Monday, July 19, 2021

Stone Mountain lawmaker speaks to U.S. Senate committee on election law

State Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain) was among those who spoke at a U.S. Senate Rules Committee hearing held in Atlanta on Monday regarding new restrictions in Georgia's voting law.

The field hearing was held the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta, the Associated Press reports.

U.S. Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff were among those who criticized revised limits on registration periods, runoff voting, drop boxes and a provision that would allow the General Assembly's majority party to bypass local election officials.

Mitchell, who chairs the Georgia House Democratic Caucus, said that last provision allows "cheating umpires" who could replace local officials with political appointees "whose only concern is the will of the person who appointed them." 

"If they don't like the outcome of an election, they can simply and immediately just take over the election board," the Washington Post quoted Mitchell as saying. "For that reason alone, these election laws should concern us all."

According to the Albany Herald, Mitchell noted that courts rejected every lawsuit alleging voting fraud in last year's elections. "With the highest level of voter participation and the lowest number of challenges, why would you want to change that?" Mitchell asked the Senate panel.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Commissioner Larry Johnson to head national counties group

DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson has been elected and sworn in as President of the National Association of Counties.

Johnson, who was elected second vice president of NACo in 2019, was chosen as President at NACo's Annual Business Meeting in Prince George's County, Md. on Monday.

"When I was growing up, I couldn't imagine being here today," Johnson said in his acceptance speech. "I'm the product of two teenage parents and sometimes it seemed like the world was against me. But I never would give up. I wish my mom could be here to see me now."

Johnson said he would focus on NACo's theme of "Counties Thrive" during his year as president. "We'll focus on six areas," he said, noting that the THRIVE acronym stands for: Technology, Health, Readiness, Infrastructure, Vulnerable Populations and Economic Opportunity. 

Johnson told fellow DeKalb County commissioners on Tuesday that county CEO Michael Thurmond flew to the event in suburban Washington, D.C., to swear him in as NACo president.

At the meeting, Fulton County (Ga.) Commissioner Liz Hausmann was chosen as chair of NACo's Transportation Committee.


Monday, July 12, 2021

Water outage planned in Tucker for Wednesday night repair

DeKalb County says water will be shut off in Tucker on Wednesday night as contractors replace a aging and damaged water line.

The work will take place at the intersection of Lawrenceville Highway and Northlake Parkway between 10 p.m. Wednesday, July 14, and 3 a.m. Thursday, July 15.

The county says Northlake Parkway will reopen to traffic on Thursday, July 15.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Factcheck: Taking the Wrong City to Task

The latest edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "Take to Task," includes a reader complaint about a pothole.

"This is on Silverhill Road, Smokerise, in Stone Mountain. As you cross the speed bump you drop forcibly into these holes and feels as if you've hit the frame of the vehicle, even though you've slowed almost to a stop to cross the speed bump," Ray Rosenberg wrote.

The AJC says "We sent the issue to Stone Mountain and will keep you updated."

"Who's looking into it: Public Works Director, Jim Tavenner," the newspaper adds helpfully, referring to a longtime Stone Mountain official.

However, Smokerise is not in the City of Stone Mountain, it is in Tucker. The city limits of Stone Mountain do not extend north of the Stone Mountain Freeway (U.S. Highway 78), where Smokerise and Tucker are located.

Less than a quarter of a mile of Silver Hill Rd. is in the City of Stone Mountain. There are no speed bumps in Stone Mountain's section of the road and only a few minor potholes. It is likely that the letter-writer is actually referring to this section of Silver Hill Rd. in Tucker:

This speed bump and pothole are located just west of Musket Lane on Silver Hill Rd. in Tucker. 

Presumably, Stone Mountain will tell the newspaper to contact officials in Tucker about potholes in Tucker. Maybe someone at the AJC will be taken to task.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Stone Mountain, Clarkston set election qualifying dates

Two DeKalb County cities have announced qualifying dates for candidates for their respective municipal elections on November 2.

Voters in Stone Mountain and Clarkston will go to the polls to choose a mayor and three city council members who will serve four-year terms.

Clarkston will accept candidacy notices from August 16 through 18. Stone Mountain will accept candidacy declarations from August 17 through 19.

August 16 is the first day to request an absentee ballott for the November election.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Lowman Smith is new chair of DeKalb County elections board, Jester elected vice-chair

Dele Lowman Smith was elected as the chair of DeKalb County's five-member Board of Registration & Elections on Thursday, with new member Nancy Jester unanimously elected as the vice chair of the board.

Dele Lowman Smith
The board elected officers during its first business meeting since members were sworn in by a Probate Court judge on Wednesday. The board has two new members (Jester and Karli Swift) and three returning members. All will serve two-year terms that end on June 30, 2023.

