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Local Politics

    Gwinnett County’s district attorney intends to seek new felony charges against the now-former police officers caught on camera striking a motorist during a 2017 traffic stop. And the attorney representing that motorist is “relieved.” “We are relieved to hear that the District Attorney's Office is taking the necessary steps to address the criminal aspect of the behavior exhibited,” Justin D. Miller, the attorney for Demetrius Hollins, wrote in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “[The]officers' actions have had a debilitating effect on our client and we are grateful to those members of the Gwinnett County community who chose not to look the other way, but instead chose to document this incident.” Hollins, 21 at the time, was hit and kicked in the head by Gwinnett officers Michael Bongiovanni and Robert McDonald during an April 2017 traffic stop near Lawrenceville. Bongiovanni and McDonald were quickly fired and charged with battery and violating their oath of office shortly thereafter. As reported Wednesday by The AJC and Channel 2 Action News, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter intends to seek an indictment against Bongiovanni and McDonald later this month — and will pursue more serious (and more controversial) charges than were originally filed against the officers. To read more about the charges Porter plans to pursue, read the full story on subscriber website myAJC.com.
  • Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee, Smyrna officials are hoping a public park and hundreds of new homes will transform the waterfront from an industrial corridor into a flourishing attraction.  While cities like San Antonio and Asheville have invested in their rivers with walkways, trails, restaurants and shops, the Chattahoochee remains largely undeveloped with limited accessibility. The ‘hooch is less of a meeting place than a border separating Cobb from Atlanta.  READ MORE: Acworth goat farm dropped from Cobb parks list amid money concerns Today, the river is cleaner than its been in decades, and, some say, ripe for development.  “Our goal is to make sure we have a clean river and then after that we would love to increase access,” said Kevin Jeselnik, staff attorney for the Chattahoochee River Keeper. The organization won a lawsuit against Atlanta in the nineties that was instrumental in fighting pollution of the waterway.  But redeveloping the Cobb section of the river has proven difficult. Jamestown Properties, the investor behind Ponce City Market, spent nearly ten years working first with Cobb County and then the city of Smyrna to try to build Riverview Landing, a $300 million mixed-use development on 82 acres. It would have included more than 1,600 residential units in addition to office and retail space.  Last year, Jamestown sold the land to the Ardent Companies, which downsized the project significantly. The plan submitted by Ardent and approved by city council in March includes about 600 apartments, town homes and detached houses, and 3,000 square feet of commercial space.  Ardent and Smyrna are also in talks to deed 12 acres on the river to the city for a public park.  Neville Allison, a director at Ardent, said his company is committed to giving Smyrna a public park on the water, which would also serve as the “main draw” for the development.  “We think this is an incredible civic opportunity,” Allison said. “I think that a development of this size will absolutely spur additional development. It’s going to be a catalyst.”  Allison said the decision to scale down was based on market research, and he expected to break ground soon.  But two dozen local businesses, some of which have been operating next to the river for more than half a century, say sandwiching residential development between heavy industrial facilities on Riverview Road threatens their livelihoods. The road is heavily trafficked by tractor trailers and cranes, and much of it falls below the 100 year floodplain.  Clint Stamps, president of the Chattahoochee Business Industrial Association, said he understands the desire to build by the river, and while he’s not thrilled with the project, he’s not opposed to it either.  “I just want to make sure after the ribbon cutting takes place we’re not inundated with lawsuits for what we do,” Stamps said.  Smyrna City Councilman Ron Fennel said he respects the existing businesses along Riverview Road, but that the area was on a trajectory toward residential and reacreational use. He pointed to Smyrna’s status as one of the hottest real estate markets in the metro area, and said the city needs to attract and retain a millenial workforce.  “That land is right on the river, close to the city of Atlanta, in the middle of one of the fastest-growing metros in the country,” Fennel said. “There are areas where certain activities are more appropriate and welcome, and certain areas where the growth is obvious and coming.”  READ MORE: The Rock had fun with his family on Memorial Day in the Chattahoochee River Stamps and other business owners want the county and the developer to raise the road above the floodplain and get rid of parallel parking they say poses a safety risk. The county is planning improvements to the intersection of Veteran’s Memorial Highway and Riverview Road funded by $4 million in SPLOST funds.  