Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 8, 2024

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 8, 2024

On July 8, 1776, the bell now known as the Liberty Bell rang in the tower of the Pennsylvania State House, now called Independence Hall, to announce the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence.

Rung to call the Pennsylvania Assembly together and to summon people for special announcements and events, it was also rung on important occasions, such as King George III’s 1761 ascension to the British throne and, in 1765, to call the people together to discuss Parliament’s controversial Stamp Act. With the outbreak of the American Revolution in April 1775, the bell was rung to announce the battles of Lexington and Concord. Its most famous tolling, however, was on July 8, 1776, when it summoned Philadelphia citizens for the first reading of the Declaration of Independence.

The Liberty Bell inscription includes a reference to Leviticus 25:10, “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

The first of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops, under Major General Schofield, crossed the Chattahoochee River between Powers Ferry and Johnson Ferry on July 8, 1864.

Former United States Senator from Texas Phil Gramm (R) was born on July 8, 1942 in Columbus, Georgia, where his father was stationed at Fort Benning.

On July 8, 1975, President Gerald Ford announced his candidacy for President in the 1976 elections.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Twenty-one year old Brooke Huckaby is the youngest Mayor in Georgia, according to WALB.

Brooke Huckaby, 21, is the youngest female mayor in Georgia state history, and the youngest female mayor in United States history, but her accolades do not stop there.

In addition to being the mayor of Arabi, a Crisp County town of just under 500 people, Huckaby is also a student and employee of the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Huckaby is pursuing a degree in agricultural technology from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. When she is not running a city or engaged in her academics, you can find Huckaby working part-time as a support services worker with the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

When asked about what inspired her to run for office, Huckaby said,” I’d say that one thing that really inspired me, it was just the lack of interest in all the people my age, they don’t really care about politics, and it really inspired me to take the jump in and get a head start on it. The older generation is not always going to be around to handle things for us.”

While running for office some citizens questioned her ability to lead at such a young age, but Huckaby believes this is the best place to learn more about government.

Huckaby may only be 21, but she did not go into the job blind. Her father Craig Huckaby was the previous mayor of the city. He has served as her mentor since she took office in January of 2024.

Lindsey Sword has served as the city clerk under both mayors. She tells WALB that working with the younger Huckaby has been a pleasure.

“Oh, it’s been great! I like having somebody that can think of newer things and bring new/more youth to the community versus some of our all these older council men that we have got,” Sword said.

Huckaby’s typical day consists of everything from schoolwork, to signing off on work orders for the city, to working out of Tifton’s Georgia Department of Agriculture office, to aiding scientists in agriculture research.

“I feel like I’m living three different lives sometimes because I’m bouncing from an interview like this to going to class, and then I’m going to work balancing all that has, not I would say been a struggle, but it has been challenge, one that I feel like I’m up to,”,says Huckaby.

From Fox5Atlanta:

“It’s just really concerning to me how people my age aren’t involved in our economy or politics or any real thing going on in the world, and I just wanted to be the one to be able to make that change and take that step forward where other people aren’t,” she told guest host Lisa Boothe during Sunday’s “Fox & Friends Weekend” broadcast.

The 21-year-old mayor of a small town named Arabi, located approximately 150 miles south of Atlanta, followed in her father, Craig Huckaby’s, footsteps by taking on the role.

“On a Tuesday, I think she signed up, and it was Thursday before I found out from my secretary at City Hall,” he told Boothe.

“I thought maybe I talked her out of running. I was a little shocked then, but I’m glad, and she’s a smart girl. She’ll do well,” he added.

Brooke’s goal is to get the Crisp County, Georgia, community to start “investing in themselves” and stop relying on the country to be their “backbone.”

“I really do [hope more young people become leaders],” she said, while reflecting on the future.

“It’s really time we start caring about the world that we’re making for our children and their future and, right now, I don’t think too many people are worried about that.”

Inflation is the number one issue for women voters, according to the Tifton Gazette.

Early polls show close margins between the candidates among women, with both campaigns focusing on the nuances that could sway them.

Forty percent of women voters say the increased cost of food, gas and other goods is the most important issue determining their vote in the 2024 presidential race, according to a June poll by KFF, an independent research organization.

That view is not universal among Democratic women. The KFF poll found that even among Biden supporters, nearly half don’t approve of how he’s handled inflation. The numbers are even higher for young, Black, Hispanic and low-income women.

While the economy is still the central issue, abortion could be a major reason why many head to the polls. Twenty-one states have abortion bans or restrict the procedure earlier in pregnancy than the standard set by Roe v. Wade, which was overturned in 2022.

A record-high 32% of U.S. voters say they would only cast their ballot for a candidate for a major office who shares their views on abortion, according to a Gallup poll conducted in May.

Notably, nearly twice as many pro-choice (40%) as pro-life voters (22%) say they will only vote for a candidate who shares their views.

First Lady Jill Biden will speak in Columbus today, according to the AJC.

The volatile week begins Monday when first lady Jill Biden — who has been adamant that her husband stay in the race — arrives in Columbus to rally supporters. It’s the most significant campaign event in Georgia since the June 27 debate at CNN’s studios in Atlanta.

Among those returning to Washington on Monday are U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, of Georgia. Both issued supportive statements about Biden and aren’t expected to join an effort by U.S. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia to dissuade the president from running.

Their allegiance reflects the stance of most party leaders and influential activists, who have reaffirmed their blessing of the incumbent. But other key Democratic players in Georgia have more privately raised sharp concerns about his chances.

In Georgia, a swing state where Biden’s narrow win over Trump in 2020 helped him take the White House, anxious Democrats are eager to seize any opportunity to project unity. A mundane campaign office opening Saturday became a test of Democratic enthusiasm for Biden, drawing a large crowd that packed the DeKalb County venue.

Most national and battleground polls show Biden with a single-digit deficit and Republicans in Georgia, once antsy about Biden’s chances of recapturing the state are now only rooting for him to stay on the ticket.

“I can say with confidence that Trump is going to win Georgia if Biden remains the Democratic nominee,” said GOP strategist Brian Robinson.

The Georgia Department of Corrections terminated Valdosta State Prison Warden Ralph Shropshire, according to WALB.

Warden Ralph Shropshire was terminated on Monday, July 1 for unprofessional conduct. According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, it will, “not be commenting further as the dismissal is a personnel matter.”

Shropshire began his position as the warden on March 1, 2023. Since becoming warden, several inmates have died, including 37-year-old Melvin Towns, and several officers have been fired.

In 2024, Operation Skyhawk, a months-long investigation into contraband at GDC facilities, effectively shut down a multi-state criminal enterprise. That included inmates and staff at the Valdosta State Prison and other prisons.

The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office has been understaffed for years, according to the Macon Telegraph.

The last time the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office was fully staffed was about 15 years ago.

Today, the office has a staff of around 700 people, said Davis, and the Bibb County public safety budget indicates nearly every department in the sheriff’s office is understaffed or overworked.

The fiscal year 2025 public safety budget report, which outlines the sheriff’s office’s budget highlights, performance measures, goals for 2025, and the office’s accomplishments in 2024, shows the extent of the office’s staff shortfall. Different departments and units contributed to the report with details on staff members they hired or lost, the technology they obtained, arrests they made and more.

The budget went into effect Monday. Of the $58 million allotted to the sheriff’s office, 66% is given to personnel for benefits and salaries. Davis said the office added 30 to 35 more staffers compared to last year.

To meet its manpower needs in 2024, the sheriff’s office hired part-time officers from other agencies. Fire department staff worked as bailiffs to help with courthouse security, and the corrections department hired more than 100 part-time deputies to “support squads with limited manpower,” according to the 2025 budget report.

While the budget report indicates hard-to-manage work levels, the office managed to solve 68% of homicides in 2023, 50% of violent crime over the last five years, and 42% of property crime over the last five years, all of which are above the 2022 national average, according to the BCSO.

But Davis said police response times are still a weak spot for the sheriff’s office. While the responses to violent crimes are quick, Davis said, a lower-priority incident like a stolen lawn mower or a car break-in may take an hour or two to respond to until an officer is available to take a report on it.

Davis says the office is improving compared to last year, but no agency is perfect.

“I’m always gonna say we’re about 100 people short,” said Davis.

Pay rates may be part of the staffing issue, according to the Macon Telegraph.

During the course of Macon-Bibb County’s May county commission races, several candidates claimed that Bibb County deputies’ salary lags behind that of neighboring jurisdictions, and that’s to blame for deputy retention issues.

Public records from local law enforcement agencies show there are offices that offer higher starting pay than the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office. However, records also show that other causes are contributing to officers leaving Bibb County.

The Macon-Bibb County Commission recently approved a pay raise in the fiscal year 2025 budget for first responders, including officers at all levels. The budget officially went into effect Monday, and will run through June 2025.

Commission candidates in May’s elections pointed to the Warner Robins Police Department as a destination for law enforcement officers leaving Bibb County to seek higher wages.

While WRPD’s status as a police department does change employees’ titles, it has a similar hierarchical structure. There are also “levels” within positions that mark an increase in pay. One “step” is equivalent to a year of service with the department, according to Ken Fennell, employment and benefits manager with the City of Warner Robins. Officers receive a top pay raise after 25 “steps,” or years, on the job.

Few departing law enforcement officers have actually cited pay as a reason for leaving the department, according to dozens of deputy resignation letters obtained by The Telegraph through Georgia open records law.

While employees in the Warner Robins Police Department do make more money annually, the salary range for the department is much wider. The lowest end of that range is not far off from the starting salary for a sheriff’s deputy in Bibb County, but the highest salaries may require years of service and rising through the ranks.

Out of about 60 Bibb County deputy resignation letters from 2020 onward, only two mentioned pay as a factor for the officer leaving leaving. Neither of those former deputies went to Warner Robins or a neighboring jurisdiction.

Officers who have left have cited retirement, workplace concerns, career changes, out-of-state relocation and wanting more time with family, according to the letters.

State legislation banning the “Carolina squat” went into effect last week, according to WSAV.

Some call it the “Carolina Squat,” but it’s a familiar sight in the South that’s soon to be leaving Georgia roadways after the state passed a bill banning the modifications.

According to the bill, which went into effect Monday, vehicles between 4,000-7,000 pounds — that’s most four-door trucks — can’t be raised more than 4 inches in the front than they are in the back.

In addition, the frame or “chassis” of any vehicle between 4,500-7,000 pounds can’t be raised more than 30 inches off of the ground.

The bill doesn’t include any grandfather clauses to save those currently riding in lifted or squatted vehicles.

Those found in violation would be charged with a misdemeanor and likely fined.

The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia is honoring two Gainesville legislators, according to AccessWDUN.

The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia will award Sen. Shelly Echols of District 49 and Rep. Lee Hawkins of District 27 for their work to pass House Bill 946 and Senate Bill 383 during the 2024 legislative session.

They will be honored at the Hall County Board of Commissioners’ meeting on Thursday, Jul. 11.

“We are excited to be a part of recognizing the work that Senator Echols and Representative Hawkins did to ensure these important legislative changes were made to Transportation SPLOST for Hall County and for Georgia as a whole,” Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Higgins said. “We want to thank them both for their leadership and dedicated service to the public.”

The bills were introduced after negotiations on a new Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax ballot item broke down between Hall County and the cities of Buford and Rest Haven.

The legislation requires only municipalities representing more than 50% of a county’s municipal population to sign an Intergovernmental Agreement to levy the tax at a full penny.

“The passing of this bill was an important step towards improving transportation in Hall County, and we are excited to pursue a single county Transportation SPLOST under this new law,” Hall County Administrator Zach Propes said.

The Board of Commissioners will reportedly vote on a resolution to include the TSPLOST question on the Nov. 5 ballot for consideration by Hall County voters.

Former Augusta Commissioner Sammie Sias lost a federal appeal of his convictions, according to WJBF.

An appeal filed by former Augusta Commissioner Sammie Sias has been rejected by a federal appeals court.

Sias is currently serving a 30-month sentence which began on August 21st, 2023 and was reduced from the original 36 months that he was sentenced.

Sias was convicted for destroying documents and lying to investigators in July 2022, and in August 2023, Sias was booked into a medium-security prison in Williamsburg County, South Carolina.

Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams is unopposed for reelection after his opponent dropped out, according to WRDW.

Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams issued a statement regarding Lewis Blanchard’s announcement to end his sheriff campaign on Thursday.

On Wednesday night, Blanchard says in a statement the primary election outcome shows strong support for the current sheriff’s office and Sheriff Alfonzo Williams.

“I sincerely thank everyone who supported me throughout this campaign for their encouragement and contributions. Your support has been invaluable, and I assure you any funds donated to the primary campaign were used responsibly,” said Blanchard.

“While my campaign may be coming to an end, my commitment to service remains unwavering. I will continue to support efforts that ensure the safety, well-being, and progress of our community. Though this chapter closes, I look forward to new opportunities to contribute positively,” he said.

Lawrenceville City Council is considering raising property taxes, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The city has announced the dates for three public hearings on its proposed 3.26 mills fiscal year 2025 millage rate. The proposed rate is 1.032 mills — or 46% — higher than the rate adopted last year.

