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Opinion Blogs
One Man's Opinion: 'It's Past Time'
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One Man's Opinion: 'It's Past Time'

One Man's Opinion: 'It's Past Time'
Photo Credit: National Archives and Records Administration
James Cox (left) was a former three-term Governor of Ohio before he ran for President in 1920, with Franklin Delano Roosevelt as his unsuccessful running mate.

One Man's Opinion: 'It's Past Time'

"Lead, follow or get out of the way," said Ted Turner, entrepreneur, media mogul and philanthropist.

One of the highlights of the 2019 Georgia Bulldog football season, was the naming of Dooley Field in Sanford Stadium in Athens to honor legendary former UGA football coach and Athletic Director, Vince Dooley. The honor was well over-due. 

I think Georgia, and our capital city of Atlanta, should do more, and sooner than later to recognize two other individuals, as well as two families who have made many historic and lasting contributions to Atlanta and to Georgia. I'm speaking specifically of former Ohio Governor James Cox and the Cox family and media mogul and environmental philanthropist Ted Turner. 

Cox was a former three-term Governor of Ohio before he ran for President in 1920, with Franklin Delano Roosevelt as his unsuccessful running mate. Traveling the country by rail, F.D.R. introduced Cox to Warm Springs, southern hospitality and the people of Georgia. Though Dayton, Ohio remained the Governor's home, he would move much of his family and business holdings to Atlanta, initially purchasing The Atlanta Journal & Georgian in 1938, and eventually growing those properties into Cox Enterprises and the Cox Media Group. 

Turner turned a modest billboard company into the nation's first cable Super-Station, investing in cable networks and programming in their infancy, as well as serving as a longtime owner of the Atlanta Braves. Turner became a billionaire before selling his many media holdings to Time Warner, later getting into the restaurant business, in part to restore the species of Buffalo to the plains of North America. 

When the Atlanta Braves, under new ownership, left for the suburbs of Cobb County and the likely soon to be renamed SunTrust Park, that ended the name of Turner Field and the life of a baseball stadium just over 20 years old. Though it was assumed that the name came as Turner's Braves were the 'home team' at the converted baseball park, retro-fitted from the Centennial Olympic Stadium after those games in 1996, it is seldom shared or publicized that Turner spent more than $40-million stabilizing and retro-fitting that structure for baseball and the fans, without seeking tax-payer assistance, subsidies or tax breaks. 

Jim Cox Kennedy, grandson of Governor Cox and still the Chairman of Cox Enterprises, earlier developed a passion for bike riding which would grow into the creation of the PATH Foundation. PATH's first trail connected Stone Mountain Park to downtown Atlanta and Centennial Park and over the past 25 years has constructed more than 300 miles of pedestrian and biking trails all across Georgia.

The Cox Foundation recently co-funded a pedestrian bridge with the City of Atlanta, named for former Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr., which connects the Atlanta Beltline to those PATH trails at Marietta Street downtown, not far from the former AJC headquarters, and reconnects the downtown Eastside and Westside, straddling the massive and exiting railroad tracks of CSX and Norfolk Southern. 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
November 25, 2019 - Atlanta - Ed McBrayer (from left), Executive Director of the PATH Foundation, Michael Julian Bond, Atlanta Council member, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta Mayor, Beau Allen, grandson of Ivan Allen Jr., and Jim Kennedy, Chairman, Cox Enterprises, dedicate the bridge. The PATH Foundation dedicated a bridge to former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. The Ivan Allen Gateway creates a trail connection from Centennial Park to the westside, and serves as a memorial to Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., Atlanta’s mayor from 1962-1970. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
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New bridge honors late Atlanta mayor, an ode to the “new South”

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
November 25, 2019 - Atlanta - Ed McBrayer (from left), Executive Director of the PATH Foundation, Michael Julian Bond, Atlanta Council member, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta Mayor, Beau Allen, grandson of Ivan Allen Jr., and Jim Kennedy, Chairman, Cox Enterprises, dedicate the bridge. The PATH Foundation dedicated a bridge to former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. The Ivan Allen Gateway creates a trail connection from Centennial Park to the westside, and serves as a memorial to Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., Atlanta’s mayor from 1962-1970. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

The Cox family through another gift to the PATH Foundation, are funding an extension of the Atlanta Beltline and PATH, connecting to the Silver Comet Trail in Cobb County. When completed, this trail will reach from Stone Mountain Park to Anniston, Alabama and become the longest continuous trail path in the United States. 