Cobb County Transportation Director Jim Wilgus wrote in an email that the project is to realign the intersection of Riverview Road and Veterans Memorial in anticipation that a signal could be placed at that location in the future. The project also adds a turn lane and drainage improvements, he wrote.  The industrial history of the area could also pose an obstacle to further development.  Riverview Landing is an approved brownfield redevelopment project with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, meaning the developer has agreed to bring the site into compliance in exchange for a release from liability. The riverbank was a popular dumping site before environmental standards were enforced.  Test pit samples from the site showed concrete, wood, and plastic waste, according to the EPD.  “From what we know of the site, there’s nothing dastardly there,” said Kent Pierce, an environmental engineer with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s Brownfield Program.  Nakul Sharma is captain of the Georgia Tech crew team, which has been using the boat launch at Riverview Landing with the permission of the previous and current owners. He fell in love with rowing as a high school student at Woodward Academy and likes to hit the river as early as 5 a.m.  “The water is clear, pretty nice,” Sharma said. MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT. The AJC's Meris Lutz keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Cobb County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories: Georgia 6th District Race: Cobb Commission Chair endorses Handel Cobb taxpayers to pay for traffic control around SunTrust Park  Marietta ice cream plant wary of Trump talk on NAFTA, import tax  Never miss a minute of what's happening in Cobb politics. Subscribe to myAJC.com. In other Cobb news:
  • The final list of speakers at a Saturday rally to mark the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta March for Social Justice & Women features two organizers of the 2017 national march in Washington, Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, and a key catalyst of the #MeToo movement, actress Alyssa Milano. The three women will share the stage at the Power to the Polls rally in southwest Atlanta with U.S. Reps. John Lewis of Atlanta and Hank Johnson of Lithonia, and Stacey Abrams, a Democratic candidate for governor. Nationally, the Women’s March anniversary is being celebrated by rallies dedicated to getting people to the polls and on the ballot. The march in Washington last year drew an estimated half million Americans. There were 653 sister marches across the country on that same day, including one in Atlanta in which 63,000 people marched. Other speakers at the Atlanta rally cover a wide range of social justice issues and include attorney Anoa Changa, an activist and writer; Erica Clemmons, a labor activist and leader of 9to5; and Lucia McBath, a gun violence activist whose 17-year-old son Jordan Davis was shot and killed in 2012 by a motorist at a Jacksonville, Fla., gas station who objected to the rap music coming from the car in which Jordan sat. Also speaking will be Staci Fox of Planned Parenthood Southeast; Marisol Estrada, a Georgia DACA Dreamer; Mary Pat Hector, the national youth director of the National Action Network; Nse Ufot of the New Georgia Project; and Stephe Koontz, a member of the Doraville City Council and Georgia’s first elected transgender woman. The event will feature entertainment from DJ Sed the Saint, David Soleil, Chasing Lovely, and slam poet Royce Mann. The noon to 4 p.m. rally will be held at the Bakery, a warehouse events space at 825 Warner St. S.W. in Atlanta, along the Beltline. More details can be found at the Power to the Polls  website.
  • MARTA will end bus service at 10 p.m. Wednesday, and will modify its Thursday service to deal with winter weather. Roads are expected to re-freeze overnight, said Stephany Fisher, a MARTA spokesperson. Bus service will end early to keep drivers and passengers safe; Wednesday morning, 25 buses slid on ice or got stuck in snow before picking up passengers. Rail service will continue until 2 a.m. Thursday on a modified, weekend schedule, Fisher said. Empty trains will run overnight to prevent issues related to the cold temperatures. MORE | No injuries as bus skids into DeKalb ditch, MARTA says ON MYAJC | Atlanta snow makes mess of roads, but relief may come Thursday Fisher said on Thursday, rail service will start at 6 a.m. and trains will arrive every 10 to 20 minutes. The Red and Gold lines will go to the airport all day. Limited bus service will begin at 6 a.m. as well. Buses will run on major roads and to medical facilities. MARTA Mobility passengers with scheduled pick-ups will receive service. See www.itsmarta.com, follow @MARTASERVICE on Twitter, or call the Customer Care Center at 404-848-5000 for specific bus route information and for service updates. MORE | Fulton County government offices, courts will be closed Thursday 
  • More than $1 million in groceries were distributed Sunday as part of an event in Austell to combat food insecurity.  According to the Georgia Food Bank Association, one in six Georgians are food insecure, meaning they lack consistent access to adequate food.  Families and individuals in need are encouraged to stop by the Austell Threadmill Mall Complex at 5018 Newark Ave in Austell for free groceries.  The event is sponsored by Georgia State Rep. Erica Thomas, Positive Action Youth USA, Radio One and PBnJ. A spokesperson said more than 900 cars turned out for the drive-through food distribution.
