Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 4, 2024

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 4, 2024

On June 4, 1785, James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia, met with John Adams, the first ambassador from the new United States to Great Britain.

On June 4, 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to always be right vote. In August 1920, enough states had ratified the 19th Amendment that it took effect.

The Battle of Midway began on June 4, 1942. During the battle, four Japanese aircraft carriers that had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor and one cruiser were sunk at the cost of one American carrier and one destroyer.

Today is the 31st Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing, China.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Advance voting opens Monday, June 10, 2024 for the June 18 Runoff Elections in Richmond County, according to WRDW.

Voting by mail began Wednesday. Applications are being accepted now. You’ll have to submit an absentee ballot request form that’s available at www.augustaga.gov/vote. Applications can be mailed to the Richmond County Board of Elections at 535 Telfair St., Suite 500, Augusta, GA 30901, faxed to 706-821-2814 or emailed to richmondelections@augustaga.gov. Voters can also apply for a ballot by visiting the online absentee portal at securemyabsenteeballot.sos.ga.gov/s/. The last day to request a ballot is June 7. In order to be counted, voted mail-in absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. June 18.

There will be a drop box open in the Linda Beazley Room during the advance voting period as allowed by law.

Advance voting will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday beginning June 10 in the Linda W. Beazley Community Room of the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building at 535 Telfair St., the Charles Evans Community Center at 1866 Highland Ave., the Robert Howard Community Center at 103 Diamond Lakes Way, and the Warren Road Recreation Center at 300 Warren Road. The last day to vote advance will be June 14.

Election Day voting will be available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 18, and all polling locations in Augusta-Richmond County will be open. Voters must report to their assigned precinct in order to vote on Election Day.

My best suggestion for finding out when you can vote early is to sign in to the My Voter Page at https://mvp.sos.ga.gov/s/.

A panel of three judges from the Georgia Court of Appeals will hear an appeal in the Fulton County Trump case in October, according to USA Today via the Savannah Morning News.

Former President Donald Trump’s appeal to remove the prosecutor in his Georgia election racketeering case has been scheduled for October 4, strongly suggesting the case will not be tried before the Nov. 5 election.

“There’s no chance for trial before the election,” said Ashleigh Merchant, the lawyer who launched the disqualification issue by filing the motion to disqualify Willis on behalf of her client Michael Roman, a former Trump 2020 campaign official who is one of Trump’s co-defendants.

Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee rebuked Willis in March for a “tremendous lapse in judgment” but ruled she could remain on the case if Wade withdrew. Wade quit the same day.

The Georgia Court of Appeals docketed the case Monday without setting a precise date for arguments.

McAfee hasn’t set a date for the trial. But when Willis proposed an August start to the trial that could last five months, McAfee said it would be difficult problematic to overlap with the election.

Even if an appeals decision were reached immediately, it is highly unlikely the trial could begin before the election.

Clark Cunningham, a professor of law and ethics at Georgia State University College of Law, said the docketing makes it virtually impossible for the trial to proceed before the November election, even if presiding Judge Scott McAfee continues to allow both sides to do some preparatory work while the appeal of Willis’ disqualification is underway.

“I think the only thing that could save this case from not going to trial until after the election, possibly, would be for the district attorney to do as I had suggested back in January, which is to take a temporary leave of absence,” Cunningham told USA TODAY. “Whether that would at this stage moot the appeal is a little bit hard to say, especially since Trump and other defendants have argued that the entire DA’s office should be disqualified.”

Steven Sadow, one of Trump’s lawyers, said he looked forward to presenting arguments to appeals Judges Trenton Brown, Todd Markel and Ben Land about “why this case should be dismissed.” Sadow argued Willis should be disqualified because of the “odor of mendacity” in violation of the Georgia rules of professional conduct for lawyers.

From the AJC:

Three appeals court judges appointed by Republican governors will decide whether District Attorney Fani Willis should be disqualified from Fulton County’s election interference case against former President Donald Trump.

The assignments came Monday as the Georgia Court of Appeals on Monday officially accepted the case. Oral arguments were tentatively scheduled for Oct. 4.

The three judges who will hear the case all served as trial judges before being appointed to the appellate court:

Judges Todd Markle, Trenton Brown and Benjamin Land were randomly selected by computer to hear what will likely be the highest-profile appeal in the court’s history.

– Markle, who was appointed to the court by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2018, is a former Fulton County Superior Court judge.

– Land, who was appointed to the bench two years ago by Gov. Brian Kemp, is a former Superior Court judge for the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit in West Georgia.

