Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 13, 2022

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 13, 2022

On July 13, 1787, Congress enacted the Northwest Ordinance, in which states ceded some claims to the west, and a process was set up for admitting new states.

On July 13, 1865, James Johnson as provisional Governor of Georgia, issued a proclamation freeing slaves and calling an election in October of that year to elect delegates to a state Consitutional Convention. Johnson had previously opposed Georgia’s secession and after the war was appointed Governor by President Andrew Johnson.

Savannah, Georgia-born John C. Fremont, who was the first Presidential nominee of the Republican Party in 1856, died in New York City on July 13, 1890.

On July 13, 1960, John F. Kennedy was nominated as the Democratic candidate for President.

On July 13, 2013, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter first appeared on Facebook.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Inflation exceeded 9 percent last month, according to the Associated Press via AccessWDUN.

Surging prices for gas, food and rent catapulted U.S. inflation to a new four-decade peak in June, further pressuring households and likely sealing the case for another large interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve, with higher borrowing costs to follow.

Consumer prices soared 9.1% compared with a year earlier, the government said Wednesday, the biggest yearly increase since 1981, and up from an 8.6% jump in May. On a monthly basis, prices rose 1.3% from May to June, another substantial increase, after prices had jumped 1% from April to May.

The ongoing price increases underscore the brutal impact that inflation has inflicted on many families, with the costs of necessities, in particular, rising much faster than average incomes. Lower-income and Black and Hispanic Americans have been hit especially hard, because a disproportionate share of their income goes toward such essentials as housing, transportation and food.

Still, the breadth of the price gains shows how rising costs have seeped into nearly every corner of the economy. Grocery prices have jumped 12.2% compared with a year ago, the steepest such climb since 1979. Rents have risen 5.8%, the most since 1986. New car prices have increased 11.4% from a year earlier. And airline fares, one of the few items to post a price decline in June, are nevertheless up 34% from a year earlier.

The spike in inflation has diminished consumers’ confidence in the economy, sent President Joe Biden’s approval ratings tumbling and posed a major political threat to Democrats in the November congressional elections. Forty percent of adults said in a June AP-NORC poll that they thought tackling inflation should be a top government priority this year, up from just 14% who said so in December.

Housing costs have also risen sharply. A shortage of houses for sale has kept prices high just as mortgage rates have also soared.

With many people priced out of the market for houses and looking instead to rent, demand for apartments has sent rental rates beyond affordable levels. The average cost of new leases has jumped 14% in the past year, according to real estate brokerage Redfin, to an average of $2,016 a month.

Rents as measured by the government’s inflation index have risen more slowly because they include all rents, including existing leases. But economists expect the rising expense of new leases to send the government’s inflation measure higher in coming months.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr (R-Isakson-land) met with other law enforcement officials to discuss gang crime, according to WRDW.

Georgia’s attorney general was in Evans discussing the state’s push to crack down on gang violence.

Georgia’s Anti-Gang Network unit went into effect in early July. Attorney General Chris Carr says 60 to 90 percent of violent crime is gang-related.

“Gangs are recruiting younger and younger all the time. As young as the third and fourth grade,” Carr said.

Law enforcement agencies across the state came together to discuss what to do to combat the rise of gangs.

Columbia County District Attorney Bobby Christie says they added 40 more officers in their schools.

“Those sorts of relationships that we have with the students on the front edge before it because a tidal wave they can catch in the wading pool. When they have a child, they identify as somebody getting courted or groomed by a gang they can intercede and God willing save that tragedy,” he said.

Suspended Augusta Commissioner Sammy Sias faces a pretrial meeting in the case that led to his indictment and suspension from office, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Almost three years since his home was raided by federal agents, indicted Augusta Commissioner Sammie Sias heads to a Thursday pretrial conference and July 25 trial date.

Sias, 68, is accused of destroying evidence and lying to a federal investigator during an FBI probe of sales tax spending intended for capital improvements at an Augusta community center.

