Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 14, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 14, 2023

On August 14, 1784, Russians invaded settled Alaska, founding the first permanent Russian settlement at Three Saints Bay.

Dentist, gambler, and gunfighter Doc Holliday was born on August 14, 1851 in Griffin, Georgia.

On August 14, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln hosted a group of African-American men at the White House to discuss emancipation of American slaves outside the United States as colonists.

The Second Battle of Dalton was joined on August 14, 1864.

On August 15, 1903, Georgia Governor Joseph Terrell signed legislation requiring that Georgia schools teach elementary agriculture and civics. Two days later, on August 17, 1903, the General Assembly condemned the practice of whipping female inmates.

The Panama Canal opened on August 15, 1914.

The County Unit System of elections was created on August 14, 1917 when Governor Hugh Dorsey signed legislation by the General Assembly.

Georgia Governor Thomas Hardwick signed legislation creating the Georgia State Board of Forestry on August 15, 1921.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935. The road to perdition is paved with good intentions.

On August 14, 1945, the Japanese surrender to the Allies was made public in Japan.

In the afternoon of August 14, Japanese radio announced that an Imperial Proclamation was soon to be made, accepting the terms of unconditional surrender drawn up at the Potsdam Conference. That proclamation had already been recorded by the emperor.

On August 15, 1969, the Woodstock Festival began in upstate New York.

Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppolla was released on August 15, 1979.

Paul Anderson, known for years as the “Strongest Man in the World” for his weightlifting feats, died on August 15, 1994 in Vidalia, Georgia. Anderson was born in 1932 in Toccoa, Georgia. He won an Olympic gold medal in the sport of weightlifting in 1956.

A Special Session called by Governor Zell Miller to address legislative redistricting convened on August 14, 1995, after the United States Supreme Court threw out Georgia’s Congressional redistricting map.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Four Appointments and a Suspension. Governor Brian Kemp swore in William D. “Trey” Taylor, III as Superior Court Judge of the Dublin Judicial Circuit, and nominated Thomas A. Peterson IV as Solicitor General of the State Court of Toombs County and Cindy C. Delgado as Solicitor General of the State Court of Emanuel County.

Governor Kemp suspended from office Mayor of Sparks, Georgia Earl Jackson, after Jackson was indicted on two felony county of Theft by Taking and one felony count of Theft by Conversion.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D-Atlanta) is expected to begin presenting a case against former President Donald Trump to a jury this week, according to Atlanta News First via WRDW.

In their social media posts on Saturday, former Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and independent journalist George Chidi said they were asked to appear before a Fulton County grand jury on Tuesday after receiving a call from the DA’s office.

Willis has investigated Trump’s alleged 2020 election interference for one and a half years now. She opened a criminal investigation “into attempts to influence the administration of the 2020 Georgia General Election” in February 2021.

She has previously said that she is planning to make a “historical decision” regarding her investigation against the former president.

It is expected that a Fulton County grand jury will decide if Trump is charged with election interference.

From the AJC:

District Attorney Fani Willis is likely to pursue racketeering charges against Trump and a host of his allies related to their work to overturn the results of Georgia’s last presidential election.

Given the complexity of explaining racketeering cases to a jury, Willis is expected to begin presenting her case on Monday. Past RICO cases she has spearheaded have taken roughly two days to present. The grand jury that will hear the case this week was convened in June and has been meeting on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The sheriff’s office has closed off Pryor Street SW between MLK Jr. Drive and Mitchell Street to traffic, and no public parking is allowed anywhere along the perimeter of the courthouse. Large orange barricades filled with water are also lining the building.

Willis has directed roughly 70% of her staff to work remotely on Monday and Tuesday. She has also requested that Fulton judges not schedule trials and in-person hearings this week.

Tybee Island City Council members voted to raise their pay, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The Tybee Island City Council on Thursday unanimously approved an increase of nearly 75 percent to the compensation for city council members. The mayor’s pay will increase nearly 43 percent.

