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Local Politics

    Gwinnett’s delegation to the state Legislature had its annual meeting with county officials on Thursday morning — the first major gathering of the county’s elected leaders since last month’s historic election that tilted local power toward Democrats. In a wave that in one way or another was expected, Democrats turned Gwinnett’s delegation on its head in November. The party converted a five-seat deficit into a nine-seat advantage with the party now holding a 17-8 advantage in its delegation of state lawmakers. Members of the newly empowered party said they plan to work with their Republican colleagues and try to find common ground, but that doesn’t mean they won’t push a progressive agenda when they can. Or that they’re not already making plans. “Of course, now that we are in power, we’ve got to govern,” said Rep. Pedro Marin, a Duluth Democrat who is now Gwinnett’s longest-tenured legislator. “We’ve already been meeting and we’ve got some ideas about what we have to do.” Having a majority on a local delegation can be largely symbolic. That’s especially true for Democrats in Georgia, where Republicans still hold a significant advantage in both the state House and Senate. But being in control will give the party more sway on issues that directly impact Gwinnett. Legislative delegations can make changes to the way things operate in their communities by championing local legislation about specific issues in the county. Rep. Dewey McClain, D-Lawrenceville, said he hopes to push measures that would expand the size of Gwinnett’s county commission and its school board.Democrats and other advocacy groups have criticized the current structure of Gwinnett’s governing bodies. Four district commissioners and a countywide chairman currently represent the county’s more than 900,000 residents. The school board has five members. Litigation has also been filed alleging that the way both local bodies’ districts are drawn dilutes the potential influence of minority voters (though that claim may have lost some urgency in November, when a total of three people of color were elected to the commission and school board). Marin pitched a bill regarding expansion of Gwinnett’s governing bodies in the legislature’s most recent session, but it went nowhere. The county’s Republican-led delegation had no real interest. “I think what people will see more so now,” McClain said, is legislators “being more responsive, and people being more taken care of, instead of things.” Chuck Efstration was one of just a few local Republicans who won reelection this year. But the representative from Dacula was optimistic that little would change, at least functionally. “We’re going to have an outstanding working relationship … that is not bogged down by partisan affiliation,” he said. Gwinnett has been a Republican stronghold for decades, but the last few election cycles have made clear that the county is now up for grabs for either party — if not distinctly left-leaning. Hillary Clinton won the county in 2016’s presidential election, and Democrat Stacey Abrams bested Gov.-elect Brian Kemp by more than 14 points in last month’s contest. Two Democrats will be joining the five-member Gwinnett County commission in January. They’ll be the board’s first Democrats in more than 30 years. Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash, a Republican, said the priorities that county officials presented to Gwinnett’s legislative delegation on Thursday were little different than they’ve been with her party in control of the state delegation over the last several years (or decades, for that matter). Most issues the county government deals with are less political than practical, she said. “I don’t start with the idea that just because we’re different political parties means that we can’t work together,” said Nash. “…We’re gonna try to keep focusing on what we think is important for the community, and I have no reason to believe any of the newly elected officials want to do anything other than that as well.”
  • This report has been updated to more accurately reflect the nature of Mann’s charges. When DeKalb County Sheriff Jeffrey Mann pleaded guilty to charges last year after an episode where he allegedly exposed himself to an Atlanta officer, it threatened his law enforcement certification and ultimately his job. But a year-and-a-half later, with the state police oversight agency having decided to take away Mann’s law enforcement license, he still serves as sheriff. He has appealed the decision by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (P.O.S.T.) to revoke his certification. The state appeals process is moving so slowly that the prospect that Mann could serve out his term and face re-election in 2020 without a resolution seems increasingly possible. A spokeswoman for Mann said he will not comment about his appeal of the P.O.S.T. council’s decision. While his appeal is pending, his status remains unchanged. Esther Panitch, an Atlanta attorney who is not connected to the case, said she was surprised to hear that Mann’s case was still unresolved. “There is no reason it should take this long if somebody is in office who has admitted guilt in a crime,” she said. There are multiple levels to the appeals, and Mann is entitled to due process, said Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association. “It would be no different than ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in any other case,” Norris said. Mann’s ordeal started in May 2017 when Atlanta police charged him with public indecency and obstruction of an officer. An Atlanta officer accused him of exposing his genitals late one night in Piedmont Park then running away to evade arrest.  