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Local Politics

    The email, sent from a Cobb Sheriff’s employee to the District Attorney’s office, sought volunteers for the Sheriff’s annual Corn Boilin’ event to raise money for the Cobb County Youth Museum. “This is a great opportunity to meet tons of folks and it is for a great cause!” it read. The great cause was, in fact, Sheriff Neil Warren himself. Emails, interviews and campaign finance records show Warren used the children’s charity to solicit volunteers and donations for a fundraiser that brought in thousands of dollars for his reelection effort, while neither he nor his campaign contributed anything directly to the nonprofit museum. Some of those volunteers and donors said they were unaware of the political nature of the event. Much of the organizing for the Corn Boilin’ was done by public employees working out of the Sheriff’s Office on county time, emails show. Documents also raise questions about the use of in-house services from the jail kitchen for food preparation and inmate labor for cleanup after the fundraiser. Warren’s campaign finances are currently under investigation by the state ethics commission. Subpoenas issued in the case strongly suggest the agency is looking at potential misuse of county resources. David Emadi, executive director of the commission, said the investigation limits his ability to comment substantively on details of the case. “That being said, the Commission is aware of the issues and questions raised by the AJC, and I am optimistic that our investigation will be concluded with a final resolution at our next Commission meeting in the Spring,” Emadi wrote in an email. Doug Chalmers, an attorney representing Warren’s campaign, said his client is cooperating with the state’s investigation and has asked ethics staff to “provide training for the Sheriff’s Office and the county staff to help ensure a clear understanding of what activities are permitted given the hybrid nature of this event.” “The sheriff is taking responsibility and working with the commission staff to ensure that there is complete separation between campaign and government activities,” he added. The campaign declined to address emails that suggest the use of the jail kitchen, on-duty deputies or inmate labor. For example, one deputy worked 17 hours the day of the event, he wrote in an email to a superior about his time card. “Clock out at 22:45 pm Monday for the corn boiling,” he wrote. “Clock in at 05:30 today have to go clean up at fair ground this morning with inmate detail.” The fundraiser was held in July at Jim Miller Park, otherwise known as the Cobb County fairgrounds. The Sheriff’s Office refused a request for documentation related to inmate work details the week of the Corn Boilin’, citing an exemption in Georgia’s Open Records law for sensitive security information. “It is our belief that these records … would reveal working locations, number of inmates and number of persons supervising each work detail,” wrote Commander Robert Quigley, who oversees Open Records compliance for the Sheriff’s Office. “Disclosing this information creates a risk to the safety and security of both inmates and those supervising the crews.” Quigley has also worked on the sheriff’s campaign, according to financial disclosures. Blurred lines Chalmers said the official Corn Boilin’ promotional materials, including the invitations and reservation form, clearly indicate that it was a campaign fundraiser that also benefits the museum. But much of the messaging that went out on email and social media only mentioned the museum. Those promotions included fliers posted by the sheriff’s Facebook page, which is operated by county staff, according to a recent legal settlement. When Cobb District Attorney Joyette Holmes saw the request for Corn Boilin’ volunteers, she encouraged her subordinates to participate, emails show. In response to a request for comment, Holmes wrote in a statement that she supports staff participation in “community and civic events.” “My understanding is that the Corn Boilin benefits children through the Cobb Youth Museum,” Holmes said. Commissioner Keli Gambrill said she did not know that ticket proceeds went to the Sheriff’s campaign when she responded to an invitation to volunteer at the event from the county manager’s executive assistant. That email did not mention the sheriff’s reelection campaign either. “I looked at it as just a way of serving my community and getting out and meeting my constituents,” she said. “All I knew was that annually the sheriff had a corn boil and that it was a big event and it had been going on for a long time.” A county spokesman said the employee sent the email “During a break from her normal duties.” Mayfield Ice Cream was listed as an official sponsor of the event on a prominent banner displayed there. A spokesperson for Dean Foods Company, which owns Mayfield Ice Cream, said it was approached about providing ice cream and other dairy products for purchase while also matching that purchase with donated product, which it did. “In the case of this event, our intention was to support efforts to benefit the Cobb County Youth Museum,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “Nothing in the request inferred that the donated product would be considered a political contribution or endorsement for the candidate.” The company said it “strongly discourages” the use of company funds for political contributions. Despite its donation, Mayfield is not listed as an “in kind” contributor on Warren’s campaign finance disclosures. Email: “I have everything in house” Two weeks before the event, the food service director at the Cobb jail sent a message from his official email account to Sheriff Neil Warren’s assistant at her Cobb County government email address. “Just wanted to let you know that I have everything in house for the Corn Boil, except for Hot Dog Buns they will be in on Friday,” he wrote. “We will bake the corn bread the day of and have it ready, early the morning of the [Corn Boilin’].” Summit Food Service, the private company that runs the jail kitchen, did not respond to questions about the email or the implied use of county facilities. The company is listed as an “in kind” contributor on the sheriff’s most recent campaign filings. “This past July, as we have done in the past, we used [company] funds to provide hot dogs, corn bread and utensils for a fundraiser benefiting the Youth Museum,” Summit said in an emailed statement. When it bid for the contract in 2015, Summit highlighted its support for the Corn Boilin’ in its response to the county’s request for proposals. “For the last 4 years, we have sponsored the paper products for Sheriff Warren’s Corn Boilin’ Fundraiser for the Cobb County Youth Museum,” the company’s pitch reads. Summit won the contract, which has been extended several times since. Cobb taxpayers have paid the company $6.9 million over the past two years for services at the jail. “No money came directly … from the campaign” In July, Warren stood on stage at the Corn Boilin’ and announced he would stand for office again in 2020, before presenting a giant novelty check for $10,000 to the museum in his own name. Chalmers said the sheriff solicited donations directly to the museum “in connection with” the Corn Boilin’, and therefore it was not misleading to claim that a portion of the proceeds from the event went to the charity. “No money came directly to the youth museum from the campaign because the $10,000 commitment had been met,” Chalmers said. Nor did Warren donate personally, according to a list of donors provided by the attorney. Chalmers said in years past, the campaign has made up the difference when $10,000 could not be raised from other donors. In 2018, Warren’s campaign donated $1,075 to the museum, according to financial disclosure reports. The year before, it gave $600. In a statement, the youth museum expressed gratitude for all its donors over the years, but did