Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Jackson, Lankford in rematch for Fulton County sheriff

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2016 at 2:40 PM

In addition to overseeing court security and serving papers, the sheriff oversees the Fulton County Jail on Rice Street in northwest Atlanta. - JOEFF DAVIS/CL FILE
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • In addition to overseeing court security and serving papers, the sheriff oversees the Fulton County Jail on Rice Street in northwest Atlanta.

On a recent Thursday night, candidates in July 26 runoff sat in a small Fairburn church and waited to make their pitches to the jam-packed crowd.

Several of the men and women running for county solicitor, the state Legislature, and Fulton Superior Court judge sat at tables below the pulpit. But it was the the Democrats vying to serve as Fulton County Sheriff — a position that oversees the county jail, handles courthouse security, and serves foreclosure papers — who probably drew the most cheers and murmurs from the audience of 150 or so.

Both men have years of experience: current Sheriff Theodore "Ted" Jackson was first elected in 2008. Richard Lankford was elected for two terms starting in 1984. They both inherited lockups that attracted separate federal inquiries for unsafe overcrowding. And the two men have met in an election before. In 2012, Jackson beat several Democrats, including Lankford, in one round of voting, though in a vote so close, Lankford unsuccessfully called for a runoff

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Primary rundown: Runoffs galore!

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2016 at 9:22 AM

'Welp, didn't see that coming.' - TIM LEE FOR CHAIRMAN
  • Tim Lee for Chairman
  • 'Welp, didn't see that coming.'
Ah, primary elections. They're important, often overlooked, and sometimes throw voters a few surprises. Who knew so many people in Cobb County were so unhappy about Chairman Tim Lee! Here's a rundown of some of the key races decided yesterday. More than a few candidates will have to encourage voters to return to the polls for a July 26 runoff. Interested in other races? Here are how races played out across the state and in Fulton County.

U.S. Senate: Jim "Have you seen my hat?" Barksdale defeated opponents Mike Coyne and Cheryl Copeland and will face Sen. Johnny Isakson, who handily defeated GOP primary challengers, in November.

Atlanta Public Schools E-SPLOST: Nearly 80 percent of voters gave the OK to continue collecting a 1-percent sales tax to pay for school renovations, technology upgrades, and new buses.

Fulton County Sheriff: Sheriff Ted Jackson and Richard Lankford, a former sheriff who once struck a deal with the U.S. attorney not to work in law enforcement again, earned the most votes in a crowded race and will head to a runoff. 

Fulton County Solicitor General: Keith Gammage and Clint Rucker will face off in a July 26 runoff for the important position that prosecutes misdemeanors

House District 59: Lawyer David Dreyer and Janine Brown, a former labor leader, are heading to a runoff to represent the district that stretches from southeast Atlanta to Hapeville.

House District 91: Vernon Jones, the flamboyant politico who's lost several campaigns since leaving the DeKalb County CEO's office, is heading to a runoff against Rhonda Taylor. 

Senate District 21: State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, snagged 58 percent of the votes to fend off Aaron Barlow, who tried to unseat the challenger over his support for MARTA. It didn't work.

DeKalb County CEO: Mike Thurmond, a former state labor commissioner and DeKalb Schools superintendent, emerged victorious from a three-way Democratic primary for the county's top seat. He faces Republican Jack Lovelace in November.

DeKalb County District Attorney: Incumbent Robert James, the county's chief prosecutor, lost to DeKalb Solicitor General Sherry Boston. 

Cobb County Chairman: In one of the evening's most surprising upsets, challenger Mike Boyce garnered more votes than Chairman Tim Lee, forcing the incumbent to a runoff. Maybe people are unhappy about that new Atlanta Braves stadium after all.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Gov. Deal vetoes Campus Carry legislation

Posted By on Tue, May 3, 2016 at 5:41 PM

'Please don't bring me another one of these bills next year' - JOEFF DAVIS/CL FILE
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • 'Please don't bring me another one of these bills next year'

Fresh off rejecting a controversial religious liberty measure that opponents said would have led to legalized discrimination, Gov. Nathan Deal today vetoed the "Campus Carry" bill that would have allowed licensed gun owners to tote firearms in many areas of public colleges and universities.