Councilmember salaries will increase annually from $4,800 to $8,400, and the mayor’s salary will go from $8,400 to $12,000. This change will take effect in January 2024, when the newly elected mayor and members of the council take office.

Councilmember Michael “Spec” Hosti said it’s the first raise the council has received since 2016.

Councilmember Nancy DeVetter agreed that there needed to be some sort of accountability measure, like affirming that members had read the entire packet for the meeting, but it should be a policy change among the members.

“I think it’s important that we earn our keep, that we do the work and to make sure that people are well-prepared,” DeVetter said. “I don’t know what that would look like, but we should definitely have some accountability measure added.”

Port Wentworth and the Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity signed a letter of intent to build new affordable housing, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Port Wentworth officials and Habitat executives have signed a letter of intent and identified the location for new houses near the downtown police department, which is on Cantyre Street. But they have yet to actually buy the land, said City Manager Steve Davis.

The city plans to sell to Habitat what Davis called prime property in the downtown center once Habitat has done their due diligence.

“There are maps that show that there may be wetlands on that area, so we need to make sure that the grounds are suitable to be built on and figure out what type of soil is there,” said Zerik Samples, the CEO of Coastal Habitat for Humanity. “Once we have that solidified, that it can yield us the amount of houses that we’re trying to build, then we will definitely go in and purchase that land.”

Samples hopes that Habitat can buy the land by Sept. 30. They then will issue requests for proposals to develop the property and prepare it for building. Between 60 to 75 homes will be built on 18.8 acres.

Port Wentworth Councilmember Gabrielle Nelson, who initiated and coordinated the efforts to get the project underway, said she felt downtown has lacked development for so long because there was a lack of vision regarding what the city could and should look like.

“Critical thinking is key in development and therefore we cannot leave districts of the city stagnant while others are experiencing such rapid growth,” Nelson said. “The entire city should be thriving.”

Davis said the city was excited that this was the first step in revitalizing and rejuvenating downtown, which is mostly industrial compared to the growth and sprawling residences in the uptown area north of Highway 95.

“We’re going to get new housing structures that are adjacent to recreation and public safety structures,” Davis said. “It’s going to be in a location where people can commute to Savannah if they work there, and there’s transit options that will go into place next year, prior to any of the homes being completed.”

“It is the goal of the council to increase density in that area, and while we want to increase density, we also want to make sure that we can respect the neighborhood in which this area is a part of,” Samples said.

“We also believe that individuals must be willing to partner, and that partnership looks like 350 hours of sweat equity as well as attending financial education classes,” [CEO of Coastal Habitat for Humanity Zerik] Samples said. “Finally, you must be able to afford the home, so you must be willing to pay. We only work with individuals between 35-80% of the area median income.”

Savannah City Council elections may get more interesting with three former members trying to win election, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Carol Bell’s decision to run for her former Post 1 at-large aldermanic seat on Savannah City Council will likely have broad impacts on the tenor and themes of the fast-approaching city elections.

Tony Thomas, who represented the Sixth District on council for 20 years, has also announced his candidacy for Post 1, which will certainly attract plenty of attention from voters and the media.

Bell, who worked for the City of Savannah for 38 years before retiring, was elected to Post 1 in 2011. Four years later, Eddie DeLoach defeated incumbent mayor Edna Jackson and challengers unseated two other incumbents on council, but Bell handily won reelection with nearly 59% of the vote.

[In 2019] Bell touted accomplishments like the Summer 500 internship program and the creation of The Front Porch, but she lost her run for a third term by fewer than 300 votes to Kesha Gibson-Carter, who ran as a populist outsider.

As I write this column, Bell and three other candidates – Roshida Edwards, Curtis Singleton and Marc Anthony Smith – have filed declarations of intent to accept campaign contributions for Post 1. Contributions have been modest so far, but look for relatively big numbers when Bell files her first disclosure.

Keith Cox was named interim Columbia County coroner, according to WRDW.

