Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 10, 2024

10
May

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 10, 2024

On May 12, 1740, Georgia forces under James Oglethorpe took Fort Diego in Florida from the Spanish and mocked the defenders’ jean shorts.

Savannah received news of the battle at Lexington on May 10, 1775, leading to a raid of British gunpowder for the colonial effort. On the same day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Second Continental Congress met.

The worst American defeat of the Revolutionary War occurred at Charleston, South Carolina on May 12, 1780. American Major General Benjamin Lincoln, who surrendered that day would later accept the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia.

On May 12, 1789, the Society of St. Tammany was founded in New York and would grow to a dominant home for political bosses. Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics remains one of the best historical versions of how political machines worked.

George Washington visited Georgia on May 12, 1791. From Purysburg, South Carolina, Georgia officials escorted Washington on a barge twenty-five miles down the Savannah River to Savannah, where he would stay four days.

On May 10, 1863, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson died a week after being shot at by his own troops.

He died, as he had wished, on the Sabbath, May 10, 1863, with these last words: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded on May 11, 1864 at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, near Richmond.

On May 12, 1864, Confederate General Joseph Johnston pulled his Army of Tennessee and Georgia back to Resaca, Georgia. In Virginia, Major General John B. Gordon saved the life, or prevented the capture of, General Robert E. Lee at Spotsylvania. After the war, Gordon would serve as Governor of Georgia and United States Senator.

On May 12, 1864, the Virginia Military Institute Corps of Cadets awoke in Staunton, where they had marched from Lexington 18 miles the previous day; after another 19 miles headed north up the Shenandoah Valley, the would make camp at Mt. Crawford, near Harrisonburg. The cadets ranged in age from fifteen to twenty-five years.

On May 10, 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured by Union troops near Irwinville, Georgia.

On May 10, 1869, a ceremonial “Golden Spike” was driven in Promontory, Utah, symbolizing completion of a transcontinental railroad line joining the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad.

The first observance of Mother’s Day was May 10, 1908 at St Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first official “Mother’s Day.”

On May 12, 1970, Georgia National Guard troops were mobilized to end race riots that had broken out the night before in Augusta. On that same day, Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs, my father’s favorite player as a youth, hit his 500th home run.

May 11, 1996 was the deadliest day on Mount Everest. “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer is a fantastic chronicle of the deadliest season on Everest.

On May 10, 2006, Georgia State School Superintendent Linda Schrenko, a Republican, pled guilty to federal charges of fraud and money laundering, beginning a streak of Republican State School Supers to leave office under a cloud.

On May 11, 2011, Newt Gingrich announced via Twitter that he would run for President. Two days later, I caught up with Newt at Fincher’s Barbecue in Macon for a brief interview the day he was scheduled to speak to the Georgia Republican Party State Convention.

Happy Birthday to Minnesota, which became a state on May 11, 1858. Y’all talk funny.

WJBF looks at two Revolutionary War battles that occurred in Burke County, Georgia.

It took three or four years before the American Revolution made its way to the south. Twice during that time the Americans and the British fought in Burke County.

During the American Revolution a lot of fighting in the south was made up of skirmishes in the back-country with the more major battles happening in Savannah and Augusta.

In Burke County, patriots fought for independence at the Battle of Burke County Jail and the Battle of Brier Creek.

Judge Jesse Stone is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution. He said that Burke County was eventually named for Edmund Burke, a member of Parliament who was particularly vocal in his support of the American cause.

During that time, Burke County was much larger than it is now. Between 1793 and 1905, portions of it were incorporated into Screven, Jefferson, Richmond and Jenkins Counties.

Two battles took place in Burke County as it was at the turn of the 19th century, though only one of the sites is still located in modern day Burke County.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Advance Voting in Person racked up higher numbers this week, according to the AJC.

From Gov. Brian Kemp to former President Jimmy Carter, over 240,000 Georgia voters have already cast their ballots for this month’s primary.

Turnout steadily rose by roughly 25,000 voters each day across Georgia through nearly two weeks of early voting, according to state election data published Friday.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Friday, and absentee ballots must be received at county election offices before polls close on election day May 21.