Under House Bill 859, the only places where guns would be off-limits on college and university campuses were athletic events, dorms, and fraternity and sorority houses. The legislation carried by state Reps. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, and Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, was one of the more contentious measures dealing with guns under the Gold Dome during the last legislative session.

Deal sent concerns House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, R-Gainesville, about HB 859 after the Georgia House of Representatives passed a version of the bill. He asked lawmakers to consider adding on-campus childcare centers, administrative offices, and student discipline hearings to the list of places where guns were still prohibited. Lawmakers said "thanks, but no thanks," the Senate approved the bill, and they sent the legislation to his desk.

Today, the final day when bills could be signed or vetoed before becoming law, Deal fired back with the power of his pen and a lengthy veto statement about the history of Second Amendment caselaw, the University of Virginia founders prohibiting weapons on campus, and the holes in HB 859 supporters' arguments in favor of campus carry.

"From the early days of our nation and state, colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed," Deal said. "To depart from such time honored protections should require overwhelming justification. I do not find that such justification exists." 

Georgia Carry, one of the more vocal Second Amendment groups under the Gold Dome, has not responded to CL's request for comment. We've yet to see Jasperse or Ballinger weigh in on the veto.

Deals' full veto statement is after the jump.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Mayorwatch 2017: Peter Aman is in

Posted By on Mon, Apr 25, 2016 at 1:34 PM

  • Friends of Peter Aman
  • Peter Aman
Former Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Peter Aman has made it internet-official: he wants your vote in next year’s race to be Atlanta mayor.

Aman is a partner in the Atlanta office of Bain and Company, a consultancy, but he’s worked at City Hall before. During a pro bono stint during Mayor Shirley Franklin’s term, Aman led the team that authored what’s known as The Bain Report.

The group studied city operations and came up with a bunch of recommendations to the mayor and city council, including suggesting they try to create a realistic budget and stick to it. Mayor Kasim Reed tapped Aman as his COO during his first two years in office.

Aman’s website lists a few dozen policy ideas related to safety, traffic, community, jobs, education and city efficiency. Interesting mentions include pushing for more affordable housing, more community-oriented policing, a greenspace plan that includes the Chattahoochee River, and Atlanta's first citywide education plan involving schools from kindergarten through college.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Aman, Kaiser, Mitchell sign up for Atlanta mayoral campaign contributions

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 1:27 PM

  • Joeff Davis/CL File
Two long-rumored 2017 Atlanta mayoral candidates are getting pretty close to making it official: former Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Peter Aman and Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell filed state declarations of intent to accept campaign contributions this month.

Outgoing state Rep. Margaret Kaiser, D-Atlanta, has also filed her paperwork, though the restaurateur has long been clear about her intent to run. She joined the state House in 2007, and sits on the Education and money-budgeting Appropriations committees. She's said that she's concerned about Downtown development, particularly around Turner Field.

Aman, a partner in Bain and Company's Atlanta office, plans to make a formal announcement in the next day or so, an Aman spokesperson has confirmed. That launch will come with an outline of his platform and proposals for the city.

Aman's run would be an experiment in whether a wonkish consultant with plenty of City Hall experience but little name recognition can beat men and women who are more used to the rough-and-tumble of public politics. Aman helped Mayor Shirley Franklin's administration with pro bono research on how to optimize city government, and served an extended term as Mayor Kasim Reed's COO. He may also have the support of a particular well-connected Democrat.

Mitchell, a lawyer, joined Atlanta City Council in 2001 and considered a 2009 mayoral bid, but opted to run for council president instead. He's rumbled with the mayor over the Atlanta Beltline-Atlanta Public Schools payment dispute. He touts his record on parks and greenspace projects and on economic development.  

One thing worth noting about the timing: The Georgia Ethics Commission last week filed a complaint against Mitchell's leadership political action committee, accusing it of failing to register with the commission and not filing campaign disclosure reports. Mitchell told Fox5's Dale Russell, who first reported the story, that the complaint was "frivolous" and “bares no facts and is filled with inaccuracies."  

CL contacted Mitchell and Kaiser and will let you know what we hear. See their filings yourself at the Georgia Government Campaign Finance Commission website. (Update April 25: We did hear back from Kaiser. She said she is serving out her full term as state representative but is also getting her mayoral campaigning underway.)

