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Local News

    Jewel Johnson used to feel close to her south Fulton County neighbors. Over the three decades she’s lived in Loch Lomond Estates, she invited neighbors over for birthday lunches, tried to always say hello on the street and celebrated each year at the subdivision Christmas party. But those strong relationships frayed after she and a cohort of neighbors sued in 2016 to stop their neighborhood’s annexation into the city of Atlanta. As the court battle unfolded, Johnson said, people stopped waving and sometimes refused to answer the door when she knocked. She’s stopped attending the holiday party, and her relationship with a close friend became so strained, Johnson deleted the woman’s number from her phone. “I really felt like we had a real good community, ‘til the annexation came along,” said Johnson, 67. “I don’t know if it will ever get back. I pray it will.” Thus is life these days in Loch Lomond, a tree-lined suburban neighborhood of about 200 homes that was on the edge of Atlanta’s expansion when it was developed in the mid-1960s. Now, the neighborhood finds itself on the last fault line in the Fulton cityhood movement that over the past 13 years has reshaped the county’s politics and forged new community identities. It’s this struggle for identity that has pitted neighbor against neighbor in Loch Lomond. The community and its residents became collateral damage as the charge to incorporate areas across Fulton forced homeowners in the neighborhood, many of whom had lived together in harmony for decades, to suddenly take sides. In 2014, a group of residents in the subdivision started a petition to annex the unincorporated area of Fulton into the city of Atlanta, just one street over. The successful petition, after the majority of neighbors signed on to join the city in 2016, caused a backlash among residents who resisted becoming part of Atlanta. They sued on the grounds that the petition was not valid. In October, the Georgia Court of Appeals agreed and upended the annexation, saying the neighborhood was improperly annexed into Atlanta. That decision effectively placed Loch Lomond in the new city of South Fulton and set off a new wave of hard feelings among neighbors who say a small, vocal group of residents is overwhelming the majority’s will. For Johnson, too much was at stake to sit on the sidelines. She had lived in Atlanta in the 1970s and 1980s, and still owns property in the city. But a series of events made her decide she didn’t want to be there any longer: She had one child, and was pregnant with twins, when the Atlanta child murders began in the late 1970s. When her children were young, Atlanta did little to respond to a drug dealer next door. And gentrification raised her property taxes, making it harder to afford her home, while services didn’t seem to improve. In 1989, she decided it was time to leave. Decades later, when Loch Lomond neighbors began seeking signatures for the annexation petition, she hadn’t changed her mind about the city. “Southwest Atlanta’s always on the back burner,” she said. “We get less from the city than anybody. …We can’t survive in Atlanta. Their interest is not in the little people like me.” ‘We have been unannexed’ In many ways, the neighborhood had one of its own atop city hall at the time of the annexation two years ago. Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed grew up in Loch Lomond, and lived there when he was a state representative. For resident William Shepherd, the idea of joining Atlanta had a lot of appeal. Shepherd, now in his 80s, is past president of the neighborhood homeowners’ association. And he’s so in favor of living in Atlanta that he refuses to believe the court decided otherwise. He said he didn’t “have any hard feelings” toward neighbors who pushed for the annexation to be overturned. But at the same time, he questioned their motives, saying they should have respected the wishes of the majority of residents, who wanted to be in the city. State law requires 60 percent of property owners and voters sign off on an annexation, though opponents questioned whether all the signatures were legitimate. “I felt like people manipulated the community,” he said of those who filed suit. “I’d rather have my own choice.” Shepherd moved to Loch Lomond 47 years ago during a period of sharp transition. As his and other black families moved in to what was originally considered a remote area of the county, many of the original white owners left the subdivision. For sale signs were common. The neighborhood, a bucolic setting with several lakes and homes on one-acre lots, attracted middle-class families who formed the basis of the community that is still in place today. Shepherd said he preferred to join Atlanta over South Fulton because he thought an established city would be a better fit for aging residents. The city of South Fulton is still building up its police department and making decisions about fundamental parts of its government. More than two years after the annexation was first finalized, in the summer of 2016, Shepherd thinks of himself as an Atlantan. “I’m not going to say we’re out of Atlanta,” he said. “I’m not accepting it as fact that we have been unannexed.” Other residents have been reluctant to share the depth of their feelings, not wanting to air neighborhood business in public. Some declined to discuss the annexation controversy on the record. Lorraine Walton, a longtime resident, said the fact that