Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 23, 2023


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 23, 2023

Serial bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were shot to death near Sailes, Louisiana by a group of LA and Texas state police on May 23, 1934.

On May 23, 1954, the NAACP petitioned the Fulton County Board of Education to desegregate after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter won the Virginia Caucus on May 23, 1976, gaining 24 delegates. On May 25, 1976, Carter won the Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky Primary Elections for President.

On May 23, 1990, the NFL announced that Atlanta would host the 1994 Super Bowl.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

State Senator Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro) was appointed to the Georgia Council on Literacy, according to the Statesboro Herald.

This group was created by Senate Bill 211, which was sponsored by Hickman, during the 2023 Georgia Legislative Session. The Council is comprised of 10 members of the Georgia Legislature and 20 citizen members who are experts in literacy and education.

“I am honored to serve as a member of the Georgia Council on Literacy,” said Hickman, who represents District 4, which includes Bulloch County. “The (establishment of) the Council is a testament of Georgia’s dedication to improving early literacy rates across our state.”

“Education is one of my top priorities as a legislator and I am eager to bring new ideas to this sector through my membership on the Council. We will continue to invest in the education of Georgia’s students in order to ensure that they have every opportunity for success in their future.”

“I am thankful to Lt. Governor Burt Jones, chairman of the Senate Committee on Education and Youth Senator Clint Dixon and the Senate Majority Caucus for their continued trust and I am excited to get to work in this new capacity.”

From the Senate Press Release:

The Council will comprise of ten members of the Georgia Legislature and twenty citizen members who are experts in literacy and education.

I’m deducting ten points for incorrect use of the word “comprise” in a press release about literacy.

From the Albany Herald:

State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, has been appointed to serve as a member of the Georgia Council on Literacy. The council was created by Senate Bill 211 during the 2023 Georgia Legislative session and will comprise 10 members of the Georgia Legislature and 20 citizen members who are experts in literacy and education.

“I am honored to serve on the Georgia Council on Literacy and provide new perspectives to initiatives that will have a lasting impact on Georgia’s youth,” Sims said in a news release. “Literacy is the cornerstone of personal and societal growth and opens the door to endless opportunities. It is imperative that every Georgian has access to a quality education and the tools they need to succeed.”

“As a former educator, I understand the educational challenges that our schools face across the state. I am excited to work with members of this council who will bring a mix of expertise, legislative experience and dedication to the table. Together, we can explore avenues that enhance Georgia’s literacy rates and create a more prosperous Georgia. I want to thank Lt. Gov. (Burt) Jones for appointing me to the council, and I am eager to get started.”

Georgia State Senator Jason Esteves (D-Atlanta) will open a Flying Biscuit franchise in Columbus, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Georgia state senator and Columbus native Jason Esteves is bringing an Atlanta-based breakfast and southern food chain to Highside Market late this summer. The Flying Biscuit Cafe is a full-service restaurant that will be a good option for family, friends or business partners, Esteves said. Specializing in breakfast food, the chain has locations across Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas, Florida and Texas.

Esteves grew up in south Columbus and often returns to visit his family. His roots are in Columbus, Esteves said, and he remembers how abandoned the downtown area used to be. It has made him happy to see the growth Columbus has had over the years.

Forsyth County schools are accused of creating a hostile environment related to books, according to the AJC.

Forsyth County Schools has agreed to communicate directly with students about the way it processed demands to remove library books, after the federal government decided the system might have created a “hostile environment” for some of its kids.

Forsyth officials removed eight books from middle and high school library shelves in January 2022, including “The Bluest Eye,” Toni Morrison’s acclaimed debut novel. The following August, after an in-depth review, the district restored seven of the books but only on high school shelves. The district permanently removed the eighth book, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” a memoir about growing up Black and queer.

The temporary removal for review was ordered by Superintendent Jeff Bearden after parents complained about explicit sexual content and also about LGBTQ+ subject matter.

Despite being notified that some students felt they were under attack, Forsyth’s messaging and other reactions “related to the book screening process were not designed to, and were insufficient to, ameliorate any resultant racially and sexually hostile environment,” the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights wrote in a letter Friday to Bearden.

