Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 26, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 26, 2023

On July 26, 1775, the United States Postal Service was created by the Second Continental Congress, may God have mercy on their souls. Benjamin Franklin served as the first Postmaster.

On July 26, 1908, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was founded.

On July 26, 1947, President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act, structuring the military-intelligence industrial complex for many years to come.

The National Security Act had three main parts.

First, it streamlined and unified the nation’s military establishment by bringing together the Navy Department and War Department and establishing the Department of the Air Force all under a new Department of Defense. The DoD would facilitate control and utilization of the nation’s growing military.

Second, the act established the National Security Council (NSC). Based in the White House, the NSC was supposed to serve as a coordinating agency, sifting through the increasing flow of diplomatic and intelligence information in order to provide the president with brief but detailed reports.

Finally, the act set up the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA replaced the Central Intelligence Group, which had been established in 1946 to coordinate the intelligence-gathering activities of the various military branches and the Department of State. The CIA, however, was to be much more–it was a separate agency, designed not only to gather intelligence but also to carry out covert operations in foreign nations.

On July 27, 1974, the United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee approved the first impeachment article against President Richard M. Nixon.

The first such impeachment recommendation in more than a century, it charge[d] President Nixon with unlawful activities that formed a “course of conduct or plan” to obstruct the investigation of the Watergate break-in and to cover up other unlawful activities.

The vote was 27 to 11, with 6 of the committee’s 17 Republicans joining all 21 Democrats in voting to send the article to the House.

The majority included three conservative Southern Democrats and three conservative Republicans.

On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush (41) signed the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A bomb exploded at a free concert in Centennial Park in Atlanta on July 27, 1996.

Police were warned of the bombing in advance, but the bomb exploded before the anonymous caller said it would, leading authorities to suspect that the law enforcement officers who descended on the park were indirectly targeted.

Within a few days, Richard Jewell, a security guard at the concert, was charged with the crime. However, evidence against him was dubious at best, and in October he was fully cleared of all responsibility in the bombing.

Former Georgia Governor Zell Miller took the oath of office as United States Senator on July 27, 2000. Miller would go on to win a special election for the remainder of the term in November 2000.

On July 27, 2014, former Braves manager Bobby Cox and pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with former White Sox player Frank Thomas, who was born in Columbus, Georgia.

On July 26, 2015, former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first pitcher inducted who had undergone Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow.

Smoltz won the 1996 Cy Young award and reached the playoffs 14 times with Atlanta. The Braves won five pennants and the 1995 World Series with Smoltz on the roster. He’s the first pitcher to win more than 200 games and save at least 150 games. He’s also the first player inducted with Tommy John surgery on his resume.

Smoltz understood his debt to John.

“I’m a miracle. I’m a medical miracle,” Smoltz said. “I never took one day for granted.”

Smoltz also heaped praise on former manager Bobby Cox and teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, who were inducted a year ago, and delivered a message to parents of the players of tomorrow as the number of Tommy John surgeries continues to escalate.

“Understand that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 or 15 years old,” Smoltz said to warm applause. “Baseball is not a year-round sport. They’re competing too hard, too early. That’s why we’re having these problems.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Augusta residents will vote in November on whether to levy a sales tax to pay for a new arena, according to WJBF.

 The Augusta Coliseum Authority is hoping to gain as many votes as possible from Richmond County residents on a ½ cent sales tax to build a new James Brown Arena.

“We’re going to meet with as many people as we can we’ve started scheduling meetings matter fact tomorrow I got a couple meetings and anybody that wants to talk to us we’re going to get in front of them and educate the public what the benefits are of the new arena,” said Brad Usry, Vice Chairman.

In 2021 voters rejected a bond referendum that involved raising property taxes for a new arena. That one targeted an increase in property tax.

“This is the biggest project in the city of Augusta’s history and what’s great about this project , 40% of this is paid for by people outside Richmond county it’s going to create 600 jobs and 1.5 billion direct and indirect spending so it’s probably a bargain at 250 million,” said Usry.