In nominating Lowman Smith as chair, Susan Motter described her as "an ethical, a transparent, a hard worker and collaborative colleague." Her nomination was seconded by Swift.

"I see Ms. Lowman Smith as demonstrative of a generational shift that is needed for this board as well as the elections department," Motter said. 

"In her day-to-day livelihood, she does work with a number of governmental entities including with respect to elections. So she clearly has the experience," Motter said. "I am looking to her to bring a new era of transparency and openness amongst the board, the board members and the public." 

Lowman Smith was elected chair in a 3-2 vote, with Jester and Anthony Lewis voting against her nomination. The vote for Lowman Smith came after a 3-2 vote against Lewis' nomination of Jester to chair the board. 

"I look forward to working with you," Jester, a former DeKalb County commissioner, told Lowman Smith. "I know you'll make a great chair."

Cochran-Johnson seeks limit on double tractor-trailer size

A DeKalb County Commissioner is asking the county to go on record as opposing any federal or state legislation that would increase in the size or weight of trucks passing through the area.

District 7 Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson has offered a resolution that notes the poor condition of some Georgia roads and bridges and says that allowing increased weight or length for double-trailer trucks would raise the costs of maintaining major roads.

At the Board of Commissioners' July 13 meeting, commissioners voted unanimously (7-0-0) to defer action on the proposal until July 27.

The impetus for the resolution seems to be a proposal, defeated by the U.S. Senate in 2015, that would have allowed longer tractor-trailer trucks, sometimes called "Double 33s." That vote came after the U.S. Department of Transportation recommended against changing truck size and weight laws, noting that trucks with multiple trailers have an 11 percent higher rate of fatal crashes than single-trailer trucks.

Representatives of the trucking industry contended in 2018 that extending 28-foot trailers to 33 feet would result in 4,500 fewer truck accidents each year and reduce truck traffic by 3.1 billion miles.

Two central DeKalb County parks renamed

The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners has approved name changes for two parks in central DeKalb County to reflect their history and topography.

Redan Garcia Park, a 9.2-acre passive recreation space at 5338 Redan Rd., has been renamed as the Chapman Farm and Redan Nature Preserve.


Neighbors submitted a petition to the DeKalb County's Department of Recreation, Parks & Cultural Affairs' Citizen Advisory Board asking for the name change.

The park was acquired by the county in 2010 from the Garcia-Vicario family, but the Chapman family was the historical owner of the property, the parks department says.

The park received a $9,000 Urban Conservation Toolbox Grant last year to install irrigation and garden equipment. The purpose was to educate the neighborhood about the production of healthy food and to provide fresh vegetables for the community throughout the year. 

The grant was obtained by the Chapman Mill-Redan Park Community Development Corporation, which was founded by Calvin Sims,  a retired MARTA employee who has served on the parks' Citizen Advisory Board since he was first appointed by Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton.


Meanwhile, Rowland Road Park, a 2-acre park just east of S. Indian Creek Dr. at 1227 Rowland Rd., has been renamed Split Creek Park to reflect that the land is at the confluence of Snapfinger Creek and Indian Creek.

A master plan for the park was discussed last year. A proposed site plan depicts a walking trail, bike rack, community garden, a small pavilion, and a 4-space parking lot.


The park renamings were unanimously approved by the BOC at its July 13 meeting.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Georgia Council for the Arts announces more than two dozen DeKalb County grants

More than two dozen DeKalb County groups are set to receive grant funds from the Georgia Council for the Arts, the council said Wednesday.

The council, a division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, announced 266 grants totalling more than $2 million for arts initiatives throughout the state. The funds will be distributed during the 2022 fiscal year.

Bridge Grants, intended to support non-profit arts organizations recovering from COVID-19 shutdowns, will provide funding for operating support to nine organizations in DeKalb County:

- Atlanta Artist Relief Fund Inc

- Atlanta Radio Theatre Company          

- Callanwolde Foundation, Inc.        

- Decatur Book Festival                  

- OnStage Atlanta                        

- Paint Love, Inc.                       

- PushPush Film & Theater (PushPush Arts)

- Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance          

- The Essential Theatre, Inc.            

Project Grants to help fund one-time arts events or a series of art projects or events were given to six DeKalb County organizations:

- Emory University Center for Ethics             

- Kids Video Connection, Inc.                    

- Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, Inc.

- Room To Move Inc.                              

- Several Dancers Core                           

- The Japan-America Society of Georgia           

Thirteen programs in DeKalb County will receive funding through an Arts Education Program Grant:

- A Trav├ęs, Inc.                                  

- Callanwolde Foundation, Inc.                   