The resolution says the district will, in consultation with the Office of Civil Rights, communicate to middle and high school students that the book removals were based on sexually explicit content rather than on the sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, national origin or color of the book’s author or characters.

Federal law prohibits exclusionary and discriminatory practices based on these characteristics for any school that accepts U.S. funding under Title VI (race) and Title IX (gender).

Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights, said the government was concerned Forsyth might have broken the law, but the resolution ended the investigation — for now.

“Our concern was that the district had information that students were experiencing a hostile environment based on race and based on sex, related to the book removals, and that the actions that the district took in response weren’t designed to, and were not enough, to ameliorate any resultant hostile environment for the students,” Lhamon said, adding that her office will oversee Forsyth’s agreement to resolve the matter until all issues are addressed.

From the Associated Press via WRDW:

The Forsyth County school district settled the complaint, agreeing to explain the book removal process to students and offer “supportive measures” to students who may have been harmed. Forsyth County will also include questions about the issue in its yearly school climate survey of middle and high school students next year.

Federal officials wrote in a letter Friday that Forsyth County erred not so much in the removals, saying “the district limited its book screening process to sexually explicit material.” Instead, officials found that the problem was how district officials talked about removals at school board meetings.

“Communications at board meetings conveyed the impression that books were being screened to exclude diverse authors and characters, including people who are LGBTQI+ and authors who are not white, leading to increased fears and possibly harassment,” the department wrote.

Protests over books viewed as inappropriate had been led by a conservative group, Mama Bears of Forsyth County. Members read sexually explicit passages from school books until the school board chairman ordered them to stop in March 2022, noting board policy prohibits profane remarks. Members of the group argued that if the books were inappropriate to be read at a board meeting, they were inappropriate for children.

The board then banned one member, Alison Hair, from attending board meetings. Hair and Mama Bears Chairwoman Cindy Martin sued in federal court, winning a ruling in February that the ban violated their First Amendment rights. The group then resumed reading books at meetings.

“Washington is TRAMPLING local control to push their radical agenda on kids, while stealing their innocence and childhood,” tweeted former Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who now runs a conservative political group.

Fulton County property owners could see increasing upward pressure on property taxes, according to the AJC.

Chief Financial Officer Sharon Whitmore said county property tax rates fell in 2022 but are projected to rise for 2023 taxes. Rising property values allowed revenue to increase even as the rate dropped, upping the county’s fund balance from $130 million to $224 million in that same period, she said.

But staff projections for various spending plans — including health care funding, employee raises and other items — could nearly double current millage rate over several years, she said.

That had staff and commissioners alike looking for alternative funding sources to keep the property tax rate down.

The most straightforward idea is an additional one-cent sales tax, which would generate $1.7 billion over its five-year life. But that would require both approval from the General Assembly and a countywide referendum.

Issuing bonds for the jail project would require a separate property tax, but would take the project out of the county’s general fund, Whitmore said. That would also require a referendum.

The next biggest issue was health care. The county is renegotiating its agreement with Grady Memorial Hospital, which it heavily subsidizes; and there are several efforts underway to compensate for Wellstar Health Systems’ closure last year of two hospitals that served Atlanta and the southern end of the county.

One proposal aired Monday would spend $93 million a year on health care. That’s not just for Grady but to potentially support another hospital or several clinics to serve the former Wellstar area. But other projections would cut that to $40 million.

The county already has three hospital authorities in existence, providing “one ready source of statutory authority for funding,” County Attorney Y. Soo Jo said. Only one of those, which supports Grady, gets any county money, she said.

The county can levy a property tax of up to 7 mills to fund a hospital authority, but does not impose that tax now, Jo said. It can do so without a referendum.

“That’s the one I like,” Chairman Robb Pitts said, noting that funding a hospital authority through that tax mechanism would only require a majority vote on county commission.

McIntosh County Commissioners voted to restrict mowing and chemical use along county roads to protect pollinators, according to The Brunswick News.

County commission member Davis Poole said the intent is to improve habitat for pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies, as well as other animals that rely on blooming flowers and plants.