The episode was another blow to DeKalb government’s image, and Gov. Nathan Deal suspended the sheriff for 40 days. As he was returning to work, Mann worked out a plea agreement in July 2017 that required him to admit guilt to obstruction and a charge of prohibited conduct. He agreed to a $2,000 fine and 80 hours of community service. Mann was also barred from entering any park in the city of Atlanta for six months. In September 2017, the POST Council voted unanimously to revoke Mann’s law enforcement certification, a requirement under state law for elected sheriffs. A letter in his case file from Attorney General Christopher Carr criticizes his conduct. “The sheriff’s behavior demonstrated a lack of respect for law enforcement and for the office Sheriff Mann holds,” Carr wrote. “Sheriff Mann’s flight from Officer (Sherrod) Snell in the park and in the surrounding neighborhood could have placed the lives of the pursuing officer, himself and other citizens at risk that night.” The case was far from over. Mann met with a POST hearing officer in March in hopes of reaching a settlement that allowed him to keep his certification. He wasn’t successful, and the initial decision was upheld. Mann elected to appeal to an administrative law judge at Georgia’s Office of State Administrative Hearings. But the case can’t proceed in court until Carr’s office sends in the file, which hasn’t happened. Katie Byrd, the attorney general’s spokeswoman, said his office won’t comment on the pending appeal or offer any timetable for when Carr will move the case forward. Data from POST indicates that Mann may be a high-profile example of a process that is known for dragging along. Ryan Powell, the council’s deputy executive director, said that over the past three years POST has recommended that 2,414 law enforcement officers have their certifications revoked. Of those, 319 were appealed. Most appeals are handled within three months, Powell said, but it can take longer if attorneys ask for more time. “It also takes a considerably longer time if the case is forwarded to the Attorney General’s office for a hearing,” Powell said in an email. “If the case is forwarded to the AG’s office, it is not uncommon for the case to take several years before being heard.” If Mann disagrees with the administrative judge’s decision, his appeals could transfer to a higher court. He was elected sheriff in a 2014 special election, then won a full term in 2016. While his appeals have been pending, Mann has remained active in his role as sheriff operating DeKalb’s jail and overseeing a force of deputies. According to state records, Mann oversees roughly 700 certified deputies and jailers. If his certification is still intact in 2020, he will be eligible to run again. Panitch said Georgia citizens should not have to wait years to see if officers accused of wrong-doing are allowed to continue working. “If there is such a long wait for law enforcement officials to be evaluated, it makes me wonder how many others are waiting for an appeal,” she said. “And is that wait harmful to the citizens of this state?”
  • The MARTA Board of Directors Thursday approved plans for a Clayton County passenger rail line that supporters hope will transform commuting on the south side of metro Atlanta. The line would stretch 22-miles from MARTA’s East Point Station to Lovejoy, via Jonesboro. If all goes well, construction could get under way in 2023, with service beginning in 2027. The board also approved plans for a new bus rapid transit route from Southlake Mall to College Park Station. And it agreed to continue studying other transit options for Clayton County. The moves are the latest fruit of Clayton voters’ 2014 decision to join MARTA and pay a 1-cent sales tax for transit expansion. And they’re another sign that – after decades of stagnation – transit expansion is gaining steam across metro Atlanta. “Since first expanding to Clayton County three years ago, MARTA service has changed the lives of thousands of residents,” said board member Roberta Abdul-Salaam, who represents the county. “This continued expansion shows a strong commitment to community and economic development for one of metro Atlanta’s fastest-growing areas.” The board picked commuter rail as the “locally preferred alternative” for its planned high-capacity transit line in Clayton County. It’s a key step in the process of obtaining crucial federal funding for the project. The Clayton rail line would be comparable to commuter railroads found in cities like New York, Boston, Chicago and Seattle. Commuter rail features diesel-powered trains that could be bigger and faster than MARTA’s existing electric rail vehicles. The trains can seat up to 1,000 passengers, compared to 500 for MARTA’s existing trains. And commuter trains average 35 mph to 45 mph, vs. 30 mph to 35 mph for the existing ones. The line would parallel existing Norfolk Southern railroad tracks, using the same right of way – reducing construction costs, which have not been determined. MARTA must still negotiate an agreement with the railroad, which has declined to comment. The MARTA Board also agreed to upgrade bus Route 196 to bus rapid transit. The line carries some 3,800 passengers on an average weekday between Southlake Mall and College Park Station. When it’s upgraded, buses may operate in an exclusive lane or get priority at stoplights to speed up service. Finally, the board agreed to continue analyzing transit options for other busy corridors, including Tara Boulevard. MARTA has operated local bus service in Clayton County since 2015. Ridership has grown substantially since then. CEO Jeffrey Parker said MARTA is “incredibly excited to take this important step in fulfilling our promise to Clayton County of first-class transit, economic opportunity and community development.”