The FBI began investigating Sias and Sandridge in 2019 for fraud and potential misuse of government funds, including special purpose local option sales tax,  or SPLOST, funds, according to court filings. Thus far the U.S. Attorney’s Office has indicted Sias only in relation to concealing evidence.

Last August, Gov. Brian Kemp suspended Sias from office based on the findings of a review commission. Sias, whose current commission term ends in December, will continue to receive his commission salary until the case is disposed.

Polk County Probate Court Judge Tony Brazier resigned and will never again seek office under an agreement with the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Probate Court Judge Tony Brazier signed the agreement with the Judicial Qualifications Commission in exchange for the state agency dropping an investigation into the operations of his office. None of the allegations were substantiated before the investigation was suspended.

Brazier was elected probate judge in 2020.

Savannah-Chatham County public schools will be troubled with busing woes again, according to WTOC.

The 37,000 students in the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System will head back to the classroom in three weeks, but once again, not everybody will be able to take the school bus to class.

The district only has enough seats for some students and no students in choice schools will be able to ride the bus. Keep in mind, just because you rode the bus last year does not necessarily mean that you will have a seat on the bus this year.

Students who qualify to ride if they require special transportation, are ESOL students, McKinney Vento Students and students who go to their zoned school in elementary, K-8, middle or high school.

The district would need about 300 bus drivers to take everyone. Right now, they have about 220, which is right around where they started off last school year.

Teacher shortages may affect some Metro Atlanta school systems, according to CBS46.

Based on the latest data acquired by CBS46, Atlanta Public Schools has 114 teacher openings with the first day of class on August 1.

Gwinnett County Public Schools, the state’s largest school system, has 252 vacancies; Fulton County Schools – 307 openings (246 general education vacancies, 61 special education vacancies); and DeKalb County Schools has roughly 350 teacher openings, according to a district spokesperson.

APS is offering a $3,000 hiring bonus as an incentive to draw qualified candidates.

“The landscape of education has changed coming off the pandemic,” said Nicole Lawson, Chief Human Resources Officer for APS. “So there’s no denying we must first see teachers as humans, first. So we have invested heavily in well-being.”

Lawson said they’ve installed wellness rooms inside schools for the 2022-2023 school year to give teachers a space to clear their heads should emotions escalate during a school day.

Four Democratic statewide candidates agreed to pay fines to the Georgia State Ethics Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, according to the AJC.

State Sen. Jen Jordan, who’s running for attorney general, agreed to pay $625 for not initially disclosing her yearly income in her filing.

State Rep. William Boddie, a candidate for labor commissioner, agreed to pay $1,125 for failing to file his disclosure on time.

Alisha Searcy, a nominee for state school superintendent, agreed to pay $1,125 for failing to file her disclosure on time.

Janice Laws Robinson, who’s bidding for insurance commissioner, agreed to pay $625 for not initially fully disclosing her income.

That same agency dropped some charges against Democrat Stacey Abrams, according to the Georgia Recorder.

The Georgia agency charged with enforcing campaign finance laws on Tuesday dismissed two charges against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams connected to her 2018 campaign.

The State Ethics Commission dismissed the charges based on documentation that shows the Abrams campaign did not illegally receive donations from two supporting organizations, while other forms cleared up questions about an expense charged during her 2018 run as a Democrat against Republican winner Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

Tuesday marked the latest development in the wide-spanning investigation into whether the Abrams team coordinated with groups to help her election in 2018. The probe is playing out in the background as she renews her rivalry with Kemp in another race to claim the governor’s mansion.

It is unclear to me from the article whether that resolves all charges against Ms. Abrams’s campaign, or if some charges remain pending.

Democratic nominee for Public Service Commission Shelia Edwards faces a residency challenge from two vanquished primary foes, according to the AJC.

