Category: Elections

27
Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 27, 2012

27637 is one of the black or majority-black dogs and cats who are available for adoption for only $30 tomorrow at Gwinnett County Animal Shelter during their weekly “Black Friday Sale.” 

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson asked City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney to submit her resignation and the City Council will discuss the issue on October 4th.

Council members met in a specially called work session [September 26th] to discuss numerous performance issues, including problems with Purchasing Department operations.

Because this afternoon’s session was advertised as a work session, not a meeting, council chose to exercise an abundance of caution and not take any formal vote that might violate state Open Meetings law. A special meeting will be scheduled and duly noticed for the vote, which would be to either accept her resignation or terminate.

Issues between Small-Toney and the Board have included her hiring of an administrator who lacked qualifications his resume claimed, questionable expense reports, and problems in the purchasing department with paying the City’s bills. The Savannah Morning News opines that Small-Toney should go, as the Board and Mayor have lost confidence.

[T]his system requires the mayor and council to have full confidence in their city manager, who’s the most powerful person in city government. It’s the foundation on which council-manager form of government rests. But once that faith and trust is gone, so is the foundation. Then, it’s only a matter of time before public services suffer and citizens become the victims.

A billboard on I-85 in Gwinnett County urges Asian-Americans to vote in seven languages.

According to AALAC Executive Director Helen Ho, “Most first generation immigrants say, well you know, I came here for my children and their future. They will be leaders in America; they will be full Americans, and they will vote,” said Ho.  “And what we’re trying to get everyone to understand is that, just like in every other thing, children model the behavior of their parents. The parents need to model civic leadership for their children and vote.”

That’s why the billboard features children’s faces.  Ho says placing the sign in Gwinnett County was another obvious choice.

“Gwinnett County is, beyond our city and our state, in terms of our region, it really is the flashpoint of immigrant growth.  So we knew that we had to put the billboard there,” said Ho.

Lee Anderson’s campaign for Congress is asking Democrat incumbent John Barrow whether taxpayer funds were used in the filming of Barrow’s new political ad.

“It’s time for Barrow to fess up and let us know where he got the cars and how much did it cost the taxpayers to film his commercial? We are all waiting,” [Anderson spokesperson Ryan] Mahoney wrote in an e-mail….

Barrow spokesman Richard Carbo had a quick response: The cars were airport rental cars that merely resembled a Government Services Administration fleet.

“We rented 20 cars from Enterprise at Augusta airport,” Carbo said. “We’ll call them ‘props’ for the commercial.”

“No taxpayer funds were used for anything,” he said.

Carbo provided The Augusta Chronicle a copy of an expense document showing that Friends of John Barrow paid $3,499.33 for 18 rental cars on Aug. 13. He said the logos were sign magnets the campaign used to make the cars appear to be government vehicles.

Candidates in the Special Election for Senate District 30 appeared together at a forum sponsored by the Carroll County Tea Party.

The candidates were quick to demonstrate their support for a “personhood” amendment to give legal protection “from womb to tomb” and to voice their opposition to abortion.

“We had some tough battles in the General Assembly this year, trying to determine when abortions take place,” said [State Representative Bill] Hembree, who resigned his House seat earlier this month to campaign for the Senate. “I will always stand up for right to life. Every human deserves the right to live, and to take away a child and not give them a chance, that’s unimaginable to me, as a father, a son and as a dad and husband. They don’t get to enjoy the freedom we have because they are taken. All I can say is, as your senator, I will vote every day for life.”

“When I became speaker, together with Rep. Hembree, we voted on a bill for women’s right to know,” said Richardson. “It had been out there for 15 years and never voted on. We’ve made great strides in this state and I feel there’s more to do. We can only do as much as allowed by the federal government. I think the Constitution already protects life, and if we can do more to protect it, I want to do more.”

Richardson said he doesn’t want to see the courts use the personhood amendment to throw out death penalty cases. He said such unintended consequences sometime happen.

“The bottom line is that we should be pro-life and protect babies who can’t protect themselves,” he said.

Richardson said he backed an adoption bill which gives tax credits for people to adopt babies out of foster care.

Hembree said Georgia is losing jobs in general, not only on the farms and he has sponsored legislation to help.

“House Bill 1023 says if you know someone unemployed and getting unemployment benefits, your company can hire these folks and you get tax benefits,” he said.

He said the foundation of the country’s economy is small businesses creating jobs.

“The government needs to get out of the way and let small business do what they do best,” Hembree said. “I’m a small business owner and I employ five people. I make the payroll every two weeks. I know how difficult it is to balance a budget and to employ people. I’m on your side to make sure we get people back to work.”

Republican State Senator Frank Ginn is being criticized by gay blog Project Q Atlanta for saying of his gay opponent,

Ginn, a good old boy with a freshman term under his belt who engaged in a not-so-thinly veiled attempt at gay-baiting – the old “gay and gay-friendly are bad, so vote for me” argument – on Monday.

[A]fter mutual campaign appearances in 2010, he personally does not feel comfortable appearing with Riley.

“I really don’t like being on the stage with this guy,” Ginn said. “He’s just not my cup of tea.”

Republicans will pick up a State House seat even before election results are in, as Atlanta Unfiltered writes that Rick Crawford will switch parties if he’s elected as a Democrat in November.

Rick Crawford was just nominated to serve another two-year term as a Democrat, but he says he’s switching to the Republican Party if he wins re-election in November.

Crawford, who had been pondering his party affiliation for a while, said Democrats’ endorsement of same-sex marriage pushed him over the edge. “I thought, ‘My time here is done,’” he said.

But his conversion is “not just a one-issue thing,” Crawford said. “My profile and my thinking of the way things ought to go was just not something that [Democrats] would ever entertain again.”

Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee will be doing a dog-and-pony show about his HOST Homestead Option Sales Tax Proposal for much of 2013

In general, a HOST is intended to roll back a portion of property taxes charged on primary residences and offset that with a new sales tax. Lee said the average Cobb County household has the potential to save several hundred dollars a year on their property tax under the plan. However, if a HOST were put in place today, the sales tax would increase to 7 percent.

“It’s supposed to be a dollar-for-dollar offset, substituting a dollar of sales tax for a dollar of property-tax relief on your homesteaded property,” said Clint Mueller, legislative director for the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.

Lee hopes that after presenting more detailed plans to residents next year, commissioners will vote next fall to request local legislation in the 2014 General Assembly. If both of those are approved, county voters would decide the issue in November 2014.

The HOST proposal was a campaign pledge Lee made in his re-election bid this summer.

The Richmond County Board of Education will hold public sessions to inform voters about the Charter School Amendment on November’s ballot.

Richmond County school officials have come out against the amendment, saying state-run charters will divert money away from an already underfunded public system.

Board members have said they are not against the concept of charter schools but are against having a state-run school within a district without having control of the operation.

“If it’s something that’s taking away from public education, we can’t be for it,” Pulliam said. “We’re already hurting. It’s like a poor man that’s got no food and clothes sharing all his food and clothes with the neighbor. You’re not going to have anything left.”

Unemployment in North Georgia is down from 8.6% to 8.1% according to preliminary numbers from the Georgia Department of Labor.

The rate decreased because there were 910 fewer layoffs in manufacturing, construction, transportation and warehousing, administrative and support services, educational services, health care and social assistance, and accommodations and food services. Also, the area’s labor force declined by 1,221, partially because some students left summer jobs to return to school.

Metro Athens continued to have the lowest area jobless rate at 6.7 percent, while the Heart of Georgia-Altamaha Regional Commission had the highest at 12.2 percent.

Metro Gainesville declined to 7.2 percent in August, down five-tenths of a percentage point from 7.7 percent in July. The rate was 8.1 percent in August 2011.

The DeKalb Republican Party is hosting a private screening of the film 2016: Obama’s America tonight at 7 PM, with remarks at 6:30. Buy your tickets online here.

In Loganville and some other cities, voters in November will face voting two separate times:

David Dempsey runs a fruit stand in Loganville. He is among the legions of Americans who grew up with the concept of one man, one vote.

But because Dempsey lives in the city of Loganville, he will have to vote twice on November 6th in order to take advantage of his full electoral rights.

“Did not know we had to vote twice on election day. This is all new to me,” Dempsey said. “I have never, ever heard of having to vote twice on election day.”

Loganville will essentially have two elections November 6th. One will be for the candidates ranging from president to county offices. The other will be for Sunday liquor sales inside the city of Loganville.

11Alive News has uncovered similar dual elections, with different precincts, in the following cities:

In Gwinnett County: Grayson, Dacula, Loganville

In Bartow County: Taylorsville, Emerson

In Fayette County: Fayetteville

In Douglas County: Douglasville

Lynn Ledford, the Gwinnett County election director, says Loganville didn’t submit its election in time to get on the county’s election ballot.

“Ours had already been programmed at that point,” Ledford said. “And once you get your ballot programmed, if you add anything to it, it changes the data base, it changes everything you had done at that point. You would have to retest all of your equipment, you would have issues with the paper absentee ballots and with other things like that.”

Ledford agrees that it makes no sense to hold separate elections on the same day.

Power Transmissions

Georgia Power filed a proposal to buy up to 210 megawatts of solar energy from private producers via competitive bids.

The utility said Wednesday it will buy more than 10 times the amount of solar electricity it currently gets from solar farms and rooftop array by 2017. If added today, the additional electricity would catapult the state to No. 4 in use of solar power, according to the most recent data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The plan calls for Georgia Power to buy an additional 210 megawatts from solar sources. One megawatt can power about 450 homes or one SuperTarget store. The utility generates 16,000 megawatts in total, with coal, natural gas and nuclear the dominant generation sources.

Georgia Power, the state and the Southeast have been criticized by alternative energy advocates for lackluster use of renewables such as solar and wind power.

Dropping solar costs are the main driver, company executives said, while pressure from customers, the solar industry and some utility regulators also figured in.

“Solar now is a lot more economic than it used to be,” said Greg Roberts, Georgia Power’s vice president of pricing and planning. “And we’ve really done a lot of talking and listening to our customers and developers and are working with the [PSC].

The average cost of a rooftop solar array has dropped more than 46 percent since 2010, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Some PSC members have pushed Georgia Power to boost alternative sources. Commissioner Chuck Eaton, running for a second term, said he has changed his stance on solar now that the cost has decreased.

“Solar has now entered the realm of competitive energy,” he said. “There have been folks that have been critical that we haven’t gotten in earlier, but really what they are saying is, ‘You should have paid three times for the solar what you are paying today.’”

Kim Kooles, a policy analyst with the Raleigh-based North Carolina Solar Center and the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy, noted that Georgia will remain among states without a mandated percentage of power from renewables.

Chuck Eaton’s opponent in the November General Election, Democrat Steve Oppenheimer, is one of those liberals saying that Georgia should have paid more for solar before it became cost-competitive and criticizes Eaton for what he calls a “flip-flop” and a “battlefield conversion” on solar power.

Eaton has consistently stated for more than a year that he would look at adding solar if and when it became affordable, but why would liberal activist Steve Oppenheimer let the truth get in the way of his radical green agenda?

Earlier this week, in an Op-Ed published in the Savannah Morning News, Eaton laid out the criteria for conservative analysis of solar proposals:

In discussing this initiative, I laid out a three parameters: it shouldn’t cause higher rates; it must be a good strategic fit; and bids to provide utility scale solar power should be subject to a competitive bidding process to ensure the best value to ratepayers.

Republican Chuck Eaton, and his opponents, liberal Democrat Steve Oppenheimer and Librarian Libertarian Brad Ploeger will meet in a GPB debate to be televised October 21st.

Commissioner Chuck Eaton, who’s running for re-election, said he’s looking forward to the opportunity to talk about the commission’s efforts to minimize utility rates for families and as an attraction to employers.

“This year we’ve reduced electric rates for homeowners by 6 percent, eliminated the job-killing sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, and maintained the reliability and affordability that make Georgia a great place to live and an attractive location for companies,” said Eaton, a Republican.

Georgia Power is listing for sale its Plant Riverside on Savannah’s West River Street.

“It could be utilized as retail, residential, office, hotel or a combination of those uses,” Georgia Power spokeswoman Swann Seiler said. “The hope of Georgia Power is that it becomes an asset not only for downtown but the entire city of Savannah.”

Plant Riverside long was an invaluable asset for the community in providing electricity. The property first became home to a power facility in 1882 when electric lights first came to Savannah.

Savannah Electric brought the current plant building online in 1913, and it was Savannah’s sole source of power until the mid 1950s.

The commissioning of Plant McIntosh in Effingham County in 2005 led to Plant Riverside’s closing.

The River Street facility, expanded six times and powered by coal, oil and natural gas over the course of its life, had a capacity of 100 megawatts. Five of its eight steam units still worked at the time of its closing.

Atlanta Gas Light opened a new pipeline to Helen, Georgia yesterday.

“We were here to dedicate the new gas line in Cleveland just over a year ago, so this expansion to Helen is allowing us to reach more and more customers in White County,” said David Weaver, vice president of regulatory and government affairs with Atlanta Gas Light.

The project was projected to cost $6 million and was part of the Integrated Strategic Corridor project designed to extend natural gas service to unserved areas of the state.

Helen Mayor Judy Holloway said the project has helped put Helen into the 21st Century, and she said a number of potentials customers have already expressed interest in hooking up to the new pipeline.

Ends & Pieces

The Gwinnett Historic Courthouse opened 127 years ago this month and oversaw the growth of Gwinnett County from new settlements to a major metropolitan community. Hustler publisher Larry Flynt was on trial in the Courthouse for obscenity when he was shot by a sniper.

MUST Ministries is asking for donations to its food banks in Cobb and Cherokee County, as shelves are becoming bare.

The nonprofit organization, which helps families in emergency need, is also gearing up for the Thanksgiving holiday, one of MUST’s busiest times of the year.

“We literally were down to just three days of food at one point last week,” said Kaye Cagle, director of marketing and public relations, of the empty shelves at the agency.

“We have had such a huge demand over the summer, and we received less donations, demand was up and supply was down,” she said.

The agency distributes about 2,500 cans of food a week, a total of about 2,000 pounds. Last year MUST served 22,000 people who turned to the agency for food.

Right now the agency is in dire need of canned meats such as tuna and chicken, boxed dinners, canned beef stew, canned beans, powdered milk and canned fruits.

The organization also needs dried beans and dried potatoes, spaghetti sauce and noodles, and breakfast items such as oatmeal and grits.

Another need is peanut butter and especially jelly, Cagle said.

“We are always out of jelly. We give bread away every day and we like to give anyone who needs it the peanut butter and jelly so they can have a meal,” she said.

For 15 years, MUST Ministries in Cherokee County has been distributing boxes of Thanksgiving dinner items to around 1,000 families annually.

Non-perishable items can be brought to the MUST office at 141-B Marietta Road in Canton Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Frozen items for Thanksgiving will be accepted Nov. 19-21, from 8 to 9 a.m.

With the help of the Air Force ROTC, baskets will be distributed Nov. 19-21 to families who preregister through MUST.

The MUST Donation Center is located at 1210-B Kennestone Circle in Marietta and is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

26
Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 26, 2012

Harley is obviously a big, scary Pit Bull right?

Or maybe he’s the awesomest-looking little low rider brindle basset mix. He’s pretty popular with the volunteers at Walton County Animal Services, where he’s available for adoption for $40. They write that he’s very friendly, good with other dogs and loves to play.

Someone emailed me yesterday to ask what the connection is between rescue dogs and Georgia politics, and frankly there isn’t much of one until now. It’s appalling that Georgia has so many dogs and cats that thousands are euthanized every year in shelters across the state. FixGeorgiaPets.org estimates that 300,000 dogs and cats are put down in the state every year at a cost of more than $100 million to taxpayers. In a civilized state that’s not okay.

Meanwhile, other states like Minnesota must not have enough shelter dogs because they’re importing ours.