The trio joins former City Council president Cathy Woolard, who started her campaign last year and was the only well-known candidate to file a disclosure and report raising cash. Woolard reported raising approximately $150,000 from elected officials, local wonks, and LGBT heavy-hitters. She's put the Beltline and transit on her priority list and would also be Atlanta's first openly gay mayor. 

Debra Hampton and Kimberley Johnson Obasuyi, two relatively unknown political hopefules, have also filed disclosures with the city but report raising no money and having no cash on hand. Other candidates rumored to be running include state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, and from what we've heard, Atlanta City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms.

We've also heard former Mayor Shirley Franklin's name mentioned. When asked by CL yesterday in an email about the rumor, Franklin expressed some amusement at the rumors, adding "Next year is local election year. For now I am living day to day and hoping for major Democratic victories in the presidential and Congressional races." 

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Welcome back to the mix, Vernon Jones!

Posted By on Thu, Mar 10, 2016 at 2:08 PM

Throughout the week, incumbents and political hopefuls are filing into a room at the Gold Dome and qualifying to run for this year's state elections. Potentially vulnerable elected officials are getting challengers! Mystery men are challenging one of GOP's elder statesmen! And familiar faces are returning to the public realm.

Among the latter we have Vernon Jones, the flamboyant former DeKalb County CEO who managed Georgia's third-largest county during the 2000s. While in the CEO position he pushed for an ambitious  greenspace program and tried to boost economic development. He also managed to provide ample fodder for journalists covering his two terms in office.

Since leaving office Jones launched unsuccessful bids for U.S. Senate, Congress, and DeKalb sheriff (despite having no law enforcement experience). Last time we caught up with him was at the GOP victory party after the 2014 elections. 

Now he's wanting to return to the Gold Dome, where he once served as a rep. The South Carolina native yesterday qualified to fill House District 91. The incumbent, Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, is stepping down to run for a Senate seat. At the moment, Jones has no qualified opponents for the House seat representing parts of south DeKalb and Rockdale counties, though we've seen word on Facebook that another candidate will run. Qualifying ends tomorrow. 

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Clinton, Trump win Georgia presidential primaries — and Atlanta voters renew sewer tax

Posted By on Wed, Mar 2, 2016 at 12:16 AM

  • Georgia Secretary of State
  • Oh, man.

Five hundred thousand. That's approximately how many people picked Donald Trump in the Georgia GOP presidential primary, handing the reality TV star and business tycoon more delegates and helping his chances of snagging the Republican Party's nomination. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., earned the second highest number of votes. (Here's a handy breakdown of how the Georgia Republican Party is allocating its delegates.)

As expected, Hillary Clinton won over roughly 71 percent of voters in Georgia's Democratic presidential primary, handily defeating U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom exit polls say trailed far behind the former secretary of state in earning black voters' support.

Clinton and Trump walked away with victories in most of the 12 states that held presidential primaries on Tuesday. Sanders won four states, including Massachusetts and his home state of Vermont. 

Finally, nearly 75 percent of Atlanta voters opted to renew the Municipal Option Sales Tax to continue funding Atlanta's sewer system. Super Tuesday was the final time the city can ask voters to renew the tax, which has already raised roughly $1 billion, without legislative approval. 

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Lawmaker proposes English-only constitutional amendment for Georgia, where English is already the official language

Posted By on Wed, Dec 16, 2015 at 2:56 PM

State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus - JOEFF DAVIS/CL FILE
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus
It’s a few weeks yet until Georgia’s state reps and senators gather under the Gold Dome for their annual debate and legislate. That means it's time lawmakers start dropping early pieces of legislation in the hopper. Considering that lawmakers are up for re-election next November, expect some doozies.

One of the first of the pre-filed pieces of legislation would ask Georgians to elevate the status of the English language.

State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, thinks Georgians are ready to vote to amend the state Constitution to make English the state's really, really official language. English is already Georgia’s official language, per 1996 state law.

His Senate Resolution 675 asks for a statewide referendum on promoting English into Georgia’s most foundational legal document. 

The reason for putting it in the state Constitution, McKoon says, is to make it more difficult if a future set of state lawmakers wanted to cut out English’s official status.