Burke County Commissioners say the Sheriff’s office is running out of budget, according to WRDW.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Williams, commissioners tell him there’s to be no hiring for the rest of this fiscal year – until Oct. 1.

Commissioners say the agency has enough money to pay employees for one more month.

They are continuing to monitor the budget weekly, but the spotlight is once again on the war of words between the Burke County Sheriff’s Office and the Burke County Commission.

Sometime in August, county leaders say the sheriff’s office will not be able to pay its 130 employees.

Letters were first noted on April 14, 2023, when the Burke County Board of Commissioners sent a letter to Williams. In that letter, the commissioners write “We are concerned about the current trajectory of Sheriff Williams’ finances.”

“The simple fact of the matter is that Sheriff Williams is set to run completely out of budgeted funds sometime in August. Not because of the County Commissioners or the County Manager, but because of the choices that Sheriff Williams has made,” the news release states. “Williams chooses to have a staff of over 130 people. He complains that his starting salaries for deputies are too low, yet Williams has full control over how much to pay each deputy with no input from the Commissioners. These are Sheriff Williams’ decisions, not the Board of Commissioners.”

News 12 reached out to Williams about his department running out of money. He says he does not plan to respond at this time. If he does, it will be through a news release.

A Democratic U.S. Rep. from Vermont has introduced legislation to censure U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, according to The Hill via WSAV.

First-term Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) is leading a resolution to censure Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) over her controversial comments and actions, with the most recent being the Georgia Republican displaying censored sexual images of the president’s son Hunter Biden in a hearing last week.

The resolution introduced Tuesday is a laundry list of around 40 points of grievance against Greene, many of which list her specific comments and the dates on which she said them.

“For me, censuring Rep. Taylor Greene is about the health of our democracy and faith in government. Her antisemitic, racist, transphobic rhetoric has no place in the House of Representatives,” Balint said in a statement.

“I ran for Congress after watching on January 6th that anti-democratic messages and fear-mongering have real consequences for our democracy. Unserious elected officials like Taylor Greene make a mockery of our democratic institutions and derail us from the urgent work we’ve been tasked with,” Balint said. “This job is about alleviating suffering and supporting our communities, and instead Taylor Greene uses her position as a megaphone for conspiracy theories and hate speech. There must be a counterforce that comes from within Congress. It begins with principled members standing up and saying we have had enough.”

Greene brushed off the resolution shortly after its introduction Tuesday.

“I don’t know who this freshman Democrat is. They must have terrible fundraising numbers because they’re pulling some ridiculous stunt,” Greene said. “Looks like four pages of slander, because I looked at the first few lines and I was like, ‘That’s not even true.’”

“I could care less,” Greene added.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) continues teasing the press and public about her plans to indict former President Trump. From the AJC:

With just weeks until Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis is expected to seek indictments against former President Donald Trump and others, her office asked the Georgia Court of Appeals on Monday to block release of the report “at least until final charging decisions have been made.” In their report, the grand jurors recommended multiple people be criminally charged, several members previously told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Donald Wakeford, one of Willis’s deputies, wrote, “if a special purpose grand jury’s report, requested by and intended for a district attorney’s evaluation, became a presumptively public court record with immediate effect, a prosecutor’s use of a special purpose grand jury would risk revealing information which would otherwise remain protected until the termination of the case in any other criminal investigatory context.”

The filing came in response to an appeal filed by a coalition of media organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which argued that the report was a court record subject to disclosure and that the public interest demanded that the full document be released. The outlets asked the court to overturn a February decision from Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney in which he ruled that the rights of future defendants needed to be protected, even though grand jurors had requested that their recommendations be made public.

In February, McBurney released a redacted portion of the final report, which excluded the special grand jury’s list for who should be charged with various state crimes.

Willis has heavily implied she will indict Trump and others next month and urged law enforcement to prepare because her decision could “provoke a significant public reaction.” Two regular grand juries were seated earlier this month that are expected to consider any would-be charges.

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) made a number of appointments to commodities commissions, according to the Albany Herald.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture administers the farmer-funded and self-help programs. Funds collected by the commissions under grower-approved market orders support that research, education and promotion of each commodity.