The plan will also save the county money as a result.

“It’s definitely not going to cost the county money,” he said. “The county commission is looking for ways to save money.”

Poole, who helped convince commissioners to support the plan, said it will save the county money by using fewer herbicides. It will also free county public works employees to perform other tasks such as building maintenance and work at county parks, according to Poole.

“A committee will identify areas with plants, including rare plants,” he said. “We’re still going to mow. It will just be a reduced mow.”

Plans to reduce mowing and allow blooming plants to grow to help pollinators have been tried in other parts of Southeast Georgia, with little success because of poor communication with mowing crews. Poole expressed confidence that will not happen in McIntosh County.

Augusta’s municipal computer network is down again, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

On the heels of a large outage last week, multiple entities confirmed on Monday that the City of Augusta’s network system is down again.

“Augusta, Georgia is experiencing information system outages that precludes the search and retrieval of some public records,” noted the city administrator’s office in response to an open records request on another issue.

Additionally, the Augusta Fire Department confirmed it is experiencing outages.

It is unclear how widespread the outage is on this occasion or if the sheriff’s office is experiencing any issues.

Statesboro has launched its bus transit system, according to the Statesboro Herald.

More than four years after the Statesboro City Council funded a feasibility study of a public transportation system, Statesboro Area Transit hit the road Monday with four buses along two routes.

According to a release from the city, the buses will run 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and make more than 30 stops around Statesboro.

“SAT promises riders greater access to health care, shopping, community events and much more,” said the release from city of Statesboro Public Information Officer Layne Phillips.

The fare is $1 for a one-way trip and $2 for a round trip. Only cash and exact change will be accepted at this time, Phillips said in the release. She said the city plans to offer bus passes and a card reading system in the future. Also, discounted rates are available for seniors, college students and individuals with disabilities. Discount cards are available at the city’s engineering department at City Hall.

“Positioning Statesboro as a city that is welcoming and accessible to all is at the heart of the work myself and the Statesboro City Council do,” Mayor Jonathan McCollar said. “Statesboro Area Transit furthers the city’s mission to be a vibrant community that anyone can call home and everyone will want to. Many of our residents don’t have access to all that Statesboro has to offer. We’re hoping this transit system will help bridge that gap so more residents can experience the best of the Boro.”

Statesboro City Council is considering stomping out competition to their transit buses restricting hipster scooters. From the Statesboro Herald:

More than four years after Lime brand scooters first appeared on Statesboro’s streets and sidewalks, the city’s elected officials are proposing to regulate rental scooters and rental bikes, but not prohibit them.

That either an outright ban or regulations were possible emerged during two recent mayor and council work sessions that included reports from the planning consultant firm TSW about the ongoing creation of a unified development code, or UDC, for Statesboro. This regulatory rewrite was launched mainly to update Statesboro’s zoning, subdivision and sign ordinances.

After Caleb P. Racicot, a principal planner with TSW, reported April 18 that Statesboro is one of only a few Georgia cities where rental scooters are present and that some cities have banned them outright, several council members said they would oppose a ban. But those same council members, particularly District 2’s Paulette Chavers, District 3’s Venus Mack and District 5’s Shari Barr, said they believe some regulation is needed.

“You may recall at our last work session we had proposed just getting rid of (rental electric scooters) in the city, and several council members had concerns about that, so what we wanted to do was to really put out several options for the council and mayor’s consideration,” Racicot said.

Again noting that “there are very few places in Georgia that actually allow these,” Racicot said he had looked at the ordinances of some cities that regulate rental scooters and bikes.

The regulations commonly include a licensing requirement, with the rental companies obtaining a permit from the city for their scooters or bikes to operate on city right of ways. Another common requirement is for the companies to carry liability insurance, which he said would help protect the city.

Fees, limits on the number of scooters, and restrictions on where they can be stored or parked are elements of some of the ordinances. Operational standards can include reporting requirements, such as companies having to periodically file a report on all accidents. The ordinances typically include a termination clause so that the city can cancel a rental company’s license, he said.

