.

Governor Brian Kemp deployed National Guard members to help with understaffed hospitals.

Houston Medical Center welcomed 20 members this week.

“It is an emergency. This is a situation where we need help,” [Emergency Department manager] Terri Williams said.

National Guard members are helping staff the emergency room and the overflow tents set up outside.

Williams said, “They can do IVs, draw blood, treatments as far as bandages, just help with patient flow.”

In addition, they can help make family phone calls and take patients’ registration information when they arrive.

Out of the 20 National Guard members, five of them are medics and four of them are military police.

Fifty dollar gift cards will be given to the first hundred Georgia residents to get the COVID vaccine at a Hall County Health Department event on September 6th, according to the Gainesville Times.

Former United States Senator Kelly Loeffler is holding a “Red Belt Blitz” in north Georgia, according to the AJC.

The Greater Georgia group kicked off a “Red Belt Blitz” in Bartow, Cherokee, Floyd, Forsyth and Hall counties, a six-figure initiative that’s part of broader goal to motivate 100,000 additional conservative voters ahead of the 2022 election.

“It’s an unprecedented effort we haven’t had on our side,” said Loeffler. “We’ve seen the left out-register us in the 2020 cycle. That’s why it’s important for us to put our resources and efforts toward this new voter registration effort.”

It faced its first test in a recent low-profile state legislative special election that Republicans easily held.

“We ran digital ads, pushed texts, emails and logged hundreds of thousands of touches that created an overwhelming win,” Loeffler said. “This mobilization is entirely possible again if we organize. And that’s what we’re doing right now in north metro Atlanta.”

The blitz targets some of the state’s most booming counties, all GOP strongholds key to the party’s 2022 fortunes. Newly released U.S. Census data showed that Forsyth grew by 43% over the last decade, making it one of the fastest growing large counties in the nation.

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black hosted a rally for his U.S. Senate campaign, according to the AJC.

In a show of force on Tuesday, hundreds of supporters gathered at Black’s farm in northeast Georgia to hear from a string of well-known Republicans who endorsed the agricultural commissioner’s campaign to challenge Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock next year.

Former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins touted Black’s integrity and Georgia roots. His successor in Congress, U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, dialed in from Washington to pledge his support.

And others from Black’s neck of the woods added their voices to his campaign, including former Gov. Nathan Deal and Public Service Commissioner Bubba McDonald, whose baritone rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A.” helped ring in the event.

Deal, who earlier became the highest-profile Republican to pick sides in the race, praised the three-term commissioner’s stewardship of the agriculture department. Calling Black “one of us,” he emphasized Black’s connection to Georgia farmers and his pledge to energize the party’s base.

Julius Hall qualified as a candidate for Mayor of Port Wentworth, but his qualification is challenged because of an earlier conviction, according to WTOC.

The objection against Julius Hall is about how much time has passed since he served a 22-year federal prison sentence for running a crack cocaine drug trafficking ring.

Federal court records state that in 1988, Hall was a corporal with the Savannah Police Department and during that time he also organized and ran a crack-cocaine trafficking operation that extended from South Florida to Savannah.

He was convicted in 1991 and sentenced to life in prison. The sentence was later reduced to 25 years.

According to Bureau of Prison, Hall served 22 years. He completed his sentence eight years ago in 2013. It’s his completion date that has become the centerfold issue after he filed for public office two weeks ago.

He says Hall is in direct violation of Section II, Paragraph III of the state constitution, which has to do with persons not eligible to hold office. It reads: “No person who is not a registered voter; who has been convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude, unless that person’s civil rights have been restored and at least ten years have elapsed from the date of the completion of the sentence without a subsequent conviction of another felony involving moral turpitude.”

“I received my restoration of civil and political rights on January 26th of 2021,” Hall said. “The restoration restored my rights immediately. Those restored rights include the right to sit on the jury, become a notary of the public and the right to run and hold public office.”

The state’s restoration of rights and the Georgia Constitution seem to directly contradict each other. It’s an issue the Port Wentworth elections superintendent will have to decide. The hearing is at 10 a.m. on Friday.

