In Murray County, the Appalachian Port Is Opposed by Some, Supported by Others

Some Murray County residents aren’t convinced that the Appalachian Regional Port expected to open in 2018 won’t harm the north Georgia area more than it will help it, and a recent meeting with representatives of the Georgia Ports Authority and the CSX Railroad did little to allay their concerns, according to a report in the Dalton Daily Citizen:

During a recent meeting with residents of northern Murray County, officials with the Georgia Ports Authority vowed to work with them to ease any concerns they have about an inland port planned for the Crandall area, and to take steps to reduce its impact on that area.

“But we aren’t going to move it (the port) somewhere else,” said project manager John Trent. “I’m sorry. That just isn’t going to happen.”

About a half dozen citizens opposed to the port met at the Murray County courthouse annex with officials from the ports authority, CSX Transportation and Murray County Sole Commissioner Brittany Pittman.

Objections to the site of the port were raised back in September, with opponents citing concerns about the environment and noise pollution.

Meanwhile some citizens in Murray County have started a petition in support of the port. Among the reasons cited to support the port in the petition are the possibility of increasing industry in the county, making goods, including carpet and tires, more competitive in the global market, and increasing the county’s tax base.

Afternoon Reads for Monday, November 23rd

I promised to fill in for Tim for the next couple of weeks, and I remembered that this morning while I was at the store gathering items for Thanksgiving.  Here are today’s morning afternoon reads.


National & World:


More School Money Recommended

This week’s Courier Herald column:

Two weeks ago this column outlined the various steps to reforming Georgia’s education system that have occurred over the past decade. This includes the adoption of a tougher K-12 curriculum and statewide performance standards for students. We have expanded school choice via local charter schools, state charter schools, and limited vouchers from of Student Scholarship Organizations. Unprecedented flexibility has also been given to boards of education to maximize local control.

Along the way, virtually all money from the state’s tax coffers not used to cover population growth and inflation in existing programs has been allocated to K-12 education to replace the cuts made during the recent economic collapse. With the Governor’s appointed Education Reform Commission finishing its work and making recommendations, the state is preparing to add additional money into the public school system.

The recommendations on funding will replace the state’s “Quality Basic Education” formula with a system that is based on student needs, not on programs offered by each local system. QBE was implemented in 1986 but was never fully funded. It certainly doesn’t take into account changes in Georgia’s population nor technology that has changed over the last three decades. An update is overdue. Read more

At a School for Troubled Students, Educators Work Hard to Promote Success

The middle school student sat quietly, holding his head down, obviously scared and afraid to look at the counselor who was conducting the student orientation at his new school. The counselor walked over to him, and asked what was wrong. “I don’t want to go to jail,” he muttered. The counselor replied that he was going to be fine, and despite the fact that county correctional institution was literally across the street, that wasn’t his destination.

I spent a day recently at Gwinnett County Public Schools Give Center East, one of the three alternative schools run by the state’s largest school system. Most of the 200 or so middle and high school students attending Give Center East were referred there following a disciplinary hearing as a result of improper behavior at their home school. Such was the case with the middle schooler I saw. Other students attend Give East voluntarily, wanting to earn their diplomas after dropping out. And some want to stay to earn their diploma, even after being told they could return to their home school.

Students are required to follow rules that are more restrictive than in other Gwinnett schools. The two most important are a ban on cell phones and a strict dress code. Students are permitted to wear solid, logo-free black or white collared shirts which must be kept tucked in, khaki pants, solid black shoes, and a black or brown belt. Students can also wear T shirts with the school’s logo. Makeup is out, along with any jewelry other than a watch or stud earrings.

When they arrive in the morning, students go through security screening, similar to what happens at an airport. Shoes and belts go into gray tubs, along with anything the student brings with them. Teachers examine the contents, looking for contraband cell phones and other items not permitted on campus, as the students go through the metal detector. After going through the security line, each student gets a free breakfast.

Give East is the only one of the 136 schools in the Gwinnett County school system to have security cameras in each classroom, in addition to the hallways.

If all of this sounds pretty grim, the teaching and learning itself is similar to what you would find at any Gwinnett middle or high school, although usually with smaller class sizes. A language arts teacher inspires her students to imagine the life of someone long dead, and write an epitaph for him or her. A math class learns how to reduce algebraic expressions. Students draw patterns freehand in an art class. High school students participate in a program called GEAR, which features online learning for some classwork, getting help from teachers as needed. Read more

On Tonight’s Kudzu Vine…

I’ll be chatting with some of my left of center friends this evening on the Kudzu vine and perhaps convincing some of them of their evil ways.  Or at least, I’ll try to translate the perfectly normal actions of conservatives to folks that aren’t usually wired to think the way we do.  And then they’ll likely bring up Trump and I’ll have no perfectly normal explanation.  For bonus points, I “may” be medicated.  Surely you can find some reason in all of that to tune in.

The program runs from 7-8pm and it available later as a podcast for those of you that aren’t free for the next hour.