Racicot recommended looking at regulations adopted by the Atlanta suburb of Brookhaven and by the city of Atlanta, with Brookhaven’s rules, he said, being more straightforward and Atlanta’s more complicated.  Athens-Clarke County, home of the University of Georgia, wouldn’t be a model, since its council enacted a ban on the rental scooters in 2020.

Dougherty County Commissioners voted to fire County Administrator Michael McCoy, according to the Albany Herald.

Commission Chairman Lorenzo Heard offered a motion to relieve McCoy of his duties as county administrator and rescind a recent hiring decision under McCoy.

In the meeting recording, Heard said, “I want to offer a motion that County Administrator Mr. Michael McCoy be relieved of his duties. Understanding, by law, he is to be paid out the full of his contract, which is Dec. 31.”

Heard cast the deciding vote in favor of termination.

Before the vote, there was discussion among commissioners about a hire McCoy made and whether or not he had the authority to hire.

“I think your ego gets damaged because you aren’t informed of a process,” Gray said to Heard after making the motion for termination.

Said Heard: “It had nothing to do with ego, it has to do with respecting the chair.”

Gray said under a statute, McCoy did not have to inform the board of commissioners of hiring decisions.

“This is putting the county at a serious liability, not only legally,” Gray said. “(It’s) putting the county in a very, very fragile state during budget season.”

From the Albany Herald:

Commissioners Victor Edwards, Gloria Gaines and Clinton Johnson were joined by Commission Chairman Lorenzo Heard in voting to terminate 25-year county employee McCoy, who served as assistant county administrator before being named administrator about four years ago.

“The chairman was highly upset that Mike had hired the assistant county administrator without at least talking to him and consulting with us,” [Commissioner Anthony] Jones said. “He was not happy at all.”

The chairman also alluded to seating arrangements at the Pentagon during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., Jones said.

“We’re without an administrator and an assistant administrator, and we’re in the middle of the budget,” Jones said. “I don’t know where we go from here. I don’t know what’s going to happen from here on out.”

The Hall County Board of Education adopted a budget for FY2024, according to the Gainesville Times.

In what might have been one of the shortest school board meetings in the history of Hall County Schools, board members approved the preliminary budget during a special meeting Monday, May 22, after forgetting to do so last week.

The meeting lasted all of about five minutes.

The two biggest changes to this year’s budget are sharp spikes in costs and revenues.

Officials say revenues are up $46 million over last year — for a total of $336.4 million — but they won’t be enough to keep the district out of the red.

Property tax revenues are up an estimated $29.8 million, assuming the current millage rate of 15.99 mills stays the same. Officials say they are likely to lower the millage rate some, but it is too early to say by how much.

“Right now, it looks like it’s going to be lower. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be in a better position to say, ‘We think it’ll be this,’” Superintendent Will Schofield told The Times last week.

But the increase in revenue won’t be enough to offset the increase in costs, which are mainly due to employee raises and hires and higher employee health insurance premiums, which have increased from $945 per month per employee to $1,580, for an additional cost of $14 million.

Costs are up 10% overall — $33 million — over last year for a total of nearly $340.4 million.

Here is a breakdown of the increase in expenditures:

• $14 million to cover higher state health insurance premiums

• $7 million to pay for additional hires made using federal coronavirus relief money

• $5.36 million to cover $2,000 raises for teachers

• $3.09 million to cover step increases for certified and classified staff

• $1.15 million to cover $1,000 raise for classified staff (e.g., custodians, nurses, bus drivers)

Hall County and Gainesville will receive $4.4 million in state and federal Covid relief grants, according to the Gainesville Times.

“We appreciate Gov. Brian Kemp for thinking of the city of Gainesville and realizing the positive impact these valuable dollars will have on those who call this community home,” Mayor Sam Couvillon said. “We also extend thanks to Rep. Matt Dubnik, Sen. Shelly Echols and Rep. Lee Hawkins for their continued support of Gainesville-Hall County, and for looking out for the people of northeast Georgia.”

