From Local Politics

Athens-Clarke County Commission Will Consider an Anti-Discrimination Resolution at Tonight’s Meeting

The Athens-Clarke County Board of Commissioners will consider a resolution designed to combat discrimination in the county’s bars at its meeting tonight. The resolution, which is expected to pass, comes after reports of discrimination against racial and sexual minorities in bars serving the University of Georgia population, as a story in the Athens Banner Herald explains:

The action by commissioners Mike Hamby, Kelly Girtz and Andy Herod, who enjoy wide support among their colleagues, comes on the heels of a couple developments late last year on the downtown bar scene. In October, a bartender “cheat sheet” including instructions for making a racially insensitive drink — a “N*****ita” containing tequila and watermelon juice — was discovered in General Beauregard’s, an East Clayton Street bar. Shortly after that, the results of an anonymous online survey conducted through the University of Georgia’s Student Government Association, comprising anecdotal evidence of discriminatory admissions practices at downtown bars, were shared with Commissioner Allison Wright, whose district comprises most of the UGA campus.

The dozens of incidents detailed in the survey, some dating back two years, described some bars’ use of “dress code” and “private event” exclusions to keep ethnic minorities and homosexuals out of their establishments.

The resolution itself “condemns unlawful discrimination in any form and hereby call upon all businesses serving the public within the boundaries of Athens-Clarke County to act in a non-discriminatory fashion with regard to race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, citizenship, age, disability, or pregnancy.” The resolution expresses the support of the county mayor and commission of any investigations into incidents of alleged discrimination that violate federal, state or local non-discrimination laws.

The resolution also directs the Clarke County attorney and county administrator to make recommendations for possible changes to local ordinances that would support the commission’s non-discriminatory values. The resolution specifically contemplates changes to the county’s alcohol licensing laws so that an alcoholic beverage licensee could have its license suspended or revoked if the licensee was found to be in violation of discrimination laws at the federal, state, or local level.

Cobb, Gwinnett File Suit Over 911 Fees

Cobb and Gwinnett Counties filed lawsuits in federal and state courts on Wednesday seeking to recover more than $50 million in fees for local 911 operations from telephone companies they maintain have not properly charged customers. The unpaid fees cover a period of three years. The lawsuits say that fifteen telephone service providers allegedly are misrepresenting the types and number of phone lines upon which the 911 fees are applied and are significantly under-billing customers. The unpaid fees amount to around $9 million annually in Cobb County, and $8 million annually in Gwinnett.

In a statement, Roy Barnes, chief counsel for the two counties, said,

These suits are necessary because the telephone service providers have a statutory and fiduciary responsibility under Georgia law to properly bill, collect, and remit 911 fees. We believe, based on the evidence we have received, that responsibility has not been met. These monies need to be paid for the benefit of the counties’ 911 systems.

The failure of these companies to pay their obligations could eventually result in the taxpayers of Cobb and Gwinnett counties picking up the bill. The taxpayers should not have to supplement this gap.

The issue of properly funding 911 service is one that the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia has been trying to address. At a recent presentation by Gwinnett County to the Gwinnett legislative delegation, Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash, who also serves as president of ACCG, said that for many counties, including Gwinnett, revenue from 911 and E-911 fees on telephone bills does not properly cover the cost of providing services, and have to be funded using other sources. ACCG has proposed legislation to address the problem, and Nash urged the delegation to address the issue in the upcoming session.

The individual lawsuits are against major telecommunications carriers operating in each County, including BellSouth Telecommunications, LLC (d/b/a AT&T Georgia); Verizon Enterprise Solutions, LLC; Bandwidth.com CLEC, LLC; Broadriver Communication Corporation; Broadvox, LLC; CBeyond Communications, LLC; Charter Fiberlink – Georgia, LLC; Earthlink, LLC (and its subsidiaries Business Telecom, Inc. and DeltaCom, LLC); Inteliquent, Inc.; Level 3 Communications, LLC; Network Telephone, LLC; Peerless Network of Georgia, LLC; Windstream Communications, Inc (and its subsidiaries NuVox Communications, Inc. and Southern Digital); XO Communications Services, LLC; and YMax Communications Corp.

The lawsuits were filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, and the Superior Courts of Gwinnett County, and Fulton County.

Clarkesville Mayor Terry Greene Dies After Shooting

Yesterday, Clarkesville Mayor Terry Greene died at Atlanta Medical Center as a result of a gunshot wound to the head. The shooting happened at his home in Habersham County, reportedly during a domestic dispute, and according to the AJC, local police have requested that the GBI handle the investigation. An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday.

