Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 23, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 23, 2023

On August 23, 1784, four counties is western North Carolina declared themselves the State of Franklin, setting up its own Constitution and treaties with local Indian tribes. In 1788, they rejoined North Carolina but would eventually become part of a new state, Tennessee.

The Kimball Opera House, serving as the Georgia State Capitol, was sold to the state on August 23, 1870.

On August 23, 1961, four African-American citizens attempted to play tennis at Bitsy Grant Tennis Center in Atlanta, which was informally “whites only.” The Tennis Center was hastily closed rather than allow them to play, but it was the first volley leading to the eventual desegregation of Atlanta’s public recreation facilities.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Georgia State Senators will consider legislation to address Artificial Intelligence, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

Two Senate committees announced plans Monday to hold a joint hearing on AI this fall. The Public Safety and Science and Technology committees will take up the issue at the state Capitol on Nov. 1.

“Artificial intelligence is evolving rapidly, and it is important for us to analyze current and future AI practices” said Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who presides over the state Senate. “We must look at the pros, cons and potential unintended consequences of AI, and I look forward to the work of this Senate joint committee.”

Artificial intelligence has caught the attention of government leaders at all levels. U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., called the growth of AI an “existential threat” on multiple fronts during a Senate subcommittee hearing in June.

The use of AI in political ads has raised alarms over its ability to mislead voters into believing candidates said and did things they did not.

“AI may be one of the greatest disruptors in history, providing significant advancements and monumental risk,” said state Sen. Jon Albers, R-Roswell, chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee. “We must address this head on to protect our citizens, businesses, and state.”

The revolution will be televised: Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee will allow TV cameras in his courtroom during some early stages of the Trump case, according to The Hill via WSAV.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee on Tuesday granted a request from four local television stations to bring in live cameras and other recording devices in his courtroom through Sept. 8.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) is seeking to hold the arraignments for all the defendants the week following Labor Day, which would fall within that window. If the timeline is delayed, however, McAfee’s order would expire.

McAfee’s order does not indicate whether cameras will be allowed during a trial or any other future proceedings in the case.

Courts have barred cameras for all of the proceedings in Trump’s other three criminal cases so far. Federal courts generally do not allow video or audio recordings of proceedings, as they have done in Trump’s cases.

I’m not saying this is a media circus, but there appears to be a larger than usual number of clowns in Atlanta.

Some Valdosta residents took to the streets to promote the use of paper ballots, according to WALB.

“There’s plenty of evidence in Georgia in Coffee and Dekalb where the machines counted, but when we did the hand count, it was not the same number. And they couldn’t get the machines to make the same number,” Cheri Whitney, a Lowndes County resident, said.

Deb Cox, supervisor of elections in Lowndes County, commented on the group’s efforts to call for paper ballots saying, “Only State Legislators have the ability to change Election laws – not local Boards of Elections, not County Commissioners. The one county (Athens Clark) that tried to use paper ballots resulted in SEB Case 2020-005, which is available for public review.”

A group of concerned citizens are pushing for hand-marked, hand-counted, paper ballots to be returned in the 2024 election. They spoke out at the Lowndes County Judicial building on Tuesday, critical of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s support of Dominion Voting Machines.

“He wants us to vote in the 2024 elections on machines that are known to be hackable and insecure. They’re actually easily hackable, according to Mr. Halderman, the voting machine expert,” Diane Cox, a concerned citizen of Lowndes County, said.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson continues to promote a city ordinance to punish citizens who were victims of gun thefts. From WTOC:

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson doubling down Tuesday on his plans to introduce a city ordinance fining gun owners for not properly securing firearms in cars.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson holding firm on his effort to curb illegally obtained guns in the city.

“It is my intention to introduce an ordinance for the City of Savannah, we’re not going to wait for the state, we’re going to do what’s right for Savannah,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said.

According to the mayor, that ordinance would require guns to be securely stored and not visible when unattended in cars.

Mayor Johnson says the goal is to make it harder for criminals to get guns illegally.

As of Aug. 19, city data shows 189 guns have been stolen in Savannah so far this year.