  • Georgia is among the states wanting to land Amazon’s second headquarters, which could employ 50,000 people and change the economy of the city it chooses. And Georgia residents appear eager for Amazon’s HQ2, with most of those surveyed for an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll saying Georgia should pursue the internet retail company — even at a high cost. Such incentives could be worth more than $1 billion.  That’s just one of the key findings in our poll taken as this year’s legislative session gets underway. Georgians also talked about improving education, Medicaid expansion and some controversial issues that have residents divided. » Get the numbers: Click here to check out the in-depth report at myAJC.com. What’s next: On Sunday at myAJC.com and in Monday’s print edition of the AJC, we’ll have poll results on how Georgians feel about the Republican tax cut plan. In case you missed it: On Friday, the AJC released the first results in the poll, which examined President Donald Trump’s approval ratings in Georgia. Our survey found that 6 in 10 registered voters disapprove of his performance in office. That’s a decline from an AJC poll taken a year ago shortly before Trump took office. For more on Georgians’ take on Trump, click here to see the report at myAJC.com. 
  • “There were certainly concerns in the Senate that you could create an opportunity where you literally could be selling babies for adoption and making it for financial gain. Obviously, that has been taken out and severely restricted in the Senate version,”
  • The state of Georgia and city of Atlanta are ready for their moment in college football’s limelight. >> Read more trending news On Monday morning, members of the Georgia state Senate “called the Dawgs” during the session ahead of tonight’s College Football Playoff Championship in Atlanta. Watch the video below: Georgia and Alabama kick off at 8 p.m. ET at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
  • Gwinnett Commissioner Tommy Hunter suffered a heart attack over the weekend and is recovering at a local hospital, he said Tuesday. Hunter joined the first Board of Commissioners meeting of 2018 via phone and shared his health scare during the announcements that typically start each gathering. He said he had a heart attack on Saturday and was recovering at Northeast Georgia Medical Center after having “a stent placed in a major artery.” More from subscriber website myAJC.com | Gwinnett’s biggest, most important and most-read stories of 2017 Hunter said the surgery went well and that he could be released Wednesday.  “I just wanted to thank everybody for your prayers and standing with us as we go through this,” he said. Hunter has represented Gwinnett’s District 3 — which covers parts of the Centerville, Snellville, Grayson and Braselton areas — since 2012. He put himself in the spotlight last year after calling U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig,” leading to months of protests, an ethics complaint and, ultimately, a public reprimand. Hunter participated in all of the commission’s votes via phone Tuesday afternoon. He was the sole “no” vote as the commission approved the county’s 2018 budget by a 4-1 margin. MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT. The AJC's Tyler Estep keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Gwinnett County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:  Here's what the Gwinnett Place area may (sort of) look like (one day)  Owner, developer to split disputed $400K in Gwinnett movie studio flap  In deeply diverse Gwinnett, white residents confront minority status Never miss a minute of what's happening in Gwinnett politics. Subscribe to myAJC.com. In other Gwinnett news:
  • The ceremony will be held at the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College, 830 Westview Drive SW, at 1 p.m. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. Mayor Kasim Reed is expected to attend the swearing-in ceremony.

News

  • The woman accused of screaming at a mother and her baby on a Delta flight last week has now been punished at work. >> Watch the video here According to Fox News, Susan Peirez, who claimed to work for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during the incident, has been suspended from her job with the New York state government. >> DOT reveals which airlines ranked highest for complaints in 2017 “State employees are and must be held to the highest standard both professionally and personally,” said Ronni Reich, a spokesperson for the New York State Council of the Arts, where Peirez works. “We were notified of this situation and have commenced an investigation. This employee has been removed from the office and placed on leave until further notice and until the inquiry is resolved.” >> On Rare.us: Woman kicked off Delta flight for complaining about baby Mother Marissa Rundell captured the incident on camera, and the video quickly made its rounds on the internet. The footage shows an annoyed Peirez complaining about having to sit next to a “crying baby” on the plane even though it doesn’t appear the child was crying at the time. When a flight attendant informed her that she couldn’t change seats, she threatened to have the employee fired and was soon removed from the flight.  >> WATCH: United Airlines plane loses engine cover on way to Honolulu, makes emergency landing Delta responded in a statement, saying Peirez’s actions and behavior failed to meet the airline’s standards for passengers: >> Read more trending news  'We ask that customers embrace civility and respect one another when flying Delta,' the statement said. 'This customer’s behavior toward a fellow customer on a flight from New York to Syracuse was not in keeping with those standards. We appreciate our Endeavor Air flight attendant’s commitment to Delta’s core values and apologize to the other customers on board Flight 4017 who experienced the disturbance.
  • Latest updates, results, photo galleries and stories from the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
  • A Minnesota man listening to emergency dispatch audio learned that his wife, a 911 dispatcher, was killed in a crash with a wrong-way driver as she headed for work, the Star Tribune reported. >> Read more trending news Jenna L. Bixby, 30, died Saturday night in the head-on crash in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Park, authorities said. Her husband, Daniel Bixby, was listening to the audio that first reported the crash, according to Andrew Williams, who heads two Twin Cities scanner monitoring groups online, the Star Tribune reported. The crash was reported at 8 p.m. Two hours later, State Patrol troopers contacted Daniel Bixby and confirmed that his wife had died. “A few of us were listening at the same time last night and messaging back and forth,” Williams told the Star Tribune. “Maybe two hours later, Dan sent a message on the board that troopers came and told him it was his wife. Yeah, it’s tough.” The wrong-way driver was identified as retired minister Richard J. Shaka, 72, of Blaine. He was in critical condition, authorities said. Troopers said alcohol consumption by Shaka appears to have been a factor in the collision. Jenna Bixby worked the past 3½ years as a 911 dispatcher for the city of Minneapolis, according to city records. “Minneapolis’ Emergency Communications staff work day and night to keep people safe,” Mayor Jacob Frey said Sunday. “As a 911 dispatcher, that’s what Jenna Bixby did for years -- and what she was on her way to do at City Hall when her life was tragically taken late last night.” Shaka taught at North Central University in Minneapolis in the Bible and Theology Department from 1996 until he retired in 2011. Shaka also founded a Twin Cities nonprofit organization that builds orphanages and youth centers in his native Sierra Leone, the Star Tribune reported.
  • A substitute teacher at Western Guilford Middle School, in Guilford County, North Carolina, was fired after a video surfaced of him body-slamming a student. The student, Jose Escudero, told WGHP that the altercation started because of a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day. >> Read more trending news  Jose said the teacher took the box, throwing it into a sink, WGHP reported. The 12-year-old said he waited until end of class to ask for the chocolate to be returned. Jose said he put them in his bag and the substitute teacher tried to grab the candy, WGHP reported.  Jose said the teacher then grabbed him and held him against the wall before throwing him over his shoulder to the ground. The student said he had bruises on his elbow, shoulder and back. Jose’s mother shared the video of Jose falling to the floor on Facebook saying she wants justice. Guilford County Schools spokeswoman Tina Firesheets told WGHP that the teacher is no longer a district employee. The Escuderos told WGHP that they’re looking into legal action against both the school and teacher, whose name has not been released. WSOCTV.COM contributed to this report.
  • The Latest on the deadly Florida high school shooting (all times local): 1:50 p.m. A group of students who survived the Florida school shooting have started their 400-mile trip to the state capital to pressure lawmakers to act on a sweeping package of gun control laws. The students left Coral Springs on Tuesday afternoon and expect to arrive in Tallahassee in the evening. They plan to hold a rally Wednesday at the Capitol in hopes that it will put pressure on the state's Republican-controlled Legislature. The fate of the new restrictions is unclear. Lawmakers have rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of the governor's office and the Legislature in 1999. But some in the GOP say they will consider the bills. Wednesday will mark one week since authorities say a former student killed 17 students and faculty at Stoneman Douglas High School. ___ 1:15 p.m. Three buses are preparing to take about 100 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students to Tallahassee so that they can pressure state lawmakers to pass more restrictive gun laws. Dozens of reporters and cameras swarmed the students as they prepared to leave. Many of the students wore burgundy T-shirts of the school's colors. They carried sleeping bags, pillows and luggage and hugged their parents as they loaded the bus for the 400-mile journey. Alfonso Calderon is a 16-year-old junior. He says he hopes that the trip will start a conversation between the Legislature, Gov. Rick Scott and the students over commonsense laws on guns. ___ (Corrects to three buses instead of two) 12:20 p.m. Students from several Florida high schools have taken to the streets in a show of solidarity with students from a nearby school where 17 students were gunned down in their classrooms on Valentine's Day. Video footage taken from television news helicopter crews showed several dozen students who walked out of West Boca Raton High School on Tuesday morning, apparently bound for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in nearby Parkland. Many of the students were wearing their backpacks. The distance between the schools is about 11 miles (17 kilometers). Several dozen more students gathered outside Fort Lauderdale High School, holding signs with messages that included 'our blood is on your hands.' On Monday, students at American Heritage High School held a similar protest. Former Stoneman student, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. ___ Midnight A hundred Stoneman Douglas High School students are busing hundreds of miles across Florida to its capital to urge lawmakers to act to prevent a repeat of the massacre that killed 17 students and faculty last week. After arriving late Tuesday, they plan to hold a rally Wednesday in hopes that it will put pressure on the state's Republican-controlled Legislature to consider a sweeping package of gun-control laws. Shortly after the shooting, several legislative leaders were taken on a tour of the school to see the damage firsthand and appeared shaken afterward. Chris Grady is a 19-year-old senior on the trip. He said he hopes the trip will lead to some 'commonsense laws like rigorous background checks.