“As a seventh-generation farmer, I know first-hand the vital role the Georgia Agriculture Commodity Commissions play in supporting and promoting our state’s No. 1 industry,” Harper said in a news release. “I am proud to congratulate these appointees, and I thank them for their willingness to serve on these valued and important commissions as we work together to support Georgia agriculture.”

Commission members are appointed for three years and can be reappointed. They are producers of the commodity and represent it on behalf of the other producers.

Each commission is an agency of the state of Georgia. The ex officio committee that made the appointments comprises the Commissioner of Agriculture, the President of Georgia Farm Bureau, and two members appointed by the Georgia Senate and House Agriculture Committees.

One of the appointments that caught my eye was former State Senator Sam Zamarippa, currently of Lumpkin County and appointed to the Wine & Grape Commission. He served in the State Senate from 2003-2007 as a Democrat representing a Metro Atlanta district.

The Georgia Senate Study Committee on Expanding Georgia’s Workforce met, according to WTOC.

“We have to continue to be the number one place to do business, which means we always have to do more. And that’s what we’re going to do today is make sure we continue to hear from people in the state to have the right workforce in place for now and in the future,” State Sen. John Albers said.

This was the second meeting of the study committee.

State Senator Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia) spoke about Georgia DOT plans after a meeting with the agency, according to AccessWDUN.

Hatchett, a Habersham County native who represents state senate district 50, was one of several local legislators in attendance at the meeting with Georgia Department of Transportation officials Friday regarding the safety of the highway.

“It’s very dangerous, and if we don’t address this problem, we are going to continue to see tragedy,” Hatchett said Tuesday. “What that meeting was really focusing on was how we can expedite addressing the intersection at Mt. Zion Road.”

Hatchett said GDOT officials are planning to install an R-cut interchange at the intersection. After Friday’s meeting, that project has become the top priority for the department’s quick response bid list.

An R-cut would only allow right turns coming from any direction into the intersection and would require additional U-turns to be placed nearby. Hatchett said he was told by officials that the bid is expected within the next 60 days with work on the project possibly beginning in the next 90 days.

Buford Commission Chair Phillip Beard said the city will not agree to a T-SPLOST allocation with Hall County unless it is allowed to annex two properties, according to the Gainesville Times.

With the deadline this week, negotiations between Hall County and the city of Buford over a 1 cent sales tax for road projects appear to have stalled, placing the TSPLOST referendum in peril.

Hall County’s Board of Commissioners on July 13 voted to table a resolution calling for the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to appear on the ballot this November.

Without an intergovernmental agreement between all its municipalities, Hall County can collect only 0.75% of revenue from the proposed 1 cent sales tax, potentially reducing the five-year revenue collection by an estimated $80 million.

“We’ve asked (Hall County) to give us those two little tracts of land: two parcels that were in the making – one of them for a little over a year,” Buford School System Chair Phillip Beard said. “Both (tracts) are surrounded by Buford, really…I’ll sign (the IGA) in a minute the day they release those two pieces of property.”

State legislation passed this year fixed the boundaries of Hall County schools and in effect bars the city from reaping revenue on county land annexed into Buford.

Beard said the new law – also known as House Bill 156 – dealt a major blow to the already-fragile dynamic between Hall County and Buford, which for years has been mired by conflict and continued disputes over annexation and rights to revenue.

Beard, who also heads Buford’s City Commission, said the bill is the basis for the city’s decision to leverage TSPLOST. He described the legislation as the latest instance of Hall County wielding power through state-level connections to quell the city into a position of weakness.

I’m not sure I knew that Mr. Beard Chairs both the Buford City Commission and the Buford Board of Education, and I’m not aware of any other city where this is the case.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation closed an investigation of Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

After nearly three years, state officials have closed an investigation into whether Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor tried to extort campaign support from bail bonding companies and decided there is not enough evidence to pursue prosecution, according to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.