not respond to specific questions about its decision to partner with a political campaign. Chalmers would not say how much the most recent Corn Boilin’ raised for the sheriff’s campaign. According to Warren’s campaign finance disclosures, he collected $35,000 over the period that included the fundraiser, including about $6,000 in small donations. Tickets to the event, which was attended by hundreds of people, sell for $25 and do not have to be itemized in the report. As for the emails from sheriff’s employees and others promoting the event as a charitable fundraiser, Chalmers said: “Neither the Sheriff nor the campaign are responsible for what individuals sent out in their emails.” The investigation Over the summer, The AJC reported on extensive irregularities in the sheriff’s campaign finances, which were under investigation by the state ethics commission. Since then, the commission has filed a formal complaint filed against Warren alleging he misspent nearly $20,000 in campaign funds. It also issued five subpoenas targeting the sheriff’s campaign and public office, including employee schedules for the month of July going back several years. In December, the ethics commission rejected the sheriff’s bid to quash four out of five of those subpoenas. The campaign has dropped its objection to the fifth, which was to be decided in Cobb Superior Court, according to Emadi, the ethics director. Emadi said Wednesday that Warren’s campaign has “fully complied with all lawfully issued subpoenas” and turned over the relevant records. The next ethics commission meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 23.
  • Georgia Republicans applauded President Donald Trump for his mostly upbeat State of the Union address on Tuesday, saying it is important to celebrate the successes of his first term. “It was really important to hear about these accomplishments  in terms of record unemployment and lifting so many Americans out of poverty,” U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler said. Georgia’s newest senator said Trump also deserved his victory lap over the number of conservatives appointed to federal judgeships and efforts to protect the Second Amendment. She also enjoyed points throughout the speech where the president highlighted members of the Armed Forces. “I think the focus on America’s heroes was really important to remind everyone that people are making sacrifices so that we can live this life of security and peace and prosperity,” Loeffler said. U.S. Rep. Jody Hice said he was glad to hear highlights about the economy and foreign policy, but he was also inspired by Trump’s focus on religious freedoms. “It’s very difficult for me to understand how people could hear this speech and the vision and the accomplishments and  the direction we're going in and not unify as Americans to say: this is good,” Hice, a Monroe Republican, said. While Republicans heaped praise on Trump’s third State of the Union addresses, Democrats were far more critical. Some gasped audibly when Trump said he supported healthcare and coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions, noting after the speech that the president and Republicans in Congress had worked to dismantle the Affordable Care Act that ensured these protections. As Trump concluded, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was spotted tearing her copy of his prepared remarks in half. Later, she called it a “manifesto of mistruths presented in page after page.”  Other Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson skipped the event all together. Johnson, a Democrat from Lithonia, said he has stayed away from all of Trump’s addresses in the House chamber to protest a president he doesn’t consider legitimate. “I don’t want to hear a lot of lies being told, a lot of puffing going on,” Johnson said. “And I really don’t have the stomach for it.” U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, also has made a habit of boycotting Trump’s speeches and was not spotted Tuesday night, although his office did not confirm whether he decided not to attend. There some points in the president’s speech that drew bipartisan applause, such as when he referenced criminal justice reform or recognized guests in the gallery while telling their moving personal stories. But more often the speech was punctuated by cheers from the side of the room where Republicans sat while Democrats were silent. U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter described the address as “Reagan-esque,” a nod to former Republican President Ronald Reagan. “It was all about prosperity,” the Pooler Republican said. “It was about optimism and an economic boom, middle-class boom, a blue-collar boom.” As he spoke, Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore from Wisconsin who was nearby shook her head in disagreement. She reminded Carter that Democrats were frustrated because they felt like Trump exaggerated his record throughout the speech. Carter replied that Congress needs to put partisanship aside. “This is not about Republicans or Democrats,” he said. “This is about Americans.” More State of the Union reaction from Georgia Republicans: “Tonight, the President laid out an optimistic vision for our country that continues to build on the successes of the past three years. We will continue working together to find solutions for our country’s biggest challenges: immigration, infrastructure, the opioid epidemic, the human trafficking crisis, and prescription drug pricing. I believe in the President’s agenda, and I’m committed to helping him deliver even more results for Georgians and the American people.” -- U.S. Sen. David Perdue “President Trump laid out a strong vision for our country that should encourage every American. With unemployment at a 50-year low and job creation at an all-time high, our booming economy is opening the door to new opportunities and bringing forward a renewed spirit of optimism for all Americans.” -- U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville “The President has kept his promise to deliver America-first trade deals, and has taken much-needed steps to secure our southern border and keep our homeland safe. Many would prefer to turn a blind eye to these successes due to partisan disagreements. But a successful President means a successful nation.” -- U.S. Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger “This evening, President Trump reiterated that the state of our union is strong – our economy continues to grow, more Americans are back to work, our military remains the best fighting force in the world, and U.S. workers, farmers, and businesses have a more level playing field in our global markets. America is thriving, and new opportunities abound for Americans across our great country.' -- U.S. Rep. Austin Scott of Tifton
  • Atlanta Public Schools would no longer recognize Columbus Day as a school holiday under a proposed calendar change. The move would be largely symbolic, since the district would instead give students and staff the same day off for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Both days fall on Oct. 12, 2020. APS has historically marked the holiday on its calendars as Columbus Day, but the board on Monday signaled unanimous support to change the holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. A vote to finalize the change and make it official is expected at an upcoming board meeting. The shift follows a trend in some places to rename the federal holiday that honors Italian explorer Christopher Columbus. Nationally, activists have called for the holiday to be renamed, contending it celebrates colonialism and overlooks mistreatment of Native Americans. A handful of states have renamed the holiday. During Monday’s school board meeting, Chairman Jason Esteves said there are historical figures “we learn [about] and sometimes honor a little too much.” “We’d prefer to learn about them versus honor them, and Christopher Columbus is one of them,” he said.