several residents want to be in South Fulton “has created a divide.” And Emmanuel Tillman, who lives in the neighborhood next to Loch Lomond, said he’s had to get off his local Nextdoor app because of the amount of “sniping” between neighbors about the annexation. Mary Harris, a 42-year resident who led the petition drive for annexation, said she still considers herself an Atlanta resident. She said those that want to stay in Atlanta aren’t giving up. But she doesn’t believe the legal dispute has changed the character of the friendly neighborhood. “No one has stopped talking,” she said. ‘It’s just an uncomfortable feeling’ Still, Atlanta annexation opponents say they have experienced a different reality. Some say the neighborhood isn’t as welcoming to them as it once was. They describe behavior that’s hurtful, including being ignored by some neighbors. Leroi Stanley, 45, grew up in Loch Lomond, later lived in Cobb County and moved back to the neighborhood several years ago to raise his children. He doesn’t want to be part of Atlanta and found advocates pushing the annexation to be overzealous in their efforts. He objected when one neighbor asked his mother for his father’s death certificate so they could get him off the voter rolls and make it easier to get to the 60 percent of signatures needed for annexation. He said that moved him to question the annexation efforts. Shortly after, Stanley said, he stopped getting invitations to community meetings, including this year’s Christmas party. “There’s been no more notices in my mailbox,” he said. “The neighborhood is definitely divided, and I would say rightfully so.” Stanley and his anti-Atlanta annexation neighbors said Reed and other city officials tried to persuade residents by making lofty promises as they tried to build support for the annexation. Neighbors saw his visits to the largely African-American neighborhood as an effort to get more voters into the city who would be inclined to support Keisha Lance Bottoms in what would become a close mayor’s race last year between her and Mary Norwood. Bottoms eventually won by fewer than 800 votes. Stanley didn’t like that his children’s education was disrupted by the annexation effort. They were moved from the Fulton County Schools to Atlanta Public Schools after the area was annexed. Still wary of the test cheating scandal, he doesn’t trust his children’s education to the city. He moved one child into Fulton schools after the court ruling, and plans to move the other two at summer break. Other residents expressed different reasons to distrust the city and its leadership. Evelyn Weaver, who’s lived in the neighborhood for 45 years, said she knew Reed as a child. But she didn’t like the mayor’s plan to displace two historic, black churches downtown to build Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Weaver, who was also involved in the lawsuit, said she grew up in Atlanta and didn’t want to go back. The tensions from the Loch Lomond annexation battle have been hard, she said. “It’s just an uncomfortable feeling,” she said. Raphael Ammons, one of those involved with the lawsuit, said people in the neighborhood used to go out of their way to help each other, but that’s changed since the court case. Ammons said he hopes time heals the divide, but said there’s “a lot of bad blood” between residents. “People are angry they’re not going to be in Atlanta,” he said. “Some people don’t even speak to you. It’s just animosity, it’s tension.” ‘They’ve been so ugly to me’ Fulton County’s cityhood movement began in force in 2005, when Sandy Springs residents voted to incorporate. Since then, Johns Creek, Milton and Chattahoochee Hills also formed cities in north Fulton. But residents in south Fulton weren’t interested. In 2007, they rejected a cityhood referendum with 80 percent of the vote, preferring the unincorporated status quo. As annexations shrank the unincorporated area, cityhood proponents tried again. In 2016, residents approved a referendum to form the city of South Fulton, and they elected leaders the following year. South Fulton’s transition period to assume services from county was finalized this fall. Odie Donald, the South Fulton city manager, is hoping to bridge the divide between those who wanted to be in his city and those who preferred Atlanta. He is planning to hold community meetings to welcome Loch Lomond residents into South Fulton before the police, trash and other services transition to the new city in January. Donald said he hopes to win residents’ trust and he thinks they will get used to their new reality, and even come to enjoy being South Fulton city residents. “I believe they will end up very happy,” he said. “By law, we have to serve them and they have to be in the city. We’re going to make sure they have the highest level of service.” Michael Smith, an Atlanta spokesperson, said the city was disappointed in the court’s ruling in October, and in a subsequent decision last month to deny a request that the court reconsider. City officials and some Loch Lomond residents continue to explore options for other ways to stay in Atlanta, he said. As for Johnson, she hasn’t spoken at length to people on the pro-Atlanta side since well before the court ruling in October. Even though the episode has taken its toll, she’s happy with her decision to pursue the lawsuit. She hopes time will repair strained friendships, but she isn’t sure. “They’ve been so ugly to me,” she said. “I don’t know if this thing’s ever going to heal,” she added.