So here’s the Georgia Pundit Policy Challenge for 2012-2013. Help us come up with a proposal or two that can be taken to members of the General Assembly that would reduce the number of euthanasias performed, promote pet spay/neuter, or make it easier to rescue and adopt. The best chance of getting something that will be taken seriously is for it to be a conservative idea that relies as little as possible on the state’s police powers, or saves taxpayer dollars, or reduces regulations. Email me your ideas and we’ll see if we can come up with something.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Governor Nathan Deal announced 150 new jobs and $150 million in investments in Floyd County, GA when Foss Manufacturing Company opens a new manufacturing and distribution center.

“Northwest Georgia remains a strategic home for the textile manufacturing industry, complete with the business environment and skilled workforce to help this industry continue its recovery in our state,” said Deal. “I am encouraged by the commitment Foss Manufacturing is making in Floyd County, and look forward to the contributions this company will make to one of Georgia’s major industries. I am glad to welcome Foss to Georgia.”

Foss is one of the world’s largest needle-punch based manufacturers, and supports its customers’ needs with patented technology driven solutions. The company has strong relationships with a diverse range of customers including major retailers and leading automotive brands.

“We are very excited about our decision to expand our operations and locate in Rome, and look forward to great success,” Foss CEO AJ Nassar said.

At its Rome operation, Foss will manufacture and distribute medical masks, hospital apparel and linens and automotive and filtration products. The company will occupy the former Mohawk building in Floyd County.

“It is always great news for our community when we secure a new company with such a diverse customer base,” said Rome Mayor Evie McNiece. “We are happy that at least 150 people will directly benefit from this positive use of a former manufacturing building.”

Near Savannah, Matson Logistics is expanding its warehouses and adding 40 jobs.

Matson’s expansion locally is a testament to the economic value of the Georgia Port Authority’s Garden City Terminal, said Curtis Foltz, the port’s executive director.

“Increasingly the Port of Savannah area is a strategic market for third-party logistics warehouse and distribution operations,” Foltz said. “Locating in proximity to the ports makes for a more efficient business model, allowing greater flexibility and utilization of company assets.”

Logistics operations are a growing sector of the Savannah economy. Several companies have built, expanded or announced plans to do business in the area in recent years.

The Judicial Nominating Commission named four nominees to a short list for Governor Deal’s consideration for the Gwinnett County Superior Court vacancy created when Deal elevated Judge Billy Ray to the Court of Appeals.

  • George F. Hutchinson, III – Chief Magistrate Judge; Gwinnett County
  • John S. Melvin – Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney, DeKalb County
  • Randy Rich – Judge, State Court of Gwinnett County
  • Robert D. Walker, Jr. – Judge, Magistrate Court of Gwinnett County

One commenter noted that the JNC traditionally names five nominees to short lists, and wondered if this was intended to convey a message about someone who was not short-listed. Or maybe it’s the beginning of a new tradition, as the JNC recently sent a short list of four nominees for Cobb County Superior Court.

  • Maria B. Golick – Judge, State Court of Cobb County, Division I
  • Robert D. Leonard, II – Judge, State Court of Cobb County, Division II
  • Juanita P. Stedman – Judge, Juvenile Court of Cobb County
  • Mark S. VanderBroek – Partner, Troutman Sanders LLP

The JNC might get a chance to compile a short list to fill a vacancy on Bibb County Superior Court as Judge Howard Simms is suspected of DUI for the second time in just over two years.

The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office launched an internal investigation Tuesday morning following a Saturday night roadblock on Lamar Road in west Bibb County where Simms was stopped. The roadblock was a part of the multi-agency Rolling Thunder traffic operation Friday and Saturday.

Chief Deputy David Davis said the investigation seeks to determine whether Simms was under the influence of alcohol and the circumstances surrounding his interaction with Bibb County deputies.

So far, Davis said, information gathered in the investigation suggests Simms took an alcohol breath test and registered 0.083. The legal limit in Georgia is 0.08. As part of the investigation, deputies are seeking to verify Simms’ breath test result, he said.

Generally, deputies administer field sobriety tests only if they smell alcohol, see a container of alcohol after stopping a vehicle or if the driver shows signs of impairment, Davis said.

“For them to have administered any kind of roadside field sobriety test, the officer who stopped him and had first contact with him must have seen something or smelled something that made him think alcohol could have been in use,” Davis said.

If the investigation confirms Simms registered 0.083 on the breath test, the sheriff’s office will confer with the Bibb County solicitor to determine whether an arrest warrant will be issued, Davis said.

Simms, a former district attorney, issued a statement early Tuesday afternoon saying he was not charged with a crime after stopping at the roadblock and that he returned home “under his own power.”

He cleared his court calendar Tuesday to make arrangements to enter an inpatient alcohol addiction treatment facility, according to the statement.

The judge, who is elected by voters from Bibb, Crawford and Peach counties, had been scheduled to preside over jury selection in an aggravated assault case in Bibb County Superior Court.

The prosecutor and defense attorney for the aggravated assault case said they received word Tuesday morning that Simms had postponed the case until the next trial term.

Simms has reported to the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission information regarding Saturday night’s events and his decision to enter a treatment facility, according to his statement.

The JQC is the state agency that investigates judges’ behavior and issues punishment when warranted. Attempts to contact the JQC were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Chatham County Juvenile Court Judge John Beam, Jr. has retired after 32 years. Lisa Goldwire Colbert will take his place on the bench. Current Judge Patricia Stone will now serve as presiding judge of the court.

The GBI is NOT investigating allegations on the interwebs that Chip Rogers profited from reimbursements by the legislature for expenses related to official mailings to his constituents.

GBI Spokesman John Bankhead confirmed that the state investigating agency, at press time, was not looking into the allegations against Rogers.

“The GBI has not been requested by a legal authority to investigate the allegations,” Bankhead said Monday.

Candidates for Senate District 30, recently vacated by former Sen. Bill Hamrick, discussed the Charter School Amendment at a forum hosted by the Carroll County Tea Party. The leading candidate, State Rep. Bill Hembree said he supports the Amendment

Hembree, who resigned his House seat this month to campaign for the Senate, said he fully supports the charter school amendment and he will vote for it, if elected.

“No local funds will be used for state charter schools, that’s in the bill,” Hembree said. “There will be no reduction in state funding for local schools. The local schools can still create charter schools.”

He said charter schools would have to be reviewed by local boards before they are submitted to the state.

“The state role is to provide a checks and balance system,” he said.

Hembree said he believes in public, private, homes and charter schools, and the online option of virtual schools.

“For every kid, there’s different options,” he said. “That’s the way it needs to be. In the state of Georgia, we’re just trying to get those options and make them available.”

Former Speaker Glenn Richardson also supports the Amendment.

Richardson said he counted three of the other candidates on the fence and said it’s an issue where you can’t be on the fence.

“I intend to vote yes,” he said. “I support every time you give a parent a choice on how to educate their child. I hear cries of educators who say we’re going to take money away from schools. It’s not about money, it’s about kids. Why would you vote against parents starting a charter school?”

He said the General Assembly tried passing a charter school law, but the courts ruled that money couldn’t be given to charter schools without a constitutional amendment.

“It’s not an attack on educators, but a chance to give parents a choice,” he said.

The University of Georgia’s University Council will vote on whether employment benefits should be extended to domestic partners.

SACS, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, is once again warning Clayton County that it is the most embarrassing county in Georgia is at risk of losing its school system’s accreditation.

The accrediting agency revoked the district’s accreditation in 2009. In its letter Tuesday, SACS President Mark Elgart cited concerns about conflicts between board members.

The school system has until Jan. 15 to respond to the concerns before the accrediting agency decides whether to investigate the board’s actions.

Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell has proposed that the County “disinvest[] all funds managed by, for and on behalf of Hall County and any ancillary components of Hall County, in any company with active business operations in the petroleum and energy industry in Iran or Sudan; and for other purposes.”

Republican Freddie Sanders says he’s more qualified than his Democratic opponent to run the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

Sanders, a Republican, said the difference between him and his Democratic opponent, Richmond County school Public Safety Lt. Richard Roundtree, is that he has the experience and the knowledge to run a department with a $56 million budget.

“This is not about race, and this is not about party. This is about qualifications,” he said.

Sanders, an attorney who last wore a police uniform 27 years ago, said that his critics – including Roundtree – have implied that he comes form another generation and that he isn’t familiar with modern technology. He said he defied anyone to test him.

Sanders said his campaign had tried to get Roundtree to show up at several events, including Tuesday’s meeting, to debate him of those issues, but his opponent has always declined.

“I want him to show up somewhere and debate me and tell me what I don’t know about the Richmond County sheriff’s department,” he said.

Cherokee County voters had a chance to learn about the proposed HOST Homestead Option Sales Tax that, if passed, will levy an additional penny sales tax and apply the proceeds to reducing property taxes.

Cherokee County Commissioners have invited the GBI to investigate issues surrounding Ball Ground Recycling.

At the Sept. 18 county commission meeting, commissioners unanimously approved their official response to Grand Jury recommendations following its investigation of the failed Ball Ground Recycling (BGR) venture by businessman Jimmy Bobo, which the county approved backing with an $18.1 million resource recovery bond issue.

Since Bobo filed bankruptcy in May, the county has been responsible for paying the $100,000-a-month debt service on the bonds. Currently, the tally on county taxpayers for the failed venture is $2 million. The property and the operation, according to the terms of the lease with Bobo, have reverted to the county’s ownership.

The county has obtained an appraisal of the BGR facilities and equipment, which it is utilizing in its negotiations with prospective new operators and/or owners. The estimated value of the operation is $10 million, County Manager Jerry Cooper said.

Forsyth County Tea Party Patriots Alliance will hold a roundtable for candidates for the Seventh and Ninth Congressional Districts on Thursday, September 27th, beginning at 7 PM at the Forsyth County Administration Building. Twelfth District Congressional candidate Lee Anderson won’t attend that one either.

Bibb and Monroe Counties continue to dispute the exact border between the jurisdictions.

Monroe County had filed a lawsuit challenging a decision by Georgia’s secretary of state in Bibb’s favor, but that lawsuit was dismissed Friday in Fulton County Superior Court.

Bibb County Attorney Virgil Adams said the judge’s decision was not surprising because the law gives the secretary of state final say-so in border disputes. However, Adams says Monroe County officials only filed the lawsuit to “craft a back door avenue for an appeal.”

“I’m sure they’re going to appeal to the state Court of Appeals,” he said. “They’re trying to back door an appeal because the statute that deals with border disputes does not provide for appeals.”

Bibb County was added to the lawsuit between Monroe County and Secretary of State Brian Kemp in which Monroe sought to overturn Kemp’s ruling that rejected a border survey favored by Monroe officials. Kemp said that two surveys should have been provided.

The border’s location has been in dispute for decades. The state Legislature set the boundary in 1822, with a corner on the Ocmulgee River. The legislation is ambiguous about whether there was one ferry site or two, among other questions.

Caught in the dispute are residents, infrastructure and part of Bass Pro Shops. Kemp said the missing 1822 survey made it harder to decide where the border is supposed to be.

In a filing in Fulton County Superior Court, Bibb County said that should it lose the dispute, the tax hit to the county government, county schools and unincorporated county fire tax would be exactly $1,376,591.

Ends & Pieces

The New York Times has an interesting article on a threat to long-standing Geechee/Gullah families on Sapelo Island.

These Creole-speaking descendants of slaves have long held their land as a touchstone, fighting the kind of development that turned Hilton Head and St. Simons Islands into vacation destinations. Now, stiff county tax increases driven by a shifting economy, bureaucratic bumbling and the unyielding desire for a house on the water have them wondering if their community will finally succumb to cultural erosion.

“The whole thing just smells,” said Jasper Watts, whose mother, Annie Watts, 73, still owns the three-room house with a tin roof that she grew up in.

She paid $362 in property taxes last year for the acre she lives on. This year, McIntosh County wants $2,312, a jump of nearly 540 percent.

Where real estate is concerned, history is always on the minds of the Geechees, who live in a place called Hog Hammock. It is hard for them not to be deeply suspicious of the tax increase and wonder if, as in the past, they are being nudged even further to the fringes.

Theirs is the only private land left on the island, almost 97 percent of which is owned by the state and given over to nature preserves, marine research projects and a plantation mansion built in 1802.

The relationship between Sapelo Island residents and county officials has long been strained, especially over race and development. In July, the community relations division of the Justice Department held two meetings with residents to address charges of racial discrimination. A department spokesman said the meetings were confidential and would not comment.

Neither would the chief tax appraiser, Rick Daniel, or other elected county officials. But Brett Cook, who manages the county and its only city, Darien, says local government does a lot to support the Geechee culture.

“It’s a wonderful history and a huge draw for our ecotourism,” he said.

This summer, he pointed out, the county worked with the Smithsonian to host a festival that culminated in a concert with members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters, who practice a style of singing and hand claps developed by slaves.

State Senator William Ligon, who represents the county and is a real estate lawyer, suggests that residents file a lawsuit if they do not get relief.

“In an economy where property values have been declining, I think I would want to look very, very closely at what had been done at the county level,” he said.

None of that offers immediate relief to residents who have tax bills piled up on kitchen tables and in desk drawers.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that will allow driverless cars on California’s roadways. Of course he took a ride in a driverless Prius to celebrate the occasion.

The bill by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla will establish safety and performance regulations to test and operate autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways.

“Today we’re looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality — the self-driving car,” Brown said. “Anyone who gets inside a car and finds out the car is driving will be a little skittish, but they’ll get over it.”

Google Inc. has been developing autonomous car technology and lobbying for the regulations. The company’s fleet of a dozen computer-controlled vehicles has logged more than 300,000 miles of self-driving without an accident, according to Google.

“I think the self-driving car can really dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin said.

Autonomous cars can make roads safer, free commuters from the drudgery of driving, reduce congestion and provide transport to people who can’t drive themselves, such as the blind, disabled, elderly and intoxicated, Brin said.

Let’s just hope the driverless cars aren’t guided by the new iOS 6 version of Apple’s maps.

25
Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 25, 2012

Cobb County Friends of Shelter Animals is raising funds to export 16 dogs to Minnesota, where apparently there’s a shortage of adoptable animals. Online donations are processed through Dogs on Death Row, who is matching all donations. It’s a dogpocalypse out there in the shelters, where most facilities are packed and receiving more animals every day. The only way to accomodate the influx is through aggressive euthanasia.

Gucci is a little lab mix puppy who is available for rescue or adoption from the Floyd County Animal Shelter in Rome. He should be considered in urgent need.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Robert Draper has written a long article in The Atlantic about redistricting that will be of interest to a broad audience, from those for whom it will be “Redistricting 101” to those who have been in the trenches, drawing maps with crayons on the back of an envelope, or with Maptitude. Draper was also interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air about his article, and it’s a good listen.

Redistricing led to some of the problems in Fulton County voting during the primary elections, including a precinct that reported 3300% turnout. Also a possible problem? An Elections director who thought he could serve ten days in jail without anyone noticing.

Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections has accepted the resignation of its embattled department director, Sam Westmoreland.

At a special-called meeting Monday where Westmoreland was expected to be terminated, the 5-member board deliberated in closed session for about 45 minutes before voting unanimously to accept his resignation. He sent his resignation letter Saturday while incarcerated at the Alpharetta jail.

Westmoreland just finished a 10-day stint for violating probation on a 2009 DUI charge, and he’s now awaiting transfer to the Laurens County jail, in middle Georgia, for failing to show up for court after a 2008 DUI there.

“After much reflection,” Westmoreland’s letter says, “I believe it is in the department’s best interest to have a leader that enjoys the full support of this board as we move forward toward this important general election.”

Several board members have said they were unaware their director had to serve time in jail until Sept. 19, five days into his incarceration [emphasis added]. Edmond said they knew he had received a Fulton County DUI, but thought his sentencing was complete. The board only learned of the Laurens County case last week, the chairman said.