Shelia Edwards, who garnered the most votes in the Democratic primary in May for the District 3 seat, lives in Cobb County — not in District 3, which includes DeKalb, Clayton and Fulton counties.

Edwards’ place of residence isn’t in dispute. What is contested is the residency requirement, which calls for candidates to live in their district for 12 months prior to the election. At issue is the wording of the residency requirement in Georgia statute, how it is interpreted and when it applies.

[Gov.] Kemp … appointed Fitz Johnson, also a Republican, to replace [former Commissioner Chuck] Eaton in the PSC District 3 seat until the next general election.

Johnson did not live in PSC District 3 before he was appointed, but Georgia statute exempted him from the residency requirement because he was filling a vacancy. He is now the Republican incumbent for the District 3 seat.

Edwards’ attorney argues she also should be exempted from the residency requirement because she’s running to fill the remainder of Eaton’s unexpired term.

An administrative law judge in May deemed Edwards’ candidacy valid, based on the idea that she is running to fill a vacancy, and as such the residency requirement does not apply.

Former U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-Atlanta) spoke about her post-election efforts with WDUN.

According to Loeffler, Greater Georgia has had over 2 million voter contacts since January 2021. Additionally she said 279,000 voters who had not voted in the last four primary elections pulled a Republican ticket this year.

“Our group has been on the ground every single day talking to voters,” Loeffler said. “And voters appreciate voter ID, they appreciate restoring trust around elections, up and down the board.”

“We got back as a state to standing up for election integrity, which means we need voter ID,” Loeffler said. “The vast majority of Republicans and Democrats agree that that’s a common sense guardrail for our elections. And many, many other guardrails that have brought people back.”

“I think we can never be complacent with our elections,” Loeffler said. “And that’s why having a group like Greater Georgia on the ground, making sure that we’re always monitoring what’s going on in elections, so that we act before an election so that we raise concerns in the courts before and not after an election happens.”

“We have our folks at the polls, doing poll watching, working at the polls, and also volunteering with groups like ours to talk to your neighbors. Because we know that voters no longer trust the liberal media to get the message out. And so that’s why local engagement [and] local elections are so important, so that we can have our way of life here in Georgia maintained.”

Former candidate for Governor Kandiss Taylor (R-Jesus Guns Babies) says she was “swatted,” according to AccessWDUN.

In a video posted to Twitter, Taylor said the incident happened at her home in Baxley, Georgia. She said the experience was traumatizing for her whole family.

Swatting is when a person maliciously makes a false report to authorities, which typically sends police, or a SWAT team, to the victim’s home. The victim is typically unaware of the report.

Taylor said authorities received a call from a female text-to-speech program, claiming that the caller had shot their husband five times, and that they would shoot themself next. The caller gave authorities Taylor’s address for the location of the incident

“So [the police] came, with all their weapons, rifles, pointed at my house ready to shoot if they needed to kill me when I opened my door,” Taylor said.

The Muscogee County Superior Court Clerk has reopened their office to the public after a two-week closure due to a COVID outbreak, according to WTVM.

The Criminal Public Division of the Clerk’s Office was closed due to a COVID outbreak and a judicial emergency order issued by Chief Superior Judge Gil McBride.

Officials expressed gratitude to other court clerks around the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit for providing resources, advice and guidance, specifically with regard to addressing the backlog.

Jasper County is seeing rising property tax assessments, according to WTOC.

“We’ve had a big increase in market value, but because of the state law that tells us to cap property values based on the last reassessment, if it has not changed in ownership or characteristics there is a 15% cap on taxable value.” [said assessor Susan Waite].

She said a lot of homes have appreciated by much more the 15%, but that can’t come across on the reassessment.

She says the feedback she’s seen online is that people are getting these assessments in the mail and panicking that the number of the bottom is their new property tax, but she says that’s not the case and if you have any confusion she asks that you call the county assessors office.

Bryan County’s rising home values are making it difficult for some local residents, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The partial collapse of a parking deck on Hutchinson Island will cost Chatham County millions, according to WSAV.

