Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 6, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 6, 2023

On December 7, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the United States Constitution.

On December 7, 1801, Georgia’s United States Senator Abraham Baldwin was elected President Pro Tem of the Senate.

On December 6, 1847, Dr. William White spoke to a group of Atlanta residents about a proposal to move the state capital to Atlanta and was met with cheers.

On December 7, 1864, federal troops under W.T. Sherman engaged Confederate forces at Jenks’ Bridge on the Ogeechee, and Buck Creek and Cypress Swamp, near Sister’s Ferry, Georgia Confederates burned the bridge over the Ogeechee.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on December 6, 1865, when Georgia ratified the Amendment outlawing slavery.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The Washington Monument was completed on December 6, 1884.

On December 6, 1932, the legislation repealing Prohibition was introduced by Senator John Blaine of Wisconsin. It was ratified on December 5, 1933. Georgia never took action on the Amendment.

Thursday is the 81st anniversary of the Japanese bombing attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

GeorgiaInfo has the reactions of Georgia leaders to the Pearl Harbor attack,

U.S. Sen. Walter F. George stated: “Japan’s deed is an act of desperation by a war-mad people. The attack on Hawaii is a deliberate act of the Japanese government. I am utterly amazed. It is unthinkable… . An open declaration of war will give us greater freedom of action.” Noting the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, George optimistically predicted that “it may take two or three years to fight this war to the end.”

U.S. Sen. Richard B. Russell responded to the attack by stating: “Japan has committed national hari-kari. I cannot conceive of any member of Congress voting against a declaration of war in view of the unpardonable, unprovoked attack on us. I am utterly astounded.”

U.S. Rep. Carl Vinson, chairman of the House Naval Affairs Committee, added: “Of course we will have to declare war. There is nothing else for Congress to do. This is a concerted action by the Axis Powers, but I am confident our Navy is ready and will render a glorious account of itself. It probably means we will be drawn into the world conflict on both oceans.”

On December 7, 1946, the Winecoff Hotel in downtown Atlanta, previously considered fireproof, burned in the worst hotel fire to date.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Chatham County Superior Court Judge Penny Freesemann said the backlog of defendants needing mental health assessments can stretch as long as a year, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Statewide, Georgia has experienced a 40% increase in court orders for pretrial evaluations since 2006, yet the state has 35% fewer forensic psychologists to determine defendants’ competency, said DBHDD Commissioner Kevin Tanner at an October budget proposal meeting.

Tanner said that, as of Sept. 1, more than 1,200 defendants statewide were awaiting a pre-trial evaluation, a number that has exploded in recent years.

There is also a waitlist for defendants found incompetent to stand trial and referred for treatment at a state hospital. At the end of September, 523 people around the state were waiting for a bed in one of the state’s five in-patient mental health facilities, including Georgia Regional Hospital on Eisenhower Drive. The current wait time in Georgia is 275 days, much higher than most states, where wait times typically average 30 days (although three states have reported wait times ranging from six months to a year, according to academic research).

In Chatham County, the issue is as acute. According to court records, as of Oct. 17, 26 people were awaiting a pre-trial evaluation and 15 people were awaiting bed space at a DBHDD facility.

Chatham County Courts in 2015 implemented the competency docket, modeled after the Northeastern Judicial Courts. Back then, Chatham County Superior Court Judge Penny Freesemann said the court would receive an initial opinion on competency from DBHDD within 30 days.

Freesemann, who presides over the mental health court and competency docket, said in late October that the wait is now at least six months. “I know that when I get on a docket when someone’s talking about, ‘I’m going to need an evaluation,’ I cringe a little bit and there’s probably a year away and that person is just sitting in the jail.”

The first [delay] occurs in getting the initial forensic evaluation. “[It] can take months, and months and months,” said Freesemann.

Most defendants remain in jail as they await the initial evaluation. And even after the lengthy process to determine competency and treatment options, Freesemann estimated that lawyers agree on the defendant’s competence 80% of the time.

The Houston County Board of Elections referred complaints alleging that WR City Council member Charlie Bibb broke election laws in a race he won by a single vote, according to 13WMAZ.

Charlie Bibb is accused of breaking election laws on election day by several people.

The Houston County Board of Elections did not explicitly say whether they find the allegations against Councilman Bibb to be true or false at Tuesday’s meeting.

However, the board announced it will turn the results of their findings from their board’s investigation to entities with authority to discipline.

That includes the city and county attorney, Secretary of State’s office and State Election Board.