WTOC checked back in with city staff who tell us a draft of the ordinance has been written, but a final version has not been released yet.

But most guns used in 2022 Savannah crimes were obtained legally in Georgia, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Most guns used in crimes in Savannah in 2022 were bought legally within the state, according to an internal Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) spreadsheet obtained by the Savannah Morning News.

While providing some clarity on the origins of guns used in crimes, the data also raises questions. It’s unclear, for example, how many firearms recovered by the ATF were “straw purchases,” when someone purchases a gun legally on behalf of another who is prohibited from making the purchase themselves. Also unclear is how many firearms were bought legally by an individual, then stolen from a car or residence — a common occurrence according to local police departments.

Governor Brian Kemp announced the appointment by the DNR Board of Walter Rabon as Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, according to a press release.

Governor Brian P. Kemp today announced that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Board voted to appoint Walter Rabon as the DNR Commissioner, effective immediately. Rabon has served as Interim Commissioner for the Department since July 1, following the departure of former Commissioner Mark Williams.

“Throughout his many years of service to the State of Georgia and our Department of Natural Resources, Walter Rabon has dedicated himself to the mission of protecting hardworking Georgians and their ability to enjoy our outdoor spaces,” said Governor Brian Kemp. “I look forward to DNR’s continued success ensuring our state is a good steward of its natural resources as he continues to lead the department.”

Walter Rabon currently serves as Interim Commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources. He first began his career with DNR in 1993 as a Conservation Ranger, now referred to as Game Wardens, and worked his way up through the Law Enforcement Division, serving as a Major before becoming Deputy Commissioner. Rabon earned a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Brenau University and a master’s degree from Columbus State University. He and his wife have three sons and five grandchildren, and they reside in Mansfield, Georgia.

Governor Kemp responded to criticism from another reality TV star. From 13WMAZ:

[Judge Glenda] Hatchett says justice was served, but she and others believe Gov. Brian Kemp should have suspended [former Bleckley County Sheriff] Coody long before he resigned.

After court was over and Coody was sentenced, Hatchett held a news conference, where she criticized Kemp.

She says the governor had the authority to suspend Coody and should have. Hatchett says she feels Kemp’s decision not to appoint a panel to review the case enabled Coody, and she says Kemp did nothing.

According to state law, the governor does have the authority to convene a panel to investigate. Then, Kemp could use that information to suspend a sheriff for up to 90 days, and in extreme cases, ask the local district attorney to remove them.

Kemp press secretary Garrison Douglas said by email that the panel could only recommend a temporary suspension for a misdemeanor, like Coody’s.

“The purpose of the committee is not to determine the truth of an allegation, but rather to determine what impact such allegation has on a sheriff’s ability to perform the functions of his or her office,” Douglas wrote.

They brought up the case of Miller County Sheriff Richard Morgan. The group says the governor’s office suspended him for 60 days when he was charged with sexual battery, and violating his oath of office.

Coody was charged with misdemeanor sexual battery and did not have any charges relating to his oath of office. Douglas says they decided to let the process play out as they did with the indictment of former Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown.

Judge Hatchett said something that caught my attention when she discussed the incident that led to this. From 13WMAZ:

Hatchett described the experience in detail during a news conference Monday afternoon for the first time publicly, saying once again she was forced to relive the incident.

“I was absolutely frozen,” she said of her unwelcomed interaction with Coody. “I never felt so helpless in my entire life. And I was angry frankly. I was angry I didn’t slap him.”

Former DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown told a judge Monday that Coody “had a lot to drink.”

“And when I turned back to my left is when I saw his hand on her chest. And I immediately removed it and directed to him, ‘What are you doing?’” Brown recalled.

“(Brown) literally had to take his hand off of me and push him off of me,” Hatchett said after the hearing.

She explained that she pressed charges the next morning and a few days later she could not get out of bed.
“I needed help – my life had been changed,” Hatchett said.

Her impact statement in court echoed much of what she was repeating at the news conference, she said, but this time she was determined to hold back tears.