  • One month after three young men died in a fiery wreck with an officer, the South Fulton Police Department has a new police chase policy the chief hopes will “honor” the dead. Like officers with other police agencies in the metro area, South Fulton’s cops will no longer be allowed to chase stolen vehicles simply because they are stolen. Officers will instead need another justification to explain why the fleeing person poses more danger to the public than a high-speed pursuit would. Authorities have said officer Deonte Walker, 25, was chasing a stolen Mercedes Benz on Nov. 11 when he collided with a work van, which burst into flames on Ga. 138. Three men inside the van died. The Mercedes got away. Chief Keith Meadows said Tuesday he had already rewritten the city’s policy on police chases in September, but that the city council had not voted on it before the wreck occurred. The council voted to approve the new policy on Nov. 27. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained a copy of the new chase policy through an open records request. “We’re constantly taking a step back and reviewing our policies,” Meadows told the AJC, expressing relief at the council’s vote. “But when something like this occurs, I think it’s (especially) important to review. We had to honor the memory of the people who died in that accident.” According to the van’s driver, Gilmar Gomez-Lopez, 25, the officer blew through a red light and hit the GMC van while Gomez-Lopez was turning on a green. Gomez-Lopez and two of his passengers were injured, while the three more inside the van died at the scene. The accident remains under investigation by the Georgia State Patrol, which has said charges are pending the outcome of the investigation. The chief didn’t criticize his officer, but said he’s been talking with others in the ranks and encouraging them to be more careful. READ: Floods, fire and hurricanes: Dire warnings for Georgia in climate report READ: Convicted killer admits killing 90, including at least 7 in Georgia READ: Even with legal cannabis, Georgians fear losing jobs — for good reason “We’re in the process of training for that (new) policy — not just leaving to chance that the police officers will read it,” Meadows said. Many questions remain on the wreck. Officials have said DNA testing, which can take months, is needed to confirm the identities of the victims. GSP’s initial report identifies them as Clemente Flores, 22, Marcus Martin, 22, and Camerino Sanchez-Hernandez, 20. The South Fulton officer told State Patrol investigators he had his lights and siren on, but Gomez-Lopez, a Columbus resident, said he didn’t see lights or hear a siren. South Fulton’s pursuit policy, which the chief said wascopied from Fulton County Police when the city was created this year, already said an officer involved in a chase must have his or her lights and siren on. Acknowledging that the investigation is now in the hands of the State Patrol, the chief said he’s heard that at least one witness saw the Walker’s lights and heard the siren. South Fulton’s policy also already said officers in a chase must come to a complete stop at stop signs and traffic signals to ensure it’s safe to proceed. Gomez-Lopez’s statement to police suggest Walker violated that rule. Other than the clarity on stolen cars, the policy remains largely unchanged. But that simple tweak puts the city police more in line with major departments around metro Atlanta, including Gwinnett County, DeKalb County and the city of Atlanta, which all prohibit stolen car chases unless there’s another significant reason to pursue. Georgia has no statewide standard on chases. “Most importantly, officers have to be trained when to engage, when not to engage,” said LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar, who recently served as president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “A pursuit in a stolen vehicle might make sense at 1 in the morning in a rural area. It might not make sense during 5 o’clock traffic (elsewhere).” What started the chase is still unclear. GSP’s initial crash report suggests the men inside the Mercedes-Benz may have stolen a woman’s cell phone at the Raceway on Ga. 138. The city has not fulfilled an open records request for a report on the alleged phone theft. When the cruiser hit the van, another South Fulton officer, Corey Blalock, who had been trying to catch up to the pursuit, saw a ball of fire. Blalock helped Walker from the car and has since returned to work, the chief said. Walker and Blalock both came to South Fulton Police earlier this year after voluntarily resigning from the Fulton County Police Department, according to the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. The city has repeatedly declined to say whether Walker has been on paid leave since the wreck, but Meadows confirmed Tuesday that he is on paid leave. The AJC obtained Walker’s South Fulton personnel file, which shows no disciplinary issues. The chief said whether Walker is disciplined for the pursuit will depend on the results of the state patrol’s investigation, as well as an internal one by the city. Meantime, Frank Rotondo, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, said he was pleased to hear South Fulton changed its pursuit policy, because chases can be so dangerous on metro Atlanta’s congested roads. “It’s commendable the chief had the forethought to change the policy,” Rotondo said Tuesday. “It is regrettable the policy wasn’t implemented more quickly.” Data specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this report.
  • Older cars and trucks are being called a 'major safety concern' by AAA. The agency says the plastic that covers the bulbs can become cloudy or yellow over time. In fact, a recent study showed the headlights on a vehicle that's 11 years old generates only about 20% of the light that a new vehicle puts out. Megan Cooper with AAA says the fact that the average vehicle on the road is 11 and older cars and trucks have dimmer headlights, 'its a recipe for disaster.
  • Atlanta's professional sports franchise history began with the transplantation of the Milwaukee Braves in 1966, followed by the start up Atlanta Falcons and later relocation of the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta's Chiefs brought soccer, but the fan base wasn't ready quite yet, nor for the later indoor arena club. Hockey came, got hot, melted and left with the Atlanta Flames leaving for more northern climes, and lights were out on the Atlanta Knights only a few seasons after they were lit. Atlanta's first major league soccer franchise, the Atlanta Chiefs, won the National Soccer League (NSL) Championship in 1968. Georgia's capital city would then go for 27 years before 'America's Team' and then Ted Turner's Atlanta Braves won their first World Series in 1995, and now, 23 years later, our Atlanta United has just won the Major League Soccer (MSL) Championship Cup. Our Atlanta Loserville curse is finally officially lifted.  Now a top ten metropolitan statistical area, Atlanta is not the city or market with the longest losing streak, nor the longest streak of non-championship winning...but the Loserville label has stuck and stung over time, as combining all the seasons, play-offs, pennant series and titles attempted by the Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Flames and Knights, Atlanta only one national championship once out of 175 seasons  And the challenge was further aggravated by our Atlanta Falcons painful NFL Super Bowl loss, as well as back to back clincher losses to another 'Big A' team, hailing though from Alabama, taking on and then taking down the SEC's Georgia Bulldogs. Not officially an 'Atlanta team,' however the Bulldog Nation's fan base of nearly 100,000 metro Atlanta alumni almost makes them so.  Team owner, Arthur Blank began looking into an MSL soccer franchise in 2014, before finishing construction on his showplace, Mercedes Benz Stadium. The Atlanta United were supposed to open the stadium, however construction delays moved roughly half of their inaugural season in 2017 to Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium. I have to mention that Bobby Dodd has never looked quite so grand, with its stands filled to capacity and every level and concourse draped in red and black. Our Five Stripes fast built out a large family following. An MSL soccer gameday outing is comparatively affordable, at a small fraction of the cost of every other major league franchise. And Blank's acquisition of the MSL team originally had as much to do with 18 more home game days and the resulting parking, concession and merchandising revenues as it did with bringing soccer back to the ATL.  Surprising most, including the team's owner, within only a few home games, Atlanta United jerseys, colors and fanatic groups like the Footie Mob, Terminus and others made each home game a spectacle with the electric energy of a long-established franchise on a winning streak. The talent of the team certainly helped, as the young crew of 18 is a small United Nations, with most players hailing from other countries. Yet at each game there is a surprisingly strong and patriotic moment, as the players, most of whom speak English as their second language, all stand with their hands on their hearts at attention during performance of our national anthem.  As with our 1995 World Series champs, the Braves were welcomed home after beating back a strong challenge by the New York Yankees, with a massive parade down Peachtree Street, a perfect stage setter for the Centennial Olympic Games yet to come. The United will also have a champion's parade down Peachtree, followed by a fan celebration in the Home Depot Backyard, adjacent to the Georgia World Congress Center and MB stadium, attended by dignitaries including Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms.  Savor these moments. United Coach Gerardo Martino is departing the team, MLS League MVP Josef Martinez, also the league's leading scorer and mid-fielder and the team's 'Charlie Hustle' and sometimes hot dog, Miguel Almiron, will reportedly not be returning. American, and team captain, 34-year old Michael Parkhurst, has also not yet had his contract renewed for next season, though negotiations with the team continue.  Whether a one-time wonder, or the beginning of an MSL team dynasty remains to be seen, but for now, let's just all celebrate the glow and the end of the curse. A pretty nice holiday gift to wrap up the year in a town more than once compared to Mudville.
  • Georgia Bulldogs senior defensive back Deandre Baker has been named to the 2018 Associated Press All-America First Team while sophomore left tackle Andrew Thomas has been included on the AP All-America’s Second Team.   Baker, a Miami, Fla., native, became the first Bulldog to win the Paycom Jim Thorpe Award last week for being nation’s best defensive back in college football. He was also a Walter Camp First Team All-American. Thomas, a native of Lilburn, Ga., was named to the Walter Camp All-America Second Team as well.   Baker becomes the first Georgia All-American from the defensive backfield named to the AP’s First Team since Bacarri Rambo in 2011.   A Miami, Fla., native, Baker has started all 13 games for Georgia and has 40 tackles and is tied for the team lead with two interceptions. He also has a team-best 10 pass break-ups. In addition, Baker has a forced fumble and has collected a fumble recovery for a defense that ranks 15th nationally allowing just 18.5 points per game.   Thomas, a native of Lithonia, Ga., has gotten the starting nod at left tackle for 12 of the Bulldogs’ 13 games, only missing the Middle Tennessee State game with an ankle injury. He has anchored an offensive line that leads the SEC in Rushing Offense at 251.6 yards per game and that currently features one senior, two sophomores and two freshmen as starters.    The Bulldogs are averaged 39.2 points per game during their second straight run to the SEC Championship Game and a their first invitation to the Sugar Bowl since 2008. Thomas and his offensive line unit were named a Joe Moore Award finalist for being one of the top offensive lines in the nation.   The Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) All-America teams are expected to be released later on Monday. The Sporting News All-America teams are scheduled to be released on Tuesday and the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) teams on Wednesday.   The No. 5 Bulldogs (11-2) will take on No. 15 Texas (9-4) in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, La., on Jan. 1 at 8:45 p.m. ET. ESPN will televise the fifth all-time matchup between the programs and the first matchup between the teams since 1984.