– Brown, appointed by Deal in 2018, served as a Superior Court judge for the eight-county Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit in central Georgia.

The Georgia Constitution mandates that the matter must be decided within two terms of court, which means the justices would need to rule before mid-March 2025. It’s possible the judges could agree to expedite the timeline, but most cases are decided roughly eight-and-a-half months after they’re first docketed, according to court observers.

The appeals court is one of the busiest of its kind in the country. Its 15 members are non-partisan and elected in staggered, six-year terms, though most of the current membership was appointed by sitting governors and subsequently reelected.

The Biden campaign opened an office in Savannah for outreach to Black voters, according to the AJC.

President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign on Friday opened its first Georgia field office focused on Black voter outreach.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, state Sen. Derek Mallow, state Rep. Edna Jackson, and former Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson all addressed a small crowd who attended the event in a vacant lot across Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard the new office at the edge of Savannah’s historic district.

The Biden campaign’s Georgia state director, Porsha White, said additional field offices would soon open in cities across the state. She noted that Biden’s victory in Georgia four years ago was vital to his winning the electoral vote and that the campaign is “not taking Georgia’s votes for granted” this November.

“For Biden to win again, we have to come together, we can’t stay home,” Van Johnson said, a nod to the apathy expressed by Black voters in many recent presidential polls. “Don’t get caught up in the hype that President Biden hasn’t delivered for Black Americans and Black Georgians. He has.”

The office opened two days after Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris launched the “Black Voters for Biden-Harris” initiative at an event in Philadelphia. Biden aides told journalists at that appearance that the campaign is making an intense push to connect with Black voters, a traditionally loyal voting bloc for Democrats. A similar event is planned for Saturday in Decatur with U.S. Reps. Nikema Williams of Atlanta and Jasmine Crockett of Texas, and former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Governor Brian Kemp issued Executive Order #06.03.24.01, appointing a commission to investigate and make recommendations on the indictment of Rabun County Sheriff Chad Nichols. From WGAU on the underlying indictment:

A North Georgia sheriff has been arrested and charged with sexual battery and public indecency.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation started an investigation into Rabun County Sheriff Chad Nichols last week. On Friday, he turned himself in.

Rabun County jail records show Nichols faces charges of public indecency, sexual battery and violation of oath by a public officer.

“The Rabun County Sheriff’s Office has no comment on the ongoing and active investigation being conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations,” Rabun County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Kevin Angell said to Channel 2 Action News.

“We’re managing through it. It’s new territory so we’re doing the best we can,” Major Beth Darnell with the Rabun County Sheriff’s Office told Channel 2′s Audrey Washington.

Nichols was booked into the Rabun County Detention Center by his own deputies.

The GBI says once the investigation is complete, the case file will be handed over the Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney.

From WNEG Radio:

The Rabun County Board of Commissioners released a short statement regarding the arrest, stating “The Board of Commissioners of Rabun County is aware of the arrest and charge of the Rabun County Sheriff. The Board will gather information and react as appropriate. The GBI and Governor’s office are aware of the situation.”

Dodge County Board of Education Chair Elvis Davis remains in jail charged with child molestation, according to 13WMAZ.

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Eastman Police Department asked the GBI to assist them in their investigation of Dodge County School Board chairman Elvis Davis on May 16, which was about a week before school let out.

The GBI told 13WMAZ that Davis’ charges are not school-related.

Davis faces several charges including two counts of child molestation, one count of sexual exploitation of children and two counts of improper sexual contact.

13WMAZ called Dodge County Superintendent Susan Long. She told us: “The board is aware and has no comment on pending and legal issues.”

After Davis was arrested last Friday, he was taken to Dodge County jail.

According to the county’s website, he was still in jail Monday afternoon and no bond has been set.

Appling County school administrator and former candidate for Governor Kandiss Taylor is under fire for online shenanigans, according to WTOC.

The parents say the post was made on Kandiss Taylor’s verified account on X, the social media site previously known as Twitter. You may remember Taylor as a former candidate for governor of Georgia.

Many of the parents feeling as if Taylor has broken the school social media policy that states:

“As an Appling County school employee it is imperative that you represent the district in a positive manner.”

Gerry Moore of the Appling County NAACP saying that he hopes the board will see this and do what he is calling the right thing.

“It’s as simple as this, picture say 1000 words. And this picture that is floating around does,” said Moore, President, Appling County NAACP.

The WTOC article includes screenshots.