So far, more voters are participating in the Republican primary than the Democratic primary. There were over 130,000 Republican voters, nearly 106,000 Democratic voters and 3,800 voters who cast nonpartisan ballots.

The primary includes races for Congress, the General Assembly, county offices and the Georgia Supreme Court.

The winners of partisan primaries will advance to the general election in November. In some cases, the primary will effectively decide the winner in races where no candidate from a different party is running.

Most early voters have cast ballots at in-person locations across the state, which are open statewide for at least 17 days leading up to election day. Early voting ends May 17.

Fewer than 20,000 people have cast absentee ballots so far, about 8% of the total. About 35,000 more voters requested absentee ballots that haven’t yet been returned.

Personally, I’m following Gwinnett County Advance voting as a bellwether. Here are the latest numbers:

Democratic Ballots Cast: 6238 (58.16%)

Republican Ballots Cast: 4258 (39.71%)

Non-Partisan Ballots Cast: 228 (2.12%)

The Georgia Supreme Court declined to hear a case involving competing redistricting plans in Cobb County, according to the Associated Press via WSAV.

The Georgia Supreme Court agrees that someone needs to issue a legally final ruling on whether county commissioners can override state legislators and draw their own electoral districts.

But the nine justices on Thursday also agreed it would be improper to rule on that question in a lawsuit brought by two Cobb County residents, reversing a lower court judgment that had thrown out the county commissioners’ own map.

The ruling that Catherine and David Floam weren’t qualified to get a declaratory judgment means that, for now, residents in Georgia’s third-largest county will elect two county commissioners in districts mapped by the Democratic-majority Cobb County Commission, and not under the earlier map drawn by the Republican-majority legislature. Voting is underway in advance of the May 21 primaries.

“To be clear, the fact that there are two competing maps does create significant uncertainty for many,” Justice Nels Peterson wrote for a unanimous court in explaining why the couple didn’t qualify for declaratory judgment. “But the Floams have not shown that this uncertainty affects their future conduct. They have not established that they are insecure about some future action they plan to take.”

The dispute goes back to Republican lawmakers’ decision to draw election district lines for multiple county commissions and school boards that were opposed by Democratic lawmakers representing Democratic-majority counties.

If Cobb County wins the power to draw its own districts, many other counties could follow. In 2022, Republicans used their majorities to override the wishes of local Democratic lawmakers to draw districts in not only Cobb, but in Fulton, Gwinnett, Augusta-Richmond and Athens-Clarke counties. Democrats decried the moves as a hostile takeover of local government.

Indeed, in a concurring opinion, Justice Charlie Bethel seemed to implore commissioners themselves to seek a court judgment, warning that if the commission ultimately loses, commissioners could be thrown off the board.

“A delayed loss by Cobb could give rise to calamitous consequences inflicting serious expense and practical hardship on its citizens,” Bethel wrote. “Accordingly, I urge Cobb to act with all dispatch in obtaining a final answer on the legal merits of its chosen path.”

But Ross Cavitt, a county spokesperson, indicated it’s unlikely the county will take action.

Governor Brian Kemp vetoed Senate Bill 198 which would have ensured that independent pharmacies are reimbursed at least the average reimbursement rate for chain retail pharmacies, according to WALB.

Many independent pharmacies were looking forward to Governor Brian Kemp signing Senate Bill 198 which would have allowed independent pharmacies to be paid no rate less than retail pharmacies.

Nikki Bryant, owner of the Adams Family Pharmacy, says independent pharmacies are vital to many communities.

‘’Independent pharmacies are really important, especially in rural communities where there isn’t any other options,” Bryant said.

Independent pharmacies found that even if they sell the same prescription, they are paid significantly less than retail chain pharmacies.

“My pharmacy has really been impacted negatively since the first of the year by these low reimbursements. This bill would have corrected the reimbursements. It would have forced CVS Care Mart to reimburse my pharmacy and other independent pharmacies in Georgia the average of what they are paying chain pharmacies,” Nikki Bryant said.