  • ATL Plus, the company that was supposed to end overly aggressive parking enforcement in the City of Atlanta, has generated a wave of complaints that its practices are just as bad — if not worse — than predecessor ParkAtlanta. The Better Business Bureau of Metro Atlanta took more than 40 complaints into consideration before giving the firm a rare “F” rating. Those complaints include the company processing payments but not giving credit for them, leaving tickets on vehicles before meters expired and unresponsive customer service that contributed to fines doubling. Mike Boynton, a senior vice president for the BBB, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a very small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of businesses the nonprofits it rates in a 47-county Metro area receive “F” ratings. “The allegations are disconcerting, and the City is taking a very serious look into the matter,” said Michael Smith, a spokesman for Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. ATL Plus, run by Chicago-based SP Plus Parking, provides parking enforcement, meter maintenance, collection and citation processing services for the city. The Atlanta City Council approved a five-year contract with SP Plus in late 2016. Its terms guarantee that the city receives a minimum of $7 million each year from the $13.5 million in estimated fine revenue. At the time, former Mayor Kasim Reed said the deal “signals a new chapter in a customer-based approach for efficiency for our residents and guests.” Reed promised the move would eliminate the frustration often associated with finding and paying for parking in a busy urban city. ParkAtlanta’s enforcement practices provoked similar complaints to those made against ATL Plus. Dozens of complaints filed against ATL Plus with the BBB claim that the company often makes it difficult to pay fines until after they double, issues duplicate citations and refuses to respond to phone calls and emails. One complaint called ATL Plus a “shady company that preys upon citizens of Atlanta.” Another said the company is “clearly engaging in fraudulent activity … and trying to extract money through fraudulent means.” M. Bud Willis, 55, told the AJC that five weeks ago he paid a parking fee through an online app before heading into Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Midtown to have dinner with his wife. The couple left with time still on the meter and yet an ATL Plus employee was standing by his truck issuing him a citation. He said he showed the parking attendant that the license plate number he had entered into the app was off by one number. “She said, ‘I still have to write you a ticket because it’s not correct,” Willis said. “It was a typo.” Christopher Casey, 31, told the AJC that a couple of years ago he was issued a $25 ticket for parking to close to a cross walk. He said that after about a week his wife, Lauren, tried to pay the ticket daily, but couldn’t locate it on the ATL Plus website until a day or two after the fine doubled. Casey said the couple called and emailed ATL Plus multiple times but received no response. They eventually paid the fine to avoid the hassle. A spokesperson listed for SP Plus in Chicago did not return a voice message from the AJC. A message left on the main number for ATL Plus in Atlanta also wasn’t returned. Boynton said ATL Plus declined to respond to questions from the BBB about why the company represented its address as that of the city’s Municipal Court, and if it was affiliated with agencies or companies other than the city. Boynton said ATL Plus received the “F” rating in September. If you’ve had a problem with ATL Plus, please contact stephen.deere@ajc.com.