According to the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office, a warrant was issued for Westmoreland’s arrest after he failed to appear in court there on Sept. 10 in connection with a Sept. 15, 2008, DUI charge in that county, also involving drugs.

Two pro-tips here: first, if you think you can get away with being absent from work for ten days without explanation, either your supervisors may be letting you get away with too much or you’ve already given up; second, if you fax in your resignation from jail, you can bet it will be accepted post haste.

Dennis O’Hayer has an interview with Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts about what kind of foulups issues we may look forward to in the General Election.

“I’m more confident today than I was last week, because of the actions that the  [Elections] Board took today, specifically bringing in an interim [director] and agreeing to bring in some outside consultants….and we will be taking advantage of the Secretary of State’s offer to help us.”

The AJC has more about the impending train wreck:

staffers will be adjusting to new leadership and directives as early voting begins Oct. 15. Fulton County has a recent history of elections difficulties and is currently part of nine open investigations by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

Georgia’s largest county, Fulton includes nearly 10 percent of the state population. Election problems in Fulton could affect the Obama-Romney race, casting the state and county in a negative light worldwide.

Fulton drew heat in the Obama-McCain election four years ago, when the office’s absentee ballot processing went so slow that the county had to hire FedEx to ship nearly 4,000 ballots to voters overnight, costing more than $300,000.

Then, after closing the polls, workers spent 53 hours in a warehouse counting absentee and provisional ballots. At the time, the results of a U.S. Senate race hung in the balance.

“Regardless of this unfortunate circumstance,” Secretary of State Brian Kemp said in a written statement, “Fulton County still has a legal obligation to provide safe and secure elections. Our office will work with them as closely as possible to make sure this takes place on Nov. 6.”

Serious policy proposal here for the General Assembly: consider whether there should be a mechanism for the Governor or Secretary of State to either suspend or remove local Elections Board members and administer elections where there is a history of botched voting administration and a reasonable basis to suspect the next election will be compromised.

Particularly topical given the issues in Fulton is a book signing tomorrow, September 26, 2012 from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM, with former member of the Federal Election Commission Hans von Spakovsky and his new book, Who’s Counting?: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk, at Capital Grille in Buckhead, located at 255 E. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta, GA 30305.

Hans von Spakovsky is a former Chairman of the Fulton County Republican Party and served on the Fulton County Elections Board. He is a graduate of the Coverdell Leadership Institute and currently serves at the Heritage Foundation as Senior Legal Fellow, where he manages the Civil Justice Reform Initiative. Please R.s.v.p. to Kathryn Gartland.

Chalk one up for Georgia Republican Party Chairman Sue Everhart. Last week she called the Obama campaign’s print of a flag with the Obama campaign logo “utterly disrespectful and outrageous.” The Democrats called her and the GOP hypocrites

“I think this is desecration, just like over in Egypt and these places that are burning our flag, stomping on the flag.  This is a symbol of our country,” Georgia GOP Chairwoman Sue Everhart told Channel 2’s Lori Geary.

The Obama campaign is selling its print for $35.

“If ever a time we should be flying old glory is now, not coming up with some sales pitch to sell the Obama flag. Does he think he is the most important thing that has ever happened to the United States of America?  I’m going to start calling him ‘King Obama’ instead of ‘President Obama,’” Everhart said.

She has called on Democrats to denounce the campaign print.

Georgia Democratic Chairman Mike Berlon said….“I think it’s a little bit disingenuous to stand up and beat your chest and say, ‘Oh my God, this is an abomination,’ when the Republican Party has been doing it for years.”

But over the weekend, the flag print disappeared from the Obama campaign website.

A page where the flag was now returns an error page. A cached version of the website still shows the product but returns a error page when attempting to add the item to the cart. An Obama campaign aide says the item quickly sold out and that sold out items are automatically removed. However, a similar item to the flag print that was also sold out was not automatically removed and appears on the site with “out of stock” below it.

Former Dougasville Mayor Mickey Thompson has been indicted for 91 counts of theft, in an indictment alleging he took more than $28,000 in payments for the city for meetings he did not attend or for which he was not entitled to payment.

As a result of the [Douglas County] Sentinel investigation, we asked the GBI to investigate and that is what I presented to the grand jury,” [District Attorney David] McDade said. “He had submitted meetings and received payments for 91 meetings that he was not entitled to under city ordinance. The way it was set up, he was the sole arbiter in deciding what was paid and what wasn’t.”

McDade said that the meetings ranged from ribbon cuttings, luncheons, bus tours, swearings in of other officials and phone meetings that are not allowed by city statute.

Unlike every municipality with a similar population in the metro area, where a straight salary is paid to elected officials, the mayor and council members in Douglasville are compensated based on meeting attendance. Council members are paid $125 per meeting, with the mayor receiving $313 per meeting. The ordinance gives a very specific list of meetings that are eligible for payment. In addition to paying by roll call, elected officials can also turn in meetings that they have attended as an invoice for payment.

That ordinance was enacted in 1997 and clarified in 2007 and a provision that reads “In Sections One, Two, Three and Four, ‘attended’ means the elected official’s personal physical presence at more than half the duration of a particular meeting or session; ‘attended’ does not mean or include participation via electronic means.”

The GBI report found Thompson asked for and received payments for 91 meetings since 2007 that did not appear to be appropriate for payment under city statute. Many of those meetings were tele-conferences, that clearly do not fit criteria for payment.

The probe also found that every Douglasville elected official with the exception of current Douglasville Mayor Harvey Persons was paid for and kept payments for meetings that did not fit the city’s defined criteria. The payments ranged from one meeting for one current council member, to more than 20 for others, meaning that council members received from $125 to $2,500 they were not entitled to under the law that they were sworn to uphold.

The council members were not indicted because some had been told to submit anything that could possibly be a meeting and a determination would be made on payment. Others didn’t turn in the “illegal meetings” but were paid improperly nonetheless.

Mike Miller was locked in a tight primary race with Bob Snelling and Thompson for the newly created GOP House District 66 seat. He agreed that even allegations cause distrust, but stressed that these are allegations.

“Its kind of an interesting set of circumstances,” Miller said. “We put this to the voters because our campaign was aware of the situation with Thompson in the primaries and we believed it was important for our constituents to know. But as a lawyer, it’s important to trust our criminal justice system. That holds that those who are accused are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

You might recall that the Republican primary election saw some nastiness between Thompson and Miller; former State Rep. Bob Snelling won the primary runoff against Miller.

The Douglas County Sentinel, which broke the story, opines that the City should be reimbursed for all incorrect payments made to officials, and fix the goofy “pay per meeting” system.

Speaking of ethics, Governor Nathan Deal’s campaign is seeking attorney fees from George Anderson, who filed ethics complaints against Deal

On Sept. 20, Governor Nathan Deal filed for attorney’s fees against George Anderson, claiming that Anderson “filed unsubstantiated, as well as, frivolous accusations concerning payments to Southern Magnolia LLC, alleging kickbacks to Respondent, untrue allegations of personal profit from campaign funds, as well as, allegations regarding good friend and appointee Patrick Millsaps to the State Ethics Commission.”

Local businessman and concerned Gwinnett County resident Kenneth Stepp believes the complaint and others like it are indeed frivolous, and take up taxpayer money and time in the courts. He has launched a nonprofit called Gwinnett Ethics in response to what he sees as a series of frivolous ethics complaints by Ethics in Government Director George Anderson and others like him.

Stepp’s nonprofit is pursuing a change in law that would require an “under oath” amendment. The proposed amendment would require those who file ethics complaints to divulge who, if anyone, is paying them.

I guess we’ll file this one under “Ethics” too. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle says Republicans don’t have to cheat to win in November.

Members of the state Senate Republican Caucus and some of their very best friends will spend two days in Adairsville this week to play golf and display their expertise with shotguns.

One can pay $500 for a dinner-time chat, but the main events on Wednesday and Thursday are open only to those willing to give $2,500 to $10,000 to the caucus’ campaign arm, the Georgia Republican Senatorial Trust.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has sent an email to Republicans to inform them, in very strong language, that he’s not going.

He has problems with the way $140,000 of caucus money was handed to an allegedly independent committee – based in North Carolina – to defend GOP senators from primary challengers this summer.

But most specifically at issue is the Trust’s decision earlier this year to put its cash in the hands of the independent political committee.

In a July email to their fellow senators, three Republican senate leaders – Rogers, Bill Cowsert of Athens, and Greg Goggans of Douglas – explained that they had given the committee not just the cash, but the message to voters that they wanted delivered, and a list of the incumbents to be protected.

“This is completely legal and does not violate any finance campaign laws,” the three wrote.

Cagle apparently thinks that there’s a high probability that they’re wrong.

In a surprise to no one, campaign signs are being stolen everywhere in Thomas County.

Did you hear the one about when the Savannah City Council tried to hold an illegal meeting  but messed up and inadvertantly complied with the law?

SAVANNAH CITY Council got lucky last week. Each of its members could have been nailed with up to $6,000 in fines if state officials determined that the local group violated Georgia’s open meetings law on Sept. 2

But because one council member was late in arriving on that date, a quorum wasn’t present. Hence, no technical violation occurred, according to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.

Yet that Sept. 20 finding from the state is of little comfort. Just because city officials attempted to hold an illegal meeting, and failed, is inexcusable considering City Hall’s history.

And it hardly “affirmed” the city’s actions on that date, as City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney said.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Stefan Ritter spelled it out in plain language in his Sept. 20 letter to Ms. Small-Toney. “From this Office’s review of the materials provided by Mayor Jackson, it is evident that an attempt was made to hold a meeting in violation of the Open Meetings Act, since a meeting was called without notice or an agenda and without making it open to the general public.

“Were this meeting to have occurred, it would have been a serious violation of the Act, potentially subjecting the City, yourself, and the council members to fines up to $6,000. It would also have been a substantial breach of the public trust, since the public and the press rely on transparency in government to know what their officials are doing.”

He stated the attorney general’s office was willing to accept the city’s claim that, though five council members attended, they were not all in the room at the same time. “Thus, under the circumstances, an illegal meeting was narrowly averted only by happenstance, not by plan,” Mr. Ritter wrote.

A group of solar advocates and vendors has proposed a solar utility that would set up a solar farm and sell electricity directly to end users via the interstate electrical grid.

To proceed with its long-range plan of developing 2 gigawatts of solar power, the start-up, Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., wants to start by building an 80-megawatt “solar farm” near Milledgeville as soon as it gets a green light from the Georgia Public Service Commission.

“There are obstacles. There’s no question there are obstacles, but you have to look at the rewards,” GaSU President Robert E. Green said at a Capitol news conference. “We don’t know what it’s going to take, but we are prepared to go through legislative action if necessary.”

Legislative action is indeed likely to be necessary, according to observers. A 40-year-old law divides the state up and gives regional monopolies to Georgia Power, the electric-membership cooperatives and nearly 50 cities.

GaSU could build its solar farm without action by the legislature or the PSC, and existing federal law would require Georgia Power to buy its electricity. But it would only pay GaSU an amount equal to what it could buy electricity from its cheapest, wholesale supplier.

The start-up wants instead to sell its electricity directly to retail customers who would be billed by Georgia Power or the other existing utilities, similar to how natural gas is marketed here. GaSU would pay the utilities for the use of their wires in the electric grid and any profits would be shared with customers like a cooperative.

Not mentioned in the article are requirements that electric power producers register with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Commission (“SkyNet”).

Polling Report

Polling analyst Nate Silver of the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog was referring to competing polls that showed contradictory findings:

I’d just seen a Marquette University poll of Wisconsin, which put President Obama 14 points ahead of Mitt Romney there. This came after a Rasmussen Reports poll of New Hampshire, published earlier that day, which had given Mitt Romney a three-point lead in the Granite State.

but he could easily have been speaking of the Peach State, where local “pollster” Insider Advantage showed Romney with a 21-point lead over President Obama, while a competing poll by YouGov showed only a 6-point Romney lead.

A little over two weeks ago, we released our own polling on the Charter School Amendment. At the time, we did not include the Presidential Ballot question that we asked in the same survey, but our results at that time were Romney 50.7% to Obama with 42.2%, and Librarian Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson 4.2% and Undecided 2.7%. I’m not convinced that Undecideds are that low, but I think the Romney-Obama matchup is plausible. If you want the question wording or statement of methodology, email me.

So, what’s going on when different “scientific” polls show vastly different results? Silver has one set of plausible explanations.

There are also going to be some outliers — sometimes because of unavoidable statistical variance, sometimes because the polling company has a partisan bias, sometimes because it just doesn’t know what it’s doing. (And sometimes: because of all of the above.)

The San Francisco Chronicle has an article out that discusses factors that may explain differences in polling outcomes.

At this time of year, the difference between poll results can be explained by everything from who is being surveyed (are they “likely” voters or just “registered”) to how many cell phone users (who are generally younger and from more diverse backgrounds) are contacted to how the questions are worded.

And while top pollsters try to adhere to common standards and best practices, there is a lot of room for interpretation in the way each constructs their universe of respondents.

“It’s a mixture of magic and science and research – and there’s more magic now because we have less science to guide our decisions,” said Oakland pollster Amy Simon, who is a leading expert in public opinion on same-sex marriage.

They also have suggestions for how to interpret polls, given the variance that is out there.

Consider the respondents: “Likely voters” are more credible, as they’re, well, more likely to vote. “At this point, don’t look at anything from registered voters,” said Oakland pollster Amy Simon. See if the poll includes cell phone users, who tend to be from more diverse backgrounds, younger and more likely to live in urban areas.

Examine the wording of questions: UC Berkeley Professor Gabe Lenz often teaches his students about a poll from the 1970s where 44 percent of Americans said they would not allow a Communist to give a speech, but only 22 percent would “forbid” it. The difference: Many people are often reluctant to sound harsh to a live interviewer, which “forbid” implies.

Treat a pollster like a movie critic: “Pick a poll and follow it,” said Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center. “You can follow its nuances and learn its tendencies.” Others, like Lenz, said peace of mind can be found with those who aggregate the major polls and incorporate them into a trend, like Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog and RealClearPolitics.com

At the end of the day, here’s my recommendation for public consumers of polling data. Take the Olympic scoring approach, where you toss out the highest and lowest numbers, and average the rest based on the sample size. In statistical terms, you’re removing the outliers, and broadening the sample size. That’s not precisely correct, but it’s a pretty good back-of-the-envelope method that might help you make some sense out of competing polls.

24
Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaign & Elections for September 24, 2012

27586 is described as a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, which is a relatively rare breed, but I’m more inclined to think this puppy is a mix of something like a Golden Retriever or lab with some kind of low rider like a basset. Whatever her heritage, she’s a beautiful puppy, friendly and playful, and will be available for adoption tomorrow, September 25, 2012, from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

27581 is a pocket puppy, a female Chihuahua, who also is described as friendly and playful and who will be available for adoption beginning tomorrow, September 25, 2012, from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

128036 is a male Golden Retriever who has landed in the lockup in Augusta and is available for adoption there. He’d be a great candidate for one of the Golden Retriever Rescues in Atlanta, and if someone wants to transport him, email me and I’ll put you in touch with the great folks of Adopt A Golden Atlanta.

Finally today, we have 125540, nicknamed Johnny, a yellow lab male who’s available for adoption from Augusta Animal Shelter. From the collar and the fact that he has a name, I’d guess he’s an owner turn-in, which typically means no mandatory hold time at the shelter.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Republican Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton has written an Op-Ed arguing that the cost of solar panels have come down enough that it may now be considered on its own merits, without government mandates or subsidies.

The bad name solar energy has in Republican and conservative circles is based on the way it’s been over-hyped and oversold by the left and, in some cases, by those with a financial interest in the technology.

In Republican politics, solar energy is synonymous with failed big government policies, in part because of money schemes like Solyndra and taxpayer-subsidized automobiles.

