Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Judge summons Fulton sheriff, chairman over county jail troubles

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 3:18 PM

NUMBERS GAME: Fulton County Jail is cleaned up, but still overcrowded.
Fulton County has come under fire once again over unsafe conditions at its troubled jail.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash has ordered Fulton Sheriff Ted Jackson and Commission Chairman John Eaves to appear in court and explain why the Rice Street jail remains overcrowded, understaffed, and equipped with faulty locks.

"Fulton County Jail, at this juncture, is an unsafe facility for inmates and staff," reads the latest court-ordered jail inspection.

Earlier this week, Thrash wrote to the county officials and ordered a show-cause hearing to be scheduled in the near future. His court monitors the jail's conditions under a 2006 consent order that requires the facility to keep its population below 2,500 and fully man all its posts.

Thrash called for the Fulton officials to meet in his court after attorneys for the Southern Center for Human Rights filed a document in October asking him to do so.

"Conditions are dangerous for all of the people who are currently incarcerated in the jail, and it can't wait for the defendants to ameliorate things months from now," SCHR attorney Melanie Velez told WABE. "It needs to happen today."

Eaves issued a statement defending the county's actions. He said "hundreds of millions of dollars" were already spent on food, medical treatment, dental care, and mental health services for inmates since the consent order. Last June, the county's commissioners approved $4.7 million in cash to purchase new locks to replace some of the jail's faulty locks, some of which were first installed during the facility's construction in 1985.

"I look forward to having an opportunity in court to directly address the allegations raised by the plaintiffs," Eaves said in a written statement.

According to the jail's latest inspection, Rice Street inmates have slept on the facility's floors while officer and supervisor posts are only partially covered. The county's locks are currently being replaced, but won't be finished until April or May.

Attorneys for Sheriff Ted Jackson argue that the county commission is failing to appropriate the funds he needs to hire staff or handle inmate overflow. Meanwhile, Fulton lawyers say that the jail has more authorized positions than the consent order requires. They also claim that the county shouldn't be liable for overcrowding or for locks that inmates have damaged themselves.

Judge Thrash demurs: "[C]ontrary to the Fulton County Defendants' argument, the Consent Order's provisions regarding the population cap and inmates sleeping on the floor clearly apply to both them and the Sheriff."

While the hearing's date has yet to be scheduled, a status conference is slated for December 8.

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State lawmakers already start to pre-file bills for 2014 legislative session

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 1:29 PM

Six weeks before the General Assembly convenes for its annual 40-day session, metro Atlanta lawmakers have started to submit new legislation. Among the earliest bills pre-filed: a violence prevention measure, Gold Dome braille signage upgrades, and a fix to the appeals process for parents who are banned from their child's school.

State Rep. Sheila Jones, D-Atlanta, wants arrest warrants served more quickly for dangerous repeat offenders, like the man charged in the 2012 double murder of Shatikey and Demiya Griffin. Her measure would require law enforcement officers to serve arrest warrants within 12 hours for suspects who have previously been arrested for two or more felonies and are wanted for another violent crime.

The Griffin family has pushed for the law over the past several months. Joseph Smith, who was arrested after a police standoff at their home, had three battery arrests on his rap sheet and an outstanding warrant for an attempted rape charge.

"I can't let them just be gone for nothing," Vickie Griffin, the mother and grandmother of the victims, said in a YouTube video. "We want something positive to come out of it."

Other early movers include State Rep. Keisha Waites, D-Atlanta, who represents southeast portions of the city. She's pushing two policies and feels confident about their chances next year.

One of her bills would provide parents with a way to appeal a ban from their child's school. The measure stems from Ken Osifo, a vocal Gwinnett County Parent Teacher Association president who was denied access from his kid's school with no recourse for re-entry. He has since sued Gwinnett's Board of Education and the state over the conflict. Waites thinks the law that allowed his ouster was simply misapplied and needs to be tweaked.

"I support the school system 100 percent," she said. "... [But] we are all entitled to due process."

Waites' second proposal would bring Georgia's Capitol Building and offices into compliance with a federal law that requires braille signage.

Democrat bills were not a top priority during the 2013 legislative session due to the GOP's domination under the Gold Dome. The party failed to pass key parts of its agenda including proposals for tighter background checks on gun buyers, home foreclosure relief, and directing more HOPE Scholarships to rural students. They'll get their next chance when the annual session starts in January. The hundreds of bills filed this year are still in play for 2014.

The 2014 session will likely be scheduled to end as early as possible. All 236 Gold Dome lawmakers are up for re-election next year. They cannot raise campaign money during the session, so they'll likely close up shop to start gathering donor checks. Georgia's primaries are set for May 20.

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Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid: 'I will not be bullied' into voting for Braves stadium deal

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 11:06 AM

"And I certainly can understand why the public has issue with their own tax dollars being committed for 30 years, binding this generation and the generation to follow. And how dare they have questions and want to be a part of this process. I believe this could have been a win-win for so many more people today, if we only took more time to get that win. So many people have asked us to wait.