Those who have previously blocked more substantial recognition for the Cox or Turner families have focused on their personal politics or others flaws and foibles. None of us are perfect and we should stop expecting perfection among our community and business leaders. 

The Cox family still owns the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, and the new owners of Cox Media Group plan to keep that name, And while Turner's name continues to adorn a several blocks of Spring Street in downtown Atlanta, and parts of his former corporate campus now owned by Time-Warner Media, more significant and visible honors are well overdue both families. 

For the AJC
A pricetag of $5-7 million will transform the 1.4 mile stretch of Ted Turner Drive into a gateway to downtown that showcases inviting urban space with resilience values. CONTRIBUTED
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UGA wins Ted Turner Drive Resilience Corridor Challenge

Photo Credit: For the AJC
A pricetag of $5-7 million will transform the 1.4 mile stretch of Ted Turner Drive into a gateway to downtown that showcases inviting urban space with resilience values. CONTRIBUTED

Some students at Georgia State University have recently called on Atlanta’s Mayor to remove the downtown statue of another newspaper giant, Henry W. Grady, another impactful but flawed leader of the post-Civil War ‘New South.’ Grady’s name adorns Grady Hospital, Grady High School and the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia. I don’t support his name or statue coming down, but those are a few fine examples worthy of like consideration for Ted Turner as well as Ohio Governor Jim Cox and the Cox family.