“It’s been a priority for us since the pandemic first hit to provide funding for those who were hit the hardest, and our staff has done a great job securing state and federal funding to ensure Hall County can give attention to the areas in our community that need it most,” Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Higgins said.

Former State Rep. Winfred Dukes (D-Albany) was arrested and charged in connection with domestic violence allegations, according to the Albany Herald.

A former Georgia state representative was arrested in connection to a domestic incident turned assault, according to the Albany Police Department.

The incident happened between Dukes and a former wife at her business office on Mobile Avenue, according to an APD incident report.

The incident happened, the report states, when Dukes tried to block the door when his former wife tried to leave with their child because of a previously agreed upon parenting plan. The former wife told police that when she attempted to leave, she pulled back after he grabbed her arm and punched her in the forehead. The incident report states she was then kicked in the chest, knee and stomach.

The incident report states cruelty to children and battery warrants were issued for Dukes.

Dukes was the Georgia state representative for District 154. He ran for Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture but lost the Democratic primary in May 2022. Dukes left office in January 2023.

Dalton City Council member Annalee Harlan Sams announced her campaign for Mayor, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

“I look forward to serving my hometown of Dalton as mayor,” Sams said of her announcement.

With Mayor David Pennington’s recent statement that he will not run for reelection, Sams commented, “Mayor Pennington and I have a solid working relationship. Dalton is fortunate to have had 10-plus years of service from Mayor Pennington.”

Sams, now in her second term as a council member, has gained valuable experience with city government operations and understands what Dalton’s priorities are and how to properly budget for those needs.

“First and foremost Dalton requires reinvestment in its infrastructure which includes projects like stormwater management, sidewalk and street improvements, refurbishment of our recreation facilities and a continued support of our services that keep Dalton safe for all of our citizens. I am so proud to be a citizen of a city that remains one of the last major industrial manufacturing centers where a product is conceived, designed and built in America,” Sams stated.

In the coming weeks Sams plans to announce her plan for the next four years. For more information you can visit

Democrat Curtis Clemons will run for Gwinnett County Sheriff, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Curtis Clemons, who lost to Taylor in Democratic Party runoff for the seat in 2020, told supporters in a letter that he would indeed run for the seat again. The announcement was not a surprise since Clemons had filed paperwork with the state in February to begin raising campaign funds.

“Today, I am excited to stand with you in answering the call for better,” Clemons said in his announcement letter. “As your neighbor and fellow Gwinnettian of over 30 years, I have heard and share your concerns. For this reason, I am officially entering the race for Sheriff of Gwinnett County.”

Clemons is one of two Democrats who have said they will challenge Taylor, who was the first Democrat in more than 35 years and the first African-American ever to be elected to the office, for the party’s nomination for sheriff next year. Former Army military police officer Joseph Mark announced his own campaign last week, saying he would prefer the race was changed to a nonpartisan race but that he would run as a Democrat if it is not.

A Republican, Baron Reinhold, has also announced plans to run for the seat.

In his announcement, Clemons raised concerns about staffing levels and turnover rates in the Sheriff’s Office, as well as sharp increases in the department’s budget over the last two years.

Hall County voters will decide whether to levy a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in November, according to the Gainesville Times.

If Hall County voters approve a penny sales tax for road projects, it will join the majority of Georgia counties charging 8 cents on the dollar but would be in the minority among surrounding counties.

Among Georgia’s 159 counties, 104 levy at 8 cents or higher; 52 counties, 7 cents; and three counties, 6 cents.

The state sales tax is 4 cents, but Hall, like other counties in Georgia, has added other pennies per dollar for other purposes.

In Hall, where the sales tax is 7 cents, voters have approved a 1-cent tax for public projects such as parks and a 1-cent tax for education-only purposes, such as new school buildings.

And the state allows cities and counties to negotiate how to divvy up another penny tax, known as LOST, once per decade. Gainesville and Hall wrapped up that process in 2022.

In a public meeting in April, Hall and Gainesville officials rolled out a proposed transportation special purpose local option sales tax program, or TSPLOST, that, if approved, would generate about $325 million in five years.

Officials are aiming for a Nov. 7 voter referendum. City elections also will be on the ballot.

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