  • When an accused teenage gunman opened fire on his former classmates last week, he wore a maroon polo shirt emblazoned with the logo of the school from which he’d been expelled -- Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The name Stoneman Douglas has become synonymous with the tragedy that ended with 17 people dead and the accused killer, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, charged with murdering them. But who was Marjory Stoneman Douglas? Douglas, who died in 1998 at the age of 108, was a journalist and advocate of the women’s suffrage movement. She may be most well-known, however, for her efforts to save the Florida Everglades, which are not far from the school bearing her name. >> Read more trending news Below are some of the details from Douglas’ remarkable life. Marjory Stoneman, who was born in 1890 in Minneapolis, showed a tendency for excellence early on. According to the National Park Service, she graduated with a 4.0 GPA from Wellesley College, where she was elected “class orator.” Following a brief marriage to a man named Kenneth Douglas, she moved to Florida in 1915 to reunite with her father, Frank Stoneman, who she had not seen since she was a child. The first publisher of the Miami Herald, Stoneman hired his daughter as a society columnist.  Moving through various duties at the Herald, Douglas established herself as a noteworthy writer, the National Park Service said. It was as a journalist that she embraced activism, fighting for feminism, racial justice and conservation of nature.  It was around 1917 that Douglas took on a passionate role in advocating for the preservation of the Everglades. NPR reported that most people at the time considered the Everglades “a worthless swamp,” but Douglas disagreed.  “We have all these natural beauties and resources,” Douglas said in a 1981 NPR interview, when she was 91 years old. “Among all the states, there isn’t another state like it. And our great problem is to keep them as they are in spite of the tremendous increase of population of people who don’t necessarily understand the nature of Florida.” Douglas in 1947 published her book, “The Everglades: River of Grass,” described by the National Park Service as the “definitive description of the natural treasure she fought so hard to protect.” Later that year, she was an honored guest when President Harry Truman dedicated the Everglades National Park, according to the National Wildlife Federation.   In the 1950s, Douglas railed against a major project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a system of canals, levees, dams and pumping stations designed to protect marshland -- now used for agriculture and real estate -- from flooding. The National Park Service credits Douglas with fighting the destruction of the wetlands long before scientists realized the effects it would have on Florida’s ecosystem. In 1969, she founded the nonprofit Friends of the Everglades, which continues to fight for the wetlands today.  Co-author John Rothchild, in the introduction to Douglas’ autobiography, described watching her speak at a 1973 public meeting regarding a Corps of Engineers permit: “When she spoke, everybody stopped slapping (mosquitoes) and more or less came to order. She reminded us all of our responsibility to nature and I don’t remember what else. Her voice had the sobering effect of a one-room schoolmarm’s. The tone itself seemed to tame the rowdiest of the local stone crabbers, plus the developers and the lawyers on both sides. I wonder if it didn’t also intimidate the mosquitoes. The request for a Corps of Engineers permit was eventually turned down. This was no surprise to those of us who’d heard her speak.” Douglas was inducted into the National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame in 1999, and into the National Women’s Hall of Fame a year later.  When discussing the issue of mankind and humans’ attitude toward nature, Douglas pulled no punches. “I’ll tell you, the whole thing is an enormous battle between man’s intelligence and his stupidity,” she told NPR. “And I’m not at all sure that stupidity isn’t going to win out in the long run.” She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, by President Bill Clinton in 1993. She later donated the medal to Wellesley College.  On the same day she received the medal from President Clinton, Douglas was invited to witness the signing of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, commonly called the Brady Bill, according to the Daily Beast. The bill, named for Jim Brady, the press secretary critically injured during the 1981 attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, established a federal background check for those wanting to purchase a firearm. Cruz passed a background check in February 2017 when he legally bought the assault rifle used in last week’s massacre at Stoneman Douglas.