If Georgia finds the allegations against Bibb to be true, he would have broken two election laws. By state law, candidates cannot be inside a polling place during an election unless they’re there to vote nor can anybody wear campaign gear inside a polling precinct.

The board’s declaration about their committee’s findings was not clear to most folks in the room when the committee’s chair, Andrew Bennett, made the announcement.

“What we’re saying is there are other forces now who are going to be completing their investigation,” Bennet said. “Our role became one of preservation. Preservation of evidence, preservation of statements from people who were at those polling locations. Those are the items that are going to be turned to both the city and the county attorney as well as the state election board and the secretary of state.”

If the state finds the allegations against Bibb to be true, he would be guilty of a misdemeanor in Georgia.

Former Brookhaven City Council member John Park was elected Mayor in yesterday’s Runoff Election, according to the AJC.

John Park earned 59% of votes in the runoff election against Lauren Kiefer, according to unofficial results. Park will succeed Mayor John Ernst, who was term-limited.

“Tonight, after a long and tough campaign, the people of Brookhaven made their voices heard and elected me as our city’s next Mayor,” Park said in a statement. “Our victory is proof that hard work and unwavering commitment to the people will always win in Brookhaven.

Park, a technical consultant who tracks disease spread for the Centers for Disease Control and other laboratories, campaigned on his experience as a longtime Brookhaven council member. He was first elected in 2014.

Under Ernst, the city’s growth has been ambitious, culminating in the October groundbreaking of a new $78 million City Hall. Park has said that as mayor, his focus will be on finishing what has been started.

“My plan is to execute and see our vision through,” he said previously.

A number of runoff elections were held in Middle Georgia, and 13WMAZ covers the results in Fort Valley, Forsyth, and Davidsboro.

WALB in Albany covers local runoff elections in Southwest Georgia, including the City of Enigma, Vienna, and Willacoochee.

The Georgia State Senate voted to pass a Congressional redistricting plan over Democratic opposition, according to the Associated Press via WSAV.

Brushing aside concerns that they may be breaking law that protects coalitions of nonwhite voters, Georgia state senators on Tuesday passed a new congressional map that would maintain a likely 9-5 GOP edge in the state’s delegation.

The Senate voted 32-22 to pass the plan, which seeks a wholesale reconfiguration of a suburban Atlanta district now represented by Democrat Lucy McBath. It goes to the House for more debate.

Meanwhile, lawmakers gave final passage to maps likely to keep each chamber of the General Assembly under the control of Republicans, sending House and Senate maps to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature or veto.

Senators voted 32-21 to give final passage to a new state House map, despite Democrat concerns that the map harmed minority coalitions and would likely preserve all but one or two seats in the Republicans current 102-78 House majority.

The House voted 98-71 to pass the Senate map, which aims to keep Republicans 33-23 majority. Democrats lambasted the map, saying it did not do enough to enhance Black opportunities in the 10 districts found to be illegal.

Republicans say the plans meet Jones’ requirements to draw more majority-Black districts.

“This map maintains the partisan balance this Legislature endorsed and voted on two years ago while at the same time fully complying with Judge Jones’ order,” said Senate President Pro Tem John Kennedy, a Macon Republican.

But Democrats say all the maps fall short. Sen. Ed Harbison, a Columbus Democrat, lambasted Republicans for how they are treating McBath, saying she “has been shuffled around like a chess piece.”

An audit of the City of Columbus has identified millions of dollars missing, according to WTVM.

Back on July 25th Columbus City Council initiated an internal audit to be conducted on the finance department. Five months later, the findings are in.

Internal Auditor Donna McGinnis says there have been checks from business owners trying to renew their business licenses that never made it to the bank with one check dating back to 2006.

“So the bulk of them are stale checks. You also have waiting credit card authorizations. In some cases, your are not just talking about licensure. You’re talking about pawn shop ownership you talking about a wide variety of things,” Donna McGinnis.

Director of Finance Angelica Alexander disagrees with McGinnis when it comes to the uncollected 45.1 million dollars. Alexander says that it is impossible to believe that 45.1 million dollars is an accurate amount, she says 2.5 million would be more accurate.

“It is inaccurately stated that there is $45.1 million upon process transactions catalog that CCG lock box that’s inaccurately stated. That the lockbox activity has not been deposited into the city’s bank. All transactions have been cataloged in blocks in Excel spreadsheets. What we refer to as lock box is cash. These accounts are cash that has been deposited in the city bank account so there is no missing money,” Angelica Alexander said.