  • Proponents of psychedelic mushrooms in Oregon received good news from the state’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, who approved language last week for a ballot measure to legalize them, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. >> Read more trending news  If passed, the measure would reduce criminal penalties for the manufacture, delivery and possession of psilocybin, which is the hallucinogen contained in psychedelic mushrooms, OPB reported. In a tweet, members of the Oregon Psilocybin Society said it will begin gathering the 140,000 signatures required to put the measure on the ballot for the 2020 election. On its website, society members asserted there is more evidence now that the drug is safe and can be used in treatment for depression, anxiety, PTSD and even drug addiction. The federal government controlled use of mushrooms during the 1970s, OPB reported. 
  • Brenda Snipes, the Broward County elections supervisor who was the lightning rod for the voting controversy during midterm elections in Florida, was suspended by Gov. Rick Scott on Friday, the Sun-Sentinel reported.  >> Read more trending news  Snipes, 75, was replaced by Peter Antonacci, 70, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida. Antonacci will serve for the remainder of Snipes’ term until a replacement can be chosen by voters in November 2020, according to Scott’s office. In a statement, Scott cited “misfeasance, incompetence and neglect of duty” as the reasons for suspending Snipes, who said she was resigning Jan. 4. >> Who is Brenda Snipes? “After a series of inexcusable actions, it’s clear that there needs to be an immediate change in Broward County and taxpayers should no longer be burdened by paying a salary for a supervisor of elections who has already announced resignation,” Scott said in a statement. Former Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Snipes in 2003, WPLG reported. Snipes could not be reached for comment. Antonacci deferred questions to the governor’s office, the Sun-Sentinel reported. Antonacci grew up in Hialeah, Florida, and earned urban planning and legal degrees from Florida State University and the FSU law school, WPLG reported. 
  • MARTA will beef up staffing and security for the SEC Championship as it continues to prepare for the larger national spotlight of the upcoming Super Bowl. Saturday’s game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will serve as a test for MARTA, which made changes after the debacle that followed last January’s college football championship game. Hundreds of fans were stranded at Five Points Station until nearly 2 a.m. “We are committed to delivering outstanding service not just to our daily riders but the tens of thousands of people who will use our system during major events such as the SEC Championship Game and the upcoming Super Bowl,” said MARTA General Manager Jeffrey Parker. Here’s a look at how MARTA plans to make things easier for fans attending the big game: Trains will run every 10 minutes between the Lindbergh and Airport stations on north-south lines, as well as between King Memorial and Ashby on east-west lines. MARTA will deploy “transit ambassadors” to the Dome and Vine City stations adjacent to the stadium, as well as to end-of-the-line stations at North Springs, H.E. Holmes, College Park and Indian Creek. They will greet riders and assist them with directions and Breeze Card purchases. Other employees will help load and unload trains and prevent platform overcrowding at the Dome, Vine City and Five Points stations. In addition to the usual vending machines, MARTA employees will sell Breeze Cards at numerous stations. Bathrooms will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. at numerous stations. Previously, they closed at 7 p.m. The MARTA Police Department will supplement its uniform patrol division with other officers during the game. It also will use more than 10,000 security cameras to monitor the transit system. MARTA’s preparations for big events have become a matter of intense interest since the problems following January’s game, which also featured Georgia and Alabama. Fans described a chaotic scene at Five Points, the hub of the MARTA system, as northbound trains failed to depart, even as more fans arrived from the stadium. Some fans searched in vain for MARTA employees who could provide information and control the crowd. It took more than an hour to clear the station. MARTA later said medical emergencies at other stations prevented the trains from leaving, but short-staffing, poor communication and ineffective crowd control exacerbated the problem. The agency has vowed to be ready for the Feb. 3 Super Bowl. “This year, we have seen tremendous success during the Peachtree Road Race, MLS All-Star Game and dozens of other events, and this football game is a great opportunity for MARTA to continue providing the service and support needed to move large crowds of people safely and efficiently through our city,” Parker said.
  • Stockbridge officials spent more than $660,000 of taxpayer funds to beat back an attempt by the Eagle’s Landing community to break away and become its own city, financial records show. The majority of the money — almost $481,000 — was paid to law firms that represented Stockbridge in unsuccessful suits to keep the cityhood referendum off the Nov. 6 ballot. VIDEO: Previous coverage of this issue But the city also spent more than $120,000 on lobbyists, who tried to convince the state Legislature to oppose the cityhood effort; more than $20,000 on studies that looked at the impact the separation would have on Stockbridge; and $17,000 on postage for anti-cityhood fliers and postcards sent to homes. “For a city the size of Stockbridge, (the cost) was not insignificant, but it wasn’t fatal,” said Kennesaw state economist Roger Tutterow. “I’m not sure that the city had a lot of choice because, had the restructuring gone through, it would have had implications for tax revenues not just this one time, but going forward forever.” In a referendum earlier this month, voters rejected the cityhood measure roughly by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin. Eagle’s Landing cityhood backers have said they wanted to secede to have more local control over city services and to jump-start economic development in the community. But Stockbridge leaders argued that attracting development would be better accomplished as one community instead of two. The cityhood plan would have de-annexed half of Stockbridge — including 50 percent of businesses — and married it with areas of unincorporated Henry County to form the new municipality. In its efforts to keep that from happening, Stockbridge paid roughly $304,000 to the law firm of Balch & Bingham, which counts former Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers among its staff. The firm argued that the referendum was unconstitutional before the state Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court in Atlanta. Stockbridge Mayor Anthony Ford said he wants to continue to pursue the legal case because it could create a precedent if there are other cityhood movements that would seek to de-annex an already incorporated city to form a different town. The city spent about $5,000 on bus rentals, parking and lunches as it took residents to the Georgia State Capitol to protest the legislation that would eventually allow Eagle’s Landing to seek cityhood. Other costs included $7,000 for T-shirts, meals, paper copies, newspaper and Facebook advertising and office products.
  • Two Iranian citizens have been indicted for a series of cyber attacks across America, including the March assault of the city of Atlanta’s computer systems, according to an FBI announcement Wednesday morning. The cyber attack on Atlanta caused myriad issues with the city’s computer systems and could end up costing $17 million to taxpayers, according to one report. Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the indictment also accuses the same defendants of a similar attack on the city of Newark, N.J., and some 200 other victims, including hospitals and health care agencies. VIDEO: More on the Atlanta cyber attack The defendants, Faramarz Shahi Savandi, 34, and Mohammad Mehdi Shah Mansouri, 27, allegedly collected some $6 million from various victims. Officials declined to say if Atlanta paid a ransom. The defendants, who may still be in Iran, are not in custody. The FBI said the attacks were part of an increase of such activity from Iran, but officials made no allegation that the government of the country was involved. The defendants used so-called ransomware to shut down computer systems and then demand payments to restore the systems, according to the federal indictment, which was filed in Newark.  “According to the indictment, the hackers infiltrated computer systems in 10 states and Canada and then demanded payment,” Rosenstein said. “The criminal activity harmed state agencies, city governments, hospitals, and countless innocent victims.” EARLIER COVERAGE: Confidential report: Atlanta’s cyber attack could cost taxpayers $17 million Atlanta police recovering from breach, ‘years’ of dashcam video lost Atlanta city employees turn on computers for the first time since hack In June, Atlanta  announced it had largely recovered from the March attack, but the Atlanta Police Department said it had lost 'years' of dashcam video. The six-count indictment accuses the defendants of a 34-months-long hacking and extortion scheme using malware called “SamSam Ransomware.” It was capable of forcibly encrypting data on the computers of victims, locking out the victims. “The City of Atlanta is aware of the U.S. Department of Justice’s indictment related to the March cyber-attack against the City,” a spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a statement Wednesday. “The Administration remains committed to ensuring the ongoing safety and security of the City’s cyber-infrastructure, as well as that of the people of Atlanta.” The men are accused of seeking out victims who would be most vulnerable and stand to lose the most by being attacked.  Among the more than 200 victims FBI named were hospitals, municipalities, and public institutions. In addition to Atlanta and Newark, other victims were: the Port of San Diego, California; the Colorado Department of Transportation; the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alberta, Canada; and six health care-related entities: Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, California; Kansas Heart Hospital in Wichita, Kansas; Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings, more commonly known as LabCorp, headquartered in Burlington, North Carolina; MedStar Health, headquartered in Columbia, Maryland; Nebraska Orthopedic Hospital now known as OrthoNebraska Hospital, in Omaha, Nebraska and Allscripts Healthcare Solutions Inc., headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Return to ajc.com for more on this developing story.
  • New projections put the cost of administering Gwinnett’s stand-alone MARTA election at about $769,000 — more than a quarter-million dollars higher than initial estimates. The Gwinnett Board of Commissioners voted in August to call the referendum, during which voters will decide if the county should join MARTA and pay an extra 1 percent sales tax to cover the billions necessary for new transit projects. Transit advocates and Democrats rejoiced but also called foul — because the referendum was scheduled to be held all by itself on March 19, not during November’s general election. IN-DEPTH: Gwinnett’s proposed 2019 budget: pay raises and more officers When county officials initially estimated that the standalone March vote would cost around $500,000, the same folks criticized the government for wasting money, too. Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash revealed Tuesday her proposed county budget for 2019, it allotted even more money to run the county’s first MARTA vote since 1990. The $768,937 budgeted for the referendum includes enough funding to offer six full days of advance voting at seven different satellite locations, plus one Sunday of early voting at the elections office, Gwinnett spokeswoman Heather Sawyer said. That’s in addition to typical offerings like Election Day voting at the county’s 156 precincts.  Nash previously said that “having as much support from members of the Board of Commissioners for the ballot question[was] important enough to warrant the cost” of holding a special election rather than tacking the MARTA referendum onto ballots for elections that were already being held.  District 4 Commissioner John Heard — who lost his re-election bid earlier this month — has admitted he traded his support for the referendum in exchange for having the election pushed back to March. Voting in Gwinnett has also come under fire in recent weeks, with the county — a longtime Republican stronghold that’s quickly turning blue — becoming the target of multiple lawsuits and other accusations regarding transparency and the way it evaluates certain ballots. All of that is likely to add an extra layer to the already contentious MARTA vote, which has the potential to pave the way for heavy rail in Gwinnett.  The county’s plans include the possibility of extending rail from the existing Doraville MARTA station to the area near Jimmy Carter Boulevard and I-85 in Norcross — and perhaps all the way to the Gwinnett Place Mall area. One recent poll raised questions about Gwinnett County’s appetite for transit, to which the suburb has been historically averse. But Nash helped create the legislation that allows Gwinnett to call a referendum, and she has been bullish on the odds of it passing.  A survey released earlier this month by the Atlanta Regional Commission found that more than half of Gwinnett residents asked were willing to pay more taxes for transit expansion.
  • UPDATE, 5:00 P.M.: Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux has formally conceded. “This campaign was about more than me; it was about building community and working for change,' she said in a news release. 'We moved the needle in this district more than anyone thought possible.' Read full coverage here. UPDATE, 3:50 P.M.: Rob Woodall picked up nine votes in the Gwinnett County recount. Carolyn Bourdeaux picked up one additional vote. That would place Woodall’s new -- and perhaps final -- lead at 433 votes. UPDATE, 2:45 P.M.: The Forsyth County portion of the 7th Congressional District recount is complete -- and Republican incumbent Rob Woodall appeared to widen his margin by six votes.  Information released by Forsyth showed Woodall had gained four new votes while Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux lost two.  That would put Woodall’s lead at 425 votes. Gwinnett County, which makes up the lion’s share of the 7th District, was nearing completion of its own recount. ORIGINAL: The camp of Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux is questioning the transparency of Wednesday’s scheduled recount in the tightly contested race to represent Georgia’s 7th Congressional District.  Bourdeaux, who is trailing Republican incumbent Rob Woodall by just over 400 votes for the seat that’s split between Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, officially requested the recount Tuesday afternoon. It began at 10 a.m. and, as of 1:45 p.m., had not been completed in either Forsyth or Gwinnett.  An order from Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden directed elections officials to “manually review by hand, in plain view of the public and designated officials for both candidates, any optical scan ballots” that have extra votes, stray marks or are folded or bent in such a way that they can’t be scanned.  Most ballots are cast electronically and will be recounted the same way. But the roughly 20,000 paper absentee and provisional ballots received by Gwinnett County — about 70 percent of which could be from the 7th District — are scanned individually.  An email exchange between Bourdeaux campaign manager Spencer Smith and Bryan Tyson, an attorney for Gwinnett County, suggests Gwinnett plans to manually review paper ballots only if they can’t be successfully scanned first.  The Bourdeaux camp, which provided the email chain with Tyson to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, doesn’t think that’s good enough. It believes Crittenden’s directive instructed elections officials to manually review all paper ballots, period. “There’s nothing in the order from the [Secretary of State] that says that they have to be rejected by the machine first,” Smith wrote in a Tuesday night email.  In response, Tyson said that scanning machines would reject ballots with the issues listed in the Secretary of State’s order. “The ballots that are rejected by the optical scan machines for those reasons or otherwise cannot be read by those machines will be hand-reviewed in accordance with the Secretary of State’s directive regarding the recount,” Tyson wrote, according to the email chain. The Bourdeaux team also raised questions about being relegated Wednesday to an observation area separated by a glass partition from those actually counting ballots— “where we could not read the ballots even if we had binoculars,” as Smith put it in an email. Smith actually brought binoculars Wednesday. Tyson responded that any ballots reviewed by hand will by evaluated by at least one Democrat, one Republican and one independent member of the five-person Gwinnett elections board.  “Your objection about the observation area is noted,” Tyson wrote. “Gwinnett will ensure that the Democratic members of the Board of Elections are personally reviewing all of the ballots that are required to be reviewed by hand.”  Gwinnett officials did not immediately respond to a request for further comment. In a conversation with Smith outside the elections board meeting room Wednesday morning, Van Stephens, another county attorney, confirmed Gwinnett’s stance regarding observation. A pair of observers from the U.S. House of Representatives were later allowed behind the glass, Gwinnett elections board chairman Stephen Day said. The county has been under fire throughout the current election season. A number of court orders and guidance from the Secretary of State’s office ultimately led the county to accept hundreds of ballots that might not have otherwise been counted.  One restraining order from U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May directed Gwinnett to reassess and count absentee ballots and applications that were rejected solely due to signature mismatches. Another stopped Gwinnett from rejecting absentee ballots due to birthdate issues — most commonly the result of voters leaving that space blank or erroneously listing the current year.  A third court order instructed Gwinnett and other counties to allow voters whose registrations were erroneously flagged due to citizenship questions to cast ballots.  The county certified its election results on Thursday, two days later than originally planned.  Wednesday’s recount is also scheduled to include ballots in Gwinnett County Board of Education District 2, where Republican Steven Knudsen leads Democrat Wandy Taylor by 118 votes.

News

  • A co-founder of the Shepherd Center died “peacefully” Monday morning, the hospital confirmed. James Harold Shepherd Sr., 90, was a fourth-generation Atlantan who helped found the private nonprofit hospital that specializes in spinal cord injury treatment and research, hospital spokeswoman Jane Sanders said in a news release. Shepherd, who had five siblings, started Shepherd Construction Company with his brothers, and his family oversaw the construction of hundreds of miles of interstate highways in Georgia and several surrounding states in addition to thousands of miles of city and county streets since 1949, the release said. In 1973, Shepherd sustained a spinal cord injury in a bodysurfing accident, which helped motivate him to found the Shepherd Center along with his wife, Alana, their son, James, and Dr. David F. Apple Jr., the release said. The center opened in 1975.  “He wanted to be here, talk to people, to be around the hospital and watch as it grew,” said Julie Shepherd, his granddaughter, who is a case manager at Shepherd Center. “He often talked about how proud he was of Shepherd Center. His construction career had been rewarding in one way, but he was even prouder of what they’d done here (at the hospital) and the lives they’d changed.” The Georgia General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution to designate a section of Peachtree Road in Buckhead to be renamed J. Harold Shepherd Parkway. A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at Peachtree Presbyterian Church at 3434 Roswell Road. 
  • President Donald Trump's intensifying legal troubles are unnerving some of his fellow Republicans. Despite his brash stance, they believe the turmoil has left him increasingly vulnerable as he gears up for what is sure to be a nasty fight for re-election. Trump, ever confident of his ability to bend story lines to his will, mocks the investigations into his conduct as candidate and president as a 'witch hunt' and insists he will survive the threats. But a shift began to unfold over the weekend after prosecutors in New York for the first time linked Trump to a federal crime of illegal hush payments. That left some of his associates fearful that his customary bravado is unwarranted. For some Republicans, the implication that the president may have directed a campaign finance violation, which would be a felony, could foreshadow a true turning point in the Republican relationship with him when special counsel Robert Mueller releases his report on the Russia investigation. 'I'm sure there's going to be a lot more that's going to come out from the Southern District (of New York) and from, at some point, from the Mueller investigation as well,' Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the chamber's incoming No. 2 Republican, said Monday. 'What they're implying there, obviously, is something I assume at some point the president will have an opportunity to respond to.' Thune continued: 'Campaign finance violations are something that ... they are serious matters, but obviously it depends a little bit on how it gets treated.' As the legal drama plays out, political challenges that could threaten Trump's re-election are piling up. Republicans are still coming to terms with their drubbing in last month's House elections and looking for someone to blame. The departure of John Kelly as White House chief of staff has set off a disorganized search for a replacement who could stay in the job through the 2020 campaign. After Trump's top choice, the vice president's chief of staff Nick Ayers, passed on the job, few of the remaining candidates have political experience. Also, Democrats will soon take control of the House of Representatives, wielding subpoena power and potentially exploring impeachment proceedings. Meanwhile, financial markets have been jittery, in part because of Trump's trade wars and concerns that higher borrowing costs could ultimately trigger a recession. Facing pressure from Mueller and an impending onslaught of Democratic investigations, Trump could hew even further to the right, catering exclusively to the base of voters he is concerned about losing, according to a Republican close to the White House who has consulted on the early re-election efforts. That instinct would echo the president's double-down, scorched-earth response to the crises that hit his 2016 campaign, including the Access Hollywood tape about forcing himself on women, and could make it harder to woo the independent voters or disaffected Democrats he may well need. Could Trump face a primary election challenge from within his own party? He doesn't seem concerned. The president is eager to unleash his re-election machinery and begin to collect pledges of loyalty from across the GOP to quell any hint of an insurrection, according to a campaign official and a Republican familiar with the inner workings of the campaign but not authorized to speak publicly. The Trump team has discussed the possibility of a challenge from someone such as outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. A week after the midterm elections, Kasich traveled to New Hampshire for a public speech and private meetings with prominent Republicans. Flake, who has tangled repeatedly with Trump, isn't making any personal commitment, but his feelings about a challenger are clear. 'Somebody needs to run' against Trump, he said Monday. 'I hope somebody does.' While some Democrats eying the White House are expected to announce campaigns in the first few weeks of 2019, a Republican challenger could move more slowly, according to two GOP operatives who have been involved in hypothetical discussions about taking on Trump. Waiting until early spring, for example, could give Republicans time to assess whether Trump will be weakened by Mueller's investigation or a downturn in the economy. One leading House Republican said the situation surrounding Trump remains volatile and has urged colleagues to wait for the Mueller report, which some believe could emerge early next year. That Republican, who demanded anonymity to assess the situation candidly, has urged fellow GOP lawmakers to not defend the indefensible but to also not believe every charge. The lawmaker expressed hope that the special counsel's findings come out sooner rather than later so there will be more time before the 2020 elections. For all the private and not-so-private party worries, many close to Trump predict he not only will survive the Russia investigation but will be re-elected in two years. They point to his remarkable ability to shake off scandal, the sway he continues to hold over his base of GOP voters, the fear his Twitter account has instilled among many Republican elected officials and what they believe is the lack of top-shelf talent among Democrats who could face him in 2020. Echoing the president, they contend the special counsel has come up empty-handed in his efforts to prove Russian collusion and is ready to settle for a campaign finance charge they believe is minor and will be ignored or not understood by most voters. The president has said the lesson of the 2018 midterms is that Republican candidates abandon him at their own peril. And the Republicans who remain in Congress after that election aren't likely to back away from him. 'Remember that the Republicans who are left have won in fairly solid Republican, Trump districts,' said moderate Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who is retiring. 'So he is very popular with the base. I would not think that they would want to distance themselves or have any fear of associating with him.' ___ Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report. ___ Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Fram at http://twitter.com/@asfram
  • Officials from Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana are still figuring out how much damage an agitated naked man caused Sunday to its Dayton residential re-entry facility. >> Read more trending news   The naked man, who police haven’t identified, spent more than four hours on the roof of the organization’s Gettysburg Avenue facility after he disrobed and burned his clothing, officials said. The man, who was a resident at the center, also stabbed himself several times with a sharp object and wrote “Pig for Life” in his own blood on a wall, witnesses and police said. The man is expected to face criminal charges, possibly including felony vandalism after he damaged multiple cameras, windows and other equipment, police said. “This certainly was an unusual and very out-of-the-ordinary Sunday afternoon for us,” said Nicole Knowlton, vice president of communications for Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana. At about 11:30 a.m. Sunday, staff at the Volunteers of America called police after a resident climbed a chain-link fence and managed to get onto the roof of the facility, located at 1931 S. Gettysburg Ave. The facility provides programming and treatment to help ex-offenders integrate back into the community, Knowlton said. The organization has four half-way houses in the state, including the Gettysburg facility, which can hold about 120 people. >> Related: Naked man on top of Dayton building causes disturbance for more than 4 hours The man shed and then burned his clothing, police said. He jumped from rooftop to rooftop while naked. He stabbed himself with a sharp object and smeared blood on the top of the one-story building, officials said. Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana locked down the facility and restricted where clients could go for their safety, Knowlton said. The man broke two security cameras, six windows, some wiring and the fans of the heating and cooling units, Knowlton said. Officers lined up mattresses on the sidewalk below the roof to try to cushion a potential fall. Authorities used a ladder truck to eventually retrieve the man. Knowlton said she believes he remains in the hospital.
  • A polygamous group based on the Utah-Arizona border is letting go of the sprawling building where its members worshipped, in the latest sign that the sect run by imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs is crumbling and losing control of the community it ruled for a century. The group known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, now has nowhere to gather for worship services after the nearly 53,000 square-foot (4,900 square-meter) building was taken over last week as part of government-ordered evictions that have taken away about 200 homes and buildings from members who refuse to pay property taxes and $100-a-month occupancy fees. The meetinghouse with capacity for several thousand people is valued at $2.8 million and sits on about 7 acres (2.8 hectares) in the remote red rock community, on the Arizona side of the border. The building has a stage, a church-like setup for services and classrooms for religious education but has not been used for at least six months, Jeff Barlow said Monday. He is the executive director of a government-appointed organization that oversees a former church trust that has properties in the sister cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. The FLDS doesn't have a spokesperson to comment about the development. The sect is experiencing a major leadership void with Warren Jeffs serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides and his brother Lyle Jeffs serving nearly a five-year sentence for his role in carrying out an elaborate food stamp fraud scheme and for escaping home confinement while awaiting trial. Members have said they have been worshipping at home on their own. The lack of local leaders meant nobody stepped up to take responsibility for the building when Barlow's organization warned an eviction was imminent, said Christine Katas, who lives in the community and serves as an intermediary between Barlow's organization and the FLDS. Rank-and-file members don't believe they have the authority to do so, she said. 'It's very sad for the FLDS. I've seen people cry over it,' Katas said. 'Both sides are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Everybody wishes there was a different outcome.' The evictions have led many FLDS members to take refuge in trailers around town or move away, while former members have purchased the homes and buildings and moved back. Group members don't believe they should have to pay for what belonged to a communal church trust that the state of Utah took over more than a decade ago amid mismanagement. The evictions are part of the shifting demographics in the sister cities of about 7,700 people. Non-sect members last year won control of the mayor's office and town council in Hildale, Utah and nearly did the same in municipal elections in Colorado City. The town government and police are being watched closely by court-appointed monitors after a jury found past town and police leaders guilty of civil rights violations. Sprawling homes that used to belong to Warren Jeffs have been converted into beds and breakfast and sober living centers. Members of the group still consider their leader and prophet to be Warren Jeffs, even though he has been in jail in Utah or Texas continually since 2006. Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the mainstream church abandoned the practice in 1890 and now strictly prohibits it. The Salt Lake Tribune first reported the eviction of the meetinghouse. Barlow said the board of the organization he runs, called the United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust, will meet on Jan. 5 in a public meeting to discuss what to do with the building, constructed in 1986, Barlow said. One possibility is converting it to a civic center, though that would likely require seeking grant funds, he said. The UEP board will make the final decision.
  • The 2018 college football bowl season kicks off with the fourth annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl. The game will feature champions from the Mid-Eastern Athletic and Southwestern Athletic conferences. In a rematch of the first Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, the North Carolina A&T Aggies will go head-to-head with the Alcorn State Braves.  Starting at 11 a.m., Channel 2 WSB-TV presents a live half-hour program, “The Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl Countdown.”  Channel 2 anchors Fred Blankenship and Carol Sbarge host the pregame show for this event. Channel 2 Sports Director Zach Klein will break down the strategies of both teams, the players, coaches and each team’s strengths and weaknesses.  Following the countdown will be a special edition of Channel 2 Action News at 11:30 a.m. with weather, game day traffic and news of the day. At noon, the battle for the championship begins. In addition to the game, organizers will host the first annual “A Celebration of Service.” The service project will bring together “The Divine 9” Greek letter organizations to collect food donations that benefit Hosea Helps. Other attractions include a special fan experience and the ultimate HBCU Greek homecoming tailgate. MATCHUP Alcorn State (9-3, 6-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference) vs. North Carolina A&T (9-2, 6-1 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference). TIME/LOCATION Saturday at noon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Pregame coverage starts at 11 a.m., followed by the game at noon. TOP PLAYERS Alcorn State QB Noah Johnson has thrown for 2,079 yards and 15 touchdowns while also running for 960 yards and nine touchdowns. North Carolina A&T is led by veteran QB Lamar Raynard and a running game that's averaging close to 200 yards on the ground per game. NOTABLE The Braves are back in the Celebration Bowl for the first time since the inaugural game in 2015. Alcorn State is led by coach Fred McNair, the older brother of the late Steve McNair, who was a star quarterback for Alcorn State and in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans. The Aggies are back in the Celebration Bowl for the third time in four seasons. North Carolina A&T beat Grambling 21-14 last year to give the MEAC a 2-1 edge in the game over the SWAC. LAST TIME North Carolina A&T 41, Alcorn State 34 on Dec. 19, 2015. BOWL HISTORY The Braves are in the Celebration Bowl for the second time. The Aggies are in the Celebration Bowl for the third time.