Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 8, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 8, 2023

The first printed copy of the Declaration of Independence arrived in Savannah on August 8, 1776 and was read publicly for the first time on August 10, 1776.

On August 8, 1863, General Robert E. Lee offered his resignation in a letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, following the Battle of Gettysburg.

On August 8, 1925, Georgia Governor Clifford Walker signed legislation outlawing the brazen act of dancing publicly on Sunday.

On August 8, 1929, Georgia Governor Lamartine Hardman signed legislation placing on the ballot for Fulton and Campbell County voters a merger of the two.

The old Campbell County Courthouse still stands in Fairburn, Georgia.

Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew were nominated for President and Vice President by the Republican National Convention on August 8, 1968.

On August 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned, effective at noon the next day.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Clarke County Superior Court Judge Eric Norris ignored a plea deal negotiated by Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzales’s office, and sentenced a convicted child molestor to nearly four times the prison sentence, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

A Madison County man charged with molesting three children entered a guilty plea Monday in Athens, but the presiding judge stepped way beyond the plea deal negotiated between the defendant and the district attorney’s office.

Western Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez and the defendant’s lawyer Thomas McCormack of Jefferson had reached an agreement that Wendell Daniel Coker would plead guilty to the five-count indictment and receive four years in prison.

But after hearing some details of the case, in which Coker is charged with molesting three children, all under the age of 10, Clarke County Superior Court Judge Eric Norris imposed a 15-year prison term.

Coker, 34, of Danielsville, had pleaded guilty to aggravated child molestation and four other counts of child molestation. The indictment alleged the children were molested during a time period ranging from November 2019 to April 2022.

Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams says budget issues imperil public safety, according to WRDW.

Commissioners say the Burke County Sheriff’s Office will run out of money this month. He met last week with two of the commissioners and has come up with some private donations to pay for the raises of staff members he recently promoted. He’s also announced federal grants he’s received.

Acceptance of the donated money is on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners.

“My office has been approached by a group of citizens who report they have raised enough money to pay the salaries of deputies who aren’t being paid for the additional work and responsibilities they took on after retirements allowed us to restructure the office and eliminate some positions,” Williams wrote in an email to Waldrop. “The citizens are concerned about their safety if deputies are not being paid as promised and it is their desire to fix this situation through the end of this fiscal budget. They are asking that we present this issue to the commission and have the commission adopt a resolution accepting the money. They have a representative who can attend to answer any questions or concerns the commission may have.”

Commissioners say they have told Williams multiple times to cut back on spending, and they say he has not listened.

The Lawrenceville Police Department, along with Street Grace and the GBI, will host a on human trafficking, according to AccessWDUN.

According to a social media post from the department, the class will focus on signs of Human Trafficking and tips for investigation. Instruction will also discuss the process of successful prosecution needs for these types of cases.

The class will be split into two parts, with the first half open to the general public and the second only available to sworn police officers who present their department-issued ID cards or credentials before entering the class.

The portion of the class that will be open to both civilians and Police Officers will be led by the organization Street Grace, which collaborates with faith, business, and community leaders to provide a comprehensive path to end the sexual exploitation of minors. This portion of the class will center around preventing, identifying, and responding to trafficking.

Chatham County Juvenile Court has opened a “Zen Den,” according to the Savannah Morning News.

The “Zen Den” mindfulness room resulted from a collaboration among Chatham County Juvenile Court, St. Thomas Episcopal Church and the Coastal Georgia Indicators Coalition, and was funded by the Pittulloch Foundation and Resilient Georgia as a part of the Resilient Coastal Georgia initiative.

Alisha Markle, chief deputy court administrator, said the room is a much-needed space among first responders and court staff.  “We endure a lot of secondary trauma that we kind of withhold, and it comes out in different other levels of stressors. And so, with the help of this Zen room, our hope is, is that when we’re feeling stress at the office. This will allow us the opportunity to just kind of take a little breather, feel more comfortable and re-energize to what we need to do for our youth and families and moving forward through the day.”

Smugglers are going high-tech as another incident of attempted drone smuggling into a state prison yielded drugs, cash, and other contraband, according to WSAV.

According to the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC), the discovery unfolded when Warden Beasley and Office of Professional Standards agents were leaving the prison early Aug. 2. The GDC said they saw a drone and began monitoring its flight pattern, leading them to a nearby residence where they saw the drone crash into a roof.

Agents found Moses Echols, a parolee, Jaime Dean and Dannaye Walker in the yard with drones and a large package. They were taken into custody and transported to the Tattnall County Sheriff’s Office.

Meanwhile, a search warrant was secured for the property and the residence where items consistent with those used to smuggle contraband into prisons were found, according to the GDC.