I believe that solar technology is not inherently liberal; it’s the way in which it is implemented that marks solar programs as liberal or conservative.

With the cost of solar installations falling dramatically, some say as much as 75%, we can now discuss deploying solar power without the subsidies, waste, and cronyism that seems to pervade government solar initiatives. The only way we can responsibly implement more solar power is to require that it does not increase rates, and that solar programs include competitive mechanisms to ensure the lowest cost.

As we have seen with the repeal of the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, which the members of the Public Service Commission supported, and Governor Deal signed into law, lower energy costs not only benefit families, but can help Georgia attract more new jobs.

Speaking of government incentives for energy technology, Hall County’s ZF Wind Power is learning what happens when you run out of government money.

“The timeline to install new turbines is about six months and so … you can do the math,” said Elizabeth Umberson, president of 1925 New Harvest Drive, off Calvary Church Road.

The approaching deadline has had a “chilling” effect on orders, causing them to drop dramatically.

“We were supposed to be at full production levels, with a staff of 250, and we’re at 160 today,” Umberson said. “And we’ve capped that.”

The expiring tax credit gives wind manufacturers 2.2 cents for every kilowatt hour produced, said Jennette Gayer of Atlanta-based Environment Georgia.

“It assumes that wind (energy) is going to be a little bit more expensive, so to help encourage manufacturers to build turbines and feed into the (electricity) grid, it gives a small incentive per kilowatt hour to do so,” she said.

So there we have the perfect contrast: one approach to energy production that relies on competition and one that relies on government mandate and other peoples’ money.

Speaking of this year’s repeal of the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, Gwinnett County is looking at ways to make up for the revenue it “lost” in the repeal.

County officials will discuss next week implementing a new tax to replace funds taken away by a state-mandated exemption.

The law, adopted by the General Assembly earlier this year in an attempt to create a more business-friendly environment in Georgia and draw jobs, would give manufacturers a break on state and local sales taxes on energy resources, including electricity, natural gas, oil and other types of fuel. A phase out of the taxes will begin next year and be complete in 2016.

But to make sure that local governments didn’t suffer from a loss of revenue, legislators agreed to allow counties and cities to impose an excise tax on energy equal to the amount of money lost in local sales taxes, according to information from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. The association said the excise tax can be used for any purpose, unlike sales taxes, which must be used for capital projects.

Today’s theme is voter registration. You can check your voter registration status online with the Secretary of State’s website to confirm that your information is correct. You may also download and print a voter registration form or absentee ballot application to fill out and mail.

The Savannah NAACP is putting the drive in voter registration drive, offering prospective voters a ride to the elections office to register to vote. According to WTOC’s story,

The deadline to register for the upcoming election is Oct. 9. The Savannah branch of the NAACP is offering rides to the Chatham County Voter Registration Office to obtain authorized identification. The rides and the IDs are free. No documents are needed to acquire an ID. Call the Savannah branch of the NAACP at 912.233.4161 for more information.

I don’t believe that last part is correct about not needing any documents to get a voter ID is correct, as the website for Secretary of State Brian Kemp says:

To Receive a voter identification card, the voter must provide:

A photo identity document or approved non-photo identity document that includes full legal name and date of birth

Documentation showing the voter’s date of birth

Evidence that the applicant is a registered voter

Documentation showing the applicant’s name and residential address

The Gwinnett County Republican Party had a voter registration and propaganda information booth at the County Fair last night, and reported that business was brisk all through the weekend. The fair continues this week at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, where you can get your fill of corn dogs, fried oreos, and fried twinkies, before picking up your Romney-Ryan yardsign for a small donation. I didn’t take that photo above, but I did take this one:

Speaking of Gwinnett Republicans, they will be holding a barbecue on Sunday, October 13th at Bethesda Park in Lawrenceville from 11 AM to 2 PM featuring Hal’s Barbecue. Click here for advanced tickets online here. Advance tickets are $12 per person, or $20 per couple. Tickets at the door are $15 per person, or $10 for college students with valid ID. Children under 6 are free. Advance tickets must be paid online in order to receive the discount.

Alice O’Lenick has been named to the Gwinnett County Board of Elections as a Republican nominee for the Board.

Alice O’Lenick will replace Keith Shewbert, who resigned to run as a candidate for the Norcross City Council. [Gwinnett GOP Chairman Bruce] LeVell said he plans to re-appoint longtime member Joan Zellner upon the expiration of her term at the end of the year.

Both major parties have two seats on the elections board, with a fifth independent member chosen by commissioners.

O’Lenick, a Dacula resident, has worked as a substitute teacher as well as has many years experience on the financial side of Gwinnett-based companies. Zellner has served on the elections board for nearly 20 years and was co-founder of the Greater Gwinnett Republican Women’s club.

Colquitt County Democrats held a voter registration drive featuring some of their candidates this weekend.

While the presidential race is always the biggest draw on a ballot, local voters will decide races for Colquitt County sheriff and county commission District 2. They also will cast ballots in races for District 171 state representative, for state Public Service Commission and in a referendum on granting the state more power in establishing charter schools.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are holding a nationwide HBCU Challenge to increase voter registration among students.

Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia and a civil rights icon, said he and some other caucus members will host voter registration and education projects in their districts Tuesday to “dramatize the issue once again.”

“It’s not just a Southern thing,” he said, noting that Pennsylvania is among states with new voting requirements. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, it happened in Alabama. It happened in Mississippi, in Georgia, in North Carolina in South Carolina.’ But what is going on in Pennsylvania is a shame and a disgrace and an affront to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to the democratic process.”

Earlier this week, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court sent the fight over the state’s new voter ID law back to a lower court.

A group I’ve never heard of called The Advancement Project has released a report saying that the requirement for voter ID and other barriers to illegal voting may prevent up to ten million eligible Hispanic voters from exercising their right to vote.

In an analysis based on government data, civil rights group The Advancement Project identified legal barriers that could deter voter registration and participation among eligible Hispanics. In some of those states, the group’s researchers said, the number of voter-eligible Latino citizens potentially blocked by those barriers exceeds the margin of victory in the 2008 election.

“Like African Americans, Latinos have experienced decreased access and correspondingly lower levels of voter registration and participation than non-Hispanic whites,” said the report, which was being released Monday.

According to census data, there were more than 21 million Hispanics of voting age in 2010. They comprised roughly 10 percent of all eligible voters and 8 percent of registered voters in the U.S.

Among eligible Hispanics in 2010, 6.3 million said they were not registered to vote, and 10.8 million — about half of those of voting age — said they did not vote, the report said.

By comparison, the report said, there were 172.4 million non-Hispanic white citizens eligible to vote in 2010, with nearly 18 percent unregistered and 38 percent who said they did not vote.

There are three significant barriers to Hispanic voter participation, researchers said: citizenship-based voter purges, proof of citizenship requirements and photo identification laws.

A report by the Secretary of State’s office indicates that Northwest Georgia (also called “Extreme Northwest Georgia” by some denizens) has lost more than 10,000 registered voters since the 2008 election, and the state voter rolls have grown by only 6,517 people.

A total of 226,560 voters were registered in Floyd, Bartow, Chattooga, Polk, Gordon, Walker, Catoosa and Dade counties as of Sept. 1, according to Georgia secretary of state records. That’s 10,209 fewer than the 236,769 who registered for the 2008 election.

Georgia has 5,205,488 people on its rolls, compared to 5,198,971 registered, eligible voters four years ago.

Anyone who voted in the July 31 primary is good to go, but Floyd County Elections Supervisor Evon Billups said would-be voters who didn’t cast a ballot in the 2008 or 2010 elections should check their status.

“And if you are registered but you’ve changed your address, you have to update that in order to get the correct ballot,” she said. A name-change also must be registered, since a picture ID is required to vote.

The AJC reports that more than 36,000 newly registered voters have been added to the rolls betwen August 1st and September 1st of this year.

County election officials said interest is high since both political parties held their nominating conventions around Labor Day, with many predicting a registration surge into next month.

Georgians have until Oct. 9 to register to vote in the general election, although the first ballots went out Friday to voters casting absentee ballots by mail. Many groups, partisan and nonpartisan, will press to get people’s attention over the next two weeks.

“We win if Republicans and independents get out to vote. We lose if we stay home,” Georgia GOP chairwoman Sue Everhart said. “They say bumper stickers are worth 10 votes. My goal is to put a million bumper stickers on cars in Georgia.”

Secretary of State Brian Kemp, like his peers nationwide, has declared September National Voter Registration Month to encourage participation and increase awareness of state requirements and deadlines for voting.

And although it will come too late for November, Kemp plans next year to enable online voter registration.

According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, despite record-breaking registration and voter turnout in many states for the 2008 presidential election, six million potential voters did not cast a ballot because they missed a registration deadline or did not know how to register.

In an OpEd published in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Chris Johnson makes the case for trimming the voter rolls of not just people who lack the legal right, but those too stupid or otherwise impaired to vote.

• If you have watched more than five minutes of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” then you aren’t allowed to vote.

• If you rail against “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” but have seen most of the shows, you’re a hypocrite, which means you aren’t allowed to vote but are surely qualified to run for office.

• If you have ever been featured in an episode of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” you’re not allowed to vote … or procreate.

• If more than half your backside is showing outside the top of your pants, then you’re not allowed to vote – not that it has anything to do with the political process, but I don’t want to stand behind you in line.

• If you know the name of any droids other than R2D2 and C3PO in the “Star Wars” movie franchise, you aren’t allowed to vote but are allowed to work on my computer.

Carroll County will add a second early voting location for the November election.

Voters will have three weeks to cast early ballots in the election, with extended hours during the final week.

In addition to the Carrollton site at the elections office on College Street for the entire three-week period, advance voting will also be held during the final week at the Powell Park Arts Center in Villa Rica.

“We added the Villa Rica advance voting site to help voters in the northern part of the county,” said county Elections Supervisor Becky Deese.

Advance voting begins Monday, Oct. 15. During the first two weeks, voting will be held only at the Carroll County Elections Office in Carrollton, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each weekday. The Saturday voting day will be Oct. 27 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Carrollton office only.

During the final week of advance voting, Oct. 29 through Nov. 2, advance voting will be held at both the Carrollton and the Villa Rica sites, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Powell Park Arts Center is at 424 Leslie Drive in Villa Rica.

Deese said the state now uses the term “advance voting” for all early voting instead of the previously used “early voting” designation.

Eligible Carroll County voters will also have an opportunity to vote in the Special Election to fill former Senator Bill Hamrick’s seat. With Carroll County voters representing aroung 55% of votes cast in the last two elections for Hamrick’s seat, the additional early voting site may help a Carroll County candidate force Republican Bill Hembree into a runoff.

Governor Nathan Deal has appointed State Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville) as one of his Floor Leaders, replacing State Rep. Doug Collins, who will be elected to Congress in November.

Robert Williams, the Editor of the Blackshear Times likens Charter School proponents’ cry of school choice to Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake.”

Despite enacting extreme budget cuts forcing average public school class sizes to grow by substantial numbers, despite underfunding the state’s obligation for “adequate” public education, the typical response by Georgia’s top politicians to our state’s education problems has been “Let them have choice!” Political leaders, including Gov. Nathan Deal, want to divert dwindling resources from neighborhood public schools to help corporate interests privatize education in our state.

The Gold Dome crowd wants Georgia voters to believe charter schools, operated by for-profit companies, will be the magic bullet for improving education. That, despite numerous studies showing charter schools perform no better than other schools in improving educational achievement.

Like most issues embraced in our state Capitol, it’s all about money. To be specific, it’s about one of the Capitol  crowd’s favorite pastimes, opening taxpayers’ wallets to private business interests.

Even if we had the money to afford to set up charter schools across our state, that leaves one important unanswered question: What happens to those kids in our community who don’t get into a charter school and are left in the even more woefully underfunded older public schools?

Gov. Deal and his pals have their answer: Send them to the cafeteria and let them eat cake.

The congressional office of Rep. Tom Graves (R-Upper Left Hand Corner) was burglarized last week but the Congressman’s hair remained perfect.

The items taken from Graves’ office were two laptop computers. Reports state someone kicked in the door to the office to get inside. Cooke said there’s no evidence the thieves were solely targeting the congressman.

“U.S. Capitol Police, along with local authorities, are investigating the incident,” Graves spokeswoman Jennifer Hazelton said in a statement.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) has endorsed the reeleciton of Democrat John Barrow to Congress from the Twelfth District.

Barrow’s opponent, Republican Lee Anderson will have some high-profile help, as House Speaker John Boehner will visit the district to boost Anderson’s campaign.

Anderson made the announcement at Saturday’s GOP breakfast at Fatz Cafe in Evans.

“Oct. 15th, we will have the speaker here,” Anderson said.

“Speaker Boe­hner will be here in Columbia County, helping me, helping us take over District 12. We’re excited about it.”

In remarks to a group of about 30 people, Anderson continued to question why his Democratic opponent will not publicly declare that he is voting for President Obama in November.

“My opponent has not yet to say that he is going to vote for Obama,” Anderson said. “I’m here to tell you, I’m going to vote for Mitt Romney.”

Democrat Lesli Messinger has no chance at all of unseating Republican Congressman Jack Kingston.

The GOP vote in the new 1st, according to figures from the legislature, averaged 58 percent in 2010 statewide contests.

Just two Democrats, gubernatorial nominee Gov. Roy Barnes and attorney general nominee Ken Hodges, broke 40 percent.

Justifiably, we hear a lot about how new boundaries work against incumbent Democrat John Barrow in the neighboring 12th District.

Indeed, statewide Republican candidates also averaged 58 percent there in 2010.

So Barrow, who carried the old district with 56 percent of the vote in 2010, is correctly viewed as vulnerable.

So picture the plight of a novice Democratic candidate running on turf with similar 2010 election results. And against a veteran GOP incumbent who’d banked $1.24 million as of mid year.

At least Barrow has the good political sense to distance himself from President Barack Obama, a political albatross in Georgia. In contrast, Messinger boldly supports him. Can you say kamikaze run?

Also having zero chance of being elected are the two people running against Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey in the new Eleventh District.

Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisholm will open his campaign office tonight at 6:30 PM.

Jasper County School Board member Pamela Williams took the local Democratic Party to task for attempting to control the way elected officials vote once in office.

Williams has represented District 8, which includes Hardeeville, for nearly four years. In August, after a correction, the county election commission said Williams actually lives in District 9, the Levy precinct.

She said she approached County Council because she was asked to attend a meeting of the Democratic Party of Jasper County in the spring by Alex Pinckney, president of the Democratic Club. She said after preliminary introductions, Democratic Party chairman Arthur Murphy and Pinckney put her candidacy in no uncertain terms.

“They stated that they determined who would be elected and run for office,” Williams said. “They further stated that the reason they wanted us [Williams attended with another board member] to attend was because they wanted us to vote with the other members of the school board, even if we disagreed behind closed doors.”

“I informed them that I was highly insulted, for them to even suggest this,” said Williams, who is the wife of a county magistrate judge.

Williams said she questions the Democratic Party’s motives with the school board and the correction of her district, suggesting that the correction seems to be a way for the Democratic Party and the school board to get rid of candidates.

Murphy denied that anyone in the party told Williams how to vote as a school board member.

Cherokee County voters can attend two informational forums about the Homestead Option Sales Tax on the November 6th Ballot.

The first educational forum will begin at 8 a.m. Tuesday [September 26th] at the Northside Hospital-Cherokee Conference Center.

Another forum is slated for 6 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Chambers at City Center in Woodstock. Both forums are sponsored by Cherokee Bank and the Cherokee Tribune.

“The HOST Referendum is difficult to understand for the average voter. There is no better experience than to hear an informative presentation and have an opportunity to ask questions,” said Dennis Burnette, Cherokee Bank president.