  • Hala Moddelmog, the first woman to serve as CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber in its 160-year history, announced plans Tuesday to step down after six years at the helm. Under Moddelmog, the influential business association confronted social issues of concern to businesses, such as religious liberty legislation; helped rally lawmakers for new funding to address traffic congestion; and invested in attracting young and diverse professionals and startups. The chamber, whose members include Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Home Depot and other major companies, shapes a regional agenda that affects virtually every person in metro Atlanta. “There’s a time for new blood to come in, a younger generation,” Moddelmog told the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview. “I like this idea that the next generation gets ingrained in the business community.” Moddelmog is a former president of Church’s Chicken and Arby’s and former CEO of the breast cancer foundation Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Moddelmog joined the chamber as president and CEO in January 2014 and will continue to serve until a successor is named. Cousins Properties Chairman Larry Gellerstedt will lead a CEO search. The region is enjoying record low unemployment and sustained job growth, but the chamber’s new leader will be tasked with tackling income inequality, workforce development and any future economic slowdown. Moddelmog said she will continue to serve on the boards of publicly traded companies, and she may be a consultant to other businesses. In her next chapter, she said she wants to address economic immobility. “I’d like to work on one thing in the community and go pretty deep on it,” she said. “Everybody knows a lot of the issues in Atlanta around economic mobility and the things that keep us from being all that we can be.” In her tenure, the chamber helped recruit the headquarters of Mercedes-Benz USA to Sandy Springs and Norfolk Southern to Midtown and major expansions by Honeywell, BlackRock, Starbucks and Pandora. The chamber invested in helping existing companies expand and nurtured startups, seeing these two segments as means to grow jobs and investment. The chamber launched Project Plato, a program to expand inclusive innovation and funding for companies founded by women and people of color. The chamber also launched its ChooseATL campaign to recruit young professionals — first millennials and then Gen-Z — to start their careers and companies in metro Atlanta, leveraging the region’s entertainment, arts, food and culture. “Hala has demonstrated strong, highly effective leadership and governed with integrity,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a statement. ‘You have to build these relationships’ When Moddelmog started, the region’s economy was rebounding, but unemployment remained high. Metro Atlanta’s regional ties were being tested by pushes for cityhood. The chamber also was coming off a pair of bruising episodes that dented its credibility: a failed push in 2012 for a regional transportation sales tax referendum and its support of Atlanta Public Schools’ leadership following revelations by the AJC of rampant cheating on standardized tests. But the chamber regained its footing, mending ties with lawmakers and other Atlanta area business groups. The chamber backed a successful MARTA expansion campaign in Clayton County, and voters’ approved an increase in the city of Atlanta sales tax to support billions in future MARTA projects. The chamber also helped shape legislation for the metropolitan Atlanta transit oversight entity known as Atlanta Transit Link Authority. A business-backed push to expand MARTA into Gwinnett County failed last year, though the matter is likely to go before voters again. A coalition of business and social groups, including the chamber, helped fend off religious liberty legislation that critics said could be used to discriminate against LGBTQ residents and damage Georgia’s reputation. A religious liberty bill passed in 2016, but critics helped persuade then-Gov. Nathan Deal to veto the measure. Kemp has promised to support a version of the legislation modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Moddelmog said the chamber’s policy team, led by Katie Kirkpatrick, Marshall Guest and Dave Williams, helped strengthen the group’s ties under the Gold Dome. The chamber’s who’s-who board of metro Atlanta CEOs dedicated themselves to make the chamber’s priorities happen, Moddelmog said. “Larry would say to us, ‘You can’t just go down there when you don’t like something. You can’t just go down there when you’re saying no,’” said Moddelmog, referring to Cousins chairman Larry Gellerstedt. “’You have to go down there when you’re saying yes. You have to build these relationships.’” The chamber also played key roles in hosting the College Football Playoff National Championship game and last year’s Super Bowl. The city will soon hold the NCAA Men’s Final Four and is gunning for World Cup matches in 2026. Demographic shifts loom Looking ahead, the chamber must navigate the broader population becoming more diverse as boomers edge toward retirement, Gen-Xers and millennials take on leadership roles and Gen-Z professionals enter the workforce. The chamber, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, United Way and the Atlanta Regional Commission addressed regional workforce development, created a student achievement program called Learn4Life and Neighborhood Nexus, a population data tool for the Atlanta region. The chamber’s next leader “needs to be someone who is a realist about the very positive aspects of this region and about what we need to change and can make better, not someone who pretends these don’t exist,” said Alicia Philipp, president of the community foundation. Moddelmog said she wants the chamber to build upon efforts launched in recent years to address a lack of support and financing that women entrepreneurs and founders of color receive compared to tech firms led by white male executives. Russell Stokes, president and CEO of GE Power said he was impressed by Moddelmog’s ability to engage local leaders for frank conversations about inclusion. Stokes said he hopes Moddelmog’s successor takes up that mantle. “She’s the glue or the connection between a lot of different groups,” he said.
  • Bryan Simmons has a love-hate relationship with the bike lanes in Decatur. A Decatur resident since 2002, he is an active cyclist who rides for physical fitness. But when he drives his car through downtown Decatur, the city’s new bike lanes have made his commute horrible, he said. Like many, Simmons has recently wondered if city leaders have created a new problem by trying to fix an old one. “Is it progress that I can’t reasonably drive through my own community?” Simmons said. “In order to make space for the new, deluxe bike lanes, my street has been mangled and choked to the point where it’s too much trouble to try going anywhere in one direction most days.” More than three years into its effort to separate bikes from cars on streets, widen sidewalks and reduce lanes for car traffic, Decatur faces a reckoning. Among communities in metro Atlanta, it’s one of the most aggressive pushers of bike lanes. But many residents say it’s made traffic congestion noticeably worse. The issue could come to a head in the coming weeks as Decatur holds citizen roundtables to formulate its 2030 strategic plan — and weigh whether to expand the bike-friendly drive or hit the brakes. Many more towns will soon face the same dilemma, including Atlanta, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, as they put in their own bike paths, wider sidewalks and improved crosswalk markings. Will residents accept the hassle in exchange for better safety for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as perceived improvements to livability? Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett, who is pro-bike, said her city is trying to influence a shift in attitudes, which may take some time. “Hopefully as the children and youth grow up, they will be accustomed to hopping on something other than always in a car,” she said. Decatur’s bike lanes emerged from its last strategic plan, promoted heavily by former city councilman Fred Boykin (whose shop, Bicycle South, closed in July 2019). The city officially adopted the PATH Foundation’s connectivity plan in 2016, designed to connect its city streets to PATH’s existing network of 600 miles of multiuse paths and protected bike lanes. The city is adding or has added marked bike lanes and paths, wider sidewalks and other streetscape improvements, like better-marked crosswalks, to major arteries Church Street, Commerce Drive and McDonough Street. It also has removed some car lanes. The “road diet,” estimated to cost $20 million to $25 million, also includes traffic-calming features like raised intersections and speed tables and reconfiguring traffic flow by replacing some directional automobile lanes with turning lanes. Decatur recently painted the bike paths bright green, in both solid and dashed patterns, to indicate traffic rules for bikes, pedestrians and cars. Decatur expects to finalize its strategic plan this fall and combine it with its state-mandated comprehensive plan. Georgia cities must approve 10-year comprehensive plans to qualify for certain financial programs from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, said Davia Rose Lassiter, an agency spokeswoman. The plans reflect a city’s policy goals but don’t themselves carry legal weight. It’s still very much a work in progress. “There’s always a sense of bike-lash,” said Tonio Andrade, co-founder of the Decatur Bicycle Coalition. “People are complaining a lot about increased traffic and they’re blaming bike lanes for this.” Resident Charles McKinney said city planners made numerous mistakes in reconfiguring streets for car traffic — and that he regularly sees bike groups ignore traffic rules. “Packs of bike riders routinely run red lights and don’t slow or stop at posted intersections,” McKinney said. Decatur resident Ed Jacobson observed that while the city is trying to discourage car usage, it has also approved new multifamily residential developments that come with multistory parking decks. A mixed-use development called 120 West Trinity that is under construction includes a large parking deck. Its location already sees 12,300 cars per day, according to real estate data provider LoopNet. “The additional apartments and condos in the central business district will probably generate more automobile traffic than we now experience,” Jacobson said. Melissa McNamara, a spokeswoman for Atlanta-based Cousins Properties, one of the developers of 120 West Trinity, declined to comment. Population growth has also likely played a role in traffic congestion. The city of Decatur’s population rose 31% to 25,732 from 2010 to 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. City officials did not formally study the impact that the new bike lanes would have on traffic in the downtown district, said Hugh Saxon, deputy city manager. But a 2016 report found that traffic volumes rose 23% along portions of Commerce Drive, and 20% on East Ponce de Leon Avenue, two major streets, between 2011 and 2015. The city hopes the new lanes will eventually encourage more people to replace their car trips with bike rides, possibly alleviating traffic in the long run. Another primary goal is to make the streets safer for pedestrians. Pedestrian safety has become a pressing issue nationwide, after 7,140 pedestrians and cyclists were killed in the U.S. in traffic crashes in 2018, the highest level since 1990, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In Decatur, some of the intersections set to receive bike lanes saw the highest number of accidents involving vehicles, bikes and pedestrians that resulted in injuries. Three intersections on Commerce Drive were identified as some of the most dangerous in the city, according to data from 2015 to 2017, the most-recent figures available. They saw a total of 45 accidents with injuries over the three-year period. “To the extent we can slow traffic down, I think we are providing a safer environment,” Saxon said. Many other local communities have the same goal. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms last year announced a $5 million plan to triple the city’s network of protected bike lanes. But a pop-up bike lane installed in Midtown last month, part of the mayor’s program, was criticized for causing traffic problems. Sandy Springs wants to use federal funding to cover most of the cost of a north-south extension of PATH trails to the Perimeter, where it could connect with its own bike paths and those planned in Dunwoody. Nearby Roswell has an active program to encourage bikes for physical fitness and recreation. Peachtree City has more than 100 miles of multiuse trails, many of which were built as part of the city’s original plan. Unlike Decatur, however, most of Peachtree City’s bike paths are physically separated from auto traffic and don’t run through the center of town. Outside Georgia, bicycle commuting has become a routine part of life. In Portland, Ore., commuter railroad trains include hooks to hang bicycles. The city of Davis, Calif., has more bikes per capita than any city in the U.S., and bike-parking corrals are spread across town, according to Mobility Lab. About 1,500 city or counties nationwide have adopted the Complete Streets standards for bike and pedestrian safety, typically seeing safety improvements soon afterward, according to Steve Davis, a spokesman for Smart Growth America. “The point is increasing safety for people already walking and biking,” Davis said. Bike lanes may inconvenience motorists in Decatur during the morning and evening rush hours, said Doug Eidle, who has lived in Decatur for 25 years. But they make too much sense otherwise, he said. “It’s significantly slowed traffic and made everyone safer,” Eidle said.
  • Congressman Doug Collins, who is one of President Trump’s biggest defenders, wants to challenge United States Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by Governor Brian Kemp. Collins applied for the job, but Kemp chose Loeffler instead to replace retiring Senator Johnny Isakson. “It just makes people make some pretty difficult choices,” said WSB Political Analyst Bill Crane of a potential race between Collins and Loeffler in the November special election. Do they support the president, or do they support the governor? The political dynamics are fascinating. It could create a potential nightmare for Republicans, if Democrats put up a united candidate, while Loeffler and Collins split the GOP vote. In that scenario, “The Republican Party could very well lose that seat,” Crane said. Candidates from all parties will appear on the same ballot in the election, unless state lawmakers create a partisan primary. Governor Kemp is promising to veto any effort to end the so-called “jungle primary.” Collins is working with Democrats in the Georgia legislature and Republican House Speaker David Ralston to have the rules changed to a partisan primary. Atlanta’s Evening News host WSB’s Erick Erickson said that may not be a good idea. “Collins is going to fracture the Republican party,” Erickson said. Kemp was hoping the GOP would be united behind Loeffler in the race to fill the remaining two years of Isakson’s seat, but it’s shaping up to be anything but that for Republicans. “It will make a very interesting and spirited open primary race, and will divide the Georgia Republican party base,” Crane said.  As for who might be favored between Collins and Loeffler, Crane gives the edge to Collins, who has been a vocal defender of President Trump during the impeachment process. “Activist Republicans, who are most likely to show up and participate and vote early, are going to be leaning in support of their president and Doug Collins,” Crane said.  It remains to be seen how many Democrats will enter the race. So far, entrepreneur Matt Lieberman and federal prosecutor Ed Tarver have said they will run. The Rev. Rafael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church is also considering a run. However, infighting among Republicans may encourage a higher profile candidate to get into the race. “This will put pressure on Stacey Abrams, in particular, to give another look at running for that seat,” Crane said. Democrats were already eyeing Georgia with two U.S. Senate races up for grabs. Republican Senator David Perdue is also up for re-election.