“They would have to take the step of amending the Constitution,” says McKoon, the author of last year's controversial so-called "religious freedom" legislation.

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Monday, November 2, 2015

Georgia Supremes strike down Atlanta firefighters and police officers' pension protest

Posted By on Mon, Nov 2, 2015 at 1:07 PM

Mayor Kasim Reed, with city attorney Cathy Hampton at his side, said he is ready to sit down with city police and firefighters to talk about pay. - MAGGIE LEE
  • Maggie Lee
  • Mayor Kasim Reed, with city attorney Cathy Hampton at his side, said he is ready to sit down with city police and firefighters to talk about pay.
The Georgia Supreme Court today banged the gavel on a yearslong fight between City Hall and its police officers, firefighters, and other workers. The state's highest court rules that the city was A-OK in 2011 when it raised employee pension contributions worth millions of dollars.

Thus closes a lawsuit that has been a big part of a showdown between public safety employees who have been seeking a raise and a city that's been refusing as long as the lawsuit is outstanding.

Mayor Kasim Reed thanked the court for the ruling, at a press conference called just hours after it was published Monday morning.

"We look forward to engaging with police and firefighters right away" about pay, Reed said.

He said the Atlanta City Council might have passed a raise for people who run toward fires and gunshots already, but a city loss in the courts would have been costly.

"I could not do both at the same time in a responsible fashion," Reed told reporters.

Indeed, just a few hours later, city council approved a raise they had been considering for police lieutenants, a relatively high rank. They pledged to get to sergeants soon.

“I hope that there is the appetite to get us, down to all the ranks, get a correction to what is going on,” said International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 623 President Ken Allen after the vote.

Police and firefighters have two pay beefs with the city. The first is “compression,” when seniority in education and experience aren’t reflected appropriately in pay. Then second is simply pay — not enough of it, say unions for public safety officers.

“If they don’t do something to correct the salaries, you’re going to lose veteran police and firefighters,” said Vic Bennett, vice president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 134.

The lawsuit came from a 2011 city council decision that Reed pushed to raise employee pension contributions from 7 percent of annual salary (or 8 percent if the employee has a beneficiary) to 12 percent (or 13 percent with a beneficiary.)

The lawsuit, led by Stephen Borders, the former president of the Atlanta Professional Fire Fighters, but filed on behalf of all city fire, police and general employees, argued that the city unfairly broke their employment contracts. Borders recently announced his retirement from the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department for the private sector.

But the city broke no contracts or rules, the court said in a unanimous ruling in line with a lower court finding. Reed said if the city had lost, he said, that would have meant 600 to 1,000 layoffs and a liability of some $35 million to $50 million.

Update: An earlier version of this story misstated employee contributions to pension funds both before and after the 2011 change. 

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

New Georgia political watchdog proposes naming, shaming ethics violators

Posted By on Thu, Sep 17, 2015 at 11:22 AM

William Perry, the top dog at a pair of new state political watchdog organizations, says he plans to play a 'bad cop' role. - MAGGIE LEE
  • Maggie Lee
  • William Perry, the top dog at a pair of new state political watchdog organizations, says he plans to play a 'bad cop' role.
With a statement that will make certain politicians nervous or unhappy, a former executive director of Common Cause Georgia says he’s starting a new political watchdog initiative that’s meant to both draw attention to ethics violations and shady dealings and teach the public to do the same.

“This is going to be a lot of fun for me,” said William Perry, self-styled “top dog” at a linked pair of new good-government groups: Georgia Ethics Watchdogs and Georgia Ethics Watchdogs Education Fund.

One of the first things Perry plans to bark about in the coming weeks is DeKalb County, where, he said, some issues "may require followup." (It's a long story, but law enforcement and a former state attorney general are sniffing around over there too. The word "rotten" has been used.)

Perry said that holding officials accountable will bring good public policy. For example, he cites the $75 cap on each gift lobbyists can give to lawmakers, passed in 2013. The measure was passed two years after state House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, first came under media and nonprofit scrutiny for a $17,000 trip to Europe, family in tow.

“That [gift cap] wouldn’t have happened if the speaker of the House in Georgia hadn’t been shamed into supporting that legislation,” said Perry.

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