It’s actually not hard to understand. We have the HOST in DeKalb County. The voters will have an opportunity to levy an additional penny sales tax, the proceeds of which will be used to offset part of the property tax bill for county operations. It works very well in DeKalb, limiting both our property tax bills, and generally speaking, the rate of growth of county government.

Cherokee’s HOST referendum has two questions on the ballot:

The HOST is expected to generate about $30 million per year, of which 20 percent can go for capital expenditures, according to the law structuring the tax; however, the commission plans to approve a resolution that would dedicate the entire amount of the revenue toward a property tax rollback.

“The HOST’s primary objective is to eliminate property tax, period,” said Post 4 County Commissioner Jason Nelms. “We need to give that information to people.”

There are two questions regarding the matter on the ballot: One asks if the HOST should be imposed and the other asks if up to 100 percent of the proceeds should go straight to reducing property taxes.

Ends & Pieces

Bridget Mary McCormack teaches at the University of Michigan Law School and is running for her state’s Supreme Court. She also has a web video that gathered most of the liberals cast of The West Wing to discuss the issue of voters choosing a party’s straight ticket and neglecting to vote for nonpartisan judicial offices. Pretty cool for $5000, assuming she doesn’t have to disclose the in-kind contributions of the actors at their day rate.

21
Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

In honor of “Black Friday” at the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter, where all black or majority-black dogs and cats can be adopted for $30, a saving of $60, here’s your song of the day.  27459, a female lab, is one of the dogs who is eligible for the discount.

Rally is a Shepherd puppy from Walton County Animal Shelter whom we featured for several days. He was rescued by Pound Puppies ‘n Kitties, and we encourage you to consider donating to support their work saving dogs.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Rasmussen released a poll that indicates that 64% of Americans believe that too many people rely on government aid.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 64% of Adults think there are too many Americans dependent on the government for financial aid. Just 10% think not enough Americans are dependent on the government, while 16% say the level of dependency is about right.

Even most of those who say they are currently living in poverty (56%) feel there are too many Americans dependent on government financial help.

There are sharp partisan differences over this question, however. Eighty-nine percent (89%) of Republicans and 61% of those not affiliated with either of the major parties believe too many Americans are dependent on the government for financial help. But just 40% of Democrats agree. One-in-three adults (33%) in President Obama’s party believe the level of dependency in America today is about right.

Among all Americans, 34% rate government programs designed to help people get out of poverty as effective, while 59% say those programs are not effective. This includes just four percent (4%) who think government anti-poverty programs are Very Effective and 20% who feel they are Not At All Effective.

Only 13% of those currently in poverty consider the government programs effective, compared to 36% of those who are not poor.

Forty-nine percent (49%) of all Americans believe current government anti-poverty programs actually increase the level of poverty in the country. Only 20% think the programs reduce poverty, while just as many (20%) feel they have no impact.

So maybe it’s the mainstream media who are out of touch with Americans, not Mitt Romney. Who would have thought?

The Marietta Daily Journal opines that Romney should continue his discussion of taxes and entitlements.

Romney was 100 percent right to point out that a significant portion of today’s Americans — and especially those who typically support liberal candidates — are voters who see government as the answer to all problems. Too many such Americans have turned John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Speech admonition inside out. “Ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country!” has been dumbed down into “Ask not what I can do for my country: Ask what my country can do for me!”

It’s the difference between the “hand up” philosophy of conservatives and the “hand out” philosophy espoused by many liberals.

To his credit, Romney, as of this writing, has not backed off his remarks. Yes, it surfaced at an unfortunate (for him) time, as he and others were sharply criticizing the incumbent for his incompetent, bungled Middle East policy. But successful candidates play the hand that is dealt them and find ways to trump unfavorable circumstances. And that is what Romney must now do.

The candidate must keep hammering home the fact that Obama has driven the country off the fiscal cliff. He must remind people at every opportunity of Obama’s redistributionist policies and efforts to transform the United States from a free-people, free-market capitalist country into a government-centered entitlement society — an effort that probably has a tax-cutter like JFK spinning in his grave.

Romney is on the right track, as his comments Tuesday on Fox News showed.

Last night, Governor Nathan Deal took to the stage at a Gwinnett County Republican Party rally and spoke about Romney’s comments.

Deal said Romney’s recent comments about a growing percentage of Americans relying on government programs, with a shrinking group of those paying taxes, echoed concerns of political philosophers when this country was created.

“We’re getting outnumbered by people who don’t pay … The truth is the truth,” Deal said to a group of more than 100 GOP leaders. “It is something we ought to wake up and realize because it jeopardizes the country on many levels.”

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers defended his acceptance of reimbursements for expenses paid by his campaign through his lawyer, Doug Chalmers.

“They were not campaign mailings, they were constituent mailings and had nothing to do with his election or re-election,” Chalmers said, who was hired by Rogers last week.

“It was proper for him to be reimbursed because he had loaned his campaign tens of thousands of dollars which were used to make these expenses in first place. There will be no double dipping—it’s perfectly legal,” Chalmers said.

Chalmers said Rogers has already taken steps to correct the matter.

“Even to avoid an appearance of impropriety, when the issue was brought to his attention, he cut a personal check to his campaign for $8,500,” Chalmers said.

Chalmers said that $8,500 check will be on Roger’s Sept. 30 campaign disclosure

But William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said in an interview with the Tribune that Rogers could still face possible consequences.

“I think it could potentially be a problem because the senator notarized a document certifying that everything in the report is true,” Perry said. “I think it would raise a red flag that the campaign, if it was paying for the expenses, is against the law and swearing he paid for himself would potentially be a problem.”

Georgia law prohibits using taxpayer money to pay for campaign costs. Lawmakers can use state funding for newsletters and other printed materials intended to keep constituents informed about issues, which Chalmers said the funds were used for.

Perry said he did not think anyone was out to steal money, but because of lack of oversight, politicians become careless.

It is permissible for a campaign to pay for expenses incurred in the elected official’s performance of his or her duties. (OCGA §21-5-33(a)).

Click Here

Speaking of political direct mail, NPR has a story this morning about the barrage of direct mail that will start filling your mailboxes any day.

In the coming weeks, candidates will bombard your mailboxes with ads. It may seem old-fashioned, but the consultants who devise direct-mail campaigns have become sophisticated about knowing whom to reach and what to say.

“It’s almost because of the changing media landscape that direct mail remains relevant,” says Anil Mammen, who runs a small direct-mail shop in Washington, D.C.

“Direct mail is one of the few mediums left where you can go reach a voter and convince your voter to consume your information, without them having to choose to do it,” says Mammen, who works for Democratic candidates and campaigns. “It’s forced upon them.”

Mammen says direct mail is an ideal medium for negative ads. People are more inclined to believe what they read.

“You can show the citation. You can show the proof if there’s a court document. You can show the court document maybe not in its entirety but enough of it,” he says. “You can deliver negative messages that require a hurdle of believability. That’s what direct mail is really good at.”

Campaigns are spending about 15 percent of their ad budgets on direct mail, says Kantar Media/CMAG, a campaign-ad tracking firm.

Costas Panagopoulos, who teaches political science at Fordham University in New York, says direct mail — unlike broadcast media, TV and radio — is a great way to reach very specific targeted groups of voters

“Political campaigns can use the mountains of available data, demographic, psychographic data about, you know, who people are, what their gender is, what their occupations are, as well as things like what magazines they subscribe to or whether they have children or a pet at home or whether they have a gold [credit] card,” Panagopoulos says.

Like taxes, direct mail isn’t going away anytime soon. This year, campaigns are expected, Panagopoulos says, to spend more than $1 billion to get their messages delivered to your door.

I received the first mailpiece of the General Election two days ago from J. Max Davis, the first Mayor of Brookhaven, who will be elected in the November 6th General Election, though some city council posts will have to be filled in runoff elections.

Professor Alan Abramowitz (D-Emory) says that increasing polarization of the electorate decreases the advantage of incumbency, leading him to tweak his presidential prediction model, which tightens his predicted margin in favor of Barack Obama.

A Georgia business is making national news with its signs in opposition to President Obama’s reelection.

Businesses take a big chance by outing their politics, says Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at New York’s Fordham University.

“They need to weigh the risks against the potential benefits of making such a visible expression of their preferences,” he says.

But the owner of one Georgia business says response to his political missives has been mostly supportive.

At Premier Platforms Inc., which sells, rents and services various kinds of aerial platforms and forklifts, David Cooper uses his giant highway marquee to broadcast his politics.

He’s no fan of President Obama, as anyone driving along Interstate 75 near Byron, Ga., could tell: “Things could be worse. Re-elect Obama — he’ll prove it,” one recent message read, according to Macon newspaper The Telegraph. Cooper told the newspaper he could “count on two hands the number of complaints” he’s gotten; one person threatened to picket the business, but the threat never materialized.

Real Housewives of Campaign 2012? Sounds like a blockbuster reality show.

See, just like our casts, these characters are hyper-competitive and more than willing to have it out in front of a worldwide audience. It’s like, “Who cares what they’re saying about us — as long as they’re talking about us! Consequences, be damned!” I mean, have you SEEN Romney’s secret video where he badmouths 47 percent of Americans? With those loose lips, it’s no wonder his ship is sinking!

Each has questioned the other’s credentials (along with jokes and jabs of birtherism and felony tax fraud) so often, that if you take out Wolf Blitzer and a debate stage and insert Andy Cohen and a “Watch What Happens Live” set, the drama is not as different, as you’d think. By the way, Andy, I can’t wait for the post-election reunion special. The ratings will be HUGE!

The race even has incredibly powerful women that are loved by their fans and feared by their opponents: Ann Romney and Michelle Obama. Each was cheered for having one of the best speeches at her convention. Each possesses a wardrobe many would love to call their own. And each can win over swing voters who may think that the Housewife’s husband is more “Desperate” than “Real.”

Former Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson was interviewed on a local Paulding County website, in which he suggests moving away from Georgia’s antiquated and uncivilized system of foreclosure sales literally on the steps of county courthouses, and into a process that allows homeowners being foreclosed upon a day in court. Given what we know about systematic fraud by foreclosing banks, wrongful foreclosures, robo-signing, and the impact of a foreclosure on families, I might support such a measure, and certainly think we should consider moving away from the status quo.

Samuel Westmoreland, the director of the Fulton County elections and voter registration office was jailed for ten days after his probation was revoked for failure to complete DUI school and community service, which were conditions of his probation for a 2009 DUI.

State Court Judge Wesley B. Taylor, in a July 16 probation revocation hearing, handed down an order postponing Westmoreland’s 10-day sentence until after the county primary elections in July “in order to prevent a potential hardship upon the voters of Fulton County.”

The elections board is scheduled to take up the matter at a specially called meeting that Matarazzo said is scheduled for noon Monday.

Westmoreland already was under fire from voters and election board members for an array of errors that occurred during the July primaries.

The missteps included the elections department assigning 690 voters in Sandy Springs and southeast Atlanta to the wrong state Senate and state House races. It also missed the deadline to certify election results by an hour and a half, leaving the county subject to fines by the state Election Board.

“He needs to be gone,” Commissioner Bill Edwards told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. “It just goes to your character.”

Former Governor Sonny Perdue joined the Governors’ Council at the Bipartisan Policy Center, which seeks to bring a state perspective to national issues.

In Augusta, Lori Davis, a former candidate for Mayor, has endorsed Stanley Hawes for City Commission District One.

Former State Rep. Burke Day (R) has applied for an appointment to the Tybee Island City Council to fill the term of council member Frank Schuman who died in office.

Dockworkers unions have agreed to extend the deadline for negotiating a new contract with employers at East coast ports.

“I am pleased to announce that at the close of today’s productive negotiation session, in which progress was made on several important subjects, the parties have agreed to extend the collective bargaining agreement due to expire on September 30 for a 90-day period, (taking it) through Dec. 29,” said George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

After talks broke down last month between the ILA and the alliance, which represents management at 14 deepwater ports between New York and Texas, Cohen coaxed both sides back to the table in hopes of averting an imminent work stoppage

Power Station

Environmentalists think that Georgia should deploy more wind turbines for power generation off the Georgia coast, but Governor Deal disagrees.

“Georgia has a little over 60 gigawatts (of wind resource),” said Jennette Gayer, advocate for Environment Georgia, which helped launch the report. “That’s like 75 average-sized power plants.”

Unlike 11 of the other coastal states, Georgia hasn’t joined the Atlantic States Offshore Wind Consortium, a federal program designed to coordinate and streamline wind development off the Atlantic coast. South Carolina and Florida are the only other hold outs.

But Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson indicated via email that the governor is not inclined to support wind energy development now.

“When the markets and the technology advance further, we believe there will be a day when wind energy is a viable option for our state,” he wrote. “Georgia will start using wind energy when the prices are right and the technology is right for the unique nature of our wind energy off the coast.

“Studies show the current technologies available won’t work in Georgia’s environment. There is in fact wind energy potential in Georgia and we have every hope that improvements in technology will one day allow us to use this clean, renewable resource.”

Gov. Deal is correct. As we have seen with solar power, states that adopted utility scale solar power generation paid 3-4 times the current cost for photovoltaic cells, which generate electricity. Today, states considering implementing solar will benefit from dramatic cost reductions brought about through market forces, not goverment subsidies.

Plant Vogtle’s Unit 1 nuclear reactor is offline this week as it’s being refueled, a process that occurs roughly every 18 months.

Steel plates that reinforce concrete construction at the new reactors being built at Vogtle failed safety testing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and have not been installed.

A more detailed investigation to determine the extent of the problem – and any potential effect on the project – will be completed by Nov. 6, the report said.

The inspectors and officials from Shaw Group, the company hired to build the $14 billion project, identified the issues before any plates had been installed, an NRC spokesman said.

In an Aug. 31 interview, Buzz Miller, the executive vice president of nuclear development for Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear, told The Augusta Chronicle that as many as 150 additional workers could be needed to bolster oversight programs that ensure materials meet strict nuclear standards.

In its most recent report to the Georgia Public Service Commission, the company said final projected costs for quality assurance, oversight, operational readiness and regulatory compliance rose from a projected $621 million in 2009 to $755 million in 2012.

Ends & Pieces

A World War 2-era B-17 bomber called “Memphis Belle” is receiving maintenance at Cherokee County Regional Airport until it continues its tour on Monday, but you can visit the plane until then and it will remain based at Cherokee for the next year.

20
Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 20, 2012

Midge (left) is a femal basset hound-labrador mixed called a “low-rider lab” who is about 3 years old and weighs 40 pounds. She will be available for adoption beginning Saturday at Walton County Animal Control.

Nabisco (center) is a two-year old, 60 pound male Brittany Spaniel who will be  available for adoption beginning Saturday at Walton County Animal Control.

Tipper (right) is a 2-3 month old black lab puppy who weighs 15 pounds and  will be  available for adoption beginning Saturday at Walton County Animal Control.

27849 is an adult male Rottweiler or hound mix who is available for adoption from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter. He is said to be very friendly and good on a leash. He’s likely eligible for the “Black Friday” special tomorrow where adoptions of black or majority-black dogs from Gwinnett County is discounted to $30 total. If you’re interested, please contact shelter volunteers through Facebook to express your interest. Gwinnett’s shelter is full and dogs are not being given very long before they’re euthanized.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The voter registration deadline for the November 6th General Election is October 9th. You can check your voter registration status online with the Secretary of State’s website to confirm that your information is correct.

Mitt Romney was in Atlanta yesterday for a $1000 per person fundraiser.

Romney supporters who attended left the speech invigorated.

“He’s had some bad news lately and it was good to get fired back up and see him fired back up,” said Buckhead resident David Burge. “I’m ready to go back out and do what I’ve got to do to get him some more votes.”

“To continue empowering people to be reliant on government is not going to be what’s ultimately good for this country and I think that resonated,” said Cheri Combee of Suwannee.

“I certainly think he said it in a softer way today but he did not apologize for his remarks and I don’t think he should.”