“I never expected that I would be so deeply affected by this,” she said. “I’ve never been the victim – I’ve been the advocate.”

Then, this piece in The New York Times tickled my memory: ‘I Froze’: Why some rape victims freeze rather than scream or fight back.

One study of rape victims at a Boston hospital found that more than one-third of them reported experiencing a version of this freezing, which in its extreme form is known as “tonic immobility.”

Researchers say that it is an automatic defensive response with roots in evolutionary behavior. There is a cliché, dealing with a different kind of threat, that captures the same idea: a deer in the headlights.

As Amy Arnsten, a neuroscientist at Yale, says, “Under stress, your brain disconnects from its more recently evolved circuits and strengthens many of the primitive circuits, and then these unconscious reflexes that are very ancient kick in.”

Yet many people remain ignorant of the frequency of freezing during sexual assaults. Instead, friends ask victims why they didn’t fight back or yell for help. Doctors and nurses are sometimes confused, too. Most significantly, police officers have long treated reports of freezing as a basis to doubt an assault allegation. That attitude is one reason that such a small portion of reported rapes lead to criminal charges.

All of which suggests that more widespread understanding of the freezing phenomenon could change the way that both the medical system and the criminal justice system handle sexual assault. In her story, Jen describes the work of Nancy Oglesby, a prosecutor, and Mike Milnor, a former police officer, who teach a class that trains investigators to recognize freezing and respond appropriately. In the class, Oglesby and Milnor teach police officers how to conduct empathetic interviews that gather potential evidence.

“I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve had these tough, seasoned, burly cops coming up to me with tears in their eyes,” Milnor said, “saying how they’re thinking about the victims that they treated poorly, not out of malice, but out of ignorance.”

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr is appealing the federal court decision to enjoin enforcement of legislaiton to block some transgender treatments for minors, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

A motion filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia cites a ruling the Atlanta-based U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued Monday lifting a preliminary injunction a federal court had imposed barring enforcement of similar legislation in Alabama.

“In its opinion, the Eleventh Circuit expressly addressed — and rejected — each of the core legal theories Plaintiffs here advanced in support of their motion for preliminary injunction,” Carr’s motion stated.

U.S. District Judge Sarah E. Geraghty ruled late Sunday that four Georgia families and a national organization of parents with transgender children likely would succeed on the merits of their challenge to a provision in Senate Bill 140 that bans hormone replacement therapy for the treatment of gender dysphoria in adolescents.

Geraghty declared that Georgia’s Senate Bill 140 violates transgender minors’ equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment. If it stands, the preliminary injunction would prohibit the law from being enforced while the lawsuit moves forward.

State Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton) received the 2023 Legislative Service Award from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

ACCG recognized Carpenter for his work on digital goods tax legislation and presented him with his award during a recent Whitfield County Board of Commissioners meeting.

“I know that our counties and cities are extremely excited about updating our tax code with new revenue opportunities,” said Carpenter. “My work over the past few years on this legislation has been more about making sure that our local brick and mortar stores are not at a competitive disadvantage with their online competitors. I am extremely pleased that Senate Bill 56 had our language added to it.”

Carpenter was selected for this award for his work on House Bill 170, legislation to allow for the imposition of sales and use tax on the retail purchase or sale of certain digital goods, products and services. Language from Carpenter’s House Bill 170 was incorporated into Senate Bill 56, which was signed and enacted by Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this year. This legislation seeks to protect local businesses by providing tax parity between brick and mortar stores and online retailers, among other provisions.

Chatham County Superior Court Judge Lisa Colbert and some of her colleagues are considering creating a new accountability court to address homelessness, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Homeless courts provide the opportunity for defendants experiencing homelessness, who are charged with non-violent felonies such as property crimes and drug charges, to resolve their cases before they reach the criminal courts.

Homeless courts often use a combination of a progressive plea bargain system, alternative sentencing structure and proof of program involvement to address certain criminal offenses. The specialized court substitutes fines or incarceration with participation in diversionary programs, such as addiction treatment, mental and behavioral health counseling, and job training. The program is based on similar models in Charleston, South Carolina, and San Diego, California.

