According to the Secretary of State's report, officials found numerous problems with Fulton County officials' inadequate planning, training, communication, and decision-making before and during the 2012 election. That led to several violations and thousands of ballots being discounted.
"Perhaps most troubling is the apparent utter disregard for the security and integrity of practically the entirety of the provisional ballot process," the report says. "Almost 10,000 votes were essentially un-documented or under-documented and under-secured."
In addition, an unknown number of voters in the July 2012 primary may have cast ballots in the wrong Georgia General Assembly elections due to recent redistricting.
Some Fulton officials felt the findings overstated the problems and said that the county's election board contains new leadership and upgraded voting equipment. Fulton County experienced fewer issues during the 2013 citywide election - one that had far fewer races and low voter turnout.
The AJC's David Wickert explains what happens next:
Those proceedings will determine whether Fulton committed at least 15 violations of state election laws during its 2012 general and primary elections. It faces the possibility of hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and perhaps some remedial lessons in how to run elections.
A settlement of the case could involve additional training and reporting requirements. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, whose office conducted the investigation, said he hopes it's resolved in time to help Fulton better prepare for elections next year.
Olens has several options moving forward: enter into a consent order with the county, schedule a trial in front of the Office of Administrative Hearings, or look into criminal charges.
The 51-year-old deputy commissioner, who had served City Hall in different capacities for more than three years, passed away in his sleep, Atlanta Police confirmed.
From Sept. 2010 to April 2011, White served as the interim commissioner of the city's watershed department. As deputy commissioner, he played a key role in making City Hall's fleet more sustainable and introducing 96-gallon recycling carts in an effort to reduce Atlanta's carbon footprint.
"The City [of] Atlanta benefited tremendously from Commissioner White's work ethic and professional experience," Mayor Kasim Reed said in a memo today. "Under his direction, Public Works established its first sustainability initiatives in fleet management with the implementation of compressed natural gas vehicles, electric charging stations, and combined routes for solid waste pick-up services."
Before joining City Hall, White held leadership positions in public works departments in Richmond, Va.; Macon; Augusta-Richmond County; and Dougherty County.
"He was always more than willing to help," says Atlanta City Councilwoman Carla Smith, who remembers White as an always-smiling, hard-working official who "got the job done when we called him."
Added Councilman Howard Shook, who chairs the utilities committee: "He was regarded as a hard worker who had earned the committee's trust and respect. I don't think it's really sunk in yet that we'll never see him again."
White is survived by his wife, Robin, and two children.
State Reps. Jason Spencer of Woodbine, Michael Caldwell of Woodstock, David Stover of Newnan, Scot Turner of Holly Springs, and Kevin Cooke of Carrollton yesterday announced that two bills, if passed, would bring the Affordable Care Act to a halt in Georgia.
Spencer said the primary bill would specifically stop state employees, agencies, colleges, and universities from "enforcing and implementing" the Affordable Care Act and would allow Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens to take action against violators of the law.
"Obamacare addresses neither access nor affordability and only exacerbates pre-existing issues prior to the law's passage, as well as creating new problems for Georgians," he said in a statement. "This federal law was passed under false pretenses and as a result has caused serious economic harm to the state of Georgia. Because Obamacare was ill-conceived from the start, the majority of the public is now seeing how incompetent the federal government has become."
The proposal, he said, would save Georgia from "participating in the destruction of our own economy" by implementing Obamacare. The measure to effectively nullify Obamacare and is based on a blueprint from the Tenth Amendment Center, a Los Angeles-based think tank that was behind a similar bill in South Carolina and other states.
An accompanying bill urges Olens to either start or join a lawsuit to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's 2012 ruling that upheld most portions of the Affordable Care Act.
Cindy Zeldin, Executive Director for Georgians for a Healthy Future, thinks the measure would be problematic for many Georgians who are starting to enroll in health-care plans. She says similar laws have passed in others states and have had a "chilling" effect.
"We've been down this road a million times with the lawsuit going to the U.S. Supreme Court," Zeldin tells CL. "It's still here. It's both impractical and a disservice to consumers who are already buying these plans."
Zeldin doesn't think the bill will move far given the ACA's importance to hospitals and major insurance companies throughout Georgia. The larger questions would be whether or not this law could be enforced or used to challenge the U.S. Constitution.
But Caldwell thinks it's worth another look. "As elected officials we are bound by oath to uphold the Constitutions of Georgia and the United States, and the refusal to permit state resources to be utilized in the implementation of Obamacare is a necessary step to maintain our oaths," he added in a statement.