Combee said a good portion of the speech focused on what it will take improve the economy and provide jobs for the unemployed.

“He made his case that he has the capacity to genuinely help this people in need versus Obama who provides a type of phony compassion that his programs are in fact going to hurt the people that are poor.”

State Senator Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, attended as well. He said Romney’s economic message should resonate will all Americans.

“The problem is this administration thinks that food stamps and welfare are stimulus and Governor Romney thinks that a pro-growth jobs policy that creates jobs in the private sector is real stimulus.”

Perhaps one issue where Republicans can do a better job is in articulating that we truly are concerned about helping the poor and disadvantaged, but that we differ from liberals in our belief that a positive outcome for a client of government support services is self-sufficiency, not continued dependence.

The AJC continues the coverage of Romney’s Atlanta speech:

Gov. Mitt Romney pushed back Wednesday against claims that he’s written off half the country and said he, not President Barack Obama, can better improve the lot of poor Americans.

“The question of this campaign is not who cares about the poor and middle class. I do, he does,” Romney said, his voice rising. “The question is who can help the poor and middle class. I can, he can’t, he couldn’t in four years.”

“This is going to be an election of a very stark choice,” Romney said. “The question is going to be who is better equipped and has better direction in mind to help the people of America who so badly need help. We have a lot of people in trouble.”

Governor Deal, who introduced Romney at the fundraiser, said yesterday that he will work with Secretary of State Brian Kemp to retain the unscheduled public access to the state archives, which Kemp had earlier said would be curtailed to meet budget cuts. Kemp told Dennis O’Hayer that he had not discussed the issue with the Governor. Maybe discussing the issue privately before starting a frenzy of media hand-wringing would eliminate some of the drama next time. Just a thought.

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers has been asked about reimbursements by the state that writer Jim Walls of Atlanta Unfiltered thinks duplicate expenditures by his Senate campaign committee. I’ll be writing more about this for tomorrow.

Ralph Reed is stepping up the religious right’s ground game by deploying consumer data to identify and mobilize evangelical voters.

Reed has taken data from consumer marketers and the Republican National Committee, mixed with his own files from the George W. Bush campaigns — when Reed helped Bush court social conservatives — and the Christian Coalition. FFC narrowed its efforts primarily to voters in presidential swing states. It will contact each of them between seven and 12 times – a text message, a call, an email, a postcard, a knock on the door.

When early voting begins in each swing state, FFC’s targeted voters will each get a text message telling them to vote, and the message links to a map for smartphone users showing them where their early voting site is.

“Not everybody in a church is going to vote Republican; not everybody in the most conservative evangelical church is going to vote Republican, for a variety of reasons,” said Sasha Issenberg, journalist and author of “The Victory Lab,” a new book about the science of campaigns. “So this type of politics is always a game of margins, we have just gotten a lot better. The most advanced tools have made us a lot better about shrinking the margins that you’re playing with.”

Samuel Moreland, director of Fulton County voter registration and elections was jailed for DUI on Friday, and his probation from an earlier DUI was revoked.

Westmoreland pleaded no contest last year and was sentenced to 12 months on probation, 40 hours of community service and $800 in fines and fees.

A member of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections since 2004, and a two-time board chair, Westmoreland was appointed interim elections director in July 2011, and permanently took over the position in March.

His management of the department has garnered criticism, and his jail stint comes amid worries that his department won’t be capable of handling the November presidential election without foul-ups like the ones that happened in July.

At least one Fulton County commissioner, after learning of the arrest, is calling for Westmoreland to be fired.

The Secretary of State’s office currently has five open investigations involving Fulton elections, spokesman Jared Thomas has said, declining to elaborate.

In June, state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) assailed Westmoreland for mailing 2,400 letters to registered voters telling them that unless their homes exist, they would be erased from the rolls.

Georgia DOT plans to extend the unpopular toll lanes up I-85, going further north to Hamilton Mill Road in Buford or Chateau Elan in Braselton. Expect Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford) to have some strong opinions on this.

The Lake Lanier Legislative Caucus met Tuesday in Buford to organize their work for this year.

“In Georgia, we have the hunter’s safety course. One of the things I’d like to see is a (boating) safety card,” said Rep. Emory Dunahoo Jr., R-Oakwood, offering one quick suggestion.

And money raised from completing requirements for the card would go to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and “now you’re covering rangers and new equipment,” he said.

“I was impressed that enough legislators would make the effort to come (to the meeting),” said state Sen. Renee S. Unterman, R-Buford, after the meeting. “I think legislators have already been working on legislation.”

Unterman spearheaded creating the caucus, saying that in the past two years, lake “safety has become one of the overriding issues” in the state.

Nearly a decade ago, lawmakers had the “semblance” of a Lake Lanier caucus,” but after a time, that group faded away, Unterman said.

“We have had so many fatalities on the lake this year, but the seriousness of them seems to be much more than it ever was 10 years ago,” she added, before leading the group in a moment of silence.

The Chairman of an unsuccessful attempt to recall Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz may be personally on the hook for more than $12,000 in legal fees incurred by Lutz.

Barring a successful appeal, Kevin Kanieski, chairman of the effort to recall Lutz, will have to pay $12,587.96 to Lutz’s lawyer, Paul Stanley, according to an order filed in Hall County Superior Court by Judge Tom Davis.

Stanley provided a copy of the order at the request of The Times.

The amount awarded is exactly what Lutz requested following a successful challenge to the petition last year.

Lutz requested Kanieski pay his attorney fees, citing discussions on Facebook in which members of the effort to recall the commissioner stated a desire to make the “entire process expensive and painful … personally” for Lutz.

In a hearing on whether Kanieski should have to pay the costs of Lutz’s legal challenge, Kanieski also said little more than he felt he was exercising his rights to free speech under the U.S. Constitution.

In a three-page ruling, [Judge] Davis does express a “concern about the chilling effect an award of fees might have on those legitimately exercising their right to seek recall of elected officials.”

But he also said that Kanieski, by choosing to exercise his rights to free speech through legal action, subjected himself to legal scrutiny.

In Forsyth County, a blogger was ordered to pay $5000 in compensatory damages and $25,000 in punitive damages for writing in an online forum that a Planning Commission Member was drunk and engaging in obscene behavior in public.
David Milum must pay Matt Murphy $5,000 in compensatory damages and $25,000 in punitive damages.Murphy resigned from the board in April due to increased work demands.Milum, who owned an online community forum at the time, posted his accounts of incidents that allegedly occurred during an April 2011 planning board meeting and in May outside his home.The first incident stated that Murphy threatened a fellow planning board member “with a physical altercation while using foul language,” according to the complaint.

The May post “said or implied that plaintiff Murphy engaged in public drunkenness” and participated in obscene behavior in a truck outside Milum’s home, the complaint states.

According to the initial complaint, Murphy filed suit in October after Milum would not retract the statements.

According to that complaint, “Milum maliciously published each of the aforesaid false, libelous and defamatory statements about plaintiff Murphy knowing said statements were all false.”
The self-styled political activist plans to appeal the ruling.“I didn’t say anything bad about Matt Murphy,” Milum said. “They turned something I did say in that article that had nothing to do with Matthew Murphy, but they linked it. They had no right to link it. I put on my private thoughts on there of what I thought was happening at the time.”Milum said he never got requests to remove the statements from the Web site until six months after posting them, which he said coincided with his research into Commissioner Patrick Bell, who appointed Murphy to the planning board.
This is at least the fourth suit against Milum for things he’s written online. Previous court losses related to his blogging have resulted in more than $200,000 in prior judgments against Milum.
City of Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt’s personal financial disclosures are the subject of a complaint filed with the Georgia State Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.
Robert Rorke of Cumming contends H. Ford Gravitt failed to document all of his property holdings in the 2010 election financial disclosure documents.

Rorke states in the complaint that Gravitt “indicated three properties (only) that he has direct ownership in” while he says “county property records notes seven additional properties with direct ownership by H. Ford Gravitt.”

Gravitt has until the end of this month to file a response.

Reached Tuesday, the mayor said it was an oversight.

“That’s one of the things that probably was just omitted in the [disclosure] return and that’s in the process of being handled,” he said.

“It just wasn’t filled out with my home and so forth on there and I’m in the process of amending my return, so that’s not an issue.”

Charter School Amendment

Gwinnett County School Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks is now on the record opposing the Charter School Amendment on the November General Election ballot.

“I am very concerned that one of the pillars of America’s greatness is being shaken, and if we’re not careful it could be damaged,” Wilbanks said. “What I see is a national agenda to privatize, defund and dismantle public education as we know it.”

The district’s highest ranked non-elected official spoke during the September luncheon of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. It was the business community’s yearly briefing on the state of education in Gwinnett. Part of Wilbanks’ speech, which lasted about 30 minutes, was directed at the Nov. 6 ballot question, which asks voters to decide whether the state can establish public charter schools.

As a prop, Wilbanks brought a poster board with the wording of the ballot question. He stepped aside and asked an associate to read the text: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”

Wilbanks stepped back in front of the microphone: “Folks, we can already do that. It happens every day across the state. That is what I say to the voters … really look at what you’re doing here.”

“The real question here is whether or not you believe true local control should reside in the hands of parents, students and teachers or with central office administrators like (Superintendent) Wilbanks,” said Bert Brantley, with Families for Better Public Schools.

“Public charter schools such as Ivy Prep in Norcross spend less per student while outperforming schools in their district. Opponents should be less worried about who ‘controls’ schools and more worried about embracing educational models that work and save taxpayer dollars,” Brantley said.

Also opposed to the Charter School Amendment is the League of Women Voters of Georgia:

Elizabeth Poythress, president of the voting organization, is urging all its members to vote no on the issue.

“We believe this proposal is not in the best interest of the children of Georgia or the taxpayers of Georgia. It is unwise, wasteful, and not in the best long term interests of the State of Georgia,” Poythress said. “We believe it is bad public policy to create a duplicate school system that will, in the words of the Georgia Supreme Court, ‘compete with locally controlled schools for the same pool of students educated with the same limited pool of tax funds.’”

This past weekend I got a chance to learn about the whitewater run that’s being constructed on the portion of the Chattahoochee that flows through downtown Columbus, Ga. Interesting things I learned about the Columbus riverfront:

  • Bald eagles can be seen early in the morning along the Chattahoochee
  • Lake Lanier’s output will not affect the operation of Columbus whitewater
  • A wave-shaper being built in the river will allow changes to the waterflow to change the character of part of the rapids

The whitewater will anchor a master plan for the development and redevelopment of portions of the Columbus riverfront.

The 14-million dollar Whitewater Columbus facility is expected to draw nearly 200-thousand visitors each year. A contracted consulting firm recommends the community develop areas on the up side of the Chattahoochee River where visitors can view the whitewater run.

The goal is to make the riverfront a destination, with more bike paths and walkways as well as interactive fountains. Some suggestions for private development include a zipline, rock wall and vendor kiosks.

Douglas Smith, president of the consulting firm EDSA, recommends public-private partnerships to develop plazas along the river where people can view the whitewater run.

“Like interactive fountains, or feature fountains, art elements. We could do memorial garden-type spaces. There’ll be open lawn activity areas. There will be more heavily landscaped areas.

There will be a whole series of pathways, ramps and steps to navigate some of this terrain down to the riverfront. But the idea is really to draw people down to the river.”

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer has more in-depth coverage of the master plan, if you’re interested.

19
Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 19, 2012

Rally is a 5-month old, 30# Shepherd mix who was dumped on a dirt road in Walton County. His situation is extremely urget at Walton Animal Control. Friendly and playful, he does not deserve to be euthanized.

These six lab mix puppies are available for adoption from the Savannah Humane Society.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Carl “Skip” Cain and John Fanning, who were involved in selling the vote of former Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Fanning-Lasseter, were sentenced to prison, but the real story of their sentencing may come from hints of more to come:

 Fanning’s attorney, Bill Thomas, said his client had provided evidence against “significant individuals.”

Asked after the hearing about his comments to Pannell, Thomas declined to name targets of the probe, saying it would be unfair to them if they are never charged with a crime.

But Thomas said: “You can imagine that in any sort of investigation like this you’re not dealing with run-of-the-mill individuals … This wouldn’t involve some low-level bureaucrat responsible for trash collection.”

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway attended Tuesday’s hearing. He said the defendants’ behavior “has had a tremendous cost to Gwinnett.”

“It’s left a bruise that is going to take a long time to heal,” Conway said. “It makes me angry for someone to violate the public trust like Shirley Lasseter and John Fanning did.”

Georgia Democrats are still delusional hopeful of carrying Georgia in November.

Local and state Democrats on Tuesday convened at the Hilton Savannah DeSoto Hotel to announce their plan to “get Georgia to go blue.”

With Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson and State Sen. Lester Jackson, Democratic Party of Georgia Chairman Mike Berlon said the party has a plan to flip the state in favor of President Barack Obama in the November election.

That plan, he said, centers on convincing rural and urban voters to support the president. Savannah, with its strong Democratic base — Obama received about 57 percent of the vote in Chatham County in 2008 — will play a major role in that effort.

“We already know that in metro Atlanta we have done the very best that we can in terms of producing the Democratic vote and it’s not going to get any better there,” Berlon said. “So, the only way that we’re going to be able to win is to take advantage of (metro Atlanta) and develop the areas where there are more Democratic voters. A permanent office here in Savannah is a start to that.”

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Rick Thompson & Associates notes that all 2012 candidates and Political Action Committees that have spent more $25,000 in contributions to or on behalf of candidate have an upcoming September 30th deadline for campaign contribution disclosures and that the grace period runs out on October 5, 2012. We have seen this year that the severely overtaxed Campaign Finance Commission disclosure website tends to bog down and become unusable the last days of the filing period, so please start your disclosures early so that you can file on time.

After November’s elections, voters in Habersham will have fewer polling places, as County Commissioner voted to reduce the number from 14 to 2.

“Are some citizens going to be upset with it?” [Interim Interim Elections Board Chairman Pete] Davitto said. “Of course. Are some citizens going to have to drive a little farther to vote? Of course. I’m one of them. I live in Batesville, and we’re recommending the Batesville polling location be eliminated.”

“It is our belief that we can serve the citizens of Habersham County in an effective and efficient manner and most probably we’ll be able to get them through the voting line in less time than some of them may be experiencing in today’s environment,” Davitto said.

Michael Carroll, former member of the board of elections, spoke to the commission as a representative of the executive committee and treasurer of the Habersham County Democratic Party.

“We support the move reducing the number of precincts to two if at all possible,” Carroll said. “The benefits of reducing to two are very obvious because of the cost of personnel. Also, of the current 14 precincts, a number of them are not ADA compliant even now and so if we continue to use them sooner or later the county is going to be cited. It’s just a matter of time.”

Commissioner Sonny James said he had heard from several people who wanted the county’s current 14 polling places to remain in place.

“We know that that’s not possible because of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” James said

Failed Hall County Commission candidate Eugene Moon also failed to file his lawsuit contesting the result in a timely manner, leading the judge to dismiss it.

Moon and his attorney released a statement Monday afternoon in response to Adamson’s ruling. The content of the statement is as follows:

“Today our court case was dismissed over a technicality. We witnessed today that legal policy will prevail over legal right. Georgia Election law requires that you have 5 days from certification of election to file a complaint against the elections board and we missed the window by 2 days. Saturday and Sundays and legal holidays are included in this window we found out. The only proof of this certification in court this morning was done verbally by Charolette Sosbee, your Elections Director and that was good enough for the judge.”

“We did make a motion to enter our evidence, regardless the outcome but were denied this also. We wanted answers as to why there were 460 missing votes, why people in Clermont were voting in elections for Oakwood, why people in Gillsville were voting in city of Gainesville elections, why were the approved maps not followed? These are things for which we the voters may never know the answer.”

The Carroll County Board of Education will oppose the Charter School Amendment on the November 6th General Election ballot.