Augusta Commissioners adopted a budget for 2024, according to WRDW.

After multiple conversations around a future $4 million to $5 million shortfall that Interim City Administrator Takiyah Douse says will hit next year’s budget, commissioners asked for a 1% cut across all departments to save money.

The budget passed 9-1 with the 1% cut going into a reserve fund. Commissioner Bobby Williams was the sole “no” vote.

Even with the cut, the budget is the city’s largest ever.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson spoke about recent violent crimes, according to WTOC.

“We will continue to do what we can… as a matter of fact, we believe that the technology that we have employed, that we have invested in will hopefully lead us quickly to apprehend those quickly who were involved in these senseless acts of violence. I understand that there has been some good information, some good intel out there and we will continue to follow those leads to make sure that those who pull triggers in our community our brought to justice.”

United States Representative Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) co-sponsored legislation designed to protect parental rights in social media, according to The Brunswick News.

U.S. Reps. Buddy Carter, R-1; Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida; Kim Schrier, D-Washington; and Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa; introduced Sammy’s Law on Tuesday. The critical child safety legislation would help parents be better informed about a child’s dangerous interactions on social media and fill in critical access and awareness gaps when children face problems on popular platforms.

The bill is named after Sammy Chapman, who family and friends described as a sweet, funny, curious A-student. His parents worked hard to keep him away from danger but had no idea drug dealers stalked children via social media. On Feb. 7, 2021, a seller reached out to Sammy on social media and delivered drugs to him at home, which tragically were poisoned with a lethal dose of the opioid fentanyl. The 16-year-old died later that day.

“Parents have the right to know when their child is engaging in dangerous online activity,” Carter said. “There are sick, evil people who will prey on our youth to make a quick buck by selling illicit, sometimes fentanyl-laced, drugs. Sammy’s life was worth living, and this bill will help parents get the information they need to keep their children safe.”

The bill would create a parental right to know about dangerous or concerning interactions children under the age of 17 may have online.

Social media companies would be required to provide access to data pertaining to a parent’s child through registered third-party safety apps. These apps can provide alerts to parents when dangerous content is shared through children’s social media accounts, enabling life-saving interventions at critical moments.

For example, if a child is expressing thoughts of suicide via social media, then a parent, who has received an alert through a third-party safety app, can immediately provide mental health support.

U.S. Representative Sanford Bishop (D-Albany) co-sponsored broadband legislation, according to the Albany Herald.

Congressman Sanford D. Bishop Jr., D-Ga., and Congressman John Moolenaar, R-Mich., introduced the Broadening Online Opportunities Through Simple Technologies (BOOST) Act Tuesday.

Joining them in introducing the bipartisan bill were Congressman Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., and Congressman Bill Huizenga, R-Mich. The legislation would allow households in rural, low connectivity areas to claim a $300 tax credit after purchasing a mobile internet hotspot or a signal booster to increase their internet speeds.

“I am happy to reintroduce the bipartisan BOOST Act with my colleagues, which will help make broadband internet access more affordable and accessible to rural communities,” Bishop said in a news release. “Dependable access to high-speed internet is vital for a whole range of day-to-day activities including individuals teleworking, children doing homework, and families accessing telemedicine.

Effingham County Commissioners debated changes to their gun ordinance, according to WTOC.

The ordinance in question went into effect in 1997 and said that it is illegal to discharge a firearm within a 300-yard radius of a place where someone is living without getting permission from them. While the commission was proposing to make changes to it, some members of the community called for it to be completely removed.

“The way that this ordinance is written if you left it wide open, and you need to throw this ordinance away and come up with something different that is clearly defined and doesn’t take our rights away.”

Ultimately, the commission did not vote on this agenda item but instead stated that they would want to look at the state law, the county ordinance, and have a workshop meeting.

Effingham Commissioners approved an agreement with Live Oak Libraries, the public library agency, according to WTOC.

Columbus City Council voted to move forward with plans to build a new Judicial Center, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Construction on Columbus’ new judicial center got the final green light from city councilors Tuesday as they committed to building the new courthouse on the north side of the existing Government Center block.

Council proceeded with that plan for the $200 million project despite objections from the Springer Opera House and other opponents.

The plan council approved Tuesday was the same one the architectural team previously presented: to renovate and reuse the central plaza and east and west wings of the current complex, preserve the three-deck underground parking garage beneath them, and build the new tower on the north side.

When the new building is finished, the courts will move there from the existing 12-story tower to the south, which will be demolished to make room for additional parking.

The Georgia Ports Authority approved plans to build an inland container port in Gainesville, according to WTOC.