Bill Posey, the owner of Tifton Drug Company, says the market is horrible for independent pharmacies when they provide a service to their clients that most retail stores do not.

“You’d be surprised, probably, at the number of patients that will come in and they have a co-pay of fifty cents. Some of them don’t have fifty cents. Most independents will say you bring that in when you get the money,” Posey said.

Both owners were grateful to all of the state representatives and senators who voted for this bill and who listened to the voices of independent pharmacies

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

Senate Bill 198, which the state House and Senate passed with only one “no” vote, would have required the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) covering teachers and state employees to reimburse independent pharmacies filling prescriptions at rates no less than the average reimbursement provided to chain pharmacies.

In the most severe instance, pharmacy chains are being reimbursed for atorvastatin, a cholesterol-lowering drug known by the brand name Lipitor, at rates 2,000% higher than the reimbursements independent pharmacies are getting for the same drug.

Bell’s Family Pharmacy in Jasper, which went out of business in February, was being reimbursed just $1.90 for a 90-day supply of Lipitor, while the three closest chain pharmacies were getting $46.87, according to a chart compiled by CVS Caremark, which administers pharmacy benefit services for the SHBP.

“You can’t stay in business for $1.90,” said Denise Bennett, who owns two independent pharmacies in Blackshear and Nahunta. “Many pharmacies are closing because of this practice. … It’s just sad.”

Indeed, independent pharmacies have closed their doors in recent years in Cornelia, Dunwoody, Suwanee, Fayetteville, Helen, Clarksville, Hartwell, Royston, Statesboro and Waycross, citing low reimbursement rates for prescriptions.

“These were folks that stayed open during COVID,” said state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, who owned an independent pharmacy until he retired from the business in 2016. “In some cases, they were the only health care in town.”

In his veto message, Kemp pointed to fiscal estimates showing that implementing the bill would cost the state Department of Community Health (DCH) $11 million to $45 million per year, funds the General Assembly did not provide.

As an alternative, the governor wrote, the fiscal 2025 state budget he signed this week includes one-time funding for a dispensing fee of $3 per prescription for independent pharmacists, increasing to $11.50 for independent low-volume pharmacies filling prescriptions for Medicaid patients. The budget also directs the DCH to use existing funds for an actuarial study on SHBP independent pharmacy prescription drug reimbursements, he wrote.

“These budget items provide an appropriate, fiscally sound approach to supporting independent pharmacists this year while obtaining necessary information to aid the department in evaluating current and future management of the state’s pharmacy plan,” Kemp wrote.

Stephens said the dispensing fee might allow some independent pharmacies to keep their doors open. But he vowed to mount another push next year for legislation evening the playing field for independent pharmacists.

Governor Kemp also vetoed House Bill 1192, which would have ended the state sales tax exemption for data centers, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

Republican legislative leaders supported House Bill 1192, arguing the rapid growth of data centers is putting a strain on the state’s energy grid. But business leaders – notably the Georgia Chamber of Commerce – urged Kemp to veto the bill.

In his veto message, the governor wrote that the timing of the measure would have left companies planning to set up data centers in Georgia in the lurch.

“Only two years ago, the legislature extended these tax exemptions for an additional three years, through 2031,” Kemp wrote.

“The bill’s language would prevent the issuance of exemption certificates after an abrupt July 1, 2024, deadline for many customers of projects that are already in development – undermining the investments made by high-technology data center operators, customers, and other stakeholders in reliance on the recent extension, and inhibiting important infrastructure and job development.”

Other bills Kemp vetoed on Tuesday include House Bill 1019, which called for doubling the statewide homestead tax exemption from $2,000 to $4,000, subject to a referendum.

The legislation was part of a tax-cut package introduced by House Republican leaders early in this year’s session. In vetoing the bill, Kemp pointed to a major 11th-hour change that he argued made the measure untenable.

“After the Senate Finance Committee changed the exemption amount, the Senate adopted a floor amendment late on the final day of the legislative session to return the bill to its original form,” the governor wrote.