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News

  • An Atlanta woman who claimed to be disabled, but also worked as an exotic dancer, has pleaded guilty to Social Security fraud. Valencia Williams told the Social Security Administration that she was disabled and rarely left home, but the SSA found out that wasn’t true. Williams told the government she had extreme anxiety and depression and couldn’t even leave her room. She qualified for disability benefits. But actually, she was allegedly working at Stroker’s Adult entertainment in DeKalb County under the name Chrissy the Doll. In 2010, Williams started getting Social Security benefits for major depressive disorder and panic disorder, but she got adult entertainer permits from DeKalb County in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018. Prosecutors said Williams stole $60,000 in federal funds that should have been going to people who are actually unable to work.
  • A Suwanee man and an Illinois man are accused of driving to Floyd County in hopes of sexually abusing children. Both were armed with guns during their trek, which netted them even more felony charges, authorities said. Jeffrey Howard Cronin, 55, of Suwanee, and Jonathan Donald McMurray, 32, of Wheeling, Ill., were arrested Tuesday, according to multiple local media reports. While Cronin’s drive to Floyd County was only about 100 miles, McMurray traveled 11 hours after allegedly trying to entice a child, the Rome News-Tribune reported. Cronin contacted a person online whom he believed was under the age of 16, and he talked about sexual acts he planned to do to the person, according to arrest warrants obtained by the newspaper. He traveled to the county to meet the person, but he instead met with authorities. McMurray’s case is similar, since he engaged in “sexual conversation” with someone online whom he thought was under the age of 16, according to arrest warrants obtained by the News-Tribune. He also arrived in Floyd County only to find law enforcement. The arresting officers found two firearms in McMurray’s possession and one firearm on Cronin, which earned them both counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, which is a felony, the newspaper reported. Both suspects were also charged with child molestation and obscene internet contact-related charges, the News-Tribune reported. They were booked into the Floyd County Jail, where they remained Wednesday morning. However, their names did not appear in the county’s online jail record system later Wednesday night, so it’s unclear whether they’ve been granted bond. AJC.com has reached out to the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office for more information. In other news:
  • Metro Atlanta hospitals are on high alert and trading information with public health departments. Local schools are using Lysol wipes in classrooms and devising contingency plans if they need to close. Businesses around Georgia are rethinking travel. After weeks of watching the coronavirus mushroom across China, then spread to other parts of Asia and jump to other continents, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now telling Americans they should prepare for potentially major disruptions to their daily lives. MORE: Close to 200 Georgia residents are being monitored for coronavirus MORE: What you need to know about coronavirus if you live in Georgia In Georgia, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19, as the virus is officially known, and which can range from mild illness to pneumonia and death. But the CDC has confirmed 60 cases in the U.S., which include 45 people who were repatriated from Wuhan, China or the Diamond Princess cruise ship. And health authorities expect that number to grow. MORE: Coronavirus outbreak in US. Not ‘if’ but ‘when,’ CDC says MORE: President Trump details coronavirus efforts  Atlanta has the world’s busiest international airport, where more than 1,000 travelers already have been screened for coronavirus, according to airport general manager John Selden. About 200 people have been put into self-quarantine at their homes after returning to Atlanta from China, he added. Many of the major players trying to contain the outbreak are based here - including Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, who has become the public face of the federal agency’s containment efforts in recent weeks. Messonnier, who lives in metro Atlanta, said Tuesday she told her family they are not at risk right now but called her children’s school district about what would happen if schools need to close. And while she said it was too early to tell how severe the outbreak will be in the U.S., she recommended businesses make contingency plans for employees to work from home. MORE: Stock market falls on coronavirus concern? Advisers still suggest calm Gov. Brian Kemp said he’s participated in two calls with President Donald Trump’s team and leaders from public health agencies and governors. He said he’s also in touch with county officials. “We’ll be ready for whatever comes. Hopefully it won’t be much, but if it, is we’ll be ready to respond to it,” Kemp said Wednesday. If coronavirus comes to Georgia, the state Department of Public Health will lead the charge against it. It said Wednesday it will adapt its detailed pandemic flu plan for a COVID-19 outbreak and that epidemiologists are on call 24/7 to help health care providers evaluate individuals with symptoms. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom’s office said Wednesday it is “encouraging private employers to review and update, if necessary, work continuity plans.” Metro area school districts began sending out emails to parents, encouraging hand hygiene, coughing into the elbow and staying home if sick. Some of the coordination among authorities appeared still to be in the early stages. The Georgia Association of Primary Health Care represents dozens of Federally Qualified Health Clinics across the state. As of Wednesday afternoon it had not yet received information on coronavirus protocols from its usual sources, the Bureau of Primary Health Care and the CDC, said executive director Duane Kavka. But he said he expected to soon. Preliminary reports suggest the fatality rate of the new coronavirus is between 1% and 3%, which would make it far less deadly than the related pathogen SARS, which killed 10% of people infected. But there are no vaccines or proven treatments for COVID-19. The new strain also appears to be more contagious than the flu, which kills tens of thousands of Americans each year. Curtis Harris, director of the University of Georgia’s Institute for Disaster Management, said hospitals and health care facilities in the state have plans for sudden increases in patients, such as converting offices into treatment space. He said