Mayor Reed’s Statement On Threat To Philips Arena

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has issued the following statement regarding a potential threat to Philips Arena:

Out of an abundance of caution, I directed Chief Operating Officer Dan Gordon and Atlanta Police Chief George Turner to open the Joint Operations Center (JOC) today in response to the reported threats against Philips Arena and to support enhanced security for tonight’s public events in the City of Atlanta.  Although the FBI has not found any credible threats relating to any events in the city, the Atlanta Police Department (APD) is actively monitoring the situation and is coordinating closely with our federal and state partners.

Over the past week, the City of Atlanta has increased security for all operations, including at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Atlanta Streetcar and for major public events. As always, APD stands ready to act in the case of an emergency.

There are several events in our city tonight, including the WWE Survivor Series, the Atlanta Falcons game, and the Macy’s Great Tree Lighting. If you see or hear something suspicious, please call 911 immediately.

In this holiday season and at all times, I encourage our residents and visitors to enjoy our city and not let fear guide you. Public safety remains my number one priority, and I am confident in our law enforcement agencies’ ability to keep us safe.

One of the things about how terrorists work is that they can get a great residual value from each successful mission.  They win when we change our behavior. Let’s not let them win.  Be alert, but carry on. That’s how we win.

Report: NCAA Monitoring Future Host Cities for Civil Rights Protections

Based on a report in the Indianapolis Star, the NCAA will reconsider whether cities hosting future NCAA events have adequate civil rights protections for gays and lesbians. The issue is relevant to Georgia, with the legislature expected to consider Senate Bill 129, Georgia’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, in the upcoming session. Georgia is scheduled to host the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament in 2020, and a regional tournament in 2018. It is also scheduled to host a NCAA football semifinal in 2016, and the national championship game in 2018.

From the Star story:

Amid a national debate over civil rights protections based on sexual orientation, the Indianapolis-based NCAA apparently will reconsider sites already chosen to host its championships — including Indianapolis, the NCAA told The Indianapolis Star.

“We’ll continue to review current events in all cities bidding on NCAA championships and events, as well as cities that have already been named as future host sites, such as Indianapolis,” Bob Williams, NCAA senior vice president for communications, wrote in an email statement Nov. 12.

Requests to speak to NCAA leaders for more information were denied.

The Star report notes that there are still many unanswered questions regarding what the NCAA would consider as adequate civil rights protection in a host city, or what criteria it might use to change tournament venues. While Atlanta has a local ordinance prohibiting some discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, LGBT advocates claim that the proposed RFRA bill could override that ordinance.

In any case, the report adds more weight to a study by the Atlanta Chamber and the Atlanta Convention and Vistiors Bureau announced this week that estimates between $1 and $2 billion in negative economic impact should SB 129 become law.

SoS Brian Kemp Tries to Clear the Air on #PeachBreach

Let’s face it. It has not been a good week for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. Ever since the news broke on Wednesday that personal information on the state’s 6.1 million voters had accidentally been included in a voter file distributed to political parties and news media, There has been an effort by Secretary Kemp to explain what happened.

The latest attempt to explain the situation comes in a Friday evening press release from Kemp’s office titled “Update on Georgia’s Voter Registration Database Security.” It lays out the situation on the ground in bullet points:

  • The Secretary of State’s Office is required by law to share voter registration information with news media and political parties.  My office provides an update to these 12 organizations every month.  One IT employee who was responsible for managing voter registration information made a mistake and shared personal voter information with these 12 groups in October.
  • This employee knew he made a mistake but did not notify anyone.  I eventually found out about it late Friday afternoon when one of the recipients called to inform me of this extra information.
  • I immediately took action, investigated to find out the facts, and by Monday morning we had state investigators contacting these 12 organizations to retrieve the discs with the information.
  • To be clear – the voter registration system was not hacked.  Human error led to this information being shared with media and political parties.  All 12 discs have been recovered or confirmed they were destroyed by the recipients.  I am confident that all voter information is secure and safe.
  • A similar, but more limited, situation occurred once before in October of 2012.  An example is an Oconee county voter registration list was sent out with additional information.  All of the information was recovered at that time.
  • This was one of the problems that exposed that the long time IT bureaucracy in the agency was broken, so I hired a top consulting team to help completely restructure the entire IT department.  We hired almost all new personnel.  We also implemented an all new Voter Registration System that remains secure today.
  • Part of this overhaul was new security procedures that this IT employee did not follow.  His violation of the rules led to this human error.

As of today, here’s where we stand:

  • The IT employee has been fired.  I can confirm all of the discs have been secured or destroyed.
  • I am in the process of engaging Ernst & Young, a top international auditing firm that specializes in IT security, to conduct a thorough, top to bottom review of our entire operation.
  • In the meantime, I have implemented strict new rules governing the release of voter information.  Only the Chief Information Officer can make changes to the voter registration database, and only at my explicit direction.  Before any voter registration information is released, it will be reviewed by three of my senior staff.  This will not happen again.
  • I want to thank the news media and the political parties involved for working with us to resolve this unfortunate situation quickly.  They acted responsibly and voters can rest assured their information is safe.
  • If voters have any questions about this issue or need assistance, please visit our website or call our hotline set up for this issue:  404.654.6045.