“This amendment, however, did not change the language of the constitutionally required voter referendum, which references a $10,000 exemption. Voters would therefore be approving a different exemption which the legislature did not pass, while the statutory language would never receive the voter approval needed for it to take effect.”

Kemp also vetoed Senate Bill 368, which would have prohibited foreign nationals from making political contributions. In his veto message, the governor noted that such contributions already are prohibited under federal law.

From the Rome News Tribune:

Locally, there were concerns that a tax incentive hiatus could affect potential future investment plans Microsoft had, or halt other data center proposals. No firm plans have been announced, but there has been word of other data center companies pursuing plans in Floyd County after Microsoft made its announcement in 2023.

Rome-Floyd County Development Authority President Missy Kendrick said there are significant benefits data center projects bring to communities like Floyd County.

“They bring the benefit of infrastructure as well as a growing tax base,” Kendrick said.

The only announced data center project in Floyd County is a big one. Microsoft is planning to invest $1 billion in a data center campus on a 347-acre property on Huffaker Road. The company purchased the land at $40,000 per acre.

The Rome-Floyd County Development Authority has agreed to essentially act as the go-between in the $1 billion deal, by issuing industrial revenue bonds for the project alongside a 12-year partial tax abatement. That allows the authority to act as a bridge between the two parties and doesn’t represent any debt taken on by the authority.

Savannah City Council adopted an ordinance regulating trolley noise, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Savannah City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Thursday aimed at reducing amplified sound from tour vehicles, such as open-air trolleys, through the use of in-ear technology or directional speakers.

“I am glad that the passage showed the city, the industry and residents can come up with a solution that works for all of us,” said David McDonald, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association.

The new policy comes as Mayor Van Johnson has made livability a hallmark of his second term amid Savannah’s growing prominence as a destination city. Johnson said tackling amplified sound was a prudent first step, and more work may be to come.

The extended timeline was to make it more viable for tour companies to outfit their fleets, said District 2 Alderman Detric Leggett. The directional speakers, which are the preferred technology by most trolley companies, cost around $10,000 to $12,000 and are custom fitted to the trolleys.

“We want to make sure you are still able to function as a company and not go bankrupt before you are able to outfit your entire fleet,” Leggett said.

Glynn County public schools is considering free lunches for all students, according to The Brunswick News.

Because of the number of children already eating school meals for free or at reduced prices in Glynn County, the school district qualifies for the Community Eligibility Provision program, she said.

The program would feed all school children breakfast and lunch at no cost, she told school board members Thursday during a workshop. Nearly 56 percent of students in Glynn County are receiving some form of free or cost-assisted meals, she said.

The Glynn County School Board could vote on the matter at Tuesday’s regular monthly meeting.

“It’s important to note that most schools are already doing this,” Daniel said. “Forty-seven districts statewide are now doing this. Effingham (county), Bryan (County) and us are the only ones not doing this.”

The federal program would place no burden on county taxpayers, School District Superintendent Scott Spence said.

“It’s a federal program and it will not cost our taxpayers,” he said.

The program would ensure that each child in Glynn County eats while attending school. It would eliminate slowdowns in the lines for students to pay as they go through the cafeteria line. It would also eliminate the need for staff to collect from those who are supposed to pay but are not prepared to do so, she said.

Three South Georgia school systems are closed today for weather-related issues, according to WTOC.

Toombs County Schools, Vidalia City Schools, and Montgomery County Schools will be closed on Friday, May 10th.

According to a Facebook post, the [Toombs County] school system feel that it is not safe to have transportation on the roads due to widespread power outages and a chance of storms on Friday.

Vidalia City Schools have also decided to cancel classes for Friday due to public safety concerns.

Montgomery County Schools have canceled school as well due to power outages and dangerous road conditions.

Other area school systems are also closed or delayed, according to WALB.

Colquitt County public schools delayed school opening today, according to the Moultrie Observer.

Habersham and Stephens County public schools were closed on Thursday, May 9, according to AccessWDUN.

A notice from Habersham County’s Nancy Rennels announced the closure of public schools throughout the county for the day:

“Severe storms appear to have hit Habersham County hard overnight. School system officials have been out checking road conditions this morning.We have found numerous roads closed, numerous trees down, as well as downed power lines. Road conditions are unsafe for buses and student drivers. All schools will be closed for students and staff today.”