Whitfield County Commissioners adopted a property tax millage rate resulting in what they call the biggest tax cut of the century, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

The Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 to cut the maintenance and operations property tax rate to 7.31 mills from 8.31 mills. Property owners outside the city of Dalton also pay 3.438 mills for special tax districts that fund the county fire department and joint services with the city of Dalton such as the landfill. Board Chairman Jevin Jensen typically votes only if there is a tie.

“I think we need to give the taxpayers some of their money back,” said Commissioner Barry Robbins.

A mill is $1 for every $1,000 in assessed value. The county taxes on 40% of assessed value.

County officials say the move will reduce the county property tax on a $150,000 home in the unincorporated part of the county with no homestead exemption applied by $150.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson (D) is asking for more staff in the budget process, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Two of the DA’s Office budget requests for 2022 include adding prosecutors and staff to the office’s Special Victims Unit and Drug and Gang Task Force. She is also looking at raising salaries for her assistant district attorneys.

The request for the Special Victims Unit includes adding one assistant district attorney, one investigator and a vehicle for them to use, with the SVU decision package’s total cost being $227,424. Similarly, Austin-Gatson wants to add one ADA, one investigator and one vehicle to the Drug and Gang Task Force for a total cost of $227,424.

Austin-Gatson said drug cases, for example, are being handled by doing what the office is legally allowed to do to go after people who sell drugs that lead to deaths. She said there were 820 drug overdoses in Gwinnett in 2020, with 117 of them resulting in a person’s death.

Austin-Gatson’s third budget request is to raise the salaries of 53 ADAs — including the two attorney positions she wants to add — to bring them up to bring them on par with similar positions elsewhere. This would cost nearly $1.03 million, according to the DA’s office.

Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor‘s (D) department is also seeking more funding for personnal, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The Sheriff’s Office was the first department to present its budget requests, also known as decision packages, during its business plan presentation on Monday. Officials from each department in county government, as well as some agencies that work with the county, are making their budget pitches to Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson and a five-person Citizens Review Committee. The committee will help Hendrickson decide which budget requests to include in the county’s 2022 budget.

Atwater said the Sheriff’s Office is asking for 50 new positions — including 37 sworn deputy and 13 civilian positions. The civilian positions would be used in the areas of facilities maintenance, analytical efficiency and the financial health of the office. The cost of those positions, including salary and benefits, would be $5.6 million.

In addition to the personnel positions that the sheriff’s office is requesting, it also anticipates an $11.8 million increase in its “base” budget to cover costs associated with training, particularly for TASER and body camera use, and technology costs to target areas where Sheriff’s Office officials believe the office can be more efficient.

The Sheriff’s Office is also asking for 13 sworn deputies, two of whom would be sergeants, and two civilian crime and intel analyst positions for its Field Division in a package worth $1.98 million.

The field division request in particular ties back into the topic of gang activities in the county that came up at multiple points during Atwater’s presentation.

It is estimated that gangs or drugs are tied to more than 50% of serious felonies and violent crimes in the county, Atwater said. Drug-related charges between January and June of this year were up 17.3% from the same time period in 2020.

“Many crimes committed by gang members have a connection to trafficking and crimes against children,” Atwater said.

Aragon City Council voted to place an alcohol sales referendum on the November ballot, according to the Rome News Tribune.

With the deadline fast approaching to get a question on the upcoming general municipal election ballot, the council met last Wednesday, Aug. 25, and unanimously approved to ask the city’s voters in regards to Sunday alcohol sales and the sale of distilled spirits inside the city limits.

The move completes a trifecta of alcohol referendums which will be on the ballot for voters in all three cities in Polk County come Nov. 2.

This would be the fourth time Aragon has asked voters to weigh in on Sunday sales. The last time was in 2015 when the measure lost 42-22. The second time, in 2012, Aragon gave voters the option and it was voted down by just 12 votes. The first time it came up it was defeated by four votes.

The question of selling distilled spirits will also be asked of Rockmart voters on the Nov. 2 ballot, while Cedartown is asking voters whether the city should allow restaurants to serve alcohol as early as 11 a.m. on Sundays that is allowed by the “Brunch Bill” passed in the state legislature in 2018.