Georgia officials and health care facilities already communicate closely about how to limit outbreaks, including steps as simple as isolating patients with symptoms. Health care organizations and officials in seven Southeastern states did training exercises late last year about how to deal with a U.S. outbreak of Ebola, which has a much higher mortality rate. But space and surge capacity is a “perennial problem” at medical facilities, he added. If a large number of people are sick, isolating and quarantining patients may not be feasible. Experts point out they may need to turn to telemedicine and triage, hospitalizing only the most critically ill. Dr. José Cordero, the department head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at UGA, added it’s a good idea to get a flu shot — if you haven’t already — to avoid illness and using up medical resources. He recommended families and friends discuss emergency contingency plans for helping each other with everything from child care to meal sharing. And, he added, it may be sensible to have a couple weeks to a month’s worth of food supplies. The potential outbreak comes as the state’s health department faces budget cuts along with the rest of state government. In recent budget hearings, some lawmakers and witnesses said they feared cuts to epidemiology, immunization, infectious disease control and county public health department grants could hurt a future coronavirus response. That includes Dr. Robert Geller, medical director of the Georgia Poison Control Center, who said the center answers a public health hotline and then alerts epidemiologists of potential outbreak cases. If coronavirus sweeps Georgia, Geller said, even restoring the budget cut wouldn’t do: “We’ll need more money, not less money.” Georgia’s health department pushed back, saying a $49,000 cut to Geller’s center was a fraction of its $1.2 million budget. That and the other cuts would come out of unrelated expenses such as a consultant whose work was complete, it said. Cody Hall, a spokesman for Kemp, said budget cuts “do not in any way affect the Department’s ability to respond to a potential coronavirus case here in Georgia.” Eric Toner, a senior scholar at The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the U.S. overall is “reasonably well prepared” for a mild pandemic, although even a mild one could put stress on emergency departments and intensive care units. He added the toll on hospitals would be much greater if the virus is particularly deadly, such as during the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. and millions around the world. “No hospital is well prepared for that,” Toner said, adding “a lot of people would not have the access to critical care they would need to keep them alive.” But most people wouldn’t need that kind of care, he said. The risk to the average healthy individual likely would still be relatively low, with most people having flu-like symptoms and recovering quickly, he predicted. -staff writer Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this article. » MORE: The flu more of a threat in Georgia than new coronavirus » RELATED: Atlanta’s Chinese community has especially deep worry about coronavirus
  • A metro Atlanta man said a twin-engine jet he was flying was having problems with its autopilot shortly before it crashed and killed four people earlier this month in northwest Georgia, according to a preliminary incident report released Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board. The Cessna Citation disappeared from radar Feb. 8 hours before its remnants were found in a remote part of Gordon County.  The pilot, Roy Smith, 68, of Fayetteville, his son, 25-year-old Morgen Smith of Atlanta, the son’s girlfriend, 23-year-old Savannah Sims of Atlanta, and 63-year-old Raymond Sluk of Senoia were found among the wreckage, according to Gordon County Deputy Coroner Christy Nicholson.  According to Heidi Kemner, an air safety investigator for the NTSB, the jet departed from Atlanta Regional Airport-Falcon Field in Peachtree City about 9:45 a.m. and was headed for Nashville, Tennessee. It was snowing at the time, but it’s unclear if the weather was a factor in the crash.  The report revealed the plane was having issues maintaining its altitude and direction before it disappeared from radar.  An air traffic controller told the pilot to return to the height and direction they were supposed to be traveling, and the pilot said he was having problems with the autopilot. The controller asked if everything was under control, and the pilot said they were “OK now,” the report said.  RELATED: 4 dead in Gordon County plane crash The technological problems persisted and the plane once again strayed from its elevation and direction.  The air traffic controller again asked if everything was all right, and the pilot said they were “‘playing with the autopilot’ because they were having trouble with it,” the report said.  The controller suggested turning the autopilot off and hand-flying the plane, according to the report. The pilot rose to a higher altitude, but according to the report he was never able to get out of the clouds.  The pilot later told a second air traffic controller that they were having instrumental issues on the left side of the plane and were working from instruments on the right side.  RELATED: Metro Atlanta father, son among 4 victims of Gordon County plane crash The plane rose farther and started to make a left turn, when air traffic control suddenly lost contact with it. The controller tried to reach the plane “numerous times” but did not get a response, the report said.  The area in which the plane was found was so hilly that it was accessible only by foot, Gordon County Chief Deputy Robert Paris told AJC.com. “The plane was discovered in one of the most remote areas of our jurisdiction,” Paris said, calling the crash site terrain treacherous. “We had to go in in four-wheel drive vehicles and ATVs and we had to walk a long way after that. It’s only accessible by foot.”  The left wing was still attached to the body of the plane, but part of the right wing had been torn off, according to the NTSB report.  “Several sections of wing skin” were found along the path of debris, the report said.  It took more than 24 hours to locate all of the victims, AJC.com previously reported.  The NTSB has not released a conclusive cause of the crash. In other news: 