The Stephens County’s Schools’  official social media page also announcing that their public schools will be closed today (Thursday, May 9) as a precaution for the current storm conditions in their area, and for cleanup efforts along area roads.

Dougherty County lost more than $500,000 in grant money because of the county’s failure to complete an audit, according to the Albany Herald.

Dougherty County missed out on more than a half-million dollars in road improvement funds because, for the second consecutive year, county officials did not complete an annual audit required by the state of Georgia.

But the county’s interim administrator said the issue is not one of omission, instead is the result of a glut in past-due audits being completed by a shrinking number of accounting firms.

“The issue really is one that is ongoing with the Office of Audits,” Dougherty interim County Administrator Barry Brooks said Monday. “With new rules added, a lot of CPA firms are no longer doing audits. That leaves the bigger firms – like Mauldin & Jenkins, which does our audits – with a backlog. And they’re trying to catch up.”

“We recently completed our ’22 audit and are now working with Mauldin & Jenkins to complete 2023.”

Government agencies in the state are given six months after a set deadline to complete an audit of finances for each fiscal year. Dougherty County has failed to complete the audit on time each of the past two years.

The state has earmarked $250 million this fiscal year for road projects statewide, but Dougherty County found itself ineligible for its share of the funds due to its non-compliance with audit requirements.

“It is my understanding that the allocation of transportation funds due us will be readdressed after our ’23 audit is complete,” Brooks said. “It would pretty much have to be with so many governments’ audits past due.”

More information has come out about the firing of former Tybee Island Fire Chief Jeremy Kendrick, according to WTOC.

A personnel file reveals former Tybee Island Fire Chief Jeremy Kendrick was first placed on paid administrative leave on April 16th. He was ultimately fired on April 24.

Among the documents in Kendrick’s file was a letter dated April 24 from City Manager Michelle Owens to Kendrick. Owens writes, “It has been decided that we will be moving forward with termination of employment.” It also says Kendrick’s termination is “in the best interest of the city.”

According to the documents, Kendrick “made statements that confused the council with regards to STVR inspections.” The documents also state he, “publicly blamed the City’s legal counsel” for taking too much time to review fire prevention ordinances.

Documents show City Manager Owens requested, “Chief Kendrick write an apology to Council… as well as send an apology to legal counsel for ‘throwing them under the bus,’” and that Kendrick “did not comply” with Owens’ request.

Harris County County Manager Randy Dowling has resigned, according to WTVM.

According to Harris County government’s website, the position is vacant. News Leader 9 spoke with a county commissioner who said Dowling’s resignation is a personnel issue that they couldn’t discuss.

After an 1 hour and 30 minute executive session, county commissioners came out of the meeting with the announcement of Dowling voluntarily resigning. Here’s what Robert Grant said the after executive session:

“I would like to make the motion to accept our county manager’s volunteer resignation and execution of a release of all claims in the severance package outlined in his contract.”

This is not the first county seat that Dowling has had to step down from. In 2013, he was fired as Gordon County county administrator after 11 years (2002). Dowling has experience as county manager or administrator in Dawson, Barrow, and Lee counties.

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller discussed his goals in a prospective second term, according to 13WMAZ.

In an interview Thursday, Miller highlighted developments at the Macon Mall, property tax cuts and success in his Macon Violence Prevention program. Now, he wants to continue trends of growth and opportunity.

“We have a team that’s gotten larger because more people got on board. So, we’re going to do bigger and better things at the mall. We’re also going to be looking at, hopefully, a new national park. We’ve been working a lot behind the scenes,” Miller said.

Miller is pushing for continued updates to county facilities in the next SPLOST. He’s proposing a new jail and millions of dollars in road repairs.

“Probably going to set aside $40-to-50 million in the next SPLOST to pave roads and to have sidewalks. I think people have been asking that for a while, and I think we finally have the opportunity to do that,” Miller said.