- Coralwood School                               

- DeKalb School of the Arts Foundation           

- Global Village Project                         

- Henderson Mill Elementary School Foundation    

- How Big Is Your Dream?! Foundation             

- Kids Video Connection, Inc.                    

- Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, Inc.

- Spruill Center for the Arts                    

- The Essential Theatre, Inc.                    

- The Japan-America Society of Georgia           

- Utopian Academy for the Arts                   

Funding for the awards by the Georgia Council for the Arts come from the Georgia General Assembly, the National Endowment for the Arts, and $904,000 from the American Rescue Plan. Additional grants for Vibrant Communities and Cultural Facilities programs will be awarded later this year. The Georgia Council for the Arts used peer review panels to judge and review the applications that were received.

Georgia Council for the Arts Executive Director Tina Lilly said the grants "will help cities and organizations leverage additional funds and bring people back to work while providing fun and educational opportunities for Georgians across the state."

A complete list of the awards given out statewide can be found at https://bit.ly/3ho9mo5

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

DeKalb County settles Georgia NAACP voter purge lawsuit

DeKalb County will pay $82,500 to settle a lawsuit filed last year that alleged the county was unlawfully purging voters from the rolls in violation of federal law.

The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously (7-0-0) on Tuesday to approve settlement of a lawsuit filed in February 2020 by the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and the Georgia Coalition for People's Agenda against the DeKalb County Board of Registration & Elections. 

The lawsuit (1:20-CV-00879-ELR) alleged that the county was "unlawfully purging voters from the DeKalb County registration rolls in violation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution." It asked that the county be prevented from purging voters from the rolls until the county receives written confirmation from the voter of a change of address, or the county provides proper notice and waits two federal election cycles.

The lawsuit also contended that the county election board was improperly asking for information from cities regarding the validity of some voter registrations. It said this violated the U.S. Constitution because it improperly discriminated against voters "residing in transitional housing or non-traditional residences." 

After a lengthy executive session, the BOC voted 7-0-0 to settle the case with a requirement that the lawsuit be dismissed with prejudice. The payment is to go to the plaintiffs and their legal counsel as part of a settlement agreement, release and waiver of claims.

The county had tried to argue that the DeKalb County Board of Registration & Elections is protected from federal lawsuits by sovereign immunity. However, U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross rejected that claim in September 2020, ruling that county boards of elections in Georgia are not “arms of the state,” even when determining voter eligibility.

In 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said the DeKalb County Board of Registration & Elections had purged voters who used the Decatur address of a center for people with mental disabilities who need housing to avoid psychiatric hospitalization. The elections board said it removed the voters because the address was not a "residence." 

In an August 2019 letter to the county elections board, the ACLU said "neither state nor federal law grants election officials the authority to judge what constitutes housing, especially for those hardest hit by life's struggles." 

"Election officials must be vigilant when considering challenges or requests to disenfranchise people that are based on Google Maps or their preconceived notions of what a 'residence' looks like," the ACLU said in its letter. "It is morally wrong for government officials to judge where someone calls home," ACLU Georgia legal director Sean Young said at the time.

Barnes-Sutton extortion, bribery trial delayed until October

The federal court trial of former DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton on two counts of extortion and one count of federal program bribery, originally set for August, has been delayed until October, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

The newspaper says U.S. District Court Judge Mark Cohen has set an Oct. 18 start date for Barnes-Sutton's trial so that she can undergo surgery in September for a health condition. 

"The Court finds that Defendant has presented sufficient medical evidence to support a continuance until after the completion of her surgery, which will result in only a short continuance," Cohen said in his order.

A federal grand jury returned an indictment against Barnes-Sutton in 2019, alleging she extorted bribe payments from a DeKalb County subcontractor while she was the chair the Board of Commissioners' Finance, Audit & Budget committee. 

Federal prosecutors alleged in the indictment that Barnes-Sutton sought monthly payments from an individual whose company had received a procurement award from the BOC related to construction of a wastewater treatment plant.


Friday, June 11, 2021

DeKalb gets $950,000 federal YouthBuild grant for education, occupational skills development

DeKalb County has been awarded a $949,811 grant to help unemployed young people aged 16 to 24 who are not in school to get jobs in construction and other industries.

The YouthBuild grant, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment & Training Administration, provides occupational skills to young people using a pre-apprenticeship model that includes classroom and workplace training. Participants can earn a high-school diploma or equivalency degree while getting the training.

The award to DeKalb County was one of the smallest of the 68 grants around the country that were announced on Thursday. The only other recipient in Georgia was the Bibb County School District in Macon, which is receiving $1.5 million.

DeKalb County began its YouthBuild program in 2019. At the time, the DeKalb Juvenile Court said it would use the funds to provide paid internships and training in partnership with the Solicitor-General’s office, WorkSource DeKalb and other community organizations.