That included 1,508 grams of marijuana, 10,100 grams of tobacco, three drones, two loaded handguns, digital scales, cell phones, a hotspot, a gas mask, large magnets and footballs.

“As we continue to remain diligent at preventing contraband from entering our facilities, our most important weapon in this fight remains our committed, dedicated staff,” said Commissioner Tyrone Oliver. “I am extremely confident and proud of our Officers, facility leadership, Agents and other staff who work around-the-clock to find and remove these items and we will continue to hold those who break the law accountable for their actions and work to bring justice to those who pose a threat to the safety of the public and to the safe operations of our prisons.”

Dougherty County will maintain the same millage rate for the new fiscal year, resulting in higher property taxes for some owners, according to WALB.

On Monday, the Dougherty County Board of Commissioners announced they are going to increase the 2023 property taxes. Most homeowners will only see an increase of a few dollars. That’s much better than last year when property taxes went up more than $133 per $100,000 worth of home. The county is keeping the same millage rate as in 2022.

“We ultimately want to get our millage rate where we can roll it back and give people a greater bang and they’ll feel it versus something so minuscule, it doesn’t make a difference,” said Lorenzo Heard, Dougherty County chairman.

It is expected to be .57% over the rollback mileage rate for the countywide district.

When the total digest of taxable property is prepared, Georgia law requires a rollback millage rate to be determined that will produce the same total revenue on the current year’s digest that last year’s millage rate would have produced had no reassessment occurred.

“That 6 million is a budget number based on your system of budgeting where you underestimate revenues and overestimate expenses. I would hope that in 2024 you’re going to break even and that’s why I wanted you to keep the millage rate the same,” said Ed Wall, a Dougherty County financial consultant.

Bulloch County Commissioners hosted a required public meeting to discuss the rising millage rate, according to WTOC.

More than 100 residents attended the first of three public hearings. Commissioners say they need a 1.5 mil increase to hire more public safety, give county employees a raise and add infrastructure to accommodate the industry and housing connected to Hyundai and its supplier companies.

But some property owners say the tax increases are too much all at once. Others said the county should not have given industries tax abatements that homeowners have to absorb.

“For all of this to be at once, after a pandemic, inflation…during inflation, increased interest rates. It’s just too much for the community at one time,” said property owner Dr. Beth Williams.

“We’re going to look at anything we can do to make it less, I suppose,” said County Commission Chairman Roy Thompson.

State Rep. Matthew Gambill (R-Cartersville) says the General Assembly may address property taxes, according to the Center Square.

Property taxes are on the rise across the state. What is the state doing to crack down on the increase?

This past year we were able to provide the property tax relief grant, which the citizens in the state that own a home [can use for this year’s bill]. As far as discussions about doing that again for next year, … I’m not sure yet if we’re going to do that or not. But certainly, there’s a lot of things that are on the table to talk about how do we minimize the amount of the increase on a given year because what most Georgians experienced this year was a pretty rapid increase.

A property owner might say the values are going up and governments are raking in more from their taxes. It seems almost a little bit unfair as a property owner. Would you say that’s fair?

The valuation increase is great if you’re going to sell your house, but if you’re not planning to sell your house, it really is a moot point. I talked to a lot of property owners here in Bartow that they’re on a fixed income, maybe they’re retired, and they’re really struggling to pay property tax. … I’ve encouraged them to appeal if they disagree with the valuation of their home. And then another thing I’ve encouraged a lot of them to do is to break their mortgage payments off of escrow and to try and budget and control that a little bit better.

Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones (R-Jackson) announced the Senate will address student social media and bullying, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

“So many bad actors now are targeting our children,” Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who presides over the Senate, said Monday during a news conference. “People perpetrating these things we’re going to try to hold accountable.”

The proposed legislation, which is still in development, would require social media companies to take concrete steps to verify the age of their users. Existing rules requiring schools to monitor bullying would be updated to reflect the realities of modern technology.

The bill also would require social media companies to remove features they know or find to be addictive to minors.

“We want to be sensitive to the First Amendment,” said Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, who will serve as the bill’s chief sponsor. “[But] we’re making a stand here in Georgia. Something’s got to change.”

Jones said the Georgia law will be modeled after those of states including Louisiana, which has a law on its books requiring social media companies to verify the age of users and imposing fines and/or jail time on those convicted of cyberbullying.

Jones said he and other backers of the legislation plan to reach out to social media companies, local school systems and parents for ideas as they craft the bill.

The 2024 General Assembly session will begin Jan. 8.

United States Senator Jon Ossoff (D-Atlanta) announced that F-35s will be stationed at Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, according to WALB.