The GBI opened the investigation into Taylor in September 2020 after the owner of one of the bonding companies sent a video to then-GBI Director Vic Reynolds that showed Taylor meeting with an employee of the bonding company. Taylor was accused of trying to extort campaign contributions from the company by implying he would revoke its ability to provide bail bonding in Gwinnett if it did not support his campaign.

“The state acknowledges that Taylor’s recorded statements are concerning and warranted investigation,” Deputy Attorney General Fowler wrote in the July 12 interoffice memo. “However, given the above reasons, and given that a thorough GBI investigation uncovered no additional evidence, it is my opinion that the state cannot prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. I recommend closure of this matter without presentation to a Grand Jury.”

The bail bonding issue involved three bail bonding companies whose ability to provide bail bonding services in Gwinnett had been revoked by Taylor when he took office on Jan. 1, 2021. As sheriff, Taylor has discretion over which companies can provide bail bonding services in Gwinnett.

On Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Office said the GBI thoroughly investigated the allegations against Taylor, who has picked up Democrat and Republican challengers in the 2024 election, and that the conclusion of the investigation exonerates the sheriff.

“Sheriff Taylor has consistently maintained his innocence,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “Sheriff Taylor remains resolute in his commitment to upholding transparency, not only for himself but also for the entire Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office will continue to serve the community with integrity, professionalism, and justice.”

The Development Authority of Fulton County approved a tax break for the expansion of Serenbe in South Fulton, according to the AJC.

The Development Authority of Fulton County on Tuesday gave an initial approval to an $11 million property tax break for an expansion of the luxury community Serenbe, including a pair of hotels and a “wellness” resort with a rental community aimed at helping people age in place.

Serenbe developer Steve Nygren unveiled a proposed $298 million expansion that would include a hotel with 80 guest rooms and 28 villas, along with a second resort hotel, restaurants, retail, and a “wellness campus” with “service-based housing” and medical facilities.

Nygren said the project will help create some 500 jobs within in the community in the southern Fulton County city of Chattahoochee Hills.

“This will spur future commercial development,” Nygren said. “It will give us a comparable for south Fulton and what can happen.”

He said he is seeking tax incentives to help bridge a financial gap between the equity he and his partners have raised and funds banks are willing to lend.

Floyd County Commissioners voted to set their property tax millage rate at a partial rollback and to approve a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) allocation agreement, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Floyd County Commissioners voted Tuesday night to reduce the county maintenance and operations millage rate by 0.75 mills to 8.664, down from 9.414.

There was extensive discussion during caucus before the meeting, with commissioners debating how much of a reduction was prudent to remain on good fiscal footing. However, regardless of the drop, most people will still see their property tax bill increase due to skyrocketing property valuations.

“We rolled it back as much as we could,” Commissioner Wright Bagby said. “We couldn’t cut it any further back than that without probably cutting services.”

Tybee Island City Hall is expected to reopen later this year after temporarily closing for renovations, according to WTOC.

“It’s expected to be ready in mid October, November at the latest. If you’re wondering how much progress they’ve made, let’s take a look inside. One of the first things you’ll likely notice is this door will be controlled access. It means someone will have to buzz you in but that’s for safety measures.”

Acting City Manager Michelle Owens says they have been able to stick to their budget and deadline. She says they’re planning an open house for the community when City Hall open it’s doors.

“They’ll be able to see the new spaces and learn about how staff will be using the spaces in the future,” said Owens.

Centerville property owners will see higher property tax bills, according to 13WMAZ.

If you own property in the City of Centerville, your taxes could go up.

The city plans to keep the millage rate the same instead of rolling it back, and with property values on the rise, property owners could see a higher tax bill.

The city plans to keep the millage rate the same at 12.20%, instead of rolling back the rate.

However, with property values on the rise, property owners could see higher tax bills.

Statesboro will host an informational meeting about their revised zoning code, according to WTOC.

The Georgia Ports Authority reported its final numbers for 2023, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The state-run port reported final 2023 numbers Tuesday, confirming the fiscal year that ended June 30 was its second busiest on record, behind only 2022. Yet even as the total number of shipping containers moved fell year over year, GPA increased its U.S. market share to 11.2%, up from 10.4% in 2022 and 9.7% in 2020.