Public safety is always a heavy presence in Miller’s budgets. He hopes the county’s Macon Violence Prevention program sees continued success in another term.

“We are excited that violent crime has been down almost 43%. More importantly, the areas that we target for our youth, the number of kids committing new crimes, or violence against teens have decreased about 70%,” Miller said.

He’s also pledging continued reductions in county property taxes thanks to the OLOST penny sales tax.

“One thing’s for certain: taxes are not going up. They’re going down. We just don’t know the percentage yet. We’ve done a great job with the OLOST and being very efficient with our money, and we feel confident that the rate will continue to go down for a while,” Miller said.

Middle Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Robert Reeves is accused of misconduct, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Robert Reeves, chief judge in the Middle Judicial Circuit in Washington County, was accused of sexual harassment against women, bias, prejudice and making improper comments in November 2022, according to an investigation by the Judicial Qualifications Commission. The commission filed an investigative document charging him with 58 potential violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The Georgia Supreme Court decided late last month he would have to face a judge over the allegations.

The investigation by the Judicial Qualifications Commission ended with formal charges against Reeves. The charging documents allege that between 2015 and 2022, Reeves had several concerning incidents: In one alleged incident, he called a man who didn’t follow his directions a derogatory term referring to disabled people in front of court personnel and attendees. In another, he told a mother that the investigator she was speaking to was a drug dealer. He also commented that another superior court judge was too lenient. He said he’d use his power to keep the judge from getting important cases.

The judicial complaint also mentions that Reeves berated attorneys for not preparing paperwork properly, made fun of a defendant’s name and, when asked by an inmate when the court would be in recess for lunch, said, “You mean we have to feed these people?”

The complaint also detailed incidents in which Reeves made inappropriate comments about female attorneys’ looks and made them uncomfortable by touching their shoulders or rubbing their backs, according to the investigation.

To a certain attorney, the judge referred to her as “Miss America,” and would urge her to smile if she wanted a document signed — a treatment that, according to the complaint became a common joke among the Public Defender’s Office. Others said Reeves would reconsider any request if that certain attorney brought the request forward.

The investigation found that there were incidents in which he would use his power as chief judge to make recommendations to other judges about cases involving his acquaintances. He also helped promote the Sunshine House, an advocacy center that works with law enforcement on child abuse cases, using his judicial title.

Reeves had asked that the complaints against him be dismissed, but the state’s top court ruled against tossing the case.

Reeves’ case will be heard June 17-20 at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth, with Judge Robert McBurney from Fulton County hearing the case.

If McBurney finds the accusations against Reeves to be true, he can be suspended or removed from the bench, according to the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct.

The Middle Judicial Circuit serves Candler, Emanuel, Jefferson, Toombs, and Washington Counties.

Macon-Bibb County Mayoral candidate Shekita Maxwell reported an anonymous $3000 contribution and the State Ethics Commission is investigating, according to 13WMAZ.

Georgia’s State Ethics Commission is looking into Macon-Bibb County mayor candidate Shekita Maxwell after she reported an anonymous donation on her most recent campaign contribution disclosure report.

According to Maxwell’s report filed April 30, an “anonymous group” gave her $3,000 to “pay election fees.” Later in the report, she writes she paid that money to the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections. It matches the amount required to run for the office of mayor in Macon-Bibb County.

On the phone Wednesday, Maxwell said she didn’t know who gave her the money. She says someone came to her parents’ house and gave them the money, telling them, “We believe in your daughter. She should run.”

“If that’s the case, that’s not going to fly,” Joe Cusack, the state ethics commission’s deputy director and general counsel, said.

Cusack says anonymous campaign contributions are not allowed, citing Georgia law.

“It’s illegal,” Cusack said. “Candidates, if they do have an anonymous contribution, are supposed to turn that over to the state treasury.”
Cusack says even though Maxwell got the money before she officially qualified to run, she’s still bound by state ethics laws. He says the rules are in place so the state knows exactly who is funding campaigns for office.

“In this particular instance, we have someone who has actually paid a qualifying fee for a candidate, and they are anonymous,” Cusack said. “If, for some reason that person were elected who took that contribution, we have no idea who they could possibly be beholden to, or who is possibly in their inner circle that is actually paying their expenses.”