  • An Oklahoma man who was convicted last June of kidnapping his stepdaughter, holding her captive for 19 years and fathering her nine children has been sentenced to life in federal prison. Henri Michelle Piette, 65, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for kidnapping and 360 months, or 30 years, for traveling with the intent to engage in sexual acts with a juvenile. He was also ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and $50,067 in restitution to his victim, Rosalynn Michelle McGinnis. The names of victims of sexual crimes are usually withheld, but McGinnis went public about her ordeal shortly before Piette’s October 2017 arrest in Mexico. Piette claimed he had married McGinnis, whom he kidnapped from her Porteau, Oklahoma, middle school in 1997, when she was 12. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, Piette had been in a relationship with McGinnis’ mother. >> Related story: Man accused of ‘marrying’ 11-year-old stepdaughter, holding her captive for 19 years. Piette’s sexual abuse of McGinnis began when she was about 11, while he still lived with her family in Wagoner, according to an affidavit filed in federal court. In a 2018 interview with 41 Action News in Kansas City, Missouri, McGinnis said she was around 10 when he raped her for the first time. “According to R. Doe (McGinnis), she remembered when she was around 11 years old, (Piette) took her to a van and married her,” the affidavit says. “She added Piette gave her a ring and (Piette’s) son, Toby Piette, officiated the marriage.” The then-preteen and her family later moved to a home in Porteau, and McGinnis was soon kidnapped. Prosecutors argued at trial that Piette spent the next two decades raping her repeatedly and abusing her physically and emotionally. The affidavit states that McGinnis told investigators she was “introduced to (Piette’s) children as their new mother.” Though they traveled to numerous places in the U.S. and Mexico, Piette would occasionally return with McGinnis to Oklahoma and force her to mail letters there so her family would believe she remained close to home, the court document says. Watch Rosalynn McGinnis talk about her ordeal below, courtesy of 41 Action News in Kansas City, Missouri, where she was born and now lives with her family. “The victim gave birth to nine children, the first being born in 2000 when she was 15 years old,” a news release from U.S. Attorney Brian J. Kuester said. “In July 2016, the victim was able to escape with her children to the United States Consular General Offices in Nogales, Mexico.” The FBI was notified of McGinnis’ allegations, and a federal investigation began. “The investigation revealed, and the victim testified at trial, that the defendant had moved her and their children dozens of times within the United States and Mexico,” Kuester’s news release said. “The defendant used numerous aliases and forced the victim to use aliases, dye her hair and wear glasses to change her appearance. He controlled the victim by extreme violence, threats of violence, and sexual abuse against her and her children.” In a 2017 interview with People magazine, McGinnis described being raped, beaten with baseball bats, stabbed, choked and shot during her captivity. “I knew that if I didn’t get out of there, I’d either go insane or I would end up dying and leaving my kids with that man,” McGinnis told the magazine. Piette was still at large in Mexico when McGinnis spoke to People. He was later captured and returned to Wagoner County to face prosecution. Once he was back in the U.S., Piette told Fox23 News in Tulsa he was innocent. “Most of it are lies,” he told the news station as he shuffled into a courtroom for a hearing, surrounded by deputies. “Ninety-nine percent are lies. I’m telling the truth.” Piette denied raping McGinnis. “I never raped any children. I made love to my wife,” Piette said. “We were married.” Read the affidavit outlining Piette’s crimes below.  Kuester said it is fitting that Piette’s sentence, like the “horrific memories” he left McGinnis and her children with, will last a lifetime. “Life in prison is a sentence the law reserves for the most serious offenders – offenders like Henri Michelle Piette,” the federal prosecutor said. “For 20 years he inflicted extreme physical and emotional abuse on the victim and her children. For 20 years she feared for her and her children’s lives.” McGinnis told 41 Action News that she felt great relief following Piette’s sentencing. She expressed similar sentiments last year following his guilty verdict. “I’m just so happy that he is put away where he can’t hurt anyone anymore,” McGinnis told the news station. The station reported that Oklahoma state officials took Piette into custody last week following the verdict so he can face state charges filed in Wagoner County.
  • For more than 15 years, Dandre Shabazz got away with a string of violent assaults against women, according to prosecutors. But the evidence linking him to the crimes had been there all along. On Wednesday, the 56-year-old Shabazz was convicted, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office said. It was the second conviction in five days in Fulton County that involved a lack of previous rape kit testing.  From January 2002 until March 2005, Shabazz attacked a dozen women in Fulton County. And those victims underwent sexual assault examinations at Grady Memorial Hospital. Then, those assault kits — containing Shabazz’s DNA — sat untouched for more than a decade.  That changed following a 2015 AJC investigation that revealed more than 1,300 rape kits were at Grady and had never been turned over to investigators. The following year, a new Georgia law required that all of the untested kits be submitted to the GBI for testing.  RELATED: Nearly 13 years later, DNA leads to rape conviction ALSO: Grady releasing 1,000 rape kits withheld from law enforcement In April 2017, the GBI contacted the Fulton DA’s office. Shabazz’s DNA was found on one kit, and then 11 others, the DA’s office said.  “This man was a violent and ruthless serial rapist. Because rape kits were not tested in a timely manner, he was allowed, not only to continue to prey upon the women of our community, but he almost got away with his brutal crimes, scot-free,” Fulton County DA Paul Howard said in an emailed statement. “I am thankful to all of the people who worked so hard to get these rape kits tested. The criminal justice system should never allow rape kits to go untested again.” In June 2018, a Fulton County grand jury indicted Shabazz in the rapes. By then, he was behind bars in federal prison. In 2006, he was convicted of several armed robberies as part of the “Daybreak Bandits” who targeted restaurants in the early morning hours.  Shabazz’s trial began Feb. 18 in Fulton County. Prosecutors told the jury Shabazz targeted young women who were alone late at night and assaulted them at gunpoint. But he didn’t use a condom, which linked him to the crimes.  Shabazz was convicted of kidnapping, armed robbery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated sodomy and aggravated child molestation, the DA’s office said. His sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday.