Thursday, March 26, 2015

Special session possible if lawmakers don't pass transportation bill, Deal says

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 3:06 PM

State lawmakers have talked a lot about passing a bill to address Georgia's $1 billion transportation funding gap. Each chamber has its own proposal up for consideration. With one week left before the 2015 legislative session ends, the chances for passing either bill are dwindling.

But a bill will pass in 2015! It just might happen in a special session. Gov. Nathan Deal has told lawmakers they might have to return after the 40-day session ends, should they failed to agree on a bill, to solve the state's transportation kerfuffle. According to the AJC, the governor "has made it clear he will use his power" bring legislators back to the Gold Dome if they don't approve a plan that raises enough cash to address the funding gap.

“He has told staff to avoid scheduling vacations the last week of June,” Deal spokesman Brian Robinson told the paper. “And he has told legislators that’s a possibility.”

There are currently two plans on the table. House Bill 170, which the governor supports, would replace Georgia's gas sales tax with an excise tax of 29.2 per gallon. It would also allow local governments to raise their respective excise taxes by 6 cents per gallon, but also put an end to their local gas taxes.

The Georgia Senate has proposed an alternate measure that would replace the state's gas sales tax with an excise tax of 24 cents per gallon. To make up the five-cent difference, state senators have suggested to implement a $5 daily rental car fee.

Both bills would eliminate the state's $5,000 tax credit for electric vehicles. It would also require owners of non-commercial electric vehicles to pay $200 each year. Commercial electric vehicle operators would need to pay a $300 annual fee. Transit, of course, is out of luck on all fronts.

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Weekend Arts Agenda: ATLFF's Sound & Vision is where you want to be

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 11:52 AM

  • Courtesy of Green Label

The Goat Farm Arts Center and the Atlanta Film Festival present Sound & Vision, a killer combination of live bands, short films, installation pieces, and music videos (a.k.a., Something You Don’t Want To Miss). ATLFF creative director Kristy Breneman has really outdone herself with her curated line-up of bands and music videos, with local heroes Hello Ocho and DIP being some of the highlights. Among nine groups of talented artists is Molly Rose Freeman, who will showcase her elegant revolving sculpture work as one of the large-scale installations displayed at the event. If experimental film, music, and art aren’t enough to tempt you, maybe the food or music video competition will. Regardless, this is the kind of event your friends will be talking about the next day. More information and tickets can be found here.


  • Courtesy of Muriel Vega for ScoutMob

The Atlanta Zine Library is getting a facelift as well as an *cough* augmentation *cough*. In addition to a makeover of the library itself, over one hundred new zines are being added to the existing collection. To celebrate the changes, Hodgepodge Coffee House and Gallery will partner with Murmer in hosting live readings by Hadass Wade, Lee Furey, Sarah Padgett, Hira Mahmood, John Lloyd Hannah, Whitney Hansen, and CL contributors Beca Grimm and Muriel Vega. The readers will stay true to the theme of this year’s Atlanta Zine Fest, girls and girlhood in DIY, by focusing on works which approach the complicated nature of “feminine expression.” The event will be held on Fri., March 27m from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Although the event is free, participants who donate the suggested $5 will receive a free Murmur zine. More info available here.


    • Courtesy HBO

Whether you hail from House Stark or House Baratheon, true Game of Thrones fans will have cleared their schedules for the Season 5 premiere on Sunday, April 12. This weekend, however, a select group will need to grab their celebratory Game of Thrones beers early. Two weeks before the public airdate, the Atlanta Film Festival and HBO are partnering up for a sneak preview of the first episode of Game of Thrones. The screening, which will be held at the Fox Theatre, will be on Sun., March 29, at 7:30 p.m. Free and open to the public, the 4,600 seat theatre will likely be completely full, so those interested are required to RSVP.

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Voters to decide on Deal's failing schools plan in 2016

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 10:25 AM

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan targets failing schools predominantly local in urban areas. Critics wonder if the measure will do more harm than good.
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan targets failing schools predominantly local in urban areas. Critics wonder if the measure will do more harm than good.
Georgia residents next year will have an important choice to make at the polls. Should the state have the power to take control of its struggling schools to boost classroom achievement? Or does such a proposal place too much power in the hands of a single gubernatorial appointee?

They'll have plenty of time to figure out their position. Gov. Nathan Deal's "Opportunity School District” plan has gained approval from the Georgia House of Representatives by the narrowest of margins, clearing the way for the constitution amendment to be placed on the ballot in 2016. If voters approve the ballot question, the state would have the authority to directly overtake schools, make joint decisions with local school boards, close schools down outright, or convert them into charter schools.

“We have both a moral duty and a self-serving interest in rescuing these children," Deal said in a statement. "Every child should have a fair shot at doing better than their parents before them, and we as a society benefit if more Georgians have the education and job skills needed to attract high-paying jobs."

According to Deal's office, around 140 public schools would be eligible for the potential state takeover, having scoring a 60 percent or less on the College and Career Ready Performance Index three years in a row. Atlanta Public Schools has more than two-dozen schools on that list. But the OSD's superintendent would only be allowed to add 20 schools to the district each year, with a cap of 100 schools in the district at any given time. OSD schools would be in the district for a minimum of five years and a maximum of 10 years.

The vast majority of Republican lawmakers, along with some Democrats, supported Deal's proposal as a necessary step toward rebuilding broken schools in a state near the bottom of national education rankings. Prior to the vote, House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, said the OSD plan would give the state a powerful "hammer" that would be key in turning around failing schools.

“We've tried for years to get schools to straighten themselves out,” Coleman told lawmakers. “Some just have not done it."

Deal's initiative, dubbed the school takeover plan by opponents, many of whom rallied in protest in the days beforehand, was met with some resistance from Democratic lawmakers. The bill's critics, including House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, blasted the OSD proposal for giving too much power to a single official, while failing to send more funds to cash-strapped schools undertaking challenging work.

"There is NO appeals process for taxpayers or parents if OSD passes," Georgia Federation of Teachers President Verdaillia Turner wrote in a statement. "The Governor of [Georgia] will control everything without question.

The measure now heads back to the Georgia Senate, which already approved the measure but must sign off on minor changes, before landing on the governor's desk.

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Marshall Chiles talks Laughing Skull Comedy Festival

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 10:22 AM

FUNNYMEN: Marshall Chiles (left) poses with the late comedic legend, Robin Williams in 2013. - CELESTE ECHOLS
  • Celeste Echols
  • FUNNYMEN: Marshall Chiles (left) poses with the late comedic legend, Robin Williams in 2013.

For six years, the Laughing Skull Lounge comedy club has put on their own festival in Atlanta. Held every Spring, the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival (or “Skull Fest” as it’s more commonly referred to as) invites comics from all over the country to our city to showcase their comedic skills in hoping of being named the best of the fest. Past years have seen Josh Gondelman ("Last Week Tonight"), Sam Morril ("Conan"), Dave Waite ("Last Comic Standing"), Paul Varghese ("Last Comic Standing 2"), and Grant Lyon (2014's champ) take home the big first place prize.

This year, 72 comedians from Portland, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Canada, and some from our own backyard, will participate in over 20 shows held throughout the week spread out over six venues. CL spoke with Laughing Skull's owner Marshall Chiles about the festival’s origins, its growth, and Atlanta's comedy scene.

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Witnesses: Police officer didn't need to fire shots at Anthony Hill

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 9:15 AM

Protesters march in downtown Decatur at a recent Anthony Hill demonstration.
  • Brandon English/CL File
  • Protesters march in downtown Decatur at a recent Anthony Hill demonstration.
Additional questions are being raised about a police officer's decision earlier this month to fire his gun at a naked, unarmed Chamblee resident with a history of mental health problems.

Atlanta attorney Chris Chestnut, who's representing the family of Anthony Hill, a 27-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran who was shot and killed at his apartment complex on March 9, yesterday told reporters that multiple witnesses believe that DeKalb County Police Department officer Robert Olsen's use of lethal force was unnecessary.

Olsen, a white officer who's served with the DeKalb County Police Department for seven years, had responded to a report of a man pounding on doors and crawling on the ground of his apartment complex. Hill, an African-American man suffering from bipolar disorder, was not wearing clothes when he started approaching Olsen. The officer fired two bullets that hit Hill, who was unarmed, in the chest despite having both pepper spray and a taser with him at the time.

Hill's death, which has already come into question by some neighbors and activists, might now have more supporting evidence, his family's lawyer said. Based on witness accounts told to an investigator working for the family, Chestnut said that Hill was initially 182 feet away from Olsen, before Hill began moving toward him at a "brisk" pace. Hill wasn't asked about his mental condition, according to Chestnut. CL has reached out to Chestnut for comment.