Each of the seven board members voiced approval of charter schools Monday night, but believe the amendment takes away local control over the founding and running of a charter school.

Superintendent Scott Cowart proposed drafting a resolution speaking out in favor or against the amendment and was met with unanimous approval to send out drafts via email this week before Thursday’s meeting, when the board plans to formally publish the resolution.

“I am against it, and I have no problem saying it,” board member Denise Askin-Pate said. “I don’t think taxpayers will have any representation in it. They say that it’s all part of the same pie, but I think this is going to make the pie and our piece from the pie smaller.”

A majority of the Douglas County Board of Education is also publicly opposed to the Charter School Amendment.

Withe four BOE members united against the amendment and School Board Member Mike Miller in favor, attention turned to drafting a resolution on the issue that may include an official BOE stance.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Gordon Pritz handed out sample resolutions from other school systems around the state as examples, along with information from the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and a question and answer form. The PTA has also stated its opposition to the amendment, which would restate the state’s authority to approve charter schools rejected at the local level.

Board member D.T. Jackson suggested that the process of drafting a resolution be expedited as there are only around 50 days left before the vote. It was not decided at the meeting if an official stance will be taken by the board, but the BOE’s attorney will begin researching and forming a resolution to put before the board.

Miller, the lone supporter of the amendment, took issue with some sample resolutions.

“I am seeing complete untruths in these resolutions,” Miller said. Among these was what Miller called a claim that charter schools are private, for-profit schools, and also claims that the vote will divert money from existing public schools.

Officials from the accrediting agengy AdvancEd will review DeKalb County’s school board, citing alleged mismanagement.

Accreditation — or the lack of it — affects graduates’ chances at college acceptance. A loss of accreditation, as happened in Clayton County in 2008, can also lead to an exodus of parents. Two years ago, when AdvancEd came calling in DeKalb, the local chamber of commerce expressed concern about property values, job retention and the ability to draw businesses. The chamber helped establish a group to vet candidates for school board, and was still making endorsements this year during the primary election.

The alleged mismanagement could have a direct effect on the classroom. The school board is accused of wasting money — such as $50 million in legal fees over five years — that otherwise could have been spent on teachers and students, Elgart said. He said there are allegations that school board members pressured for the hiring of friends, which, if true, he said, could affect the caliber of the staff, plus morale.

The half dozen or so investigators will promise confidentiality and confirm claims with more than one source, Elgart said. Anonymity is necessary, since staffers will be asked to be honest about the elected officials who oversee the system and hired their boss, the superintendent. “You’d be surprised,” Elgart said. “In a confidential environment, most people are willing to talk.”

The investigative team will make a recommendation on accreditation status. DeKalb is “on advisement,” which is less than full accreditation. The team could recommend a range of accreditaiton options.

Well, at least we didn’t elect a Sheriff with 37 outstanding felony indictments. So we’ve got that going for us in DeKalb.

Yesterday, I misspelled Barry Paschal’s name, and he took to twitter to bemoan the lack of respect I showed him. I’m now following him on Twitter where he live tweets meetings of the Columbia County Commission. For up-to-the minute coverage of local Columbia County politics, there’s a great source.

The race card is getting thrown around in the election for Augusta Circuit Chief Probate Judge.

The appointment of a white juvenile court judge to the Augusta Judicial Circuit and the terms of black incumbents Ben Allen and Wil­lie Saunders not being renewed last week set the stage for a question that had black Democratic Probate Court Judge candidate Harry James playing the race card and white Republican rival Carleton Vaughn bristling during a forum at Williams Memorial Church on 15th Street.

District attorney, state court solicitor and probate court candidates were asked what they thought about the recent juvenile court appointments. James lambasted Chief Superior Court Judge Carlisle Overstreet, saying the appointments were horrible and unfair and implied they were racially motivated. He said of all the judges in the judicial circuit, there were only two blacks.

Vaughn prefaced his remarks by telling the audience, which audibly agreed with James, that they weren’t going to like what he had to say.

He said that in his time as acting judge in the probate court, “I have never based a decision on what color you are. Every decision I made was made after I had all the facts. You are making a decision on only one fact. You are always saying we need to come together and heal the racial divide. What you have just said is more divisive than anything I have ever heard.”

The City of Bowdon is asking the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into allegations of misappropriations.

The mayor said the latest probe started Sept. 10 after City Clerk Stacy Folds “notified city administration of misappropriated funds.”

“City administration immediately notified City Police Chief [Mark Brock] and on the same day, the case was turned over to Georgia Bureau of Investigation,” Crawford said in his released statement. “The GBI is now in full control of this case and, due to this investigation, the city can no longer comment on this matter.”

In the earlier Bowdon case, Patricia Bentley, a former employee of the city of Bowdon clerk’s office, was charged Aug. 1 with felony theft by taking. This came after a GBI investigation, which began June 20, found $159,000 in city funds that were taken in but never deposited into city accounts.

Wayne Smith, a special agent in the GBI’s Columbus office, said Tuesday that the funding source in question in the current case is different from the earlier case.

“The other case involved funds in the general operating account, while the current case involves a separate account to process fines and court-levied fees,” Smith said. He estimated the current missing funds at $20,000 to $30,000.

Some in Douglas County see the repeal of the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing as a continuation of a theme in which the legislature cuts local revenues while piling on more mandates.

“It sounds like, as is typical with the General Assembly, we are impacted but we don’t know to what extent,” said Mulcare.

HB 386, a bill well-known for ending the ad valorem tax on vehicles, also carries a tax exemption for energy used in manufacturing. The bill, passed by the Georgia General Assembly this year, affects revenues not only at the state level, but in local governments as well.

However, counties and cities can implement their own new energy tax in order to make up for the lost revenue.

Some officials at the meeting said this amounted to a kind of catch-22 for local officials, who have to deal with either lost revenue or negative press through actions not of their doing.

“This leaves the legislature holding the white hat and we are holding the black hat,” said Douglas County District 3 Commissioner Mike Mulcare.

One point of confusion is how the tax exemption will be measured. Per the law, it applies only to the use of energy in manufacturing, such as in producing cars or carpet. It does not apply to the sale of energy for purposes like heating and air conditioning.

“How is it determined which energy is used for products?” asked BOC Chairman Tom Worthan.

Douglasville Chief Assistant City Attorney Suzan Littlefield said the Georgia Municipal Association has not said how to divide the exemption.

Emma Jean Thomas, wife of former state Senator Dr. Don Thomas, died Monday after battling lung cancer for five years. Visitation for the Thomas family will be today from 4-8 PM at the Julian Peeples Funeral Home and services will be on Thursday, September 20th at 2PM at the Grove Level Baptist Church (across the street from the funeral home).

Yesterday was the service for former state Senator Oliver Bateman, who flew for the Army Air Corps in World War 2 and the Air Force during the Korean War. Senator Bateman ran as a Republican in 1964 and was elected Senate Minority Leader in 1968. In 1970 he entered the Governor’s race against Jimmy Carter, but withdrew before the election. Gov. George Busbee appointed him Chairman of the Georgia State Ethics Commission, where he served from 1980-1985. He chaired the 1980 Georgia State Convention, which was instrumental in the election of President Ronald Reagan. He was a mentor and close friend to the late U.S. Senator Paul D. Coverdell, and still credited by many as the first Conservative leader in Georgia.

18
Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 18, 2012

27525 is a young, male, adult yellow lab who has found himself on the wrong side of the law and now waits to be bailed out and taken to his new home from the Gwinnett Animal Shelter. Volunteers at the shelter describe him as friendly and he becomes available on Saturday.

27459 is an adult, female black lab who will become available for adoption from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter tomorrow. Pretty sure that’s a friendly dog right there.

27427 (above, female) and 27426 (below, male) are baby chocolate labs who are available today for adoption from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter. These two are siblings and are both described as playful and friendly.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Opponents of the Charter School Amendment complain that the preamble to the ballot question includes misleading statements designed to entice voters to back the measure.

[O]pponents of a November ballot question are also crying foul.

They’re upset over the preamble wording for the Charter School Commission Amendment.

It reads, “Provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public charter school options.”

The amendment vote was authorized by the Georgia Legislature in response to the previous Charter Schools Commission being declared unconstitutional by a court ruling.

Now voters will get to decide whether to recreate the commission.

Like T-SPLOST, it’s a hot issue that has non-partisan supporters and opponents.

Opponent Elizabeth Hooper told 11 Alive on Wednesday that she believes the Charter Schools Amendment preamble is also rigged to get “yes” votes.

“It’s absolutely biased,” she said, “Who wouldn’t be for improving student achievement?”

“To say that is going to happen is a lie,” she added.

Bert Brantley, spokesman for the pro amendment group Families for Better Public Schools, told 11 Alive News a recent study by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement proves they make a difference.

“I think it’s factual,” he said of the preamble wording.

“We’ve got proof that state charter schools perform better than the schools in the districts where those charters are located,” Brantley said.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who took heat for the T-SPLOST preamble wording, is distancing himself from this one.

Kemp spokesman Jared Thomas wrote 11 Alive that “The Secretary of State does not choose the Constitutional amendment ballot language.”

“That task falls to the Constitutional Amendments Publication Board…comprised of the Governor, Speaker (of the House) and Lt. Governor. Any language they choose must be approved by 2/3 of their board,” Thomas added in his statement.

Meanwhile, a recent poll by Republican Todd Rehm of GaPundit.com showed 48% support the amendment, while 26% oppose it.

Columbia County News-Times writer Barry Paschall argues that the Charter School Amendment will harm local schools.

Columbia County schools, like all public schools in the state, will be further damaged by the continued drain of funds toward private, for-profit schools. That’s why another analysis found much of the money behind the amendment flows from out-of-state private school companies hoping to reap millions if it passes.

Perhaps that also explains the recent commentary from an Arkansas professor boosting the amendment for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

In it, Jay Greene crowed about charter school successes around the country – but failed, oddly, to mention any from Georgia. Could that be because a study last year showed charter schools in Georgia perform no better, and in some cases slightly worse, on testing than Georgia’s public schools?

Even with the eminent danger to our financially struggling but academically strong local schools, and with virtually no evidence to support the amendment’s passage, most Columbia County voters likely will stab their own school system in the back so they can say they voted for what they think is “school choice.”

The Gwinnett County Commission is back to its full complement of five unindicted Commissioners, as Jace Brooks was sworn in yesterday.

[Commissioner Lynette] Howard said she attended Monday’s ceremony to show Brooks support.

“He makes for more sound decisions in Gwinnett County, when you have five people making that decision instead of less than, and all parts of the county are represented,” Howard said. “And District 1 has their own representative. It’s good for the people in District 1 to have their own elected official.”

Brooks said the commissioners would begin work on the budget in November.

“Now it’s time to start doing what I talked about during the campaign,” Brooks said. “The slow process of trying to rebuild the trust. That’s really where it’s got to start.”

The Lake Lanier Legislative Caucus, including members from Gwinnett, Hall, Forsyth and Dawson counties, will meet publicly today at 4 PM at the Buford Community Center, located at 2200 Buford Highway, across from City Hall on Buford Drive.

Nerds patriots at Gainesville High School set up voter registration tables yesterday to mark the 225th Anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution by helping their colleagues register to vote.

The Augusta Canal National Heritage Area may lose federal funding this month as its funding sunsets.

[Augusta Canal Authority executive director Dayton] Sherrouse said it is possible – but not certain – that the “continuing resolution” that allows the government to keep operating under the previous year’s budget until a new one is adopted could preserve Augusta’s allocation for next year.

This year, that allocation was slightly more than $300,000, making up about 20 percent of the canal authority’s annual operating budget. Other funding sources include grants, sale of hydropower from the canal’s turbines, and revenues from boat tours and other activities.

Republican candidate in the Twelfth Congressional District Lee Anderson has declined the Atlanta Press Club debate against Democrat John Barrow. Barrow has said that he’ll go if Anderson does, but will not attend to debate an empty podium. I wonder if they’ll air 30 minutes of dead air.

“Lee Anderson will consider sharing the stage with Barrow once he stands in front of a local television camera and confesses his politically disastrous secret – he’s voting for Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi,” [Anderson spokesman Ryan] Mahoney said in a statement.

Former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill has asked the court to dismiss 37 felony counts included in an indictment against Hill, claiming they were politically motivated. Walton County District Attorney Layla Zon called the claim by Hill “ludicrous”. Hill’s lawyers make an interesting claim that if resolved may affect campaigns going forward:

He also is accused of diverting money from his failed 2008 re-election campaign to himself.

“He is essentially taking from himself and therefore cannot be guilty of a crime,” Frey argued.

Zon, the district attorney for Newton and Walton counties was appointed special prosecutor in this case.“It’s not his money. The fact that he keeps arguing the campaign money is his is absurd,” she said.

She said she found it incredulous that Hill would claim it was his to do with as he wished.

“The campaign belonged to Victor Keith Hill. He can’t steal from himself,” Frey answered.

In news to no one, people are complaining about robocalls.

Political robocalls and automated calls from charities, or informational robocalls, such as an airline calling about a flight delay, are exempt from the ban. But those exemptions are being abused, too, with consumers complaining of getting calls that begin as a legitimate call, say from a charity or survey, but then eventually switch to an illegal telemarketing sales pitch.

Robocalls can be highly annoying to consumers because they’re hard to stop. Fraudsters use caller-ID spoofing so that when a person tries to call back the robocaller, they get a disconnected number or something other than the source of the original call.

The best thing people can do when they get an illegal robocall is to hang up. Do not press “1” to speak to a live operator to get off the call list. If you do, the FTC says, it will probably just lead to more robocalls. The caller will know you’re there and willing to answer, and may continue to call.

Your County Commissioner could be costing taxpayers between $180,000 and $500,000 each year to run his or her office, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The data show that even Cobb, with its reputation for austerity, spends about $180,000 a year for each of its five commissioners. Gwinnett commissioners spend about $190,000, while the chairman’s budget is about $296,000. In DeKalb, each commissioner spends about $387,000. Clayton spends $240,000 per commissioner, or $1.2 million. But the actual money that Clayton spends on commissioners is much less. The County Commission’s budget includes the county manager and clerk and those employees. Additionally, Clayton commissioners, who earn $22,000 annually, do not have individual staffs and discretionary budgets.

By comparison, each state senator in Georgia cost taxpayers $200,000 annually to run his office. State senators serve about the same amount of constituents as commissioners and are likewise tasked with one specific job: to plan and approve an annual budget.

“Our phones ring off the hook,” said Fulton Commissioner Liz Hausmann, whose $398,000 budget is the county’s smallest. “The majority of it is constituent issues, problems dealing with county departments.”

Georgia’s “show your papers” provision from HB 87, which allows law enforcement to check immigration status for people who are suspected of committing certain crimes and do not have ID, is on hold as the Eleventh Circuit US Court of Appeals decides whether to re-hear the case.

Forsyth and Cherokee county sheriff’s deputies are among those now putting off training and other planning to enforce the law. It doesn’t make sense to start drafting a policy for it, Forsyth Sheriff Ted Paxton said, when the legal battle is not over.

“We are simply just in a holding pattern,” Paxton said. “Until [the legal case] is resolved, it is very difficult for us to craft any type of policy because there are a lot of unknowns.”

State officials were planning to teach the new law to officers Monday, but they postponed that training after learning the law will remain on hold.

“If I talk about it in class, officers may walk away thinking they can do it,” said Wally Marchant, supervisor of the legal training section at the Georgia Police Academy. “And I don’t want that to happen.”

In the days leading up to the latest tie-up in court, other police agencies indicated they were not ready to begin enforcing the law. Gwinnett police, for example, said this month that they could not say when or how they would apply the law until the county’s Law Department has “reviewed the complete bill after all issues have been resolved from the state.”

“Once that has been done, we will review the final law and determine if any of our current policies and procedures will change,” said Cpl. Edwin Ritter, a police spokesman.