Whether House leaders think those debates should even take place is another question. We'll find out soon.
The 37-year-old Lake Claire resident will join Bain and Company. Farooqui's predecessor, Peter Aman, is a partner at the global consulting firm and took a leave of absence to serve as COO when Reed became mayor in 2010. Farooqui served as his deputy. She was named interim COO by the mayor in late 2011 and was awarded the job shortly thereafter.
Farooqui, who started under Mayor Shirley Franklin in 2007, is known as a data-driven policy wonk and is the youngest person and first Asian American to serve as city COO. She's played a key role in many of the city's high-profile initiatives over the last two years, most notably negotiations for the proposed Atlanta Falcons stadium and land deals with surrounding churches. She also helped open Hartsfield-Jackson Airport's international terminal, craft the employee pension overhaul, and manage construction of the Downtown Streetcar between Centennial Olympic Park and the King Center. That's in addition to other efforts that normally go unseen by the public, like tinkering with employee health-care programs, service delivery, and other municipal functions.
Most recently, she and deputy COO Hans Utz handled negotiations with over renewing the Atlanta Braves' lease at Turner Field. Those conversations ended when the team unexpectedly decided to leave the city limits for Cobb County and a burlap sack filled with $300 million.
Reed praised her work as COO - in a statement, he said "her focus on delivering concrete results was a vital part of my Administration's success during the past four years" - and said he was "proud of her accomplishments."
Reed's expected to announce Farooqui's replacement after the new year. He'll also need to fill vacancies left by former Communications Director Sonji Jacobs and Miller, who announced his retirement last week. Send your 140-character cover letters to @kasimreed on Twitter.
Atlanta Tea Party Patriots are expected to file a lawsuit against the Cobb County Commission sometime during the next 10 days in hopes of stopping officials from spending public funds on the new stadium. Last month, county officials voted to contribute an estimated $300 million in taxpayer dollars to the new $672 million sports facility through local cash, car rental and hotel and motel taxes, and transportation funds.
Tea Party Patriots Co-founder Debbie Dooley, who criticized the stadium deal prior to Cobb's approval, told WSB-TV last night that the county's vote was an "unconstitutional use" of public money:
Dooley said the problem is the proposal uses almost $9 million a year from the general fund to help pay off the $300 million in bonds.
She calls it creative financing by the Cobb Commission.
"We believe the legal advice they received was on shaky ground," Dooley said.
Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that Dooley and company considered options other than taking the county to court:
The coalition of opponents initially asked commissioners to postpone the Nov. 26 vote for a memorandum of understanding between the county and the team. Pellegrino says the next step is submitting a detailed list of questions that the MOU outline hasn't yet answered.
There's also the possibility of legal challenges for various components of the financing deal, including the plan to redirect existing property tax revenues to pay off stadium debt. Then, Dooley says, there's the task of going after the commissioners' jobs, first through recall petitions and, if that fails, when they're up for re-election.
"This is not over," Dooley said, "not by a long shot."
Dooley says that between five-to-ten plaintiffs, namely residents or activists, will join the lawsuit. Merry Christmas, Tim Lee!
First-term state Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, has introduced a pre-filed bill that would let educators in local public school systems teach different holiday traditions to students. The lawmaker, rather than ban religious-themed practices, basically wants to keep 'em all in the classroom.
The measure would also allow for schools to display "scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations." School administrators would be required to display symbols from multiple religions - or showcase both a religious and secular item - if they choose to offer some holiday-related lessons.
"A display relating to a traditional winter celebration shall not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief," the bill reads.
No word yet on whether the legislation would include Festivus poles.
The career aviation professional yesterday told Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport staffers that he was retiring. His last day is Jan. 3.
"I couldn't have asked for a better place than Hartsfield-Jackson to end my career," Miller said in a statement. "After 37 years in the aviation industry, it's been a pleasure to serve at the world's busiest airport and to prepare Hartsfield-Jackson for a prosperous future."
Miller, who was selected by Mayor Kasim Reed for the job in 2010, succeeded Ben DeCosta, who oversaw the airport for more than a decade. He previously managed the international airports in Tampa and Salt Lake City.