An ethics complaint was filed against Valdosta City Council member Vivian Miller-Cody, according to WALB.

On May 21, 2024, Anetra Riley, a city of Valdosta employee, filed a complaint at city hall against Councilwoman Vivian Miller-Cody highlighting five accounts of unethical behavior.

The complaint said, “several occasions aggressively and maliciously conveyed misinformation concerning my performance and integrity.”

The accounts date back to November 2021.

In a called meeting, the council voted on J.D. Rice and Alvin Payton, Jr. to serve on the ethics review board.

“The first meeting they will be able to read over the evidence and determine whether the complaint has merit,” Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson said.

The review board has 60 days before deciding on actions towards Miller-Cody if the complaint is deemed true.

The third addition to the ethics board will be announced and voted on in the upcoming city council meeting.

The Muscogee County School District joined a class action suit against TikTok, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

The MCSD board voted during last month’s meeting to approve the recommendation from superintendent David Lewis to authorize Kansas City, Missouri, law firm Wagstaff & Cartmell and four other co-counsels, including Atlanta-based Hall Booth Smith, which has an office in Columbus, to represent the school district in litigation against Facebook, Meta, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube and Google, as well as other possible defendants.

“Social media usage has been shown to be detrimental to the mental health and well-being of teenagers, and is often a platform for bullying and other negative peer to peer interactions,” the MCSD administration wrote for the agenda item’s background and rationale. “Because of this, there is staff time expended for disciplinary and counseling services related to issues that start online and then impact the learning environment.

“The Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service has issued an Advisory on Social Media and Youth Mental Health which is a growing concern about the effects of social media on youth mental health. … This lawsuit is to not only hold these companies accountable but also obtain funding for prevention education and mental health services.”

Six of the nine MCSD board members voted yes: chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1, countywide representative Kia Chambers, Naomi Buckner of District 4, Mark Cantrell of District 6, Pat Frey of District 7 and Margot Schley of District 8. Nickie Tillery of District 2 and Vanessa Jackson of District 3 abstained.

The issue is about whether social media companies should have some type of regulation and accountability, restricting the age of their users, Green said during the work session.

“We can’t do anything about what’s happening in the home before they come to school,” Buckner said then. “But what we can do is something that impacts the school.”

During the May 20 meeting, board attorney Greg Ellington of Hall Booth Smith said he confirmed with the lead counsel that student identities won’t be publicly revealed in the lawsuit.

After a recount in the election for Habersham County Commission District 1, the incumbent is out of the runoff, according to AccessWDUN.

Officials with Habersham County say that the recound was requested by Bruce Palmer shortly after the May 21 General Primary votes were tallied. Commissioner Palmer found himself in third place in the General Primary for his re-election bid.

Monday’s recount netting zero change in the collected votes, leaving candidates Kelly Woodall and Eric Holbrooks as the top two finalists for the Tuesday, June 18 runoff.

Woodall received 2,098 votes in May, with Holbrooks gathering 1,707 votes to Palmer’s 1,687 votes.

The Georgia State Ethics Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission wants to replace their eifiling system, according to the AJC.

After spending an estimated $1.5 million buying and trying to make the new system workable, David Emadi, executive secretary of the Georgia Ethics Commission, said the state has put out a request for proposals for a new system that he hopes to have up and running by the fall of 2025, before the gubernatorial election the next year.

“It’s not great,” Emadi said of the current setup. “The campaign finance system has been out there three, 3 1/2 years and there are still a lot of issues we are dealing with.

“At the end of the day, we want all of this information easily accessible to the public and be easily entered by the stakeholder.”

Those trying to use it — from lawmakers and challengers trying to put campaign finance reports into the system to members of the public trying to search what’s supposed to be there — say it’s never worked the way it should.

Emadi said he doesn’t know how much another system will cost. But some state officials say lawmakers want to get the system fixed.

NOTUS, a Washington publication from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Allbritton Journalism Institute, reported in April that some reports on last-minute donations weren’t showing up on the Ethics Commission site. That meant the public couldn’t see all the big-money, last-minute contributions to candidates before this month’s primary.

But the reporting problem was only the latest issue in a system that’s made it difficult for candidates and lobbyists who must file regular reports, and the public hoping to figure out who is influencing who.

The new system initially made it much more difficult for the public to search individual donors to multiple campaigns than the old system. Searching for information on who Capitol lobbyists worked for also became more difficult, and even the computer-savvy scratched their heads trying to look up expenditures by influencers.