“As a judge, my job is to give people their day in court,” said Colbert. “So, if I can figure out a way to do that so we’re not making it harder for this person to come to court and do everything else they need to do to hopefully get them to a place where they’re not continuing to come to court, then I’ve done my job.”

A homeless court would help for multiple reasons. One example that Colbert provided: With the defendants listed in the jail’s records as homeless, Colbert isn’t able to send a notice to appear in court to a physical address. Over time, Colbert has had no choice but to issue a failure to appear warrant.

There are multiple steps Chatham County must take to implement a homeless court. First, Colbert said, the county must put together a steering committee, which will include one to two judges, a public defender, one to two homeless providers. Next, the county needs a location to hold homeless court hearings and determine how homeless people will be referred to the program.

I really like that article for two reasons: first, the creativity by a Judge to address an issue in the courts and justice system; second, the explanation of what it takes to start an accountability court.

Scofflaws: most Chatham County speed camera tickets go unpaid, according to WTOC.

Most people in Savannah are not paying their speed camera citations.

That adds up to more than 20,000 unpaid tickets.

Since Savannah Police activated cameras across roughly a dozen school zones city-wide last fall they’ve sent out more than 37,250 citations.

That means only 4 in 10 drivers who got a citation have paid their fine.

More importantly to the city it represents more than 2 million uncollected dollars.

Here’s the deal.

If you get a citation and don’t pay it you will not get points counted against your license.

But you’ll have to pay the fine before you can renew your car’s registration here in Georgia.

Bulloch County Commissioners unanimously approved a property tax increase, according to the Statesboro Herald.

After dozens of county residents at three public hearings voiced opposition to a 1.5-mill rate hike that compounds with real estate inflation to a more than 28% average increase in property tax, the Bulloch County commissioners met at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and voted 6-0 to approve it.

Interviewed afterward, Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson – who asked for the motion but who didn’t vote since he only does so when there’s a tie – explained the increase in terms of the county government meeting its obligations in the face of rising costs and expected growth.

“To operate the county with enough funds to cover all the services and everything else that is required of us, I mean, we have to have the monies to fund it, and even as of this morning we were looking for ways to cut,” Thompson said.

The county government’s new, general millage rate will be 12.85 mills, up from last year’s 11.35 mills. That alone would be a 13.2% increase. But this follows inflation, averaging almost 15%, in the assessed value of taxable property as determined by the county Board of Tax Assessors. Together, the inflation and the millage increase create a 28.04% general property tax increase for properties on average.

Glynn County Commissioners and Brunswick Commissioners will vote on property tax millage rates this week, according to The Brunswick News.

The Glynn County Commission will finalize county and school board property tax rates for the coming year at a meeting on Thursday.

Glynn County imposes different rates on the six tax districts in the county — the city of Brunswick, St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, Sea Island, the Ballard area and outlying areas of the county. The base property tax rate proposed for the 2023-2023 fiscal year is 3.864 mills, down from 4.119 last year.

The Glynn County School Board voted earlier this month to reduce its millage rate by a quarter-point. County commissioners will consider ratifying the new tax rate on Thursday. Even with the cut, the school tax for property owners will go up by about 5% on average due to rising property values.

The City Commission will also meet on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Old City Hall, 1229 Newcastle St., to consider approving its 2023-2024 property rate of 13.219 mills, the same rate it has had since 2014.

Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams says the county jail is in bad shape, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

In a letter to Burke County commissioners on Aug. 6, Williams responded to accusations of overspending and addressed budget concerns including the state of the Burke County jail.

Among the issues Williams mentioned were a lack of suicide watch areas, lockdown areas and a mental health ward.

Unable to house all 130 Burke County inmates, the jail contracted with four other county jails – Washington, Glenn, Jefferson and Jenkins counties – to safely house inmates at a cost of nearly $550,000 over the last year.

Those with medical concerns may also be transferred, as the jail’s medical ward was built prior to ADA regulations and is not handicap accessible.

When Williams took office in 2017, he said a quote to build a 225-bed facility was between $12 and $15 million. Now, he says the cost has jumped to $22 million.