Johns Creek City Council adopted a moratorium on new vape shops, according to the AJC.

Big Picture

Federal COVID relief funds sent to Georgia will not be distributed until 2022, according to the AJC.

It will be 2022 before the state starts spending the $4.8 billion in COVID-19 relief money that Congress approved in March to help mitigate the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Gov. Brian Kemp had hoped to announce grants for broadband expansion, water and sewer projects, and programs to aid Georgians and businesses by mid-October.

But state lawmakers on committees that are deciding which projects to recommend said cities, counties, businesses and nonprofits didn’t have enough time to put together proposals, so Kemp’s budget office is extending the time for applications until the end of October, which in turn moved the timeline for announcing where the money will go to early 2022.

The $1.9 trillion relief package that President Joe Biden signed in March is sending billions to Georgia cities and school districts as well.

It was designed to help states hard hit by COVID-19, particularly during the business shutdown in the spring of 2020. It was also aimed at making up for lost tax revenue.

While some state governments have approved broad plans to use the relief money, little of it has been spent so far. That’s because it took a few months for the money to flow into state coffers, and officials had to wait for guidance from the federal government detailing how they could spend it.

The money coming to Georgia can be used broadly for COVID-19 response, including making direct payments to Georgians, providing aid to small businesses, giving extra pay to “essential workers,” funding job training and placement services, assisting hard-hit areas of the economy such as the hospitality and travel industries, and paying for infrastructure projects.

That highlights an issue I’ve seen recently, which is the molasses-like flow of federal rental relief funds to the needy. From CBS News dated August 9, 2021:

[B]arely 10% of the $46 billion in emergency federal relief specifically awarded for that purpose had been distributed as of July, with estimates showing that more than half of renters and many landlords across the country are even unaware that aid is available.

“The good news is there are sufficient resources to help all tenants who fell behind on rent during the pandemic,” Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told CBSN this week. “The problem is money is not getting out fast enough.”

Even if the money takes months to arrive, submitting a rent aid application aid is a critical first step for renters who might be facing eviction. That’s because in many states, including California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York and Oregon, you are protected from being evicted while your application is being processed.

So even if renters are ultimately turned down for funds, they might at least gain a few more months to search for a new place, just by applying for government assistance.

For renters, figuring out where exactly to apply to can be the biggest hurdle. There are now more than 450 city, county, state and tribal rent aid programs in the U.S. — each with different requirements.

From a Fortune article dated August 30, 2021:

[Goldman Sachs] in a report, said as many as 750,000 households could face eviction before the end of the year —and that as many as 3.5 million households nationwide are behind in their rent payments.

At this point, the only thing stopping that would be an eviction moratorium from Congress, which has been hesitant to agree to such a policy so far. The Biden Administration ordered one previously, but that was overturned by the Supreme Court over the weekend. Many state-level eviction bans are also set to expire soon.

While the government has taken steps to make it easier for renters at risk to receive funds from the Emergency Rental Assistance program, it’s unlikely that money will arrive in time for thousands of families.

An eviction crisis would be more than a humanitarian and health concern, it could create economic worries, as well. Goldman says it expects a “small drag” on spending and job growth from people directly impacted, but the larger concern is public health, which could be more seriously impacted.

Goldman Sachs is hardly the only group raising a red flag on evictions. The Census Bureau estimates roughly 1.3 million people are likely to get evicted in the next two months. And the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates there are 11.4 million Americans currently behind on rent, a figure that’s below the December 2020 peak, but still widespread.

So, this is the situation. The federal government set aside more than $46 billion dollars for rental relief, but only a small portion of that has made its way to needy people. That also affects the property owners who are not getting their rent payments.

Whether you agree or disagree with rental assistance, doesn’t this undermine the idea that government is the best way to promote social welfare goals? We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people being evicted after the federal government decided to allocate 46 Billion Dollars to rental assistance. Because government was too inefficient to get the money where it’s supposed to go. I’m not blaming anyone at any level for malfeasance. I think it’s simply a fact that government is not an efficient way to run social programs, and I can’t think of a larger-scale failure of domestic governance in America.

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