DeKalb police said this month that they were developing a policy on how to apply the law. And now that the law is on hold again? Police spokeswoman Mekka Parish said: “We will continue to monitor legislation and plan accordingly.”

Some police emphasized that doing immigration status checks is optional under the law.

“The provision authorizes, but does not require, the department to investigate the immigration status of individuals who cannot produce adequate identification to prove citizenship,” Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos said, “provided probable cause exists that the individual committed a crime.”

In Alabama, a similar measure has caused enough problems that some local jurisdictions are choosing not to enforce it.

[Clanton, Alabama] Chief Brian Stilwell said that measure — which critics call the show-me-your-papers law — has made immigrants afraid to report crimes and burdened his officers with hours-long investigations. The chief was so troubled by the law that he apologized to a young mother who was turned over to immigration authorities after committing a minor traffic infraction in town.

Supporters of the year-old law point to Alabama’s falling unemployment rate as proof it is working and preserving jobs for U.S. citizens, though not everyone agrees there is a correlation. Alabama state Sen. Scott Beason, one of the law’s architects, says it is also aimed at protecting his state’s taxpayer-funded resources and boosting public safety.

While Beason and Stilwell — both Republicans — have staked out different positions on the law, they agree on one thing: Georgia authorities should use caution when they start enforcing a similar measure.

Stilwell, Clanton’s police chief, has concluded the law is unenforceable, partly because state lawmakers this year repealed a provision authorizing police to arrest motorists for driving without a license. He added it sometimes takes hours for federal authorities to respond to his officers’ queries about the immigration status of suspects. Worrying that such prolonged stops — without an arrest — could violate people’s constitutional rights, Stilwell said his officers stopped enforcing the law last summer.

In Tuscaloosa, police officers are releasing suspects when it appears it will take too long to confirm their immigration status and if they have no lawful reason to detain them, said Sgt. Brent Blankley, a police spokesman. Like Clanton police, Tuscaloosa officers have been reaching out to Hispanics since Alabama enacted its law. Blankley indicated those efforts have paid off and that Hispanic victims are continuing to report crimes to police.

My fellow word nerds and I will be in Midtown on Thursday evening for the taping at the Fox Theatre of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me…” WABE’s Dennis O’Hayer interviewed the show’s host. O’Hayer also interviewed GBI Director Vernon Keenan on the state’s progress in combatting sex trafficking.

State Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) is holding a fundraiser tonight with Lt. Governor Casey Cagle in McKoon’s district.

Governor Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens will be featured at a Campaign Rally at Wild Bill’s in Duluth on Thursday night sponsored by the Gwinnett County Republican Party.

17
Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 17, 2012

Wilma (ID 545273) is a darling little 8-month old puppy who needs a home. She is in cage 301 in the Puppy Room at Cobb Animal Shelter and is available for adoption today. She is up to date on shots, spayed & neutered, heartworm negative and will be microchipped; she is being treated for non-contagious demodex mange.

When calling the shelter about a cat or dog, please use THE ID NUMBER, the names are oftentimes made up by volunteers. This beautiful pet and many others need a forever, loving home and are available for adoption from the Cobb County Animal Shelter, 1060 Al Bishop Drive Marietta, Georgia 30008, call (770) 499-4136 for more

I am re-running the following dogs because they are still available and are in danger of euthanasia.

Rally is a 5-month old, 30 pound Shepherd mix who is available for adoption today from Walton County Animal Shelter. The adoption fee is $40, which includes full vaccinations, a voucher for reduced cost neutering and a sack of dog food. Because Rally looks just like my blind, old dog Roxy did when she was young, I will sponsor her adoption; this means that if you adopt her, I will reimburse the $40 cost. Seriously.

Dolly is a senior lab mix who looks like she was somebody’s dog, and she has ended up at Walton Animal Shelter, where she will be available starting tomorrow. She has possible arthritis, as it’s difficult for her to stand up, but in my experience with a senior Golden Retriever, it can likely be managed with medication and/or acupuncture and chiropractic. If you have questions about canine acupuncture or chiropractic, I am not an expert, but can provide a referral and tell you about our experience and how it changed our senior dog’s life. There is a place in heaven reserved for people who adopt senior dogs, and if you’re looking for a mellow, low-maintenance best friend, maybe there’s a senior for you.

Anna is still waiting for a home at Walton County Animal Shelter. Her picture has captured many peoples’ imaginations, and she has an online fan club. Maybe you’re the person for her.

Puppies are being adopted at a two-for-one rate at Walton County Animal Shelter currently, as they are overflowing and don’t wish to euthanize them.

Nat and his brother Geo are 2-month old, 15# Shepherd mix puppies who are available for adoption today from Walton County Animal Shelter.

Also available from Walton Animal Shelter are Duncan, Davie and Darla, who are three months old and weigh about 7 pounds each.


These last two puppies were turned in by their owner, which typically means no mandatory hold time, and they are immediately at risk of euthanasia, especially during this time of the year when shelters are overflowing.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Photographed 9/5/2012 in Columbus, GA

Indicted former Gwinnett County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly says that the evidence against him shows that the $1 million he accepted from a Gwinnett County developer was a routine business transaction between him and a long-time business partner, rather than a bribe.

[P]rosecutors have granted immunity to the developer who allegedly slipped Kenerly $1 million. It’s a move prosecutors call necessary, and one the defense says has all but exonerated the embattled government leader.

Jenkins was granted immunity that February in return for his cooperation and testimony regarding his business dealings with Kenerly, Porter said after the hearing.

That cooperation thus far has been a boon for Kenerly’s defense, McDonough told the Daily Post, because court paperwork that outlines transactions involving Jenkins and Kenerly makes no mention of bribery, calling the $1 million legitimate and related to another deal.

“If (Jenkins) said he bribed Kenerly, he is protected by immunity,” McDonough said. “That’s not what he said — he said he never bribed Kenerly.”

Porter said he doesn’t believe everything that Jenkins has told prosecutors, noting that Jenkins could be prosecuted if he violates his immunity agreement.

Jenkins, a residential land developer and home builder in Gwinnett, owned Winmark homes.

After 16 years, Kenerly resigned as Gwinnett’s longest-serving commissioner in 2010, when he was first indicted on bribery charges. He also faces two misdemeanor counts of failure to disclose a financial interest in two zoning cases dealing with the same developer.

McDonough argues that the $1 million that provides the basis for the re-indicted bribery charge did not involve the Dacula park, but a townhome development called Silver Oaks in Lilburn. In a commission vote on that development, “everyone concedes Kenerly followed the law by filing his letter stating he had a financial interest, walked out of the board vote and did not vote,” the attorney said.

After the hearing, Kenerly expressed relief that the arrangement between Jenkins and prosecutors was made public. He reiterated that the Las Vegas trip was merely a gathering of friends, saying he paid the group’s $20,000 tab at Ceasars Palace. He pointed to the absence of bribery allegations by Jenkins.

“That’s what confuses me — I’m trying to figure out who (prosecutors believe) bribed me,” Kenerly said.

 More from the AJC:

Court record released Friday show Kenerly has admitted he agreed to accept $1 million from developer David Jenkins to cash out of a partnership on a Lawrenceville real estate development in 2007 – just a few months before Kenerly voted for Gwinnett to buy land from Jenkins to expand Rabbit Hill Park in Dacula.

District Attorney Danny Porter contends the $1 million was a payoff for Kenerly’s support of the Dacula land purchase. Gwinnett paid Jenkins $7.3 million more for the property than he paid for it a year and a half earlier.

But Jenkins, granted immunity from prosecution if he testified truthfully, told investigators the $1 million in payments to Kenerly were “completely unrelated” to the county’s purchase of the park land, court records show.

“He says he didn’t bribe me,” Kenerly said after a hearing in Gwinnett County Superior Court. “I still get charged with bribery.”

The Georgia State Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission has lost 41% of its budget over the past five years and critics say the state legislature is strangling the agency to prevent it from doing its job.

“There is no question in my mind they are being strangled by the Legislature in order to keep them from enforcing the ethics law,” said attorney Michael Jablonski, who often represents Democratic clients before the commission. “These are people who want to do their job. They just are not given the resources to do it.”

Marshall Guest, spokesman for House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, noted last week that the commission’s budget is about $250,000 larger than it was last year — the commission’s first budget increase since 2008. Guest said the increase went to hire a new auditor, a data programmer and for computer upgrades.

Taking a longer view, Guest said the commission’s budget today is 60 percent larger than it was in 2005 when Republicans took over both legislative houses.

“Even with the commission’s added responsibilities, overall, this is a dramatic step up in state funding given the economic downturn,” he said.

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reviewed budget, staffing, revenue and case resolution records over the past decade to measure the arrhythmic pulse of the ethics commission over time. What the AJC found was a close parallel between the commission’s funding and its output.

In 2008, the commission closed 116 ethics cases, collecting $195,000 in civil penalties.

That year, the commission had a budget of $1.9 million and 18 staffers, including several investigators, a certified fraud examiner, and multiple employees dedicated to keeping the agency’s farm of computer servers humming. Using the measures of resources and production, that year was a high-water mark for the ethics commission.

In 2011, the commission closed just 15 cases, according to a database of resolved cases on the ethics commission website. On May 22, 2008, the commission closed 16 cases in one day.

On that day, commissioners assessed more than $172,000 in fines, including a record $80,000 penalty against the Georgia Association of Realtors for failing to disclose $585,000 in campaign donations made through the group’s PAC. The commission also fined two members of the Georgia Board of Regents a combined $77,750 – one for making “proxy” donations to campaigns through family and friends to get around contribution limits and another for failing to disclose his business interests, including one that got a lucrative contract with the university system. Smaller fines were levied against state and local public officials and candidates for less extreme abuses.

The commission’s executive secretary that year, Rick Thompson, said the agency had turned a corner.

The commission’s aging network of computer servers has become increasingly creaky, and officials who rely on it to file their required paperwork complain of outages during peak times. Brian Hess, a Marietta-based information technology consultant who built the system, blamed the computer system’s unpredictability on budget cuts.

“You know the Legislature on ethics,” he said. “In front of people, ‘We support it.’ And behind their backs they don’t fund it.”

Hess worked for the commission as its computer chief during Thompson’s administration. At the time, the system had built-in redundant servers and a full IT staff supporting it.

“Before I left it was just me and one other guy,” he said.

This summer, LaBerge signed contracts to spend up to $240,000 a year to acquire server space for the commission’s massive databases and to shore up the system’s operations.

That the ethics commission is perpetually underfunded is just part of the problem, Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, said. Where it gets its money is another, he said.

“It’s difficult for there to be an independent investigative agency if they are annually at the mercy of the legislators that they are supposed to regulating,” he said. “They are the only ones who are in a position to regulate members of the General Assembly… . Unfortunately they’ve been largely sidelined by the changes that have been made in the law over the last couple years.”

Tom Baxter writes that a good example set from the top may be more important than a gift ban on its own.

You’d be right to be cynical about whether all this [talk about banning gifts from lobbyists to legislators] is actually going to have an beneficial impact, although positive change isn’t entirely out of the question. John Maginnis, one of the great chroniclers of what has been called “the Louisiana way,” said there has been a real change in ethics standards in his state in recent years, particularly during the tenure of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Maginnis said corruption is still evident at the local level – an FBI sting involving a bogus garbage can washing business snared several mayors recently, and former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard is under indictment. But at the state level, at least, standards have been raised, he said. The $50 limit has “kind of cleared out Chris’,” – Ruth’s Chris, a famous hangout for Louisiana politicos. And lobbyists, he added, are “delighted” with the new constraints on their credit cards.

But Maginnis noted that the improvements in Baton Rouge have come “from the top down,” and there any potential usefulness as a model for the future in Georgia starts to slide. Deal began his term as governor on the defensive from a furious attack on his ethics during the governor’s race, and the cronyism which has marked his administration has dismayed even some of those who supported him in 2010. He seems an unlikely candidate to pick up the standard for truly comprehensive ethics reform.

As for the proposed changes to be taken up by the General Assembly, it might seem impossible for the legislators to twist an absolute gift ban into insignificance, but you watch ‘em. They’re good at this. There’s a certain amount of remorse among some Republicans that they haven’t behaved better than their predecessors during their first decade in power. But without a leader that comes to very little, and the Republican most likely to fill that role, state Sen. Josh McKoon of Columbus, is still young and relatively little-known.

But for our purposes it’s worth it just to look at the core charge leveled against the 66-year-old Democrat. He was convicted of a crime for reappointing HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy to a state hospital board in exchange for $500,000 to retire the debt from an unsuccessful campaign to pass a lottery-for-education referendum. No money went directly to Siegelman. Scrushy had recently been acquitted of charges not unlike those which forced the resignation of Rick Scott, now the governor of Florida, back when he was the CEO of Columbia/HCA.

Raise your hands, everybody who thinks that wouldn’t get a pass, in a state where the Oaky Woods deal got by unprosecuted, where board appointments have become open political currency and nepotism is a commonplace on state boards and commissions. There’s a lot of buzz about ethics in Georgia, but that’s all there is.

Jace Brooks will be sworn today in as Gwinnett County Commissioner to serve out the remainder of the term of former Commissioner Shirley Fanning-Lasseter, who pled guilty to federal bribery charges and has been sentenced to 33 months in prison. Brooks will serve a full four-year term on the Commission beginning in January.

Plains, Georgia shopowner Philip Kurland predicts that President Obama will be reelected based on the sale of political buttons to tourists. Given that tourism in Plains revolves around Jimmy Carter historical sites, perhaps the sample is non-random and composed primarily of Carter fans.
Property taxes may rise this year for some homeowners as a 2008 tax hike moratorium is expiring and some home values may be creeping upwards.

For the first time since 2008, state law allowed assessors to raise tax values if they believed rising sales prices justified it. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis found that while assessors cut far more home values than they raised this year, they took advantage of the change in state law to raise values in some neighborhoods, especially in affluent areas. That likely will mean higher property taxes this year for those residents.

Assessors say they cut far more values than they raised and say homeowners can appeal if they believe their value is incorrect. They say the expiration of the moratorium on raising values has allowed them to accurately appraise properties that have gained in value but have not changed on the tax rolls for years.

Next Wednesday, September 26, 2012 from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM, former member of the Federal Election Commission Hans von Spakovsky will sign copies of his new book, Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk, at Capital Grille in Buckhead, located at 255 E. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta, GA 30305.

Who’s Counting? will focus attention on many problems of our election system, ranging from voter fraud to a slipshod system of vote counting that noted political scientist Walter Dean Burnham calls “the most careless of the developed world.” In an effort to clean up our election laws, reduce fraud and increase public confidence in the integrity of the voting system, many states ranging from Georgia to Wisconsin have passed laws requiring a photo ID be shown at the polls and curbing the rampant use of absentee ballots, a tool of choice by fraudsters. The response from Obama allies has been to belittle the need for such laws and attack them as akin to the second coming of a racist tide in American life. In the summer of 2011, both Bill Clinton and DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz preposterously claimed that such laws suppressed minority voters and represented a return to the era of Jim Crow.

But voter fraud is a well-documented reality in American elections. Just this year, a sheriff and county clerk in West Virginia pleaded guilty to stuffing ballot boxes with fraudulent absentee ballots that changed the outcome of an election. In 2005, a state senate election in Tennessee was overturned because of voter fraud. The margin of victory? 13 votes. In 2008, the Minnesota senate race that provided the 60th vote needed to pass Obamacare was decided by a little over 300 votes.

Hans von Spakovsky is a former Chairman of the Fulton County Republican Party and served on the Fulton County Elections Board. He is a graduate of the Coverdell Leadership Institute and currently serves at the Heritage Foundation as Senior Legal Fellow, where he manages the Civil Justice Reform Initiative. Please R.s.v.p. to Kathryn Gartland.

15
Sep

Georgia Republican Party’s Romney-Ryan Sign Party