"It frightens me, the number of threats I've received. If you wanted a 5-0 vote, you could have gotten it. It could have been easy. But I will not be bullied into sacrificing my commitment to the people who put me in this position."

Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid explains her decision to vote against the Braves' agreement. She was the lone dissenting vote at last night's Board of Commissioners meeting. (via the AJC)

To save CL time from painstakingly documenting every comment people say, we've created 'Soundbites' to call attention to their remarks.

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Cobb officials give new publicly-funded Braves stadium the green light

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 9:24 AM

Braves President John Schuerholz (center) now has 40 months to build a Cobb stadium.
  • Maggie Lee
  • Braves President John Schuerholz (center) now has 40 months to build a Cobb stadium.
Atlanta Braves execs and Cobb County officials have formally signed off on a new stadium agreement despite calls from some unhappy residents, Tea Party activists, and government watchdogs.

Cobb County Commissioners last night voted 4-1 in favor of its 30-year Memorandum of Understanding with the Braves. The agreement brings the ball club one large step closer toward opening its new stadium for the 2017 Major League Baseball season and lays out development details for the complex located near the intersection of I-75 and I-285.

In front of a packed room, Chairman Tim Lee told the Marietta crowd that the move was a "second to none" economic development opportunity. A team of business supporters, mainly decked in Braves navy blue, cheered the vote from the first few rows of the capacity-packed meeting. The team's top brass, including President John Schuerholz and Executive Vice President Mike Plant, arrived early to grab a front row seat.

"This is a most significant and historic day for our franchise," Schuerholz said after the vote. "This gold standard franchise has joined with a gold standard county as we plan our future together."

The document locks in the stadium's total cost at $672 million. About $300 million would come from Cobb's purse - mainly from hotel, motel, and rental car taxes - plus an additional voluntary tax for area businesses. The Braves would bankroll the balance of the stadium as well as the adjacent $400 million entertainment district.

"This is exactly the kind of development that should be a public-private partnership because we all benefit from it," incoming Cobb Chamber of Commerce chair Ben Mathis said.

Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid fought off tears as she explained her vote against the stadium agreement. Although she supported the Braves, she said there wasn't enough time to properly review the proposal's details and make sure the development happened correctly. Cupid also called for a citizen advisory committee and transit between the stadium and her south Cobb district.

"I absolutely wish tonight this was a vote for the county just to express our commitment to bringing the Braves here," Cupid said.

Cobb resident Patricia Hay echoed Cupid's arguments more bluntly. "We spent two years discussing if we could have chickens in back yards," she said during public comment. "... and we're going to take two weeks and ram [the stadium] through?"

For Cobb resident Kevin Daniels, the "veil of secrecy" and rushed process around Cobb's dealings with the Braves disappointed him. He fears lack of published studies might uncover more costs in the future.

"My conclusion is that that net result to the taxpayer will be highly negative due to all the road improvements and intersection improvements that will be performed at the county's expense," said Daniels.

Continue reading »

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First Slice 11/27/13: Georgia's university system considers complete smoking ban for state colleges

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 8:37 AM

Indicted State Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, will head to trial next month after being accused of illegally claiming Gold Dome pay while billing both the state and his private employer for the same expenses.

Tobacco products may soon be outlawed for faculty, students, and visitors across the 31 campuses that are part of Georgia's school system. "Most of these kids start smoking at school because they think it looks cool and they're away from home and their parents," Georgia Regent Thomas Hopkins told the AJC. "But, it's not healthy and I would hope we would do something about that."

A DeKalb County juror this week was filling out a new online questionnaire. When he tried to fill out his occupation from a list of options, "slave" appeared as a possible choice. Court administrators quickly removed the listing.

Hakeem Omar, a 31-year-old Atlanta resident, will spend two years behind bars and lose his U.S. citizenship after bribing an immigration official.

University of Georgia student and former CL intern David Schick continues his open records request fight against the state's Board of Regents. "At times it feels like it's my own version of Watergate," he told CBS Atlanta.

60 Minutes' correspondent Lara Logan and her producer will take a leave of absence following CBS' apology and subsequent review of her discredited Benghazi report.

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A Critic's Notebook: Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 7:30 AM

The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks, about 1833.
  • "The Peaceable Kingdom" by Edward Hicks, about 1833.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Ria Pell's funeral service to be held at Westview Cemetery on Sat., Nov. 30

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 1:00 AM

Ria Pell
  • Courtesy Remembering Ria
  • Ria Pell
A funeral service for Ria Pell will be held at Westview Cemetery on Sat., Nov. 30, at 12 p.m. A memorial will be held at Ria's Bluebird (421 Memorial Drive SW) following the funeral service.

Atlanta lost a true icon over the weekend. Ria Pell, owner of the 14-year-old Memorial Drive diner Ria's Bluebird, co-founder of the MondoHomo queer music and arts festival, and 2012 winner of Food Network's reality cooking series "Chopped," has died. Continue reading ...

On Tues., Dec. 3, the Bluebird will once again be open for business.

Westview Cemetery is located at 1680 Ralph David Abernathy SW. 404-755-6611.

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