  • A Fulton County judge has given the city of Atlanta and opponents of the massive Gulch project until next week to ready their arguments for why public bonds should or should not be issued to help fund the $5 billion development. Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Robert McBurney on Monday continued a hearing to “validate” bonds for the sprawling 40-acre site until Dec. 19. VIDEO: More on the Gulch Under Georgia law, a validation hearing is required before a governmental entity can issue bonds. It’s typically a routine matter in which a judge assures investors who would purchase the bonds that the debt issued by the government agency is legal and binding. But that routine step has become another potential battleground for Gulch opponents who allege in a court filing that the up to $1.9 billion public financing package is potentially illegal. Four members of the Redlight the Gulch Coalition, including former state Sen. Vincent Fort, have filed more than two dozen objections to the deal. MORE ON PROPOSED GULCH REDEVELOPMENT VIDEO: Atlanta mayor gets pushback over Gulch redevelopment FLASHBACK PHOTOS: Atlanta’s Gulch and viaducts PHOTOS: Meet your Atlanta City Council members Among their contentions is that 15 years of future school taxes have been improperly added to the financing package without necessary approvals of the Atlanta Public School board. They also argue that the Fulton County Commission must vote to approve the county’s participation in the project. Meanwhile, an APS employee whose child is a student in the district also is contesting the bond validation proceedings. Attorneys for the employee, Erica Long, did not disclose her objections and declined comment Monday. They told McBurney that they expect to file their arguments by Friday afternoon. Attorneys for the city and Gulch developer CIM Group declined comment after the hearing. In a statement, APS spokesman Ian Smith said the continuance “gives APS time to continue our discussions with the city.” While he wouldn’t comment further on those discussions, he said the district maintains “ reasonable hope for a resolution.” In November, Atlanta City Council approved the complex public financing package that would allow CIM to tap into future sales taxes and property taxes created within the Gulch development to help fund its construction. Under the deal, CIM could collect five cents of the local 8.9-cent sales tax generated within the project’s footprint through 2048 to pay for costly infrastructure. The second public funding stream would come from future property taxes created by the development within a zone known as the Westside Tax Allocation District or TAD. TADs are areas where property tax collections for cities, counties and schools are frozen for a period of time. Future increases in tax collections from rising property values as the area redevelops are used to help pay for development. In theory, after the TAD expires, the participating government bodies — such as school systems — reap the financial benefit of new, higher property values. The city, Fulton and APS are all parties to the Westside TAD and have agreed to forgo future property taxes to help spur development in neighborhoods west of downtown. The city has said that the three government entities have committed their property tax “increment,” or the amount above what’s been frozen, through 2038. But in a filing, Carranza Pryor, an attorney for the Redlight the Gulch Coalition, said the school system’s agreement to a Westside redevelopment plan called for the TAD to terminate at the end of 2023. APS, unlike the city and Fulton, never voted to extend the schools’ participation to 2038, a court filing states. Julian Bene, a leader of Redlight the Gulch, called the Gulch deal “a fraud.” “The entire Gulch TAD is invalid because it relied on 15 years of school tax increment that they’re not entitled to,” Bene said after the hearing. “But if we had not intervened today, then the city would have walked away with 15 years’ worth, about $310 million worth of school tax money.” Fulton, meanwhile, when it agreed to the 2038 extension required that the commission must approve the use of its tax dollars for any development commenced after Dec. 31 of this year, Bene said. That vote hasn’t happened. A Fulton spokeswoman said Chairman Robb Pitts does not think the county needs to approve its participation in the Gulch deal, but county officials were still working to confirm that interpretation. Smith, the APS spokesman, said he “cannot speak to the accuracy of other parties’ challenges as it relates to this matter,” and said the Redlight the Gulch Coalition does not speak for APS. The school board last week passed a resolution by a 7-2 vote requiring the board’s written approval before school taxes within the Westside TAD could be used for new development. That move triggered a furious response from Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, whose office called the resolution “misguided and potentially unlawful.” In a more measured statement Monday, Bottoms’ office declined to comment on the arguments made by Gulch opponents. “However, we remain confident that the financing plan complies with state law and we intend to use the period between hearings as an opportunity to continue discussions with our partners at Atlanta Public Schools,” Bottoms’ spokesman Michael Smith said. Staff writers Vanessa McCray and Arielle Kass contributed to this report.
  • Georgia’s biggest farmer’s market is getting a multi-million dollar makeover that local officials hope will multiply foot traffic for the facility and bring jobs to Clayton County. The Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park, which is just a stone’s throw away from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, is getting $10 million from the state and private investors to update vendor stalls, re-arrange the 155-acre property’s layout and improve traffic flow at the facility off I-75. Last year, the state, which owns the market, set aside $5 million for new roofs at the facility. In addition, a 70,000-square-foot refrigeration building is under construction. The goal of the investments: Make the market, which hasn’t seen a lot of physical changes since it opened more than half a century ago, a south metro destination and create jobs by increasing capacity. “The market is undergoing the largest one-time improvement since its inception in 1959,” said Paul Thompson, the property’s deputy director of marketing. The changes come as the facility looks to remain competitive in the $9 billion national farmers market industry. More than 40 farmers markets operate in metro Atlanta, from Marietta to Peachtree City. Few operate all year like the state’s facility, and most are small to moderate in size. Arguably, the most familiar among them are the Buford Highway Farmers Market and Your DeKalb Farmers Market in Decatur. The DeKalb facility, in particular, is so popular that its owners have for years proposed doubling the size of the facility, though that has yet to happen. The state farmers market, however, stands apart from competitors. While it sells flowers, beef, vegetables, trees and even sod to consumers, it’s mostly a wholesale distribution center that supplies restaurants, grocery stores and other goods sellers throughout the southeast. That dual role has often made traffic flow difficult as consumers have to maneuver around 18-wheelers trying to pick up or deliver food. The retooling already has meant change for some of the market’s longtime vendors. Those who sell Christmas trees were moved to a smaller spot at the front of the facility to make room for the new refrigeration building. Kevin Martin, who has been selling trees at the farmers market since the 1980s, said the move hasn’t been as bad as his colleagues had feared. “ We’ve gotten a lot business because people can see us from the street now compared to where we used to be,” said Martin, who operates Breaking Ground Farm & Nursery in Newnan. “The state has worked hard to help us.” He said, however, that overall foot traffic at the market as been down in the last few years and that the state needs to step up its marketing game. One idea he has is to build a rustic building that vendors can move into that will make the market stand out from competitors. “I’ve been telling them that for years,” he said of the need for better marketing. “We need to make this place more family-oriented.” Students at Clayton State University, who studied ways to improve the facility as a class project, agreed. They said the state farmers market benefits from ample parking, a strong supply chain and an accessible location, but it is dated and it is hurt by a lack of curb appeal. It also needs more variety, stronger marketing, updated technology to reach consumers and should hold festivals to attract more customers. “Consumers nowadays want to be entertained,” said Clayton State marketing professor George Nakos. “They are not going to go to a place just for the food.” State Rep. Valencia Stovall, who represents the area and has held several public meetings to get input on the facility from Clayton residents, said boosting the numbers of supply businesses outside the site is also needed. While a handful of restaurants, food delivery services and food manufacturers have established operations across from the market, she said there can always be more. “This is about maximizing all the dollars that we can for Clayton County that we haven’t realized in the past,” she said.
  • A crew arrived Monday morning to move the personal belongings of former Clark Atlanta University president Ronald A. Johnson, whose last day on the job was Friday, who resigned after three-plus years leading one of the largest private universities in Georgia. Johnson prides himself as someone who can see the future, and he believes he can do more for Historically Black Colleges and Universities such as CAU in some of his current roles, such as on the President Donald Trump’s Board of Advisors of HBCUs, and is anticipating new opportunities. “All I’m doing is being who I am,” Johnson said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I live in the future.” University trustees have started a search for Johnson’s replacement. Johnson talked for more than one hour Monday about his tenure. Here are excerpts that were edited for brevity. Q: Why leave now? A: There are a bunch of reasons. Some very personal. I would say if you look at the charge I was given, every single item in that charge was accomplished and as a result, I did everything I was supposed to do. Moody’s had the university on a negative watch, enrollment was stagnant and the university was operating with deficits. All of that has changed. This year, we ended with a cash position of $26 million … The trajectory of the institution has changed and the long-term health of the institution has improved dramatically. Q: There’s talk that some board members weren’t happy with you. There’s always conversation about that when a president leaves during the middle of the school year. Was there any of that here? A: If there was, I wasn’t engaged in it. The only thing I can tell you is I was given a charge. I overachieved the charge. I had a vision. I implemented the strategies associated with that vision and now, hopefully, leave the institution in good hands. Q: You implemented a strategy to get students to take at least 15 or more credit hours each semester … A: It worked tremendously … When I got here, our six-year graduation rate was 38 percent. We lifted it to 40 and now it’s at 45 percent. Q: There’s been concerns that the (office that handles discrimination and sexual misconduct complaints) hasn’t properly handled some complaints and some female coaches have raised concerns that they haven’t been treated fairly. Can you talk about that? A: The challenge here is, what I heard is, the coordinator and the (Human Resources) department did not receive the complaints until weeks later … It is kind of a murky world. Once it gets to the right people, it gets acted on immediately. (Johnson discussed his efforts in 2016 and 2017 to bring law enforcement leaders on campus to discuss reporting complaints.) Q: What would you say is your biggest accomplishment? A: I would say it is being a vision to the institution that the faculty, students and alumni grasped. When I came here, I talked about mobilizing for the future. I used a chess board to symbolize how you have to have the pieces in the right places before you start the game. Then, I talked about ideas that matter … And what we talk about now is lifting every voice and igniting possibilities. Q: What are some things you say ‘I could have done a better job at this?’ A: A lot of things. In things of resources, I had to prioritize. When I got here, our athletics facilities were in pretty shabby shape, and I wish we could have gotten our track done sooner … I wish I could have done more in terms of providing equity for faculty salaries. Q: What’s next? A: I’m working on (Trump’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and the chair of the federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau Advisory Board (looking at predatory lending of the elderly) … Right now, I’m doing a time-out and in the next year, I’ll begin in earnest to start to put together a firm plan.
  • The possibility of icy patches on some metro Atlanta roadways has prompted several delayed openings for Tuesday. WSB Radio meteorologist Kirk Mellish is forecasting lows across the metro overnight to dip to between 28 to 31 degrees. With the rain that has been falling Monday, that he says could produce some isolated patches of ice on roads. Mellish is forecasting sunny skies and highs of 48-52 on Tuesday.
  • A local entrepreneur just 12 years old, selling lots of Christmas trees and pocketing his profits to save up for school.  Wyatt Peters of Fayetteville has been selling Frasier Furs from North Carolina for the past four years.

News

  • After DeKalb County School District officials promised efforts to improve their hiring process, the district hired a teacher this summer who had been arrested in 2013 in New York for meth possession. Carl Hudson was arrested in 2013 for possession of methamphetamine, a felony, a few blocks from Flushing High School, where he was principal. According to the New York Daily News, he pleaded to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct and received a conditional discharge, meaning the whole incident would get wiped from his record if he did not have any other legal run-ins over the following year. Hudson’s case is like the series of hiring blunders that led DeKalb officials to admit to gaps in the district’s hiring processes while promising to correct those flaws. According to his resume, he moved to Atlanta in 2016 and found employment with Atlanta Public Schools, beginning as a long-term substitute before becoming a permanent hire, until he left the district this summer to teach math at Tucker High School. Atlanta Public schools officials said he worked for the district just over a year, ending in November of 2017. His arrest, though, was easily found through a Google search and according to Georgia teaching standards should have kept him from being employed by either school district. Superintendent Steve Green said Tuesday that being previously charged with a crime would not make someone ineligible for a job. District officials said they were not aware of Hudson’s arrest prior to hiring him. TRENDING STORIES: Police ID woman run over, killed at gas station; search for driver underway Michelle Obama extends national book tour, adds stop in Atlanta Officer shot in bulletproof vest during traffic stop, suspect killed Atlanta Public Schools officials did not say whether they were aware of his 2013 meth arrest, but said late Tuesday that results of standard background checks met their guidelines. According to the Code of Ethics for Educators, from the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, unethical conduct includes the commission or conviction of a felony, including a situation where the charge is disposed through diversion or similar programs. On his application, Hudson marked “no” when asked whether he had been convicted of any crimes in the last five years. On his resume, instead of listing the name of the high school where he worked, he wrote “NYC DOE High School,” or New York City Department of Education. Efforts to reach Hudson were not successful. District officials said he “walked off the job” Nov. 26. Bernice Gregory, the district’s human resources chief, said changes to the hiring procedure since she arrived at the district in April include having a second person — either Gregory or the director of employment services — perform a second candidate screening to ensure checks and balances on the district’s hiring checklist have been met. That could include a Google search and verifying a person’s job history for the past 10 years, talking to at least one reference who directly supervised the candidate. “We put another set of eyes on it,” Gregory said about the applications. “Once we put their names in Google, you know everything … is going to come up that’s out there.” The district recently joined the National Association of Teacher Education and Certification, which has a database giving the district access to convictions, arrests and charges against a potential candidate. Her staff is set to begin training this week to use that system. She said they also recently signed up for access to the Child Protective Services Information System, which essentially is a child abuse registry for the state of Georgia and would tell district officials whether someone had had as little as a child abuse complaint against them. A question added to applications will ask applicants if they have been asked to resign from a school district. During peak hiring times, Gregory said someone from her department will ask the question again. The district has gotten into trouble for sloppy hiring in the past, including a teacher hired last summer who had been fired from the Toledo, Ohio, school district on allegations that she assaulted students by putting them in headlocks and pushing them against walls. DeKalb County Schools placed Sandra Meeks-Speller on administrative leave on Oct. 10, 2017 pending an internal investigation, shortly after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution requested her personnel file and told district officials what was uncovered online about her past. Diane Clark was removed twice from the district in 13 months. The first time, in November 2016, she was allowed to retire early after several of her Cross Keys High School students claimed she made threatening comments about getting them deported immediately after President Donald Trump was elected. The second time was December 2017, after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution discovered Clark had been brought back to the district as a substitute teacher.  District officials admitted failing to do internet searches was among critical gaps in their background-check process, and promised changes such as verifying the work history candidates provide on their job applications and making direct contact with references.“Our background-check process certainly needs shoring up,” Superintendent Steve Green said last year. “We need to keep up with the times for ways there are to get information. In the old days, if you were cleared to teach in Ohio, you would be cleared to teach here.” District officials said in an email at the time that they would provide training sessions on interview tips, contact state boards where candidates are licensed and provide annual safety awareness training for some human capital management employees.
  • A Kentucky man is facing murder charges after allegedly slashing the throat of his sleeping 3-year-old niece early Saturday morning, news outlets reported. >> Read more trending news  The toddler’s father heard her screams over a baby monitor around 2:45 a.m. and was attacked by Emanuel Fluter, 33, when he tried to save his daughter, The Associated Press reported. Josephine Bulubenchi later died from her injuries at an Albany-area hospital. Fluter, a veteran, who had been living with the family in their rural Clinton County home, had been suffering from mental health issues, the child’s father and Fluter’s brother, Dariu Fluter, told WKYT-TV. “I want people to know that he loved his nieces and loved his nephews,' Dariu Flutur said. 'He loved us. He loved me and his sister.” The family told WKYT they forgive him for the alleged murder. 'He has a mental condition that he suffers with since he was in the army,' Dariu said. 'It's tough for us to understand because of what happened.' >> Trending: Texas firefighters rescue over 100 snakes from burning house, including pythons, boas There were four other children in the room at the time of the attack, but none of them were injured, police said. Fluter is jailed on $1 million bond and is due back in court on Dec. 18.
  • A metro Atlanta woman is accused of stabbing another woman to death at a Rockdale County motel and firing at officers during a chase. It happened at a Motel 6 in Conyers. Right after the murder, a statewide alert helped authorities in another part of the state catch the murder suspect, 42-year-old Joyce Marie Lewis-Pelzer. The alert also sparked new attention being put on the disappearance of another woman seven years ago. Last November, Channel 2 Action News followed up on the disappearance of Shawndell McLeod out of DeKalb County that is being investigated as a homicide. [READ MORE: 6 years later, this missing woman's case is now a murder investigation] While looking into Lewis-Pelzer, Channel 2's Matt Johnson found DeKalb court records that show McLeod took out a protective order against Lewis-Pelzer two months before the disappearance. Lewis-Pelzer is recovering at a south Georgia hospital after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said she led deputies on a high-speed chase that ended in Turner County. TRENDING STORIES: Police ID woman run over, killed at gas station; search for driver underway Michelle Obama extends national book tour, adds stop in Atlanta Officer shot in bulletproof vest during traffic stop, suspect killed 'Probably eight or nine minutes from mile marker 94 to mile marker 84 -- 10-miles stretch and it reached speeds of 110 miles per hour,' Sheriff Billy Hancock said. Deputies in Crisp County returned fire when she shot at them on I-75 Monday night. Authorities said she tried to head to Florida after stabbing her partner. A statewide alert helped a state trooper locate her car and attempt to make a traffic stop before authorities said Lewis-Pelzer kept going. It took two PIT maneuvers to stop her and the GBI said she fired at least one shot from her car toward deputies. As for the McLeod case, a Conyers police spokesperson said they're working with another department to look at the suspect further to determine her connection to an additional murder. The family of the victim at the motel is out of state and have not been notified of her death as of late Monday night. The accused killer has multiple domestic violence arrests in both DeKalb and Fulton counties.
  • Attorneys for President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn asked a judged to spare him prison time in a memo filed Tuesday. >> Read more trending news  In the filing, Flynn’s lawyers recommended for a sentence 'a term of probation not to exceed one year, with minimal conditions of supervision, along with 200 hours of community service, CNN reported. His attorneys said in the memo that “General Flynn accepted responsibility for his conduct and that his cooperation “was not grudging or delayed.” >> Related: Guilty: Michael Flynn admits in court to lying about Russian communication “Rather, it preceded his guilty plea or any threatened indictment and began very shortly after he was first contacted for assistance by the Special Counsel's Office.” Flynn is scheduled for sentencing next Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials. Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, recommended no jail time for Flynn in a filing last week. Original story: Attorneys for President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn are expected to make a sentencing recommendation Tuesday in a case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. Prosecutors with Mueller’s team said last week in court filings that Flynn has been cooperative since he pleaded guilty last year to making false statements to the FBI. In light of his assistance, prosecutors asked that Flynn receive little to no jail time for his crime, an argument Flynn’s attorneys are expected to echo, according to The Associated Press. >> Mueller investigation: Report recommends little to no jail time for Michael Flynn Flynn resigned from his post in the Trump administration in February 2017 after serving just 24 days in office. He pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials and agreed to fully cooperate with Mueller’s team.  Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced next week by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, according to court records.
  • A day of shopping at a New Jersey mall took a violent turn for three teenagers, who said they were beaten up by two women over a parking space. >> Read more trending news  The three friends - Taylor McFadden, 18; Tatum Bohanon, 19, and Alexandria 'Allie' DeRusso, 19 – told NJ.com that a car was waiting for their parking spot close to the Deptford Mall entrance, but that they weren’t ready to leave.  The girls think that’s what angered the women, who, at first, walked by their car with two men, and then returned and attacked them, McFadden said. She told NJ.com that one of the women hit Bohannon and the other woman punched DeRusso. “Both of my friends were on the ground at this point, getting punched,” McFadden told NJ.com. “I jumped out of the passenger side and I grabbed my phone so that I could call the police. People started coming over, but I think a lot of people were scared to get involved,” she said. When it was over, all three girls were treated at a local hospital. >> Trending: Father turns in daughter to face charges over starving dogs Authorities are investigating the incident.
  • California state lawmaker Joaquin Arambula was arrested Monday on suspicion of misdemeanor child cruelty, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said. The arrest came after officials at Dailey Elementary Charter School discovered an injury on a child who came into an office Monday afternoon, Dyer said. He did not describe the injury or Arambula's relationship to the child. He was cited for willful cruelty to a child, Arambula, a Democratic state assemblyman, is married with three young daughters. 'Joaquin is a committed father who wants what is best for his children,' his spokeswoman Felicia Matlosz said in a Tuesday statement. 'He is fully supportive of the process, which will show he is a loving and nurturing father.' Arambula is a former emergency room physician who won a 2016 special election to represent part of Fresno and the surrounding rural areas. His father Juan Arambula was a state assemblyman in the early 2000s. Officials at the elementary school reported the child's injury to child protective services, which called Fresno police, Dyer said. Officers called Arambula and his wife, Elizabeth, who both arrived at the scene. The child described how the injury occurred and said Arambula inflicted it, Dyer said. The police determined the injury happened Sunday evening. Arambula was cooperative and cordial, but he did not provide a statement to officers based on advice from his attorney, Dyer said. Officers were 'confident that a crime had occurred' and arrested Arambula on suspicion of willful cruelty to a child, Dyer said. He was taken in a patrol car to police headquarter, finger-printed, photographed and then released because his crime is a misdemeanor. The injury did not rise to the level of a felony. All school district employees in California are considered 'mandated reporters' under state law, meaning they are required to report known or suspected child abuse. They are not responsible for determining if an allegation is valid, according to the state Department of Education's website. They are expected to report if abuse or neglect is suspected or a child shares information leading them to believe it took place. They are then required to call law enforcement or child protective services, and law enforcement is required to investigate. A physical injury inflicted on a child by someone else intentionally is considered child abuse or neglect. Officials at the elementary school and Fresno Unified School District did not immediately respond to requests for comment. __ Associated Press writers Jonathan J. Cooper and Don Thompson contributed.