  • The Atlanta City Council on Tuesday approved a resolution calling on state lawmakers to repeal a prohibition on cities and counties to impose rent controls. The measure is merely a request and has no binding effect. But it notes that affordable housing is a critical need in the city and that from May 2013 to May 2019, the median rent for a one-bedroom rental unit increased just over $1,100 per month to over $1,600 per month. The resolution was sponsored by Councilman Antonio Brown.
  • Georgia’s Chris Carr is among 21 state attorneys general who have filed a letter describing House Democrats’ attempt to impeach President Donald Trump as unconstitutional. The letter filed to the U.S. Senate encourages its members to dismiss the charges and clear Trump of any wrongdoing. “This impeachment proceeding threatens all future elections and establishes a dangerous historical precedent,” the attorneys general wrote. The 14-page letter lays out a legal argument against impeachment and is essentially a “friend of the court” brief filed when a person or entity is not part of a case but asks to weigh in with additional information or insight. In addition to Carr, Republican attorneys general from the following states signed the letter: South Carolina, Louisiana, Utah, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. It accuses House Democrats of impeaching Trump for partisan reasons and says the rationale behind the two charges the president faces is weak and contrary to the vision of the Founding Fathers. Read the entire letter on the Republican Attorneys General Association website.
  • The Fort McPherson redevelopment authority has approved a $3.5 million buyout of its former lead developer, putting an end to his plans for a residential and commercial project that promised to be a major economic boon on Atlanta’s southside. The board of the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority approved the deal late last month with developer Stephen Macauley after a nearly three year relationship and months of acrimony. Terms were made public Thursday as part of board discussion of the authority’s audit. The board had voted in October to cut ties with Macauley. The break-up was expected to cost several million dollars under the terms of Macauley’s contract, including for his work on a master plan. In a news release, the authority said it “appreciates Macauley and its team’s commitment to excellence and their more than two years of working with the community.” Macauley declined to comment. Fort Mac closed in 2011, delivering an economic blow to nearby neighborhoods already ravaged by the foreclosure crisis and the Great Recession. In 2015, the authority acquired the 488-acre site from the Army and sold 330 acres to filmmaker Tyler Perry, who has since developed a sprawling movie studio. Macauley was named the developer for the remaining 145 acres of the former Army post in May 2017. He and partners proposed to develop about 2,500 residences, offices, shops, lodging, restaurants and a performing arts center under a long-term land lease. But relations between Macauley and the authority, also known as Fort Mac LRA, grew strained. In February, Macauley and Fort Mac LRA appeared to be on the cusp of a new development deal, but the relationship devolved into allegations by each side that the other was in default. The allegations contained some racial overtones. Macauley asserted in an email that he’d been told an adviser to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had said Macauley was being “coddled” because he is white. Fort Mac LRA’s former executive director also expressed doubts about Macauley’s financial wherewithal. Macauley, meanwhile, alleged the agency had strung him along with needless delays and altered deal terms. Representatives of the city also approached Perry about taking on the project amid tensions with Macauley. Last summer, Macauley urged the authority board to stick with him, and he eventually added David Moody, the leader of one of the Atlanta area’s largest minority-owned construction companies, as a new partner in a bid to salvage a deal. In August, Fort Mac LRA sold a former command building for $17 million to a different developer, Easterly Government Properties, for a future U.S. Food and Drug Administration facility. The buyout includes a $1 million payment to Macauley related to the FORSCOM building under a term in his contract known as an “excluded property fee.” The sale to Easterly made the FORSCOM building unavailable for Macauley to develop, triggering the clause. Fort Mac LRA continues to seek a new executive director and the authority remains at odds with the city over debt the city says is due following the sale of the FORSCOM building.

News

  • Singer Harry Styles was unharmed after being robbed at knifepoint Friday night in London, authorities said. Styles, 26, the former One Direction band member, released “Fine Line,” his second solo album in December. He was approached by a man with a knife who “demanded cash,” E! News reported. London police officials confirmed they were investigating a knifepoint robbery in the Hampstead area of London, the BBC reported. Police said no arrests had been made and that an investigation was ongoing, the network reported. Earlier Friday, Styles stopped by “The Zoe Ball Breakfast Show” to cover Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” New Musical Express reported.
  • Ricky Leo Davis, who was convicted nearly 15 years ago of the murder of a newspaper columnist, has become the first California inmate to be exonerated by genetic genealogy, the same technology that identified the alleged Golden State Killer in April 2018. Davis, 54, was released Thursday from the El Dorado County Jail in Placerville after the same DNA evidence that proved he did not kill his housemate, Jane Anker Hylton, in July 1985, pointed to another man as the killer. Hylton, a 54-year-old mother and columnist for the Foothills Times, was stabbed 29 times and suffered a bite mark on her left shoulder, according to authorities. Saliva from that bite mark would ultimately solve the case. Davis, who was convicted in the 20-year-old case in August 2005, is the second inmate in U.S. history to be freed using genetic genealogy, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “Simply put, Ricky Leo Davis did not kill Jane Hylton,” El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said. Pierson announced the latest development in Davis’ case during a news conference Thursday. He also announced the arrest of the new suspect, who the Sacramento Bee identified as 51-year-old Michael Eric Green. CBS Sacramento reported Green was arrested outside his Roseville home, where neighbors said he’d spent much of his life living with and caring for his parents. Green was one of three young men Hylton’s then-13-year-old daughter told investigators she’d met in a park the night her mother was slain. She identified the boys by first names only: Calvin, Michael and a third boy named either Steve or Brian. Green, who was a juvenile when Hylton was killed, was arrested Tuesday in Placer County. He was booked Friday into the El Dorado County Jail on a murder charge, according to jail records. Pierson said the other two boys Hylton’s daughter named the morning her mother’s body was discovered have also been tracked down. One has since died and the other is cooperating with the investigation. The prosecutor said the new developments in the murder case were “two of the most dramatic extremes” he’d experienced in his 28 years on the job. “On one hand, a person, Ricky Davis, was falsely accused, brought to trial, convicted and has spent the last 15-some years in custody for a crime that I can tell you, in all confidence, he did not commit,” the prosecutor said. “It’s not a matter of we don’t have sufficient evidence to move forward on it or to proceed to a new trial. “In all confidence, he did not commit this crime. He is not responsible.” A brutal crime Davis, who was 20 when Hylton, 54, was killed, called police shortly after midnight July 7, 1985, after he and his girlfriend at the time, Connie Dahl, found Hylton’s body in the home they had just begun sharing, according to the Northern California Innocence Project. The home, located in El Dorado Hills, belonged to Davis’ grandmother, who the day before had allowed Hylton, who was her employee, and Hylton’s daughter to move in because the columnist was having marital trouble. “Davis and Dahl told detectives they had gone to a party the night before and returned home at 3:30 a.m., where they found Hylton’s daughter waiting outside,” the organization’s synopsis of Davis’ case reads. “She told them that she had gone out with a group of boys that night and was afraid her mother would be upset with her for being out too late. The three entered the house together. “Davis saw blood in the hallway outside the master bedroom and found Hylton’s body on the bed. Davis and Dahl immediately called 911 to report the crime.” Hylton’s estranged husband was cleared of the crime and the case eventually went cold. Fourteen years later, in November 1999, cold case detectives with the El Dorado Sheriff’s Office reopened the investigation and brought in Dahl for questioning. “The detectives interrogated Dahl four times over the next 18 months using techniques known to increase the chances of false confessions,” the case synopsis says. “Dahl ultimately changed her story for police and implicated Davis as the killer. She also implicated herself in the crime, telling the police that she bit the victim during the attack.” In addition, Dahl claimed Hylton’s daughter helped the couple move her mother’s body. Based nearly entirely on Dahl’s new claims, Davis was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison, the synopsis states. Dahl, meanwhile, received a sentence of a year in county jail for her purported role in the crime. The Northern California Innocence Project became involved in Davis’ case in 2006, opening its own investigation into Hylton’s murder. With the cooperation of Pierson’s office, Davis’ attorneys sought DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene, including the victim’s nightgown and scrapings taken from under her fingernails. The testing found a man’s DNA on the nightgown in the area of the bite mark, the synopsis says. DNA found under the victim’s fingernails matched the sample from nightgown. “The test results excluded Davis, Dahl and Hylton’s daughter as the sources of the DNA,” according to the case synopsis. “The unknown male DNA profile found on the nightgown indicated that Dahl did not bite the victim, contrary to her testimony at trial.” Innocence Project attorneys went to court with the new evidence, successfully arguing in 2018 that the evidence would have likely resulted in a different outcome at Davis’ trial. Davis’ conviction was overturned on April 15, 2019, but prosecutors initially intended to retry him for Hylton’s slaying. Instead, Pierson’s office teamed up with the Sacramento County Crime Lab to use genetic genealogy to trace the unknown DNA to potential family members who had submitted their own genetic profiles to public websites. The process led detectives and prosecutors to Green. ‘Aggressive confession-driven interrogation tactics’ Pierson on Thursday highlighted the interrogation tactics he said led to Davis’ arrest and conviction more than two decades after Hylton was killed. In a court hearing at which Davis was officially set free, the prosecutor described Dahl’s questioning by two now-retired investigators as “aggressive, confession-driven interrogation.” In a snippet of Dahl’s interrogation transcript shared by Pierson’s office via video, a detective urged her to be the first to talk in the case. “So the train is coming through right now and, in my experience in law enforcement, the first one to jump on the bandwagon always gets the, always gets the easiest ride,” the unnamed detective said. “Right,” Dahl responded. Watch a video about the Jane Hylton case below. Editor’s note: The video contains crime scene footage that may be too graphic for some viewers. The detective then brought up the bite mark on the victim’s left shoulder. “…whether Ricky brings it on