Whitfield County approved the license for their first farm winery, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

The Whitfield County Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 Monday to approve package wine and pouring wine licenses for the winery at 1606 Beaverdale Road N.E. Commissioner Barry Robbins was absent and board Chairman Jevin Jensen typically votes only if there is a tie.

Visitors will be able to tour the winery, sample wines and buy them. Roberts said he will have 20 labels available when he opens.

Farm wineries that both make and sell wines and grow the fruits and berries used to make the wines are common in Fannin, Gilmer and Pickens counties. Last year, the Board of Commissioners approved a law allowing the operation of farm wineries here.

Georgia law requires that farm wineries must produce at least 40% of their wine from fruits and berries grown in Georgia, must be on property “a substantial portion of which is used for agricultural purposes,” and must grow a “substantial portion” of the fruits and berries used to make their wine.

Brunswick released their project list for the upcoming Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum, according to The Brunswick News.

SPLOST is a 1% sales tax that must be approved by the voters. The current proposal would last for six years and will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

County Manager Bill Fallon said the Brunswick Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce-funded Carl Vinson Institute study found 43.6% of sales tax revenue comes from visitors.

Given economic conditions, the SPLOST proposal is built around two tiers to make sure essential work still gets done in the event of an economic downturn.

Glynn County, the city of Brunswick, the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission, Jekyll Island Authority,Brunswick-Glynn Economic Development Authority and Glynn County Airport Commission would each get a cut of the proposed tax that generate between $130 million to $170 million. The smaller figure is based on a potential economic downturn.

The city’s project list amounts to $37.4 million between two tiers — $28.6 million in Tier 1 and $8.8 million in Tier 2 — and covers a broad range of projects from roads, sidewalks and drainage to public safety and public works vehicles to renovations and upgrades to facilities like Mary Ross Waterfront Park and the Ritz Theater.

Columbia County is working on revisions to the project list for an upcoming Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum, according to WRDW.

Next week the county has a final vote, and then you’ll vote on the package at the polls in November.

Pickleball courts were added to the list of what money might go towards if the SPLOST gets approved after the election.

“We have a line item for pickleball courts in our park projects, so people will be very excited to see we’re adding some pickleball courts,” said District 1 Commissioner Connie Melear.

Pickleball is $1.5 million of the $288 million package. Some of the bigger ticket items on the list include improvements to fire stations, parks, and even a new county government center.

“People are suspicious of any kind of taxes, and I certainly understand that. This is not a new tax it’s a continuation of the same penny people are already paying. The list will be there for people to see where that penny is going,” said Melear.

Savannah City Council is set to consider the lowest property tax millage rate in 35 years, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Many Savannah property owners will see a third tax break on their bills next year should the Savannah City Council adopt a recently proposed millage rate that would be the lowest in 35 years. The move follows millage rate cuts by both the Chatham County and the Savannah-Chatham School Board last month.

The city’s proposed millage rate of 12.2 mills is the lowest since 1987 and is expected to reduce property taxes for the majority of the 19,000 Stephens-Day exemption qualified households in the city.

The proposed rate is not a true tax cut, as it will generate more tax revenue than the current rate of 12.739 due to increases in the city’s overall tax digest. The millage that would produce the same tax revenue, known as the rollback rate, is 11.399 mills[.] Georgia law requires the city to advertise the rate of 12.2 as a tax increase as it will result in higher bills on properties that have increased in taxable value. The taxable value is frozen on Stephens-Day qualified properties, which means the lower millage rate will result in lower tax bills for those homeowners.

Bulloch County Commission Chair Roy Thompson said Commissioners will not approve an increase in the property tax millage rate for the Statesboro Fire Tax District, according to the Statesboro Herald.