"YouthBuild meets young people where they live, and wherever they are on their path to educational attainment and career success," Principal Assistant U.S. Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Suzi LeVine said in a statement announcing the latest grants.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

DeKalb County officials monitor election bills in Georgia General Assembly

DeKalb County election officials are monitoring moves in the Georgia General Assembly to impose new requirements on voters, even though the state's top elections official has said there was no "systemic fraud" in the November 2020 election.

The Georgia House voted on party lines on Monday in favor of a bill (HB 531) that would make more than two dozen changes to election laws and impose new identification requirements on absentee voters.

"That's probably going to change everything we do. We just got voters to learn about how things happen and now everything's going to change," DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections Director Erica Hamilton told county commissioners during a committee meeting on Tuesday.

The state measure, sponsored by State Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), who chairs the House Special Committee on Election Integrity, would limit the time period when voters can request an absentee ballot and reduce weekend hours for early voting.

"We're already anticipating what we'll need to do if this legislation passes as is. We'll need additional resources," Hamilton said. "We'll need to beef up our full-time staff so that we can always have a very knowledgeable base in the office and not have to worry about the temporary staff putting most of the weight."

Hamilton expressed concern about low voter turnout for current elections. She said voter turnout was only three percent in the Feb. 9 House District 90 election and advance voting has been low for the March 9 runoff. "Out of 20,000, only 240 have cast a ballot," she said.

Out of 5,000 eligible voters, only four have cast a ballot in Clarkston's March 16 special election to fill an unexpired term on the City Council, Hamilton said. (Clarkston's web site says the city has 6,281 registered voters.)

Commissioner Ted Terry said Tuesday he has been asked by the nonpartisan, non-profit National Vote At Home Institute to observe an election next Tuesday in Orange County, Calif., which has shifted to voting by mail. About 80 percent of voters in Orange County, the fifth-largest county in the nation, mailed in their ballots last year.

"I will keep my colleagues posted with any developments and provide a post-observation report with the purpose of better informing the DeKalb elections work group," said Terry, who chairs the Board of Commissioners' County Operations (OPS) Committee.

"The hurdles and outright barriers being constructed with Jim Crow-era precision are, in essence, whiting out the lines of conduct for a free and fair democratic process and our democratic republic," he said.

"The state is going to cost DeKalb County taxpayers millions and extra bureaucratic layers for the sole purpose of making it harder to vote -- not because of potential fraud ... but because the state knows that when more people express their free will and vote, they tend to lose," Terry said.

The Capitol Beat News Service reports the measure approved by the Georgia House on Monday would require absentee-ballot drop boxes to be located inside polling places or local elections offices. The bill was approved by a vote of 97-72. It will now be considered by the state Senate.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that the Georgia Senate Ethics Committee has approved a separate bill that would limit absentee balloting to people who are over 65, are disabled or will be away from their precinct on the day of an election.

"I hope they will reverse course," Terry said. "We will not relent in our path to ensure voting rights and protections are afforded to all legal voting registered citizens." 

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in November there were no irregularities that would have affected the results of the November election. "We've never found systemic fraud -- not enough to overturn the election," he said on ABC-TV's "This Week."


Commissioner Cochran-Johnson plans March 11 Town Hall meeting

DeKalb County Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson will host a virtual Town Hall meeting on Thursday, March 11, at 6 p.m. to provide progress reports on existing and planned initiatives.

Heads of DeKalb County government departments will make presentations at the District 7 First Quarter Town Hall Zoom meeting. There will also be an update on Cochran-Johnson's partnership with PNC Bank and Operation HOPE to provide DeKalb County residents with financial dignity training, home ownership assistance, and resources for small business development and expansion.

"Economic development, home ownership and the fight against blight have seen significant advances, but COVID-19 has impacted service delivery in certain areas. I am eager to share our progress, departmental updates and future projects with District 7 residents," Cochran-Johnson says in a news release.

While Cochran-Johnson's District 7 includes the eastern half of DeKalb County, she says all county residents are welcome to register for the Town hall at http://bit.ly/3qOA8ID .

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Rockbridge Coalition hosts March 2 town hall on voting

The Rockbridge Coalition is hosting an event Tuesday evening town hall meeting on how neighbors can organize on a precinct and block-by-block basis to empower their communities' power base.

Speakers will include NACP DeKalb County Branch President Teresa Hardy, Mega International CEO and founder Dr. Gerald Austin, and Karen Davenport, DeKalb Democrats' 2nd Vice Chair.

The Rockbridge Coalition says its mission is to enhance and preserve quality of life in the community thru proactive collaboration, promotion of best practices, active communication, expansion of government partnerships, and mobilization of direct action. The organization is chaired by Lance Hammonds.