Columbia County Probate Judge Alice Padgett has named Keith Cox as interim Columbia County coroner, officials said Friday.

Cox is a long-time resident of Columbia County and retired at the rank of captain from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office after a 30-year distinguished career in law enforcement.

Cox will serve out the unexpired term of long-serving Coroner Vernon Collins.

Habersham County plans to demolish their old courthouse in Clarkesville, according to AccessWDUN.

“We paused plans for demolition after hearing that some developers might be interested in renovating the existing structure,” Habersham County Commission Chairman Ty Akins said. “What we found is that it seems most developers prefer a clean slate, you might say, where they can begin work immediately rather than being delayed by the demolition process.”

The next step is for the county to advertise for bids for the demolition project. Money to pay for the work is being fronted by the city of Clarkesville and the Habersham County Development Authority. A proposed intergovernmental agreement would see that money repaid within 10 days of the property’s sale.

One the building is demolished, the development authority will begin advertising the property to developers. Clarkesville City Councilman Franklin Brown said he’s excited for the project to move forward.

Columbus Interim Police Chief Stoney Mathis wants raises for some law enforcement personnel, according to WTVM.

Columbus police officers could get a pay raise if Interim Police Chief Stoney Mathis has his way. The chief presented at the latest city council meeting, wanting the men and women behind the badge to get more money in their pockets. This comes after the department could not hire and retain officers on the force.

After realizing he could give every officer and dispatcher a $5,000 pay raise, the chief got behind his desk and put his pen to paper, working out the math on how the department could make it happen. He gave a detailed presentation to Columbus council members on his plan that will start officers at $55,000 a year compared to the $50,000 they receive now.

Premiums for the State Health Benefits Plan are up 5%, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The Georgia Board of Community Health approved the premium increase Thursday, only the second in the last six years. The increase, which takes effect Jan. 1, will cost enrollees in the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) $7.25 per month on average for those covered through individual plans and $23.61 a month for families.

Labor Commissioner Bruce Thompson (R-White) said previous administrators had stashed away more than $100 million dollars required to be remitted to the state general fund, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) withheld more than $105 million in penalties and fees accumulated in the last decade rather than turning it over to the state treasury, an internal audit has found.

The funds — administrative assessment fees, interest fees and employer penalties — were transferred to the treasury last week, as required by law, state Commissioner of Labor Bruce Thompson said Thursday. All of the funds were withheld during the administration of former Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, like Thompson, a Republican. Thompson took office at the beginning of January.

“This agency will no longer be shrouded in secrecy and isolation but fully cooperate with fellow state agencies and authorities to identify all fraud and corruption associated with the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and the department,” Thompson said.

“No one is above the law, and I hope everyone connected to this investigation voluntarily and openly cooperates with officials as we seek to put this dark history behind us.”

The 10-page audit, dated Aug. 4, does not allege fraudulent activity on the part of the labor department. Instead, it attributes the withholding of the funds to a legal disagreement.

According to the report, the money was withheld because the agency’s “upper management” was unhappy the department was not being appropriated the full amount of the fees and penalties it had collected and, as a result, withheld the funds intentionally. An in-house lawyer for the labor department believed the agency had a legal right to retain the money, the audit found.

Georgia Department of Human Services Commissioner Candice Broce said “hoteling” of foster children has been reduced, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The state’s foster care system was “hoteling” only seven children as of Aug. 8, the head of the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) said.

“Our providers stepped up because they want us to get to zero,” DHS Commissioner Candice Broce told members of a state Senate study committee looking for ways to improve Georgia’s foster care and adoption services. “We couldn’t have done this without them.”

Housing foster children in state offices or hotels came to the General Assembly’s attention during this year’s legislative session. The number of children affected has been on a roller coaster, falling to fewer than 20 last summer — a record low at the time — then soaring to 95 at the end of last month, Broce said.

Since then, the number has plummeted to a new record low of seven Tuesday night, a number that was expected to dip further to just five by Wednesday night, she said.