The relatively low-key airport executive, who from what we gather had a sound relationship with the Atlanta City Council, took over just in time to oversee several major projects, including the contentious and controversial bidding for the hub's lucrative restaurant and retail spots and the final work on the new Maynard Jackson International Terminal. Along the way Miller's boosted cargo operations, improved the airport's bond rating, OK'ed the display of a distasteful photograph called "New Mexico," and built a big parking lot where people could hang out and wait for arriving passengers. (It's actually quite helpful!)
Reed praised Miller's efforts and wished him well.
Miguel Southwell, the airport's deputy general manager, will serve as interim until a replacement is selected. Southwell returned to Atlanta after 12 years managing Miami International Airport. He'd worked in a variety of positions at Hartsfield-Jackson before that job.
Just a few weeks after the state relocated the controversial Thomas Watson statue from the front of the Georgia Capitol, a south Georgia lawmaker is proposing a monument that would feature the Ten Commandments near the Gold Dome's front entrance.
State Rep. Greg Morris, R-Vidalia, has pre-filed legislation that calls for a granite monument to be erected where the Thomas Watson statue rested for decades. The proposed monument would have several inscriptions: one side would depict the preambles for the Georgia and United States constitutions, and the other would feature the Decalogue.
Morris tells CL he started to think about a replacement monument soon after Gov. Nathan Deal ordered the statue's removal. The state lawmaker introduced his measure because he wanted to display the state's three most important founding documents in the "most important central place" outside the Gold Dome.
"We have the constitutional right to display it," Morris says. "[W]hen we, as legislators, swear an oath, we swear it to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Georgia. I believe the freedoms we enjoy in those documents are directly derived from the Ten Commandments."
The Gold Dome is no stranger to church and state conflicts. State lawmakers in 2012 passed a law that allowed for the Foundations of American Law and Government - a series of documents including the Ten Commandments as well as the Declaration of Independence, Magna Carta, and Mayflower Compact - to be displayed inside public buildings. In September 2012, state officials hung the religious document inside the Georgia Capitol.
"I'm not concerned if anyone will take offense," state Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, who sponsored the 2012 law, told the AJC. "If they don't want to look at it, they don't have to look at it."
Maggie Garrett, legislative director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, tells CL the monument would be "constitutionally problematic" for several reasons. She objects to the religious document being prominently featured in a place where both activists stage protests and children visit on field trips. Because of its potential location, she thinks it pales in comparison to the Ten Commandments hanging on the Gold Dome's walls.
"There's already one displayed inside the building, isn't that enough?," Garrett says. "After they just removed a real controversial [Thomas Watson] monument, you wouldn't think they'd want to put up another controversial monument."
State Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, one of the few lawmakers to vote against 2012 Ten Commandments display, tells CL that the public posting of the Ten Commandments raises "serious constitution questions" and has led to costly lawsuits across the nation. These kinds of debates, she says, have resulted in wasteful public spending and have failed to address the needs of Georgia families across the state.
"It's simply a bad idea and something we see far too often," Orrock says. "It's vindictive and won't result in one job created or one child educated. It's a poor use of our time and our resources."
Starting Jan. 1, Armstrong will replace current Chairman Tad Leithead, who chose not to run for his third term. Armstrong has been a member of the ARC board since 2008 and, once his term begins, will be the commission's second consecutive citizen chairman.
"I think this election shows that the citizen member experiment was a success and that citizen members are uniquely qualified to represent the entire region," said Leithead, a former real estate developer and consultant who serves as chairman of the Cumberland Community Improvement District. "Kerry has tremendous experience in both the business and civic life of metro Atlanta. He is truly committed to collaboration and to the region, both of which will serve ARC well."
Armstrong's election came after an unexpected debate over procedure and questions over whether Leithead would even be allowed to cast a ballot. Following a lengthy debate over Roberts Rules of Order - Maria Saporta has a succinct rundown here - a prolonged election process began between the candidates: Douglas County Chairman Tom Worthan, Rockdale County Chairman Richard Oden, Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, and Armstrong.
ARC bylaws state that in order for a candidate to win, he or she needs to garner at least 20 votes. Until that agreement is reached, the voting - in today's case, electronic voting by secret ballot - continues. After Worthan withdrew in the early rounds of voting, the votes were split between Oden, Johnson, and Armstrong. While the remaining candidates caucused in the stairwell, board members joked about ordering pizza because "it was going to be a while."
However, after acknowledging his dedication and the "110 percent" he always put into his work, Oden withdrew. Though he trailed Armstrong by only one vote, Johnson ultimately withdrew his candidacy, leaving Armstrong to be elected chairman.
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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