The growth came as one of the Port of Savannah’s nine berths, Berth 1,  was closed for construction and when the Ocean Terminal, located near the Talmadge Bridge, is being converted from a facility that handles automobiles, heavy machinery and breakbulk cargo such as lumber and steel to another container port.

Berth 1 reopened Friday, July 20, after a two-and-half-year renovation and expansion. The opening of the dock increases GPA’s container capacity by 25%, and Berth 1 handled five ships in its first five days of operation. Ocean Terminal’s conversion will add another 25% capacity once it is completed in 2026.

Those projects will bring the Port of Savannah’s total capacity to 9.5 million containers per year, rivaling that of the Port of New York/New Jersey. Another expansion, utilizing riverfront on Hutchinson Island, is in the planning stages.

Savannah’s success reflects an ongoing trend that shows East Coast and Gulf Coast ports clawing away market share from West Coast terminals. The sister ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles remain far and away the nation’s busiest but approximately 70% of their trade is with ports in China.

GPA President and CEO Griff Lynch said he expects more business to come Savannah’s way as manufacturing and export market share migrates from China to other Southeast Asian nations, such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India and Taiwan.

The Port of Brunswick hit record numbers for roll-on/roll-off cargo throughput, according to The Brunswick News.

The Georgia Ports Authority said Tuesday that the volume of roll-on, roll-off cargo increased by 18%, or 109,000 units, in fiscal-year 2023. That brought the total volume cargo that rolls on and rolls off the ships to more than 723,500 units handled at Georgia ports.

Most of that was handled at the Port of Brunswick’s Colonel’s Island Terminal, the ports authority said, making it one of the busiest port terminals in the U.S.

“The Port of Brunswick achieved strong growth in the import and export of heavy machinery, while auto manufacturers’ improved microchip supply also meant an increase in vehicles,” said GPA President and CEO Griff Lynch.

That is thanks in part to the addition of Nissan as a Brunswick customer. Colonel’s Island now handles Nissan imports from Japan and Mexico.

The Georgia Ports Authority also won federal approval to build a fourth roll-on, roll-off berth at Colonel’s Island that is currently in the engineering phase. The new berth will better accommodate carriers in the 7,000 class, the authority said.

“New business and new capacity are establishing the Port of Brunswick as the nation’s premier auto port,” said Kent Fountain, Georgia Ports Authority chairman. “Already the largest U.S. terminal in current acreage and room to grow, Colonel’s Island offers exporters a broad ocean carrier network and provides importers easy access to the region’s dealerships.”

Gwinnett County Commissioner Kirkland Carden (D) announced he will run for reelection to District 1, according to AccessWDUN.

Carden, 35, has been a resident of Gwinnett County for 19 years and has served in county government since 2020. Carden previously served on the Duluth City Council.

Carden’s district includes Duluth, Suwanee, Lawrenceville, Berkeley Lake, Norcross and Peachtree Corners.

In addition to announcing his re-election bid, Carden also announced that his campaign has $170,000 cash on hand as of the Jun. 30 Campaign Disclosure Reporting Deadline.

Carden is hosting a public re-election campaign Wednesday following the announcement. The event will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at Kettle Rock Brewing in Peachtree Corners.

The City of Waynesboro will pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Grovetown Mayor Gary Jones, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Mayor Gary Jones, who was an employee with the Waynesboro Police Department, alleged about $144,000 collected by the Waynesboro Municipal Court was missing and had not been deposited into the city’s account.

Jones brought his concerns to police Chief Willie Burley and requested an investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, according to previous reporting. Burley consulted with interim Mayor James Jones, city manager Valerie Kirkland and council members, who all refused.

Jones was fired by Burley on Oct. 20, 2021, with Burley stating Jones was the “sole source of misinformation” related to the missing funds, according to previous reporting.

Jones was issued $4,500 in back wages and $295,500 in compensatory damages, according to the settlement.

In addition, the city agreed to amend Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council records to reflect no involuntary termination from the police department, according to the settlement.

So, what about an investigation into the original allegations?

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