"He's disrobed, so it's blatantly apparent that he is not carrying nor concealing a weapon," Chestnut told the Associated Press. "He's not saying anything to the officer, so he's not threatening the officer. There was absolutely no reason whatsoever for that officer to even draw his firearm, let alone use it."

Cedric Alexander, DeKalb County's police chief, has asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to take over the shooting case, something he did when another one of his officers shot Kevin Davis inside his apartment outside Avondale Estates last December, leading to the man's death. DeKalb County Police Department spokeswoman Mekka Parrish declined to comment to CL on behalf because "Dr. Alexander requested the GBI to conduct an independent investigation into the shooting." She also declined a statement on behalf of Olsen, who's since been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation's outcome.

Since the fatal shooting, protesters have staged a handful of events that have called attention to Hill's tragic killing. Two days after his death, about 80 activists marched in the streets of downtown Decatur to share their outrage with the world. DeKalb Police arrested seven protesters, including a 14-year-old girl, for obstructing Chamblee Tucker Road near I-285, charging them with disorderly conduct. This past weekend, protesters disrupted Sunday brunch at Leon's Full Service, Sweet Melissa's, and other Decatur establishments.

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First Slice 3/26/15: APS supporters put mayor's face on wanted posters, ask APD to investigate

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Wanted: Mayor Kasim Reed? Atlanta Public Schools supporters slapped the mayor's face onto reward posters and asked Atlanta Police Department Chief George Turner to investigate possible theft of the district's cash. The mayor's office said in a statement that they're working through negotiations with the school district.

Atlanta is considering additional ways to squeeze money out of the city's public spaces.

Someone smashed a window and broke into Little Azio in Ormewood Park to steal brownies. Not cash. Just "four to six" brownies.

Surprise! Atlantans have the longest average commute in the United States.

Is Atlanta getting dumber? Ever so slightly, one report suggests.

The Georgia House of Representatives have overwhelmingly passed a medical marijuana compromise bill allowing legal possession for people suffering from eight different diagnoses. Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to sign the bill tomorrow.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Want to help keep ugly buildings from marring the Beltline? Volunteer for the Design Review Committee

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 2:26 PM

You might recall that the Atlanta Beltline was launching a special committee that would help to prevent poorly designed developments from sprouting up along the award-winning smart-growth project.

Yesterday, ABI announced that the eight-member Design Review Committee will include the city's planning director and the Beltline's directors of design, program management, and community planning and engagement. A member of the Beltline Tax Allocation District Advisory Committee, the group that keeps watch over how Beltline officials spend public cash, will also have a seat at the table.

Finally, "two licensed independent consultant architects" and an "independent city planning professional" will round out the committee. And Beltline officials are looking for volunteers to fill those positions. If you think you're eligible, here's the rundown:

Committee members must meet all qualifications criteria and must be confirmed by appointment by the Atlanta City Council in order to serve. Committee members will serve a two-year term and may be reappointed when the term expires. Potential candidates should be able to commit to at least one monthly evening meeting, and special call meetings as deemed necessary and have the ability to devote 2‐4 hours per month to review all Special Administrative Permit Applications in advance of the DRC meetings.

Here's more information on applying for the open positions. The deadline to submit your resume is April 10.

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Critic's Notebook: The Giels of Capitol City prepare for Mozart's 'Abduction'

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 12:45 PM

CREATIVE PARTNERS: Michael (left) and Catherine Giel - COURTESY CAPITOL CITY
  • Courtesy Capitol City
  • CREATIVE PARTNERS: Michael (left) and Catherine Giel

Mozart fans are in luck. Not only is the Atlanta Opera preparing for a major production of the popular warhorse The Marriage of Figaro at the Cobb Energy Centre, April 4-12, but across town, the much smaller Capitol City Opera is preparing its own production of the lesser-known Mozart gem The Abduction from the Seraglio, March 27-29, at the Conant Performing Arts Center. We caught up with Catherine and Michael Giel, the company's music director, and conductor respectively, who along with Artistic Director Michael Nutter, are at the helm of Capitol City, to find out more about the show.

I read somewhere that this is the first Atlanta production of this work in 35 years. Why do you think it's been so long?
Catherine Giel: There are probably a few reasons for that. It's not one of the better-known Mozart pieces, and other companies in town tend towards the bigger, better-known pieces that will sell more tickets. Our company likes to do those lesser-performed works. We think it's more interesting and gives our audience more diversity. And this is a great piece. It just doesn't get done very often.