The hearings are set for 5 p.m. on July 10, 2024, and noon and 7 p.m. on July 22 at Lawrenceville City Hall, which is located at 70 S. Clayton St. Residents will be able to address the City Council and other Lawrenceville leaders during the hearings.

“The proposed millage rate adjustment is essential to maintaining the high-quality services expected by our residents,” Lawrenceville Chief Financial Officer Keith Lee said. “Our goal is to balance fiscal responsibility with the needs of our growing community, and we believe this rate increase is a crucial step in that process.”

This will be the first time since 2021 that Lawrenceville has raised its millage rate. The proposed rate is 1.206 mills above the rollback rate — which is the rate that would keep Lawrenceville’s tax revenues at the same level they were at last year.

So, how does this affect property owners within the city limits?

According to Lawrenceville officials, if a person owns a $350,000 home (we’re talking fair market value here), then their city property taxes will increase by about $12.

It’s important to remember, however, that city millage rates make up only one part of a property owner’s tax bill. There are also the millage rates for schools and county government (including fire, police and economic development rates), which are set by the school board and county commission respectively.

“Property Tax represents 3.5% of the City’s total revenue sources and just under 10% of the overall property taxes a citizen pays in the City of Lawrenceville,” city officials said.

Pooler City Council unveiled a new draft Short Term Vacation Rental ordinance and will host a public hearing, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Four months ago, Pooler City Council presented a draft ordinance along with a six-month moratorium to halt the issuance of business licenses for short-term rentals within the city limits. The majority of residents who spoke then and on July 2 seemed to favor strict regulations.

The updated version of the draft offered a few changes: business license fees and fines for non-compliance were incorporated in a schedule to allow the city to gradually increase them at a later date; proof that adjacent property owners to the STR had been notified; proof of insurance; and a “good neighbor” policy similar to Tybee’s recently passed ordinance.

The City of Pooler has never had an ordinance regulating STRs, and anyone wanting to operate one had to apply for a business license. Pooler does not keep a database of STRs, so the exact number operating wthin the city is unknown, but the new ordinance would allow them to track and enforce the new regulations.

“Despite the hard work of everyone here, we’re all human and this document will be a document written by humans for humans,” said Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Higgins. “So, it’s not going to be perfect, but we’re going to darn tootin’ try to make it perfect on the first try.”

The Guyton Board of Ethics Committee will meet to consider a complaint against City Councilman Theodore Hamby, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Justin Hitt, campaign manager for Kelly Hoffner, who lost in a tight run-off contest for the Republican nomination for the Effingham County Tax Commissioner position, lodged an ethics complaint against Hamby for “soliciting money from candidates running in the tax commissioner’s race.”

The Savannah Morning News obtained from the City of Guyton, via an open records request, Hitt’s eight-page written complaint plus two separate recordings of phone conversations between Hitt and Hamby in which Hamby admits to signing a contract and receiving $625 up front and another $625 for a win from Daniel Rodewolt, Hoffner’s opponent, in exchange for Hamby’s services as Rodewolt’s campaign manager.

In the complaint, Hitt alleges Hamby agreed to “support Rodewolt as his campaign manager” after, according to the phone conversation, publicly supporting Hoffner in the months prior to signing a contract with Rodewolt.

Hamby denies “all the false claims” brought against him.

“I have always conducted myself with the utmost integrity and have prided myself on being the most transparent councilman,” said Hamby. “I eagerly await the conclusion of this matter so that I can continue focusing on the work the citizens of Guyton elected me to do.”

The family of Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher discussed his continuing recovery, according to WTOC.

The Wilcher family released the following statement on Friday, “John has been reading every single card and note, and they have become a highlight in his day, and ours. We encourage everyone to keep sending them – he is thoroughly enjoying them. However, we must address a recurring theme: Sheriff Wilcher’s ongoing mission to reclaim his phone.”

“As his family, we are entirely focused on his continued recovery, but it remains abundantly clear that he is eager (to put it mildly) to have his phone back. Despite knowing that the CCSO team is handling things while he is out of the office, the Sheriff is relentless in his attempts to get his phone returned. It’s reached the point where we might just need a court order to keep it from him!”

“Sheriff Wilcher’s enthusiasm for regaining his phone is matched only by his gratitude for the support he’s received. He’s been driving us all nuts to make sure we send thank you cards to each and every one of you who have reached out.”

“Thank you all for your continued support, prayers, and privacy. Please keep the cards and notes coming – they truly make a difference!”

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