Rick Thompson, a member of the State Ethics Commission and a former executive secretary of the agency, has been the new system’s biggest critic. Thompson runs a company that e-files reports for candidates and committees.

“This system is unsustainable,” he said. “We kept throwing money at this thing, and it just doesn’t work.

“People can’t understand anything, they can’t search for anything. Part of our job is to show that information to the public.”

He said the latest issue — about the big last-minute contributions not getting reported — was part of an ongoing trend.

“That is keeping the information from the public,” he said. “It went on too long.”

Cherokee County Republicans want a majority on the county board of elections, according to the AJC.

Republicans are urging local officials to create a GOP majority on the Cherokee County Board of Elections, which traditionally has been bipartisan.

The conflict is the latest backlash in a majority-Republican metro Atlanta county where Democratic voters have been increasing in recent years. Commissioners will vote Tuesday on two key elections board appointments that could swing the balance of the board.

Four members of the Cherokee elections board are appointed by the Board of Commissioners. Historically, two appointments have come from each party. But some Republicans now want a 3-1 advantage among appointed board members.
The county commission deciding the issue is dominated by five Republican members.

At the May commission meeting, several people including Cherokee County Republican Party Chairman C.V. Dinsmore urged commissioners to solidify a GOP majority on the elections board, in part due to their frustration with the current board chair, Steve Divine. Dinsmore said the board majority should be Republican to represent the majority of voters.

Beth Mercure, a member of the far-right faction of the GOP called the Georgia Republican Assembly, said the elections chairman repeatedly sides with Democrats, overriding the board’s two Republicans. She also said many voters are concerned about the elections “since the steal of 2020″ — an apparent reference to former President Donald Trump’s untrue claim that he won the 2020 election.

The Macon Telegraph spoke to some Hispanic residents about why they chose not to vote.

For [Daniel Figueroa], he’s too busy working.

“In the morning time I’m a mechanic Monday to Friday, and after that I come here (to Three Countries) to help my mom out,” said the Georgia native. “When I test out the cars, I see the ‘where to vote,’ signs … I just don’t have time to go. I have to support my family.”

For two, “it’s not a priority” when there are other issues to worry about, Figueroa said.

Plenty decided not to vote in the May primary, which saw an overall turnout of just 19.2% and an even lower turnout for Hispanic voters, according to Macon-Bibb County Election Supervisor Thomas Gillon.

“I’d assume the number (of Hispanic voters) was relatively small,” Gillon told The Telegraph, though he’s not sure how small because his office had limited access to demographic records of voters after the county’s network was breached May 11.

While work and other priorities can get in the way of voting, some Hispanic voters don’t feel like politicians are speaking to them in their campaigns or in their work.

A lack of civic engagement is usually linked to insufficient outreach from candidates and political parties, Martinez De Castro said.

Two-thirds of Latinos in Georgia reported they were not contacted and asked to register to vote, according to a 2023 survey of 500 people by Galeo, a Georgia-based Latinx political advocacy group.

“If you’re a candidate, you tend to look for the people who always vote,” said Martinez De Castro. “Very seldom are they going to look at actually going out and finding new voters, meaning investing in voter registration.”

Most candidates invest in voters who voted in three or four recent elections, and they very rarely contact voters who only cast a ballot in one or two recent elections, she said.

The Ogeechee Riverkeeper filed a letter of intent to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over their approval of water withdrawal permits for the Hyundai Metaplant, according to the Statesboro Herald.

“Ogeechee Riverkeeper seeks the immediate halt in construction or development activity connected to the improperly issued permit until resolved,” the release stated. “ORK also insists federal funding be frozen until the required environmental analyses are completed. Finally, ORK seeks the restoration of any and all environmental damage resulting from the improper approvals.”

According to a release from the Riverkeeper, the Metaplant site sits on the edge of Black Creek, which flows directly into the Ogeechee River. Prior to its development, the area was home to a variety of aquatic and terrestrial habitats, including 625 acres of forested and scrub-shrub wetland, as well as streams, the release stated.

“One of (the Riverkeeper’s) directives is to be a watchdog for water resources and make sure permitting processes are done correctly,” Damon Mullis, riverkeeper and executive director said. “When we find out that permit applicants withhold important information in an application and the permitting agency hasn’t done their due diligence, we will call them out and use the law to hold them accountable.”

Both Bryan and Bulloch counties have submitted permit applications to the state Environmental Protection Division for a total of four wells that would supply water to the Metaplant. All four would be drilled in southern Bulloch County near the county line, since Bulloch is in a “green zone” for withdrawing water from the Floridan aquifer, while Bryan County is in the inland-coastal counties “yellow zone” for groundwater permit restrictions.