you or you bring it on somebody else, have you ever been the type of person that, during a fight, you know, whether you scratch, hit, punch, have you ever bitten someone? Do you ever bite?” the detective asked. “I’ve bitten some,” Dahl responded. “I’ve bitten a couple of times. Yeah.” The next snippet shows Dahl saying she didn’t know if she’d bitten Hylton. “I don’t know if … I don’t believe that I have it in me to help do this,” she said. Eventually, Dahl confessed to biting Hylton and said Davis killed her. Dahl died in 2014, the Bee reported. Watch Thursday’s news conference announcing Ricky Davis’ exoneration below. According to the newspaper, which covered Davis’ hearing Thursday, Pierson told El Dorado Superior Court Judge Kenneth J. Melekian that the DNA evidence exonerating Davis led his office to go over the murder case again as though it had never been solved instead of trying to prove Davis was the killer. When Melekian turned toward Davis a short time later, he declared him “factually innocent.” Davis and his attorneys were emotional following the hearing, the Bee reported. One Innocence Project lawyer, Melissa O’Connell, thanked Davis for his “tremendous strength and resilience, and never giving up hope,” the newspaper said. Davis, who emerged from the jail shortly after 3 p.m., walked into a crowd of about two dozen family members and Innocence Project staff. They hugged him and welcomed him back into the outside world. “God bless the Innocence Project,” Davis said as he held up a T-shirt from the organization. Both his own lawyers and Pierson said Davis will likely be financially compensated for the time he wrongfully spent in prison. According to The Associated Press, that compensation, under California law, would equal $750,000, or $140 for each day he spent behind bars. Pierson talked after the fact about meeting face-to-face with Davis a few nights before his release. “It’s an interesting conversation, to meet with someone as a prosecutor and realize that this person has, in fact, been falsely accused, convicted and incarcerated,” Pierson said. “He said a number of things. He knew that we had made a commitment that we would follow up on it.” He said Davis referenced the amount of time it had taken to free him since the DNA evidence first indicated his innocence in 2014. “I had to tell him, in all candor, if this investigation had moved forward years ago, the technology did not exist, the techniques did not exist that were employed in this case to unwind it the way that we were able to do it now,” Pierson said. “I wish it had occurred sooner, that we could have gotten him out of custody sooner. The practical reality is it’s only been the past year and a half, two years that genetic genealogy to identify someone in these circumstances has been in existence.” O’Connell said she and her colleagues believed in Davis’ innocence since they took on the case, both because of his own claims and what they believe were coercive interrogation methods. She said it was amazing how composed Davis remained in court Thursday. “I asked him, ‘Did you ever think this day would come?’ and he said, ‘Yes.’” O’Connell said. “He never gave up hope, and he trusted that the system would undo this wrongful conviction.” Watch Pierson and O’Connell discuss Thursday’s developments below, courtesy of the Bee. © 2020 © 2020 Cox Media Group
  • A California man is accused of entering a home, where the residents said he was making scrambled eggs and eating flan while not wearing pants, authorities said. Carl Cimino, 61, of Desert Hot Springs, was booked into the Riverside County Jail on a charge of residential burglary Tuesday morning, according to arrest records. According to police, three people woke up at their home around 7:30 a.m. and heard banging and yelling in the kitchen. They found Cimino making scrambled eggs with bologna and ranch dressing and eating flan, The Desert Sun reported. According to deputies, Cimino was not wearing pants and refused to leave the residence, the newspaper reported. Deputies finally were able to remove Cimino after using a police service dog, according to the arrest report. Cimino was placed on a gurney and removed from the home by paramedics, according to The Desert Sun. According to jail records, Cimino was free on bail after being arrested Jan. 23 on a drug-related accusation, the newspaper reported. The home’s residents said they were not hurt and there was no damage. They believe Cimino entered the home through an unlocked door, according to The Desert Sun.
  • Nearly all the employees at Orlando’s religious theme park, Holy Land Experience, will lose their jobs this spring. A document sent to the city of Orlando on Monday shows that the theme park will lay off all its staff involved in its stage shows. The move comes after the park announced it will be “shifting the focus of the park away from entertainment and theatrical productions to focus on the Biblical Museum.” Park officials said the layoffs will take effect April 18. In total, according to the Federal Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification document sent to the city of Orlando, 118 jobs will be eliminated. The restructuring comes as a result of a “corporate wide ministry reorganization,” according to documents filed with the city.
  • A man with a metal detector made an explosive discovery when he found a live mortar from World War II Monday. Police said the munition was a remnant from when the area was used as a training ground during the war. The bomb squad determined the mortar was too unstable to be moved so it was detonated near where it was found. “The blast was heard from a distance, which caused alarm for many residents,” Lebanon police said on social media. “We appreciate everyone’s concerns and phone calls.” Authorities searched the area for more mortars before deeming it safe.
  • Ja’net DuBois, who played feisty neighbor Willona Woods on the 1970s television series “Good Times,” was found dead in her home Tuesday morning, according to a report. She was 74. The actress’ family told TMZ that DuBois died in her sleep at her Glendale, California, home. DuBois played the Evans family’s neighbor on “Good Times,” and also sang the theme song to 1970s sitcom “The Jeffersons,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. DuBois composed and sang “Movin’ On Up” for the show. DuBois won two Emmys Awards for her voice-over work on “The PJs.” She also appeared in movies including “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “Tropic Thunder,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. DuBois also worked on Broadway, performing in productions including “Golden Boy” and “A Raisin in the Sun.” TV Land, which has aired reruns of “Good Times,” tweeted a tribute to the actress, writing that DuBois “would be missed.”