“This is something that is punishable by a civil penalty, and not unusual for candidates to incur a civil penalty for taking an anonymous contribution,” Cusack said.

Commerce City Council member Roshuanda Merritt no longer faces charges after a grand jury declined to indicther, according to the AJC.

Commerce City Council member Roshuanda Merritt will not face prosecution for four felony charges brought against her after she initially contacted police for help in a case involving “inappropriate” photos.

A Jackson County grand jury declined to indict Merritt, 43, on April 29, the Jackson County Clerk of Court’s office confirmed Thursday. She faced charges of criminal attempt to sell marijuana and use of a telecommunication facility to facilitate a felony.

She contacted the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office late last year about alleged inappropriate photographs of her being posted online via social media.

During the initial investigation, Jackson County Sheriff Janis Mangum said evidence indicating a separate crime was discovered. She turned the case over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who arrested Merritt. Authorities said Merritt allegedly sent via text message a photograph of four THC-infused gummies packages and asked individuals to “let her know if anyone wanted to purchase said gummies.”

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office later arrested three people, Frank Lee Sewell, Caquea Sewell Evans and Aisha Genise Pelzer, for allegedly sharing nude images of Merritt.

Sewell was charged with misdemeanor prohibition on nude or sexually explicit electronic transmissions. Evans and Pelzer were charged with misdemeanor party to crime for aiding “in the publishing of nude photos of Merritt against her wishes for the purpose of harassment,” according to arrest warrants filed in Jackson County.

Merritt taught at East Jackson High School in Commerce but stopped being employed by the school after the police charges. She remains a city councilwoman.

The Republican Candidates for Senate District 50 are pointing fingers at each other, according to AccessWDUN.

Drew Echols said one of his friends from Atlanta rented Josh Clark’s property on Old Federal Road in Flowery Branch on Wednesday, May 1 and invited Echols to the house. Echols said he went to confirm his suspicions that Clark does not live at the property as he claims.

“I went down there to see for myself. I’ve always been told to trust but verify, and voters need to know that this gentleman does not live in that house.” Echols said. “I went in the house. I looked in the refrigerator, I looked in the drawers. The refrigerator is empty. The drawers are empty…I left after maybe 15, 20 minutes.”

Clark disputed that claim, saying he and his family have lived in the home since 2019, but rent the property on Airbnb on select weekends. He said Echols visiting the home violated Airbnb’s policies and he questioned the ethics of his opponent going through the property.

“We did not agree to Drew Echols being in the home. I mean, that’s just weird, your opponent coming into your home for 20 minutes,” Clark said. “If he wanted to come over, if he had just called me…we want to be hospitable, but doing it the way he did it? No, that’s not ok.”

An article on Josh Clark’s campaign website initially indicated that Clark was considering contacting authorities regarding the incident, but Clark backed off of those comments.

“There’s still an internal discussion about that, but at this point, my wife and I don’t want there to be lost energy over this,” Clark said. “At this point, we’ve decided to just keep on moving forward with our campaign strategy.”

Echols issued a release Wednesday morning, accusing Clark of illegally receiving two different homestead exemptions in 2023 for both the Flowery Branch property and a home on the Gwinnett County side of Buford.

“I think the voters in Hall County need to vote for someone who lives here and doesn’t take advantage of the system with two homestead exemptions,” Echols said. “It’s voter fraud is what it is. He says he lives there, that’s where his voter registration is. It’s an Airbnb.”

Clark said he also owns another home in the Flowery Branch area that he and his family stay in while the Old Federal Road property is being rented. He called the claims about his residency by Echols “ridiculous.”

“It’s really, utterly ridiculous. Our son graduated from West Hall (High School), our daughter is graduating from Lanier Christian Academy…we go to Christ Place Church, I work out in Oakwood,” Clark said. “Everybody knows who we are, they know we’re a key fixture in South Hall. It’s really childish and it’s disappointing.”