Rincon voters will choose a new City Council member on September 19, 2023, according to the Effingham Herald.

Kevin Exley and Eric Hills have qualified for the Rincon City Council special election to be held Sept. 19 to fill the unexpired term left by former councilmember Damon Rahn.

Rahn resigned on June 2.

Qualifying in two Bulloch County municipalities is underway, while a third may require a mulligan, according to the Statesboro Herald.

In Brooklet, Mayor Joe Grooms III has said he is not seeking re-election. Instead, Councilmember Nicky Gwinnett completed qualifying paperwork and paid the fee Monday to run for mayor. That leaves Gwinnett’s council position, Seat 1, which is also up for election, open to any other Brooklet citizens who meet the requirements and wish to qualify as candidates this week.

In Portal, all three incumbents whose offices are up for election, Mayor Billy Boggs, Post 2 Councilmember Roy Johnson and Post 5 Councilmember Delina Woods, all qualified for re-election Monday, and there were no additional qualifiers as of late afternoon Tuesday, said City Clerk Mike Arrieta.

Register had candidate qualifying planned for its Town Hall business hours, 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Council seats 3 and 4, held by Tonya Boyd and Alfred Jones, respectively, are up for election, as well as Seat 5, left vacant by the resignation one year ago of Ann Ross. But Town Clerk Annette Waters said Monday she was checking with state officials on whether Register may have to re-do its process because of lack of sufficient public notice of its qualifying times.

Ginny Headley qualified for the Statesboro City Council District 3 seat held by Venus Mack, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Mack did not sign up on Monday, but she told the Statesboro Herald last week that she intends to run, and she still has four days to qualify. Also up for election on the Nov. 7 city ballot are District 2 Councilmember Paulette Chavers and District 5 Councilmember Shari Barr. Both Chavers and Barr are seeking re-election and qualified as candidates Monday morning.

Augusta-area voters will decide a county sales tax referendum and elect officers in Blythe, Hephzibah, Grovetown, and Harlem, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The only county-wide election will be on whether or not to approve a 0.5% sales tax to raise $433,196,500 for major renovations to the Augusta Entertainment Complex, including the James Brown Arena. The vote would cover a $250 million bond, including interest over time through 2043. The vote was authorized by House Bill 230 earlier this year, leaving the final decision up to voters.

This election follows on a vote in 2021 where residents rejected a property tax proposal to fund the arena project. If this vote fails, it could be another five years before the work happens, according to prior reporting in the Chronicle.

From WRDW:

[Grovetown] Mayor Gary Jones will be facing Councilwomen Ceretta Smith and Deborah Fisher.

That election will be held on Nov. 7 of this year.

In Rome, incumbent City Commission members Bill Collins and Bonny Askew qualified for reelection, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Six of the nine Rome City Commission seats are up for grabs, along with two of the five Cave Spring City Council posts. However, each of the incumbents face challengers in both the Rome and Cave Spring races.

Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor (D) announced he will run for reelection in 2024, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Taylor officially announced the launch of his re-election campaign. The sheriff became the first Democrat in decades and the first African-American ever to win the office when he was elected in 2020.

“My goal is to create an effective law enforcement system in Gwinnett County,” Taylor said. “Our work is not done, and I possess the experience and values to continue to lead Gwinnett forward. In 2024, I will set forth my record of achievements and passion for our community to seek reaffirmation from Gwinnett voters.”

The road to re-election won’t be easy for the sheriff. Taylor is already facing opposition from within his own party as well as across the political aisle as multiple Democrats and at least one Republican have announced plans to run against him, citing morale issues and jail management.

“Since being elected in 2020, I have prioritized critical reforms within the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office, focusing on behavioral health, recruitment and retention of qualified staff, and the regulation of use-of-force and de-escalation policies,” Taylor said. “These were key areas of focus during my campaign, and I made immediate changes in my first days in office.

“I ended the 287(G) program, discontinued the litigious Rapid Response Team in the jail, and established both an Anti-Gang Unit and a Trafficking and Child Exploitation Unit.”

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