Lawmakers provided $10 million in the fiscal 2024 state budget to address the hoteling problem. The legislature also passed a bill establishing a uniform process for placing a child in the custody of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) on a “non-emergency basis” or absent “exceptional circumstances.”

The University System of Georgia wants to increase enrollment and graduation rates, according to WTVM.

Statewide, the University System of Georgia hopes to increase enrollment and graduate rates with a six-year plan. Dr. Sonny Purdue is the University System of Georgia Chancellor who oversees 25 public colleges and universities.

Goals of the plan include increasing the number of Georgians who decide to attend Georgia colleges, increasing retention rates statewide and having students enter notable career fields.

The six-year data-based plan will be effective starting Sept. 1 across the 26 universities and institutions under the University System of Georgia.

Soil amendments are raising a stink, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

While he was still campaigning to be elected Georgia’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Tyler Harper visited Jefferson County-area farms where he heard neighbors and elected officials express concerns about the environmental impacts of what they saw as the improper use of soil amendments.

During those visits, Harper and state Sen. Max Burns smelled the stench and saw the swarms of flies that spread out for miles around the sites that accepted these soil-conditioning products.

Landowners who accept these soil amendments on their property argue that they are cheap and often free alternatives to expensive fertilizers. Those who oppose the practice have voiced concerns about the ecological impact of spreading what they see as millions of gallons of food industry waste on rural properties with very little oversight or enforcement. Neighboring property owners mostly complain about the smell and the biting flies that linger long after some of these soil amendments are applied.

“I think we had six or seven county commission chairs from east central Georgia all in a room getting their feedback and listening to their concerns,” said Matthew Agvent, a spokesman for Harper. “We hit the ground running trying to find a solution that addressed citizens’ concerns, continued to maintain the health and safety of every Georgian while also promoting and advancing the ag industry.”

On Feb. 16, weeks after taking office, Harper sent a letter to the chairmen of the state Senate and House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committees promising to work with the General Assembly to address soil amendment issues across the state. In the letter, Harper announced his plans to conduct a 90-day review and examination of the new soil amendment rules introduced by the previous administration, that took effect Jan. 1.

“This review process will allow us to determine whether these new rules do enough to address the issues raised by residents, community leaders and industry professionals,” Harper wrote in his letter. “We will also be looking for ways to strengthen the Soil Amendment Program within the Department.”

Working with Sen. Burns and other members of the legislature, Harper’s policy team was able to secure an additional $550,000 funding for the soil amendment program in this year’s budget. Agvent said the money is being used in a number of ways to strengthen the program and revamp how it addresses enforcement.

“This will allow us to go from purely reactive to 100% proactive,” Agvent said. “We will be out there doing inspections at application and holding sites and making sure that the folks who are involved in the program are following rules and regulations.”

State Rep. Rick Townsend (R-St Simons Island) was nominated to the Legislative Leadership Institute, according to The Brunswick News.

His nomination to the Georgia Legislative Leadership Institute is the latest display of confidence shown by House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, in Townsend’s role in state government.

Hosted by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the program was created to strengthen the leadership skills of legislators. Nominations are made by the House and Senate leadership.

Held this year during the first week in August in Athens, the bipartisan group of lawmakers explored the leadership challenges of representative government with UGA faculty. In addition to that, they delved into their personal styles of leadership, discussed the latest policy topics and addressed the challenges faced by leadership in using power and influence.

The leadership institute is his second appointment by the House Speaker to a group active outside the 40-day session of the General Assembly. In June, Burns named the former CEO of the Golden Isles College and Career Academy to the Joint Study Committee on Dual Enrollment for Highly Skilled Talent at Younger Ages.

“I want to thank Speaker Burns for nominating me to participate in these two prestigious opportunities during my first legislative term in office,” Townsend said.

“I am committed to making the most of every opportunity until the General Assembly resumes meeting in January, and I am honored to be a part of this dynamic group of leaders who want to keep Georgia a great place to live, work and play.”

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