Early voting is already underway for the May 21 primary elections. There is no Democrat candidate for the State Senate District 49 seat, meaning the winner of that primary between Echols and Clark will, effectively, win the seat.

The League of Women Voters of Coastal Georgia hosted a forum for Chatham County Sheriff candidates, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Chatham County Sheriff candidates Richard Coleman and Kevin Burns squared off during a candidate forum on April 29, hosted by the League of Women’s Voters of Coastal Georgia.

The general primary election will take place on May 21. The winner of that race will face Sheriff John Wilcher, who replaced six-term sheriff Al St. Lawrence, who died in office in 2015. Seven months after winning a special election for the seat, Wilcher was elected to a full term and re-elected in 2020.

Abigail Guzman is running for Gainesville City Council, according to AccessWDUN.

She is now running for the vacant Ward 4 city council seat left open after the passing of George Wangemann.

“I would like to see Gainesville continue moving forward in the positive direction that it is moving. There are obvious challenges ahead like traffic flow that we need to focus on and working to continue to attract quality jobs and housing,” Guzman said. “However, I think the current Council and Staff are doing a great job, I greatly admire the intentional work they are doing and I hope to be able to be a part of that!”

Guzman is running against Minister and retired army veteran Devin Pandy. The race will be decided during the May 21 special election primary.

Craig Johnson is running for Effingham County Commission District 4, according to the Effingham Herald.

Walt Lawson is running for Clerk of Court for Effingham County, according to the Effingham Herald.

State Court Judge Stephen Yekel is running to retain his seat, according to the Effingham Herald.

Thank you sincerely to all those who supported my candidacy for State Court Judge in 2022. Winning by a margin of over 1,400 votes was a testament to the trust and confidence placed in me by the community. However, the vacancy left by the resignation of the previous State Court Judge required Governor Kemp to appoint me into the position on June 22, 2022, ahead of my anticipated term starting in January 2023. Consequently, I am now obliged to stand for election in the Non-Partisan Primary in 2024, instead of 2026.

Loggerhead turtle season has begun in Coastal Georgia, according to the Albany Herald.

Georgia’s nesting season for loggerhead sea turtles began with a three-island tie over the weekend. A nest each was reported Sunday on Jekyll and Wassaw islands, plus two on Blackbeard.

“It’s like clockwork,” Georgia Sea Turtle Program Coordinator Mark Dodd said of the turtles’ annual return to lay eggs on beaches along the Southeast. “They’re usually right around the first of May.”

Daily nest monitoring on all Georgia beaches starts in mid-May. But U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff found the early nests on Blackbeard and Wassaw Sunday morning, and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center reported the first nest on Jekyll the same morning. Blackbeard and Wassaw are national wildlife refuges.

[L]ast year [] loggerheads totaled 3,431 nests in Georgia. Although a drop-off from the record 4,071 nests in 2022 – the most since comprehensive surveys on all of the state’s barrier island beaches began in 1989 – the 2023 count was more than twice the 35-year average and exceeded the recovery goal of 2,800 nests a year, a target set in the National Marine Fisheries Service/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery plan for the federally protected turtles. Last summer’s nests included more than 290,000 eggs and yielded some 159,000 hatchlings.

The loggerhead population has been increasing at approximately 4% annually since the early 1990s. However, a population model developed by the University of Georgia and the U.S. Geological Survey using nesting and genetics data indicates the population will plateau at current levels for about the next 15 to 20 years, its progress hindered by low recruitment during the early 2000s, Dodd said.

Supporting that rebound is the goal of the Sea Turtle Cooperative, a DNR-coordinated network of about 200 volunteers, researchers and agency employees who patrol beaches daily during nesting season. Working under a federal permit, members mark, monitor and protect all loggerhead nests, plus those of other species that seldom nest in Georgia, such as green and Kemp’s ridley.

The process followed Sunday morning on Blackbeard, Wassaw and Jekyll will be repeated hundreds of times this year. An egg from each nest – less than 1% of the average clutch size – was collected for UGA genetic analysis documenting the number and relatedness of loggerheads nesting in Georgia. The nest was then covered with a screen to protect the eggs from predators.

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