“I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with Colonel Sheets and his team today, and I’m pleased to confirm that the Air Force has announced its intention to bring the F-35A fighter aircraft here to Moody Air Force Base,” Ossoff said in a statement. “I came to the installation today to meet with the command and discuss how we plan most effectively for that transition. This is going to mean that Moody Air Force Base will remain a critical asset to our national defense and means significant investment in jobs and economic growth for South Georgia.”

In late June, Ossoff and the U.S. Air Force announced that Moody AFB was chosen to receive the next active-duty F-35A Lightning II mission.

Two squadrons of F-35As are expected to begin arriving in the 2029 fiscal year, according to the Air Force. The Air Force will first conduct an environmental impact analysis, which is expected to be completed in fall 2025, according to the Air Force.

State Senator Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro) says illiteracy is an epidemic, according to WTOC.

“This is really an epidemic. We’ve got studies that show our children were reading on higher levels in 2012 than they are now,” Council [on Literacy] Member Sen. Billy Hickman said.

The council combines law makers with local district leaders from around the state and child development experts.

With Georgia recruiting industry to the state, leaders say the need for a well educated workforce becomes higher than ever.

“Our people have to be literate if we want to continue the quality of life that we’re developing in Georgia. Our people have to be able to read in order to enjoy the success we’re having in economic development,” Speaker of the House Rep. Jon Burns said.

The council noted recent bills by the General Assembly that emphasize literacy resources and the timetables for those to by in place.

Bryan County is considering regulating short-term vacation rentals, according to WTOC.

The county says the main reason they wanted to introduce this first draft of the short-term vacation rental ordinance is because of the growth the area is seeing.

The county’s communications director says this ordinance will help them keep track of rental properties and make sure they can track down the owners if any complaints are made.

This is just the first draft of the new ordinance so it could change as the community continues to provide feedback and as it faces the planning and zoning commission along with the county’s board of commissioners.

“We’ve got quite a bit of feedback so far, to see what the public thinks, where the public thinks it should go and of course, you know, what to take in, what to take out and what to put in. The, the important thing right now is that we get comments from the public,” Bryan County PIO Matthew Kent said.

“The county says the best way for you to give your feedback on this ordinance is to reach out to them on Facebook by the end of this month.

Atlanta City Council voted to require HD video cameras at some gas stations, according to the AJC.

Before a three week hiatus, Council member Andrea Boone introduced a resolution that mandates that gas stations and convenience stores install high-definition cameras at gas pumps that run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The new surveillance requirements will impact more than 250 businesses within the city limits.

The proposal aims at deterring crime at the local businesses. Some residents — particularly on the west side of the city — say they are scared to utilize their community gas stations as drugs, prostitution, carjackings and deadly gun violence run rampant around the pumps.

“This prioritizes safety for the elderly and Atlanta residents who are targeted, while attempting to pump gas and go to those convenience stores,” Boone said following the vote.

Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins announced he will retire, according to WRDW.

Probate Judge Alice Padgett will name a replacement to serve as the Interim Coroner for the remaining term,” according to state law.

The position will be on the ballot in the November 2024 General Election.

Democrat Susie Greenberg announced she will run for the House District 53 seat currently held by Republican Deborah Silcox, according to the AJC.

Susie Greenberg on Tuesday announced her bid for the District 53 seat, which stretches through parts of Buckhead, Sandy Springs and Roswell. She pledged to support abortion rights, expand Medicaid and boost jobs for district residents.

Although Silcox has carved out a conservative voting record, she also has broken ranks with her party. In 2019, she voted against Kemp’s anti-abortion legislation, tearfully telling colleagues that she was reflecting the values of her constituents.

Her campaign announcement described Silcox as part of the GOP leadership team that “laid the groundwork to revoke a woman’s right to choose” in Georgia.

Greenberg also outlined a long list of endorsements that includes Georgia House Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon, and roughly a dozen other legislators. Among Greenberg’s backers is state Rep. Shea Roberts, the Democrat who defeated Silcox in 2020.

Tybee Island Marine Science Center has logged more than 3400 sea turtle nests in Georgia, according to WTOC.

Tybee Island Marine Science Center says during this nesting season for sea turtles, the state has seen almost 3,400 nests.

Now, right here in Tybee, they’ve seen 31 nests. If they get to 32, they’ll break a record.

Nesting season runs from May to October seeing the first nests around end of May.

On day 50, nest sitting starts helping to ward off danger like coyotes and fire ants. Th executive director says it’s been a good and long season with lots of nest success.

“So some people say sea turtles aren’t great mothers, but I do not agree. I think that they are hard workers. They nest one time a year, but they nest every two weeks when it’s their time to go. And so they can contribute up to 500 eggs a season,” said Audran.

She says you can help protect baby sea turtles by cleaning up after yourself, keeping nesting areas dark, and leaving sand flat.

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