The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) has approved spending $127 million to build a rail terminal connecting the Port of Savannah with northeast Georgia.

The project, called the Blue Ridge Connecter, is an inland rail terminal in Gainesville, Ga.

“Through improved connectivity, developments like the Blue Ridge Connector maximize the impact of Georgia’s extensive logistics network,” said Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in a prepared statement. “Inland terminals have a proven track record of powering economic development for rural Georgians by extending port services to the doorstep of manufacturing and supply chain operations.”

Funding for the Blue Ridge Connecter is a mix of GPA internal capital and a grant from the Federal Maritime Administration, according to the GPA.

Currently, GPA said approximately 18-20 percent of container cargo is moved by rail.

“This important investment will help our customers streamline their supply chains while reducing congestion on Georgia highways,” said GPA President and CEO Griff Lynch in a prepared statement. “As we have seen at the Appalachian Regional Port in Murray County, improved rail service to the region will increase transportation efficiency and act as a magnet for jobs and economic development. Every container moved by rail will avoid a 600-mile roundtrip by truck between Savannah and the Gainesville, area,” Lynch added. “That’s a massive benefit to cargo owners seeking to reduce their carbon footprint.” Hybrid electric rubber tire gantry cranes will be used.”

Andy Harville was elected Mayor of Guyton, besting incumbent Mayor Russ Deen in yesterday’s Runoff Election, according to the Savannah Morning News.

With less than 15% of eligible voters casting ballots, Andy Harville won the runoff election for mayor Tuesday, unseating sitting Mayor Russ Deen, 156-129.

Guyton residents had just four weeks to mull over who they wanted in city hall when neither Deen nor Harville reached the necessary 50% plus one vote during the Nov. 7 general election. Deen finished with 181 votes, Harville secured 166, and Michael Garvin drew 159 that night.

James “Chick” Jones defeated incumbent Bill Tinley to win the runoff election for Mayor of Waynesboro, according to WRDW.

On Tuesday night, officials announced the election results; there were a total of 720 votes cast out of 3,345 eligible voters.

Jones defeated the incumbent Bill Tinley by a count of 378 to 342, according to the election results.

Former Sugar Hill City Council member Meg Avery beat incumbent Jenn Thatcher to win the District 3 runoff election, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Councilwoman Jenn Thatcher was defeated by former Councilwoman Meg Avery by a 19-vote margin in the Council Post 3 runoff, according to unofficial results. Avery received 600 votes while Thatcher received 581 votes.

There are two pending absentee ballots.

Last month, former Sugar Hill Mayor Gary Pirkle defeated Councilman Marc Cohen in the Council Post 2 race while Joshua Page defeated Councilman Mason Roszel in the Post 1 race.

Pirkle, Page and Avery had run together as a slate against the incumbent council members, raising concerns about development in the city by taking an anti-apartments stance. They also raised concerns about city financial issues.

“Big Nick” Harden was elected to the at-large District 7 seat on Valdosta City Council, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Harden received 1,519 votes to Love’s 754.

In all, 2,277 ballots were cast, a turnout of 7.58%. Lowndes County Elections Superintendent Deb Cox said that’s actually pretty high for a municipal runoff with a single race on the ballot; municipal runoffs generally run 3-5% turnout, she said.

Four provisional ballots have not been counted, Cox said, but they will be once they’ve been “cured.” Provisional ballots are ones in which there’s a question about the voter’s eligibility, such as a question about where they live; they’re allowed to cast a provisional ballot on Election Day, and between then and the votes being certified, officials determine whether the voter was eligible, a process called curing. If the voter was eligible, the provisional ballot is counted just like any other.

More than half of the votes were cast during the early voting period — 1,239 versus 983 cast on Election Day and 51 absentee by mail ballots.

Norman Carter won election to Snellville City Council in the runoff election, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Carter defeated Catherine Hardrick by a 62-vote margin in the runoff to replace Councilman Dave Emanuel, who was prohibited by term limits from seeking another term.

Carter received 749 votes while Hardrick received 687 votes, according to unofficial results released by the city on Tuesday night.

Amber Brantley launched her campaign for District Attorney in the Augusta Judicial Circuit, which covers Richmond and Burke Counties, according to WRDW.

Brantley got her start at the DA’s office in Lowndes County and then worked for the Solicitor General’s Office in Richmond County.

She currently works as the Assistant District Attorney in Columbia County.

“I believe people should vote for me because our community needs change- restoring justice in our community,” she said.

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