Greene, a physician, lived in Clarkesville, where he had served as mayor since 2005, with his wife and four children (as of this writing, the Clarkesville website’s links to information about Greene are broken). The following is from a statement from Habersham Medical Center CEO Jerry Wise:

“The Habersham Medical Center family is filled with unimaginable grief and sadness upon learning of the passing of Dr. Terry Greene.  Our hearts go out to his family, office staff, patients and countless others who admired and appreciated his medical expertise and leadership.  Dr. Greene served for 23 years on the HMC Medical Staff, including serving as Chief of Staff from 2012 to 2014.   His passing is a huge loss to our medical family, and we join the entire Habersham County community in mourning.”

Wisdom Narrowly Conquers Lust

No, the defeat of Lust didn’t happen in a poll of dissuaded AshleyMadison users, and this is a family political blog, so this post will remain G-rated.

However.

In the municipal and legislative runoffs that took place across Georgia on December 1, there were notable upsets, but perhaps none with as much at stake as that posed by Lust versus Wisdom. 1,173 voters in Powder Springs Post 2 faced this choice on Tuesday, and when all the votes were counted, Lust was vanquished by the hair’s breadth of 13 votes.

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Statewide, we only get our wisdom in moderation. In Powder Springs, Wisdom is theirs for the next four years.

(Meanwhile in Powder Springs, veteran Councilmember Al Thurman won Tuesday’s mayoral runoff with 57% of the vote – and also made history as the first black mayor elected in Cobb County. In the Marietta Daily Journal, Thurman emphasized his hope that his service as mayor will transcend race, stating, “I’m not the black mayor. I’m the mayor. I’m here to serve everyone… The demographics are changing and this is a clear reflection of this change.”)

After Charges of Vote Buying, Hazlehurst Mayoral Election Results Are Invalidated

Stories of elections being decided by just a few votes are unusual, but not unheard of. Same thing with charges of voter fraud. Having both come together so that the results of an election had to be thrown out is unheard of, but in this case true.

Hazlehurst voters will have to return to the polls next year to re-vote in the mayoral election after the two deciding votes were thrown out due to fraud, according to a report from Savannah’s WTOC. The contest between incumbent mayor Jack Cole and challenger Bayne Stone was originally won by Stone. According to the WTOC report, two voters said they were given money by Stone’s son to cast ballots. Cole’s attorney also alleged there were problems with some primary ballots. In the end, it was enough for the judge to invalidate the election.

No date has been set for the new election, and Mayor Cole will remain in office until the contest is ultimately decided.

Bill Exempting State Income Tax on Vets’ Retirement Benefits Expected for 2016 Legislative Session

The Savannah Chamber of Commerce released its list of legislative priorities on Thursday, topped by a request to eliminate the state income tax on the retirement pay of veterans. According to a story in the Savannah Morning News, the exemption would be revenue neutral, paid for by raising the tax on each pack of cigarettes by 28 cents.

House District 166 Rep. Jesse Petrea plans to introduce the bill for the 2016 legislative session.

Petrea called the bill, which will eliminate all state taxes on veterans’ retirement benefits, “the right thing to do.”

“This bill is good for veteran families and good for Georgia businesses and industry,” he said. “We’re all familiar with the issues our businesses face in finding a skilled workforce.

“What better way to alleviate that problem than to incentivize patriotic, disciplined and skilled individuals to stay in Georgia?”

Petrea pointed out that veterans already have that perk in Florida, Alabama and Tennessee.

Other Savannah Chamber priorities for the upcoming session include increasing the amount of funds available for marketing tourism in the Peach State, and providing funding for new facilities at Armstrong University and Savannah State College. The 2016 legislative session will be gaveled in on January 11th, 2016.

Debating a Possible Northward Expansion of MARTA

An $8 billion proposal to expand MARTA via an additional half penny sales tax in Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties is coming under scrutiny as we get closer to January’s legislative session, at which several changes to the “mini-TSPLOST” provisions within House Bill 170 would need to be made before the plan could move forward. Even if the needed changes are made by the legislature, the plan’s supporters would have to build support from both local elected officials and finally the voters in a referendum on the proposed tax, which could happen as soon as next November’s elections.

The proposal, which would extend MARTA heavy rail northward along Georgia 400 to Windward Parkway, a build light rail line along the “Clifton Corridor” serving Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control, and improve transit service along I-20 in in south DeKalb county, drew some attention at a day long transportation summit last week at the World Congress Center. One of the panel discussions tied investment in transportation infrastructure, including transit, as a key to economic development. Pointing to moves by State Farm and Mercedes Benz to locate adjacent to transit in the Perimeter Center area, MARTA’s further expansion northward was touted as the way to continue that growth. Panelist David Allman of Regent Partners told attendees that those opposing expanded transit “would be on the wrong side of history.”

Yet, as Andrea Simmons detailed in a Wednesday AJC story, the proposal is drawing a mixed response from legislators. State Sen. Brandon Beach, who runs the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce in his day job, is all for expanding transit, while DeKalb Sen. Fran Millar is more cautious about adding to the tax burden of the MARTA counties, and wonders if a broader regional approach should be used. Read more

Old Cities, New Cities, And One Non-City Ranked on Best-Of Lists

There are lots of things that make a community a city, but nothing (other than a yes vote – sorry, LaVista Hills!) legitimizes a city like making a best-of list on the internet.

By this metric, the nascent City of Tucker is now really a city. Two lists released last week by WalletHub and 24/7 Wall Street include several Georgia cities ranked by virtue of their affordability, economic health, education and health, and quality of life.

Of the 1,268 cities with a population between 25,000 and 100,000 residents on the WalletHub list, Georgia’s representatives include:

  • Alpharetta (83)
  • Duluth (145; ranked first in most restaurants per capita)
  • Kennesaw (174)
  • Marietta (183)
  • Evans (249; #1 in Highest Income Growth)
  • Milton (323)
  • Newnan (532)
  • Lawrenceville (572; #5 in most restaurants per capita)
  • Johns Creek (575)
  • Smyrna (602)
  • Peachtree City (606)
  • Tucker (632)
  • Dunwoody (662)
  • Roswell (694)
  • Martinez (726)
  • Douglasville (885)
  • Stockbridge (955)
  • Mableton (1007) (Wait, what?)
  • Hinesville (1027)
  • Statesboro (1083; dead last in the highest percentage of residents below the poverty level)
  • Warner Robins (1100)
  • Gainesville (1119)
  • Rome (1161)
  • Sandy Springs (1166; third from the bottom in income growth, but their median income is pretty good, so interpret that as you will)
  • LaGrange (1172)
  • Dalton (1173)
  • Valdosta (1182)
  • Macon (1220)
  • Albany (1225)
  • East Point (1242)

On the 24/7 Wall Street list, which only ranked cities with a population of more than 60,000 residents, Johns Creek received an overall score of 95.4 out of 100. The site notes that, “While Georgia generally fares worse than most states in many social and economic measures, Johns Creek residents benefit from high incomes, low poverty, high levels of education, and plenty of amenities.”

The methodology used in each set of rankings is key to contextualizing the lists, which may come as a relief to Sandy Springs when they find themselves ranked below Mableton, which is not actually a city (yet).

Race to Replace Ben Harbin Gets Nasty

Joe Mullins, one of the candidates running to replace Ben Harbin in House District 122, has fined an ethics complaint against fellow candidate Mack Taylor, accusing him of not properly listing the work of a private investigator as a campaign contribution. For his part, Mullins is accused of not being a legal resident of his district, according to evidence provided by the private investigator.

According to a story in the Augusta Chronicle, Joe Edge, who was considering a run for the seat, commissioned Alex Chilton Investigative Services to conduct an investigation of Mullins. After deciding not to run for the seat, Edge provided the information from Chilton to the Taylor campaign. The ethics complaint, filed by Otis Williams of Evans, says Taylor should have reported Chilton’s work as an in-kind contribution to the campaign. For its part, the Taylor campaign claims that since the information wasn’t used by it, there was no need to report it.

Quoted in the story, former Ethics Commission head Rick Thompson says it may or may not have to have been reported:

Rick Thompson, the former head of the Georgia Ethics Commission, said the arrangement skirts the line between what is and isn’t supposed to be disclosed on state campaign reports. He said it depends on whether the candidate got any value from the service provided.

“If someone was paying that (private investigator), and the candidate knew about it, and he was receiving information, that sounds like it all should have been reported,” said Thompson, now of R. Thompson & Associates in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, information discovered by the Chronicle and highlighted in the private investigator’s report potentially calls into question Mullins’s residency:

Information uncovered by The Augusta Chronicle last month showed that Mullins had taken actions in recent years that called into question whether he was a legal resident of the state and thus qualified to run for office.

The Sept. 18 article reported that Mullins had acquired driver’s licenses in North Carolina and Florida in the past two years and had more than one valid license at the time he declared his run for office in July.

It appears to formal complaint has been filed against Mullins. The November 3rd election also includes candidates Jodi Lott and Pat Goodwin, who are staying out of the fight between the other two, and are likely sitting back, popping popcorn. Stay tuned.

Walker County Republicans To Place County Governance Structure Question On 2016 Ballot

Last night, the Walker County Republican Party adopted a resolution to place on the 2016 Republican primary ballot a non-binding referendum question on what form of county government Walker County should have: a sole commission as it is currently, or a multi-member commission board.  I was not in attendance due to personal reasons, but I saw the news on Facebook and a blurb from WDEF (the local CBS affiliate).  It seems the anti-incumbent crowd is hailing it as a major victory.

The sole commission vs. multi-member board came to a head in 2011 when a challenger to incumbent Commissioner Bebe Heiskell drew an opponent in the 2012 Republican primary.  She won by a 200-vote margin, but drew a write-in candidate challenger in the general election.

The anti-incumbent crowd actually had a prime opportunity during the 2013-2015 term of the Republican Party as one of their own won the county chairmanship in 2013, resigned early in 2014, and the Walker County TEA Party leader was elected GOP chairman in early 2014.  No questions were put on the ballot in 2014, so I’m not sure if there was a lack of awareness or focus during the changing of chairmen.  For the record, we received no proposals for ballot questions in 2012 after soliciting the membership while I was chairman of our county GOP.

Those in opposition have made the issue into a personal vendetta against the incumbent and have preached over the past 4 years on how changing our form of government will cure all of our county’s ills.  Call me skeptical, but I will be listening to the arguments for and against and will keep an open mind before I cast my ballot.

As a former co-worker and good friend of mine said to me: “Be careful for what you wish for, you may just get it.”

DeKalb Lawmaker: Eliminate the CEO Position

One DeKalb Democratic lawmaker has already called on interim CEO Lee May to resign.

Now, another wants to eliminate the position altogether.

According to Patch, state Rep. Scott Holcomb, (D-81), is proposing to eliminate the CEO position and perhaps replace with it with a professional county manager.

Holcomb said he plans to file a proposal in 2016 to change DeKalb’s form of government from its current CEO model. Several local GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Fran Millar of Dunwoody, have been advocating that change for some time.

Holcomb is the latest high-profile Democrat to weigh in on DeKalb’s current controversy, which began several weeks ago with the release of a report by former state Attorney General Mike Bowers and Richard Hyde, which cited widespread corruption and improper spending from many elected and appointed county officials.

The report also called on May to resign, a call repeated about two weeks later byDecatur State Sen. Emanuel Jones, the first Democrat to say May should step down.

Bankruptcy Trustee Files Motion For Hutcheson Auction

Hutcheson Medical Center in northwest Georgia is currently in the midst of bankruptcy, and news has come that the bankruptcy trustee has filed a motion to sell Hutcheson Medical Center at auction.  From The Chattanoogan:

Trustee Ronald Glass said there would be more value if the hospital is sold as a going concern (still operating) rather than it having closed due to mounting debt.

He is proposing that bidders for the hospital and its assets, including a nursing home and a surgery center, be pre-qualified to determine that they have the financial ability to make the acquisition and the ability to operate the facility.

The 27-page motion says, “The trustee believes that the sale of the sale assets as requested herein will provide a significantly greater realization for the sale assets than the liquidation value that would be obtained if the sale assets were not sold expeditiously in the manner requested herein and the debtors’ business was forced to cease operations.”

Hutcheson Medical Center entered a leasing agreement with Chattanooga-based Erlanger in 2013 along with a $20 million loan from Erlanger only to break the agreement a couple of months later.  Erlanger sued for breach of the agreement, and threatened foreclosure on the debt-laden hospital in 2014, but that was put to a halt in December after Hutcheson filed for bankruptcy.  I’ll also note that the facility itself is still owned by the Hospital Authority of Walker, Catoosa, and Dade Counties, but there is a 40-year lease agreement in the mid-’90s given to the operators of Hutcheson Medical Center.

Hutcheson is a shadow of its former self.  Once a trusted, thriving medical center in the ’80s and ’90s has seen a decrease in the number of doctors in residence as well as the number of patients.  Luckily, citizens in northwest Georgia are close enough to Chattanooga, so quality care is still available.

Place Your Bets On If Walker County Gets A Casino

Coming To A State or County Near You? Credit: Lisa Brewster (CC BY-SA)
Coming To A County Near You?
Photo: Lisa Brewster (CC BY-SA)

There’s rumor of attracting a casino to Walker County. In responding to a caller to a local cable-access show on September 23rd, Commissioner Bebe Heiskell responded to a caller who posed the question. From the Chattanooga Times-Free Press:

“I’d rather it go in Walker County, and I hope that doesn’t make me a hypocrite Christian,” she said. “But they’re going to go somewhere and do it. And we have to have some way — besides property tax — to raise money around here.”

Sunday sales failed when it was on the ballot last year, so getting this on the ballot and passing in a very socially conservative area would be an amazing feat. 53% of people pulling a Republican primary ballot in Walker County opposed the question posed by the state GOP of casino gambling with revenues going to education. In spite of the outcome of the question, I believe the merits of casino gambling should be debated. I personally wouldn’t object to a casino resort if it would help mitigate additional increases in property tax (which rose from 4.705 to 8.725 in the past couple of years in part to securing some of the debt that our local hospital, Hutcheson Medical Center, has accrued). However, depending on how the proposal is stated, I don’t believe we would be getting a lot of cash from the revenues of the casino.

Our local commissioner elections will, I suspect, be highly contested. Commissioner Heiskell sounds to be mounting a re-election campaign, but I know of a couple of people who have said they would consider a challenge against her in the 2016 Republican Primary. Whether or not those people actually qualify is a different story. She won the 2012 primary by around 200 votes. I suspect it will be a bit tougher this go around if the casino idea is still being floated along with the recent increase in property tax.

Our county is trying to draw in tourist dollars, and with being so close to Chattanooga it’s hard to blame them. It seems to me though that our county is more industrial-minded, but those factories are shutting down and moving…although, we are seeing a large plastics manufacturer building a plant in Rock Spring.

I have no doubt that talks of a casino stems from the fact that there is talk across the state about expanding the gambling industry in our state. Whether or not proponents of gambling can convince a statewide electorate and garner support of locals remains to be seen.

Wrestler Will Know Today If He’s Legally Qualified To Run For Mayor Of Ringgold

Local wrestler Paul Lee is running for Ringgold mayor after long-time mayor Joe Barger decided against running for re-election.  However, four people, including the current mayor, have raised concern over the residency of Mr. Lee.  Vice Mayor Nick Millwood apparently discovered that Lee resides in Catoosa County, but outside of the city limits of Ringgold.  From Northwest Georgia News:

After a little digging, current vice mayor Nick Millwood, Barger, and other mayoral candidates Tony Hullender and Jerry Payne, are claiming Lee doesn’t meet the qualifications to run for the office because he resides in Catoosa County, but not inside the Ringgold city limits.

Formal challenges have been submitted to the Ringgold elections superintendent and a hearing will be held today to determine Lee’s eligibility.  He does explain his residency situation in the same article:

“I have two residences — one in the city and one in the county,” Lee said. “My city residence I have owned for several years, but have been letting my mother-in-law live in it. But for the last year and a half, my family and I have made it our primary residence while my county home is being updated. …. We’re getting it ready to sell in the spring.”

Literal cage match? Probably not, but certainly a political cage match in a small town here in northwest Georgia.

In Snellville, Kautz Announces Re-Election Bid

As rumored, Snellville Mayor Kelly Kautz qualified for re-election Monday morning. She will face Mayor Pro-Tem Tom Witts in November. Witts will resign his seat is a special city council meeting this afternoon in order to qualify for the city’s top job.

In a press release, Kautz states she was reluctant to announce that she would run again because “she did not want to subject her family and friends to the false, negative attacks that are often associated with Snellville politics.” Kautz’s husband Rob Knox recently registered a domain similar to the name of the campaign website used by Witts, which was at least temporarily pointed to a Kautz site, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

In her announcement, Kautz stated:

It has been an honor to serve the citizens of Snellville as Mayor and a member of Council. During my time on the Council, the citizens have placed their trust and confidence in the vision that we set forth for our City. Together we have worked hard towards our shared vision, and we have accomplished a great deal. Today, I am asking the citizens of Snellville to allow me to have another four years to be a voice for them, the people, and to finish the positive projects we have started.

After an outpouring of support from citizens and much discussion and prayer with my family, my husband and parents have given me their full support and blessing to run for re-election. I strive to be a role model for my new son, and I feel that I would not be setting a good example now if I gave in to negative bullying not to run for re-election.

Also on Monday, council member Dave Emanuel qualified to run for re-election. Roger Marmol, whose wife Brittany ran for Georgia Republican Party State Treasurer back in May, qualified for the seat held by Diane Krause, who will not seek re-election.