If the permits are approved and the system built as planned, Hyundai Motor Group, and potentially other customers of the Bryan County system, would pay Bryan County for the water supplied from Bulloch County’s two wells, and Bryan County would in turn pay Bulloch. If Bryan County is permitted to drill the two wells it plans to own within southeastern Bulloch, the Bryan County government would receive the water usage fees paid by its customers and would pay Bulloch a “host fee” for those wells.

The non-profit Ogeechee Riverkeeper was founded in 2004 and is based in Savannah. The Ogeechee River is approximately 294 miles long and runs along the borders of Bulloch County with Screven and Effingham counties.

From the Savannah Morning News:

The organization accuses USACE of “not completing required steps and overlooking water supply concerns during the permitting process” for the 2,500-acre site.

The federal Clean Water Act requires USACE to collect pertinent information and analyze permit requests that impact or disturb “waters of the U.S.,” including wetlands.

“Despite major updates and changes to … permit requests between 2019 and 2022, USACE did not reconsider these additional substantial impacts,” ORK said Monday.

Chief among those alterations was the addition of nearly 600 acres to the project. The 2019 site analysis on which the permit application was based should have been revisited to address potential implications of an expanded operation, ORK argued.

The applicants – Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority Secretary Trip Tollison and Pat Wilson, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development – knew months before the permit was approved that the Hyundai plant and related development would require up to 6.6 million gallons of water per day and the drilling of four new wells.

That information was included in a confidential “letter of intent” dated April 25, 2022, to Robert Boehringer, managing partner at consulting firm KPMG International. That letter, which laid out plans for the Hyundai project, also was signed by Tollison (who also is president and CEO of the Savannah Economic Development Authority) and Wilson.

However, the water needs were not mentioned in the permit application, also signed by Tollison and Wilson and submitted 12 days after the letter, on June 7, 2022.

USACE approved the permit, including the findings that no additional water or wells would be needed, nearly four months later, on Oct. 4, 2022.

The new wells will draw water from the Floridan Aquifer in Bulloch County and pump it to the Hyundai site, which the company expects to begin operating later this year.

Overwhelming local demand on the aquifer ― part of a 100,000-square-mile underground water source covering all of Florida and portions of Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi ― led to the intrusion of saltwater near Savannah and prompted the state environmental officials to cap withdrawals in 2008.

The limits covered Chatham, Bryan, Liberty and a portion of Effingham counties.

To meet the Hyundai-related demand, the depth of the aquifer could drop by as much as 19 feet near the wells, and private wells could decline by up to 15 feet, according to projections from Georgia EDP.

The Columbus Muscogee County Consolidated Government will consider raising the property tax millage rate, according to WTVM.

The proposed hike, which exceeds the rollback millage rate, will impact the Urban Services District #2 by 4.25 percent. This district primarily comprises undeveloped land in the city’s northern and eastern portions, according to CCG.

As per Georgia Law, a rollback millage rate must be calculated to generate the same total revenue as the previous year’s millage rate would have produced, considering any reassessments. The budget tentatively adopted by the Columbus Consolidated Government necessitates a millage rate higher than the rollback millage rate.

Concerned citizens are encouraged to attend the public hearings regarding the proposed tax increase….

The Chatham County Tax Assessors Office will hold public meetings to discuss assessment notices and appeals, according to WTOC.

The sessions are a part of the “Tax Commissioner University” series in partnership with the Board of Assessors office.

Chatham County Tax Commissioner Sonya L. Jackson was quoted in a press release: “We’re honored to offer quarterly Tax Commissioner University sessions to educate Chatham County residents about a wide range of topics, from property tax exemptions to wills, estates and probate court.”

The office also plans to offer a session on property tax sales on July 24 and another on Wills, Estates, Probate Court on October 23.

Glynn County will hear comments on the proposed FY 2025 budget, according to The Brunswick News.

An opportunity to comment on the county’s proposed FY25 budget for the upcoming fiscal year will be held during a public hearing at Thursday’s Glynn County Commission meeting.

The budget of more than $205 million is made up of seven different fund types. The general fund is the largest individual fund and takes about 37% of the budget. Special revenue funds make up 49% of the total budget and they pay for public safety.

The proposed budget includes the tier-step pay plans for public safety implemented last year as well as a 3% cost of living adjustment for other county employees, tuition reimbursement for employee education, and career track advancements to retain high-performing staff.

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