City Manager Charles Penny said the city can operate its Fire Department, with recent staffing additions, employee raises and other increased expenses, without an increase in the tax rate for one more year. But after that, the Statesboro Fire Service Fund, which supplies the budget of the SFD for both in-city and fire district service, will be so depleted that a tax increase will be necessary next year, he said.

“Without that millage increase, what we’re going to see is a depletion of fund balance, and with the depletion of fund balance – that’s fund balance in the fire fund – we may jeopardize equipment replacement,” Penny said. “But basically, we just won’t have fund balance, and recognizing that with fund balance, once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

City officials requested an increase of 0.75-mill in the Statesboro Fire District rate, to 3 mills. But as County Manager Tom Couch had said several weeks ago, county commissioners expressed resistance to raising any portion of the millage this year.

Glynn County’s Board of Elections is hiring poll workers for the November 8, 2022 elections, according to The Brunswick News.

Ideally, 100 people will sign up to work the polls on Nov. 8, said Christina Redden, assistant director of the Glynn County Board of Elections & Registration, at Tuesday’s meeting.

Port Wentworth City Council discussed revising its zoning ordinance, according to WTOC.

Downtown Macon parking meters quit working, so city officials are promoting their parking app, according to 13WMAZ.

Due to issues caused by the shutdown of the 3G network, Park Macon-Bibb has been promoting Passport Parking- an app that allows you to pay for parking online.
The issue has caused the screens on some of these parking meters to appear blank, and some credit card slots are covered up.

“What we have done to combat that is to add the stickers over it, so you can see that you can use the Passport app to pay with credit card,” Ryan Drew, the Senior Operations Manager for Park Macon-Bibb, said. “They’re still on; the screens are just not.”

Drew said the city is working on updating the parking meters but is trying to get something positive out of the meter issues by promoting Passport Parking.

“It’s something that most people, even though we’ve put signs downtown there, they’re not aware of,” Drew said. “So we’ve taken this opportunity with the meters having issues to push the app.”

Augusta will hold a Special Election for Tax Commissioner on November 8, 2022 to fill the vacancy created when former Commissioner Steven Kendrick resigned to run for Mayor, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The position of Richmond County tax commissioner pays approximately $150,000, and Kendrick’s term expires at the end of 2024. The qualifying fee to run, based on the salary, is $3,022.

So far the only announced candidate is Democrat Tederell “Chris” Johnson, Kendrick’s chief deputy since 2012, who is the interim tax commissioner. Johnson confirmed his plans Tuesday.

On election night after losing his bid for mayor, Kendrick announced he won’t seek a fifth term. “I am not going to be tax commissioner ever again,” he said.

When Kendrick qualified to run for mayor March 9, state law removed him as tax commissioner. The next day, Probate Judge Harry James appointed Johnson as interim tax commissioner, then Johnson named Kendrick as his chief deputy and James administered oaths of office to both. The transition gained Johnson a city severance package worth nearly $70,000.

Georgia’s first loggerhead turtle hatch of the season occurred on Jekyll Island, according to The Brunswick News.

Located just south of the Courtyard by Marriott on Jekyll Island, the nest was the first to hatch in the state of Georgia in 2022, according to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. The hatchlings appeared July 3.

David Zailo, research program manager at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, said the mother laid the clutch of eggs on May 4.

Nearly all of the 141 eggs in the nest made it to the sea successfully, he said.

“We became aware that it hatched when a beachgoer who was walking on the beach came across a hatching sea turtle making its way to the water,” Zailo said. “The beachgoer called the Department of Natural Resources who then called us over at the Sea Turtle Center. We went to the beach and confirmed that it had begun hatching.”

After experiencing a record number of nests on Jekyll Island this year, the first sea turtle hatching marks the beginning of the hatching season on the island.

“It’s normal for nests to start hatching now. It takes roughly two months of time from when they’re laid until when they hatch. This nest hatched after 60 days of incubation,” Zailo explained.

The nesting season will continue until late July to early August. Hatching season normally runs until late September to mid-October.

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