I was also interested to read that supposedly the piece is about Mozart's wife. It must be strange to approach this piece as a married couple and in general: to work so intensely together.
CG: Yeah, there's a rumor that the main character Constanza is based on Mozart's wife in real life. People ask us that all the time, what it's like to work in a such an intense, high-stress situation and then to have to come home and leave all that at work. We've gotten better at it. I think this is our fourth year doing opera together. We don't always agree. We've gotten better at communicating and compromising, as is necessary in every marriage.

Is that how you met, through music, working on an opera together?
CG: We kind of did, not through working on an opera, but we were introduced by a mutual friend who was a chorus director. He thought we would get along well, so he introduced us.

What was the path that led you both to Capitol City?
CG: For me it was a happy accident ... I started out as just the accompanist and eventually grew into being the music director. I brought Michael on because we needed a conductor. The conductor was Russell Young from Kennesaw State who sadly passed away from cancer. We found ourselves three weeks out from opening and we had no conductor. I pled with Michael to please rescue us. He did such a great job at the last minute, I said, "You can't ever leave now."

Michael Giel: I didn't have a background doing opera actually. Mine was mostly string/orchestral conducting. When they needed someone, I didn't want to do it because I didn't have the experience. I didn't really know how to talk with the singers or communicate with them. The first show we ever did was the hardest. It was quite terrifying. Now it's just kind of second nature. The more you do it, the more you learn. My scores are absolutely destroyed, I write so many notes in them. I can never really reuse them. If we ever did this show again, I'd probably have to start from scratch again with a new score. I'm a note-taker.

Since even opera fans might be unfamiliar with the piece, do you each have a favorite moment from the show, something for audience members to look out for as particularly great?
MG: I like the moment near the end where Pedrillo has this little romanza he does. He 's playing the lute: the singer simulates playing the lute, and the strings do it pizzacato. It's magical. I'm a conductor, but I'm also a string player. I'm a little bit jealous because I wish I could play it along with them. It's one of those reasons we play strings. I just like the throwback element of it. I like it when composers can restate or go back and reference another period like that. You can close your eyes and feel like you're not listening to Mozart, but to something older, something a few hundred years before Mozart. It's just awesome.

CG: For me the Act II finale is my favorite moment. It's the first time that all four of the principal characters are singing together. They're making their plans to escape, to do the actual abduction. Anyone who's familiar with Mozart operas will recognize some themes in there. He tends to borrow from his own works. You'll hear motifs that will be reminiscent of other operas, or rather he borrowed from this opera because Abduction is one of his earliest operas. Even to someone who's not familiar with this music, it will sound familiar: it's so typically Mozart. The Act II finale with all four singers is just an awesome moment.

When people go to shows at the Conant Center, they typically bring food and wine to have before or after the performance on the picnic tables outside the theater. Do you have suggestions for wine or dinner ideas that pair particularly well with Abduction?
CG: Well, Turkish delight ... But any food goes with Mozart really. Mozart will never give you indigestion.

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Fadia Kader's cooking on a come-up with ICE scholarship challenge

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 12:39 PM

  • Fadia Kader
When Fader Kader calls herself “a walking contradiction,” she says so knowing her next move could be her least expected. This is the same Kuwaiti-born Southern-bred self-starter, after all, who went from party promoter and gypsy queen of Atlanta’s Broke $ Boujee lifestyle scene to director of brand partnerships and strategic marketing at Def Jam Records within five years. Never one to settle, the current NYC resident is looking to turn her current hobby from side item to eventual main course. For the past three-and-a-half weeks, she’s been running neck-in-neck in a challenge to win a scholarship to New York’s Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). You can watch her video and vote DAILY until voting closes at 11:59 p.m. this Saturday night, March 28. If cheffing in the kitchen seems like a stretch for Kader, you probably haven’t been following her on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Snapchat), where she flexes her self-taught culinary skills like a pro. Besides helping a homegirl — and former CL cover subject — rally some votes in the final stretch, it’s a cool time to catch-up with an Atlanta creative who’s career leaps have taken her from Atlanta's eclectic underground scene to Complex Media to Def Jam boardrooms. Here's what's next on her menu.

In your ICE bio, you write, “Every dish I create is like the first kiss.” So I’m gonna flip a hip-hop question on its head and ask, When did you fall in love with cooking?

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