Enhanced Security Measures At Falcons Game Sunday

The Atlanta Falcons have announced via Facebook, its website, and email that they are enhancing safety measure for the game this Sunday against the Colts. They recommend arriving at the game no later than 45 minutes prior to kickoff.

From their website:

“In response to recent world events, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority is implementing enhanced security measures, including increased law enforcement, for our game on Sunday. You may notice these changes as you arrive or depart from the game.

The enhanced security measures are not the result of any targeted threats; rather, they are prudent measures under the circumstances and were made in coordination with NFL security recommendations. Your safety is extremely important to us, and we appreciate your understanding.

We look forward to returning from our bye week and seeing you at the Georgia Dome.”

Mike Bowers Has Some Harsh Words For DeKalb District Attorney Robert James

News broke yesterday that DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James had reduced nine felony charges he had brought against Bob Lundsten, former Chief of Staff to DeKalb Commissioner Elaine Boyer*.

Lundsten had been facing more than 10 years in jail when DA James indicted him in March of this year. But after James’ misuse of his own P-card and illegal reimbursements came to light, the charges were reduced to misdemeanors. Lundsten has reimbursed the county the $310 in question, and has already started his community service. But former Attorney General Mike Bowers, who led the infamous investigation into DeKalb corruption, has some serious questions about the conduct of the District Attorney.


*Disclosure: Commissioner Boyer used my company, Apache Political, for constituent communications and mailing services in 2014.

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.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s explanation of the release and retrieval of voter’s private personal information

The release of private information of Georgia voters maintained by the Secretary of State’s office and its steps to retrieve the released information has raised serious and reasonable questions, concerns and fears.   The following is the Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s statement and explanation regarding his office’s handling of the matter and how voters who have further questions may contact his office:



Secretary of State Brian Kemp today announced his office has secured all 12 discs sent from his office that contained personally identifiable voter information.

“As of 11 a.m [November 19, 2015], all 12 discs containing sensitive voter information have been retrieved or destroyed,” Kemp said. “My staff has verified with the media outlets and political parties that received these discs that they have not copied or otherwise disseminated confidential voter data to outside sources. I am confident that our voters’ personal information has not been compromised.”

“I take full responsibility for this mistake and have taken immediate action to resolve it. The employee at fault has been fired, and I have put in place additional safeguards effective immediately to ensure this situation does not happen again.” 

“Moving forward, the secure site for voter data downloads will be locked to prevent changes by any employee other than the Chief Information Officer acting at my direction. Further, a three-part check will be required before a disc containing the statewide voter file can be released to the public. It is my top priority to protect the personal information of all Georgians.”

For additional information or assistance, voters can contact the Secretary of State Office’s dedicated hotline for this issue: 404-654-6045.

Read more

WGST Peach Pundit Radio – 11-20-15

It’s been a long and news filled week.  We’ve got a lot to cover today that we’re going to fit into one hour of Peach Pundit Radio on 640 AM WGST at noon.

A few hours after last week’s show terrorists hit Paris in multiple attacks, with the worst death toll in the country since WWII.  This has raised numerous questions about the War on Terror (and whether our country is still fighting it or if we’re just content to let the JV team that is ISIS continue to strengthen until they bring the war to our home field), about or immigration programs specifically with respect to Syrian refugees, and if our foreign policy is coherent enough to even know who our allies are.

For answers we’re going to look outside our usual stable of armchair observers and talk to Georgia’s 9th District Congressman Doug Collins.  Congressman Collins has put his own boots on the ground in Iraq, and I look forward to hearing his perspective.

We’ve also had quite the week with the Secretary of State and the data breech…mishandling…displays of questionable competence.  Mike Hassinger and Stefan Turkheimer will try to bring us up to speed, as well as assess  if this operational cluster has become one with implications for 2018.  Or sooner.

Join us at noon today on your AM dial at 640 WGST, or at this link right here.

Morning Reads for Friday, November 20, 2015

– UGA sororities speak against the Safe Campus Act.
The Eye of Sauron turns upon a Georgia Southern student.
– With these new toys, just watch. It won’t snow.
– Are we talking about the DOT or the Department of Revenue here? Hard to tell.

– “Earnings pressure” is finspeak for “hemorrhaging money.” Blame Obamacare.
– That’s some mighty thin skin there…
Happy New Year, early.
– Hear no briefing evil.
Lurch’s mouth is a diplomatic incident.

Random Everywhere:
Run away! Run away!
I knew it!

I’d Like To Know Why The Department of Revenue Wants My Voter File

I was talking to a source at the Department of Revenue today about the DOR completely screwing local craft beer brewers at the behest of the Georgia Beer Wholesale Association. The source, by the way, completely agrees even though he works for DOR.

But in the conversation, the data breach at the Secretary of State’s office came up. He told me that the data had more likely than not been prepped by the Elections Division for the Department of Revenue. He specifically said that the Department of State will hand over the voter records and State will include the social security number, birthdate, and driver’s license number for DOR.

I understand interagency collaboration, but it seems that if voting is such a right, the state probably shouldn’t be using it for purposes other than voting, including letting DOR use it.

By the way, two other people confirm to me that in fact DOS was making all this data available to DOR, including the social security numbers, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers.