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Headlines

  • Two years ago, student journalists with the Georgia News Lab asked the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office for the agency’s use of force policy, a public record readily available in every law enforcement agency’s operations manual. Cobb fulfilled the request — 54 days later. This year, News Lab repeated the exercise. Same request. Same policy. But Cobb sent the document the same day it received the request. The office took deliberate steps to improve following the poor performance cited in the News Lab story from 2016, according to Cmdr. Robert Quigley. “The sheriff made it very clear to the staff that we were going to do everything we could to meet the terms of open records (laws),” Quigley said. The public depends on the state’s sunshine laws to obtain information about the functioning of government and the performance of public officials. To test compliance with the law, in 2016 and again this year, the News Lab sent requests for routine public records to more than 140 local agencies and law enforcement offices in 13 metro counties. Law enforcement received a request for use of force policies, while governments received one for payroll records. The investigations found that nearly half of the agencies tested provided records faster than in 2016 — in some cases by weeks. But nearly a third of the agencies failed to meet the law’s requirement that they acknowledge a request within three business days and provide the records, or tell the requester when they will be available. The law requires agencies to promptly provide records that are readily available. News Lab journalists also encountered problems with how agencies responded to requests, from inappropriate demands for fees to staff who were unfamiliar with what the law requires. “This is definitely an indication about how much work there is to do,” said Georgia First Amendment Foundation President Richard T. Griffiths. “Cities and counties in Georgia have to do more about responding to requests from the public.” Atlanta adopts new procedures Georgia’s sunshine laws made news this year after the AJC and Channel 2 Action News reported that senior officials in the administration of former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed frustrated requests for public records, prompting the Georgia Office of Attorney General to open the first-ever criminal investigation into violations of the open records act. The administration of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms enacted new compliance measures in response to a separate civil compliant the news organizations filed with the attorney general, which accused the city of systematic violations of open records law. Atlanta’s response times improved dramatically in 2018 under the new Bottoms administration. In 2016, the Atlanta Police Department’s open records division took 50 business days to provide its use of force policy. This year, the department provided the document in six days — but not without difficulty. It first sent a link to a website where all the department’s policies are posted. After a reporter sought clarification, the department sent the document along with details of where it was on the website. The city’s response to a request for payroll records also improved. In 2016, the city took 54 days to provide the records. This year, the city provided the record in four days — but with one hiccup. Three business days after submitting the request, a reporter received a call from press secretary Michael Smith asking what the information would be used for. Carolyn Carlson, a retired communications professor from Kennesaw State University who trained public officials on complying with the state’s sunshine laws, said it is not appropriate for agencies to ask why requesters want records. “It is none of their business,” Carlson said. “If it is a public record, you have a right to it no matter why you want it.” Atlanta’s proposed procedure for handling records requests from the media and the public will remove the mayor’s press office from the process and place it under an independent transparency officer. Other agencies improve Many other agencies also provided records more quickly this year. In 2016, 17 agencies took more than 20 days to provide requested records or never produced them at all, compared to 13 agencies this year. The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office sent records after three days but sent them by postal mail rather than emailing electronic copies as requested. In 2016, it took the office 54 days. Stone Mountain police and the city’s government provided records within three days that took the two agencies 46 and 19 days to provide in 2016. In 2016, the Henry County Police Department sent its use of force policy in less than an hour and a half. This year, it provided the policy just 10 minutes after the request went out — the fastest response of either year. “We are a … believer in open records,” said Henry Police Capt. Joey Smith. “It’s just a law we try to abide.” More than a quarter of the agencies took longer to provide records this year. More than half of the agencies provided compliant responses both years. Problems remain Human error, technical failings and a poor understanding of what the open records law requires were often at the root of an agency’s failure to comply with the law in a timely manner. College Park police and the city government complied with requests in one day in 2016 but took 18 and 31 days respectively to do so this year. Reporters learned the city clerk, who handles requests for both the city and the police, left her position the day the requests were submitted and the new clerk said she did not receive the requests or follow up messages left with her predecessor. Austell originally provided a cost estimate of $120 for its payroll records, including $100 for “attorney fees.” The city clerk told a reporter the fee covered time the city attorney spent determining if the records could be released. When the reporter informed the clerk that state law  does not allow such charges, the clerk replied that she was “not aware” of that provision and lowered the fee to $20. Carlson said that many errors in handling requests are the result of a poor understanding of the law. “It shows a lack of training mostly, I would say, for the people who are in charge of the records,” she said. “They don’t understand (the law), or haven’t been trained well enough.” Technical problems were also an issue. Requests emailed to Fulton County and its sheriff’s office were entered into a new online system. When the system showed the request for payroll records was still “processing” after nearly two weeks, a reporter emailed the designated records officer. She received an automated reply saying the officer’s response times would be “rather delayed” because she would be “spreading Employee Engagement Cheer throughout Fulton County” during Fulton County Employee Appreciation Week. In response to a request emailed to the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, a reporter received a response after six business days that the requested document was ready for downloading but she was unable to access the online system. She only gained access three weeks later, after calling the sheriff’s office records custodian who created an account for her. The East Point city clerk did not respond to records requests for more than a week. In response to follow up messages, the clerk’s office explained that the clerk had been on vacation and had not received the requests. The office sent the police department’s use of force policy a week later. For payroll records, the clerk’s office sought copying charges of $6.70. They indicated they would not accept personal checks and that prepayment was required. A reporter reminded them that the request was for electronic records and that the law does not require agencies to demand prepayment if estimated fees are less than $500. The clerk sent the records four days later without charge. She later wrote that the city changed its policy on Nov. 1, and no longer charges for electronic records. CASE STUDY: CITY OF SOUTH FULTON ‘Your request has been closed’ Metro Atlanta’s newest city canceled a request — without providing records. In response to a request for payroll records to the city of South Fulton, the records administrator provided a fee estimate of over $57. After a reporter reminded the administrator that she requested the records in electronic form, the administrator responded that the document was ready at a cost of $28.85 for one hour’s work. The reporter made multiple requests for clarification of the work involved in processing the requests and whether the records would be provided as an electronic spreadsheet, as requested. Without clarifying, the administrator eventually sent a message stating that the request would be “closed out” if the reporter did not sign a statement accepting the charges. A week later, the reporter received notification that “your request has been closed.” “That’s not the procedure they should be following,” said Carolyn Carlson, a retired Kennesaw State University communications professor and expert in government transparency. “To suddenly dismiss the request instead of answering your questions is not right.” — Jade Abdul-Malik
  • President Donald Trump on Sunday urged Georgians to support Brian Kemp for governor, calling the Republican a “great leader” who would help advance the administration’s agenda and prevent Democrat Stacey Abrams from turning the state “into Venezuela.” >> Watch the news report here Trump cast Tuesday’s gubernatorial vote as a referendum on the “extraordinary prosperity that we’ve created” to a crowd of thousands arrayed in a cramped airport hangar outside Macon. “Will we let the Democrats take a giant wrecking ball to our economy and our future?” he asked the supporters, who roared in disapproval. “It can be destroyed very quickly. That’s why you have to get to the polls very quickly.” >> On AJC.com: PHOTOS: Donald Trump campaigns with Brian Kemp And he touted Kemp, the current secretary of state, as a candidate who would reinforce his administration’s decisions from Atlanta. “I know Brian. This guy doesn’t stop,” he told the crowd. “This is what you want. He’s an incredible manager. He’s been successful all the way up the line. He’ll bring it to heights you wouldn’t believe.” >> On WSBTV.com: Former President Obama visits Atlanta to campaign with Stacey Abrams Trump’s visit comes at a crucial moment in the tumultuous race for Georgia governor, as polls show Kemp and Abrams in a neck-and-neck race to succeed Gov. Nathan Deal. The two have sparred over every major political debate in Georgia, and they have drawn stars from their parties to boost their campaigns. Kemp hopes he’ll get the biggest bump from Trump, whom his aides believe can motivate voters in a state he won by 5 percentage points — even if it means alienating independent voters who abhor the president. His campaign strategy relies on ratcheting up high turnout in conservative pockets of the state to withstand losses in urban and suburban areas. He predicted the rally would give him “the momentum we need” to defy polls showing a tight race, and he told the crowd that a vote for him is a vote for Trump. “We will help,” he said. “We’ll work hard with this president to continue to make America great again.” The president’s influence among Georgia Republicans is undeniable: More than 91 percent of likely GOP voters said they approved of Trump in the latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution/WSB-TV poll. And Kemp has tied himself to Trump since entering the race, even echoing some of the president’s strategies with his “Georgia First” mantra. >> Jamie Dupree: Early vote shows clear surge, especially in younger voters Still, after winning the GOP nomination, Kemp’s been more likely to invoke the past two GOP governors — Deal and Sonny Perdue, now Trump’s secretary of agriculture — on the campaign trail than the president. But at this late stage in the race, his campaign aims to wring out as many Trump supporters as it can. Abrams has long avoided directly attacking Trump, wary of turning the race into a referendum on the president and energizing his GOP supporters. But she said Sunday in a televised appearance that his attacks describing her as “unqualified” are “vapid and shallow.” “I am the most qualified candidate,” she said, citing her Yale Law School education and legislative and business background. “There is no one more qualified standing for this office in Georgia. And I look forward to having the voters of Georgia say the same.” ‘Very nervous’ Trump was welcomed by many of the state’s top elected GOP officials, including Deal, Perdue and the ag chief’s first cousin, U.S. Sen. David Perdue. Thousands of Trump fans wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats crowded the stage, many holding signs saying “Jobs vs. Mobs” and “Promises Made. Promises Kept.” Among the throngs was Rose Brown, a Middle Georgia nurse who said the president’s tax-cut plan has reinforced her support for Republican candidates. She worries that Democrats will work to undercut those cuts. >> Jamie Dupree: White House touts gains in final pre-election jobs report “Socialists and Democrats do not understand that the government gets its money by taking it from the paychecks of working people,” she said. Ditto for Lee Mitchell, a 60-year-old letter carrier from outside of Culloden. He said he’s “very nervous” going into Tuesday’s vote. “I’m very much hoping that Kemp’s going to win and that we hold onto the House — because if we don’t, everything is going to stall,” he said. The apex In a speech that stretched for more than an hour, Trump addressed red-meat issues such as illegal immigration, Hillary Clinton and Democrats’ treatment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. But the president returned repeatedly to attacks on Democrats centering on three themes: public safety, economic development and health care. He warned that Democratic opposition would damage economic gains over the past two years, and he said Abrams’ victory would trigger more crime. “She’ll make your schools and neighborhoods unsafe,” he said, “and make your jobs disappear like magic.” >> Jamie Dupree: Trump roils final campaign stretch – for both parties Abrams initially wanted to reverse a state income tax hike, but she has since reversed her stance. And she’s cast her plan to eliminate cash bail and decriminalize some drug offenses as an extension of Deal’s legacy, which has diverted more nonviolent offenders from costly prison cells. And she warns that Kemp’s support of “religious liberty” will tarnish the state’s pro-business reputation, often invoking the governor’s veto of such legislation. Trump’s visit was the apex of a gubernatorial race that has unfolded over the past two-plus years and brought multiple presidents and a parade of potential 2020 hopefuls to the state to campaign for Abrams, who is seeking to become the nation’s first black female governor. >> Read more trending news  Abrams has attracted a string of leading high-profile figures to campaign with her, including media icon Oprah Winfrey and former President Barack Obama in the closing stretch. As he closed, Kemp was eager to mention a list of big-name supporters that included Vice President Mike Pence and two Georgia football legends. “We’ve got Trump, Pence, Vince Dooley and Herschel Walker,” Kemp said, “to help us make a goal-line stop.”
  • Voting is your civic duty. But it’s also everyone else’s civic duty. And that leads to lines, especially during these 2018 midterms that have people across the country interested in Georgia. If you’re trying to zip in and zip out of a polling place, there’s nothing worse than a big ‘ol line. But Cobb County has a tool to show you the current wait times during these midterm elections. READ | Turnout soars on the first day of early voting in Georgia County data shows that 1,289 people voted in person in Cobb the first day of early voting, Monday, Oct. 15. Folks waited two hours in line that day at the county’s elections office in Marietta. For an easy look at which precincts are open when, all the times and dates for other early voting locations in Cobb can be found here. You can check out the map tool here that shows wait times. Like Cobb County News Now on Facebook | Follow us on Twitter
  • Growing up, Brian Kemp spent days working on a farm outside Athens. Getting trampled by a 750-pound bovine in the cattle chute didn’t faze young Kemp, recalls his friend Mitch Malcolm. And when a pregnant cow died one freezing Christmas Eve, Kemp and Malcolm labored in the sleet for hours to pull the calf. It survived. Kemp has held elected office for roughly 12 of the last 16 years but as he travels the state campaigning for governor, he is using those “everyman” credentials to win over voters. » RELATED: As she runs for governor, Stacey Abrams evokes her life story » GOVERNOR’S RACE: Where the candidates for governor stand on the issues “He understands the hardships of making payroll,” said Malcolm, who would go on to work as a developer with Kemp. “Work would start about 7 a.m. Brian’s the guy who’s going to be there at 5:30 in the morning.” “Nobody’s going to outwork Brian Kemp.” Casey Cagle learned that the hard way. Earlier this year, the lieutenant governor appeared to have the GOP nomination for governor in the bag. But with the help of a series of controversial ads — and an embarrassing covert recording of Cagle - the 54-year-old secured President Donald Trump’s endorsement and rode the latest anti-establishment wave to an upset win. Now Kemp, a married father of three daughters, meets Democrat Stacey Abrams in the Nov. 6 contest to succeed two-term Gov. Nathan Deal. Polls have shown that despite Georgia’s strongly conservative leanings, the race is tight. “We had to try to survive” On a recent bus tour around the state, Kemp focused on topics like combating gang violence, boosting teacher pay and rural hospital tax credits, and increasing school safety. Long gone are two stars of the primary season ads: Kemp’s gun collection and “Jake,” the fictitious suitor of one of Kemp’s daughters, who notes with a gulp that he has a “healthy respect for the Second Amendment.” Those ads — which showed Kemp brandishing a shotgun and bragging of using his pickup truck to round up “criminal illegals” — won Kemp scores of critics. But Trump supporters loved his embrace of the politically incorrect. “Yep, I just said that,” he says with a lopsided grin. During his recent stump speech (delivered from an actual stump) at Appalachian Gun, Pawn & Range in Jasper, Kemp told supporters “to get some gas in that chainsaw, get your axe and mattock out and keep choppin’ wood.” At a stop in Ellijay, the secretary of state mentioned firearms only after prompting from the crowd. “I started with a pickup truck, a shovel and a toolbox,” he said, laying out his small business bonafides. “Your gun, too!” a supporter interjected. “I had a gun in there, as well as a chainsaw,” Kemp said to applause. » ELECTION 2018: Inside the Georgia governor’s race » ABRAMS & KEMP ON: Spending | Education | Transportation | Social issues In fact, he had to save up a while for the chainsaw during the early days of his construction career, he said in an interview after one of his tour stops. “I built two spec houses and then I started another one, and I couldn’t sell any of them,” he said. “I almost didn’t make it through all of that. Marty and I were living in a house in a little subdivision. So I finally told her one day, look, if we’re gonna go broke we might as well change our luck, move in one of the spec houses and see if maybe that’ll help it sell.” The strategy worked, but it meant moving again after less than a month. Then again. And again. “We were trying to sell everything we had to try to survive,” Kemp said. Finally, they put down some roots. Wheels, actually. “I bought a demo double wide mobile home and set it up and told her, ‘We’ll just live here a year to see how we like it,’” Kemp said. “Three years later we were still there.” When their first child, Jarrett, now 19, was on the way, Marty Kemp told her husband: “You better start building me a house.’” “I know first-hand how hard it is to start a business,” he said. “Those first few years are rough. I was working, literally, seven days a week to pay the bank and pay my bills and survive.” “Work would start about 7 a.m. Brian’s the guy who’s going to be there at 5:30 in the morning. ... Nobody’s going to outwork Brian Kemp.” — Mitch Malcolm, friend of Kemp Kemp has done well since those early days. He’s amassed a net worth of more than $5 million, mostly through real estate investments, records show. But as his wealth has soared, some of his investments have gone sour. He is embroiled in a lawsuit over a loan he personally guaranteed for a now struggling agricultural business. Legal papers show he promised to cover about $10 million in loans for Hart AgStrong. Kemp is being sued by a Toccoa businessman who says he invested in the Bowersville-based canola processor at Kemp’s urging and was never paid back the $500,000 he’s owed. Kemp’s campaign has downplayed the significance of the suit, filed against him saying he was just one of several investors in the company. “He’s a rock” A fourth-generation University of Georgia graduate, Kemp would probably bleed red and black if you stuck him with a hatpin. Business and farming runs through his family tree more so than politics, with some notable exceptions. His grandfather, the late Julian H. Cox Sr., and father-in-law, the late Bob Argo, were Georgia legislators. His forebears include Revolutionary War Major John Habersham, a member of the board of trustees that established UGA, and Joseph Habersham (for whom Habersham County is named), who was Savannah’s mayor in the 1790s and George Washington’s appointed postmaster general. People who have known him the longest have two things in common. They pronounce his name with one syllable - Brine - and repeatedly use the word “solid.” “There’s no other friend I’ve ever had who’s as solid as Brian,” said Daniel Dooley, son of University of Georgia coaching legend Vince Dooley and brother of Derek Dooley, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Missouri. “Brian would go on vacations with us. He was like the other brother.” Coach Dooley was famous for getting the boys up and out at the crack of dark for fishing trips, then monitoring their progress until he deemed their haul sufficient. “When you fish with Dad he can take anything that’s supposed to be fun and turn it into a job,” the younger Dooley mused. Kemp didn’t mind the rigor. He and Daniel Dooley played football together for the acclaimed late Coach Billy Henderson at Clarke Central High School and lived together their final year at UGA, where Kemp majored in agriculture. “I had to get out of the group I was living with. I needed more structure,” Dooley said. “He was like Mother Hubbard.” » YOUR VOTE: How to find out if your voter registration is on hold » LATEST POLL: New survey shows a razor-thin race for governor After school, Kemp married Marty Argo and the two have been together for 24 years (Their other daughters are Lucy, 17, and Amy Porter, 16). His own parents divorced when he was 13. Kemp’s sister, 11 at the time, remembers her older brother helping her weather the transition. “We didn’t see our dad a lot,” Julie Kemp Rief said. Their mother and stepfather still live in Athens and their father, William L. Kemp II, who worked in real estate and finance, died in 2006. At the end, Rief said, “We weren’t that close but we were there. That was bittersweet.” Once again, she leaned on her brother. “Brian was always there. He’s a rock,” she said. “Family is first. When his three girls were all in high school they were all playing basketball. It didn’t matter if he was down in Tifton for the day. He would make sure he was going to be back home in Athens to make that basketball game.” A Political Awakening In Athens, Kemp quickly emerged as a civic leader. Doc Eldridge had just been elected a county commissioner when he learned that the Athens Rape Crisis Center’s building was a dilapidated wreck. Eldridge turned to someone he thought could get things moving: Kemp. “They showed up one Saturday with men and women, subs, trucks, materials,” said Eldridge of Kemp and his fellow Athens Area Home Builders members. “We brought that building up to code. It would not have happened so quickly had it not been for Brian Kemp and the home builders.” “He was reasonable, he would listen,” said Eldridge, who was elected as a Democrat and later switched to the Republican party. “I found him to be very level-headed and he would always follow though on what he told me he was going to do.” But as a home builder and developer, Kemp clashed repeatedly with county commission over zoning regulations, spurring an interest in politics. He launched a run for the state Senate seat, brashly challenging a Democratic incumbent at a time when that party ruled the state. The bet would pay off. Kemp was swept into office in 2002 as part of a GOP landslide in Georgia. In 2006 he ran unsuccessfully for state agriculture commissioner. He’s been secretary of state since 2010. Former Secretary of State Lewis Massey was Kemp’s Lambda Chi Alpha initiation advisor in college, and has a unique memento from their shared time there: a Bible signed by Kemp and his fellow pledges from the fall of 1982. “In grateful appreciation of his guidance and instruction of our lives through one of the most reflective and meaningful quests of our lives,” reads the inscription. “I distinctly remember Brian was a no-nonsense guy. He was serious and very committed,” said Massey, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1998. “At one of the chapter meetings, I remember Brian saying, ‘As a fraternity we’re either advancing forward or going backward.’ I remember thinking, as a college student, that was pretty insightful.” “I know first-hand how hard it is to start a business. Those first few years are rough. I was working, literally, seven days a week to pay the bank and pay my bills and survive.” — Brian Kemp Like Kemp, Massey became Georgia’s secretary of state initially by appointment; the late Zell Miller tapped him for the position after Max Cleland left to run for retiring Sam Nunn’s seat in the U.S. Senate. Former Gov. Sonny Perdue, now serving as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, appointed Kemp when Karen Handel stepped down to run for governor. She is now a congresswoman representing Georgia’s Sixth District. When Kemp was being considered for the post, he connected with his college-days advisor. “He’s the exact opposite of a know-it-all,” Massey said. “He’s a smart guy but knows that he needs advice along the way.” As secretary of state, Kemp is credited with implementing a new online voter registration system and mobile apps that helped hundreds of thousands of Georgians become new voters. But critics say he also launched voter fraud investigations as a way to suppress minority voting, a claim he rejects. Kemp was at the helm when a massive data breach released the Social Security numbers and other private information of more than 6 million voters to 12 organizations, including state political parties and news media. He blamed a clerical error, fired an IT staffer and offered credit monitoring. Additionally, The AJC has reported that he’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from the same people he regulates. That gives someone like Sasha Benefield pause. “I don’t think he’s representative of Georgia,” the 20-year-old political science major at Clayton State University said. “I also feel that he’s very aggressive and doesn’t reflect the need for expansion of Medicaid and the need to just overall help Georgia. I think it’s more of like ‘Hey, let’s help Georgia’s industries’ rather than ‘Let’s help Georgia’s people.’” Kemp and his supporters argue it is Abrams who is out of touch. While singer John Legend and rapper Yung Joc have lent their talents to Abrams’ campaign, Kemp has played up his rural roots. At the end of every campaign stop, he brings his daughter and bus driver in for comic relief. “How we doin’ on fuel?” Kemp would shout, prompting the dire deadpan that the rig was running on fumes. Cue Lucy Kemp, who gamely carried a plastic diesel can turned donation bucket as a prop. Kemp reminded every audience that while he was spending time in places like Rhine (population about 400), Abrams was fundraising in New York or San Francisco. “Let people know that we took the time to come to this community,” Kemp said. “We want Georgians to decide this election, not Nancy Pelosi. Not Elizabeth Warren. Not Maxine Waters.” Vivian Childs of Warner Robins came to Kemp’s Houston County stop and says she’s voting for him to keep Georgia on the path it’s on. “Georgia, to me, right now is winning. You never change the momentum when things are going in your favor,” she said.
  • Georgians across metro Atlanta went to the polls Tuesday to vote in a series of runoff races. These are races in which no candidate received a majority of the vote in the original May elections. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has compiled a review of the results of some of the top local races in the metro area. These results are not official. This list was compiled at 10 p.m. Tuesday. DeKalb County Board of Commissioners District 7 Lorraine Cochran-Johnson holds a 2-to-1 lead over incumbent Gregory Adams in the runoff for the Democratic primary in the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners District 7 race. With no Republicans in the race, the winner will capture the seat with a victory Tuesday. Superior Court Judge Latisha Dear-Jackson leads Tunde Akinyele all evening in a non-partisan race to replace retiring Superior Court Judge Dan Coursey. Coursey, who announced in January he would retire at the end of his term, is the longest-serving judge in the history of the Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit after 36 years on the bench. Gwinnett County Gwinnett County Superior Court Tracey Mason is far ahead of Veronica Cope with 68 percent of precincts reporting in the race to fill the seat of retiring Judge Tom Davis on the Gwinnett County Superior Court. Mason is a longtime local attorney and legal mediator and previously served as a Municipal Court judge in Duluth. Fulton Council Atlanta Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Kevin Farmer leads Fani Willis in the race for a seat on the Atlanta Superior Court. The winner will replace outgoing Judge Tom Campbell. Cobb County Cobb County Commissioner District 1 Republican Primary Keli Gambrill maintains a heavy lead over incumbent Bob Woodward in a runoff for the Republican primary in the Cobb County Commissioners District 1 race. Tuesday’s election determines the winner of the seat since there are no Democrats in the race. Smyrna City Council Ward 6 Tim Gould holds a significant lead over Idella Moore in a non-partisan race for a seat on the Smyrna City Council representing Ward 6. In other election news:

Local News

  • A University of Georgia student was killed overnight while driving his car on I-20 just west of Atlanta. The Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office identified the victim as 20-year-old William Whitaker, of Carrollton. Whitaker was driving in the westbound lanes on I-20 when a tractor trailer crashed with two cars in the eastbound lanes. Debris from the wreck was sent into the westbound lanes, striking two vehicles, including the car driven by Whitaker,  who died on the scene.  The driver of the truck has been identified as Mario Polier, 53, of Hialeah, FL. He now faces numerous misdemeanor charges including second degree homicide by vehicle  
  • It's a mild start to Friday but big changes are coming this weekend.  Most people are experiencing fog and light rain this morning. A Dense Fog Advisory has been issued for most of north Georgia until 10 a.m. Some areas have visibility of less than a quarter mile. Severe Weather Team 2 Meteorologist Brian Monahan said that on Saturday, we have a chance to see rain, storms and the coldest temperatures this year. 'As we head through the next 24 hours or so, we've got rain moving into north Georgia, we've got a chance for storms moving into north Georgia and then the coldest air of the season moving in,' Monahan said.
  • Athens-Clarke County Commissioners meet for a rare Friday afternoon work session: they say fair housing is the topic of talk in the session that starts at 1 o’clock at the Government Building on Dougherty Street.  The city School Board in Jefferson signs off on the purchase of a new emergency alert system, one that will be used on all four Jefferson schools. The price tag is $165,000.  There is a new City Administrator in Statham: Statham’s Mayor and City Council has signed off on the hiring of Mai Chang. Chang worked previously as City Clerk in Statham. She takes over for former City Administrator Michelle Irizarry. 
  • Deangelo Gibbs’ time in Athens has been up since December, when Georgia coach Kirby Smart said the defensive back was no longer with the team prior to the Sugar Bowl. And now it seems that he will be taking his talents to another SEC East program.  DawgNation can confirm that Gibbs is enrolled at Tennessee and will move to the other side of the ball and play wide receiver for the Vols. The news was first reported by 247Sports’ Grant Ramey. Gibbs was a major recruit coming out of Grayson High School, as he was rated as the No. 49 overall player in the 247Sports Composite. But he struggled to find playing time at Georgia and he was away from the team last spring as well.  Gibbs has a cousin on Tennessee’s team in safety Nigel Warrior. Another one of Gibbs’ cousins is J.R. Reed, who has become a standout safety for the Bulldogs since transferring from Tulsa. Reed made the decision to return to Athens for his senior season, bolstering what should be a strong secondary, even without Gibbs.  Gibbs had reportedly put his name in the transfer portal, as did Georgia safety Tray Bishop. In Georgia’s 2019 recruiting class, the Bulldogs brought in 4-star safety Lewis Cine, who is rated as the No. 61 player in the class.  Tennessee is coached by Jeremy Pruitt, who was the Georgia defensive coordinator from 2014-15.  Georgia visits Tennessee on Oct. 5. The Bulldogs beat Tennessee 38-12 in Athens last fall.
  • A former Athens-Clarke County police officer is suing the police chief who fired him last June. Former Chief Scott Freeman terminated officer Taylor Saulters for hitting a suspect with his patrol car, but a state investigation later cleared him. It happened after a police pursuit on Athens’ east side. Saulters, his lawsuit, is seeking financial compensation for what he says is emotional distress and slander. He is now working as a part-time reserve deputy in Oglethorpe County. 

Bulldog News

  • ATHENS — Georgia sacks leader D’Andre Walker has pulled out of the Senior Bowl, not yet ready to compete on account of what has become a nagging groin injury. Walker has been projected as a third-round NFL Draft pick, but the Senior Bowl offered him an opportunity to improve his draft stock competing against top talent in the annual all-star event. The Bulldogs will be represented by defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter and long snapper Nick Moore. Practices and drills begin on Tuesday before the watchful eyes of hundreds of NFL coaches, scouts and general managers. Unfortunately, I won’t be attending the Senior Bowl. I will be getting a second opinion on my groin this week to ensure I’ll be ready for the combine. I am very disappointed because it’s such a great opportunity to showcase my talent. — D’Andre Walker (@DAndreWalker15) January 21, 2019 Walker was injured early in the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship Game against Alabama with Georgia leading 28-21. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior from Fairburn, Ga., was enjoying an MVP performance against the Tide before suffering the injury. Walker had five tackles, two TFLs, two QB hurries a forced fumble and a deflected pass in three quarters, wreaking havoc in the Alabama backfield. Georgia’s backup outside linebackers weren’t able to have the same sort of success. The Bulldogs young outside linebackers lost contain on crucial plays and allowed Jalen Hurts to buy time and make game-winning plays in Alabama’s 35-28 win. Walker practiced on a limited basis and dressed out for the Sugar Bowl, but he declined to play. Bulldogs’ cornerback Deandre Baker also had an invitation to test himself against the nation’s best in the Senior Bowl, but Baker declined his invitation. Baker also skipped the Sugar Bowl, which, coupled with injuries to Walker and Freshman All-American defensive tackle Jordan Davis, severely hampered the Georgia defense in the 28-21 loss to Texas. The post Georgia football OLB D’Andre Walker uncertain of health, pulls out of Senior Bowl appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — If “Genius is patience,” as Isaac Newton once suggested, Georgia football coach Kirby Smart’s I.Q. must be off the charts. Smart has exhibited a deliberate approach at each turn in his young career, from not naming a starting quarterback during the 2018 offseason, to holding off on naming a defensive coordinator. Could there be more staff changes ahead? Perhaps, though it wouldn’t seem likely. The 43-year-old Smart named 41-year-old Charlton Warren his defensive backs coach on Saturday, shortly after crossing paths with him on the recruiting trail and conversing. RELATED: Georgia football adds ‘Mr. Intensity’ to defensive meeting room Warren’s hire comes more than six weeks after Colorado announced former UGA secondary coach and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker as its new head coach (Dec. 5). Some speculated Smart would elevate 32-year-old outside linebackers coach Dan Lanning or 28-year-old inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann to defensive coordinator — or both, in a co-coordinator role. Here are three things that are next for Georgia football: Defensive coordinator It’s going to be Smart’s system on defense, regardless who gets the coordinator title, so the key here is how the staff chemistry shakes out with Warren added to the defensive meeting room. Lanning said in New Orleans that there could be an internal promotion to the coordinator position, but also, that Georgia would see how things shook out against Texas in the Sugar Bowl. RELATED: Georgia football assistant Dan Lanning shares insight into DC search Obviously, the Bulldogs didn’t fare well without Deandre Baker in the secondary, D’Andre Walker at linebacker and Jordan Davis on the defensive line. It’s hard to know how much of the defensive dropoff had to do with Tucker’s absence versus the team’s motivation after its gut-wrenching loss in the SEC title game and exclusion from the CFB playoff. It wouldn’t be surprising if Smart made the decision on his DC immediately. But it is also possible the Georgia head coach will wait until after signing day (Feb. 6), or even spring drills to name the defensive coordinator, after he gets a better feel for the chemistry and ability in the room. James Coley confirmation Coley’s promotion to play caller and full-fledged offensive coordinator from co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach wasn’t surprising. RELATED: Kirby Smart pulls trigger on elevating James Coley to OC, as expected It was, however, second-guessed by outsiders overlooking Coley’s experience as Jimbo Fisher’s offensive coordinator at Florida State and his work as Miami’s coordinator. Coley’s stock recently shot up, however, when NFL.com analyst Ian Rapoport reported last Friday that the Dallas Cowboys could consider Coley for their offensive coordinator position. As the #Cowboys dig into possible replacements for embattled OC Scott Linehan, they have one on their current staff — TE coach Doug Nussmeier — and may look to the college game to better utilize Dak Prescott’s talents. UGA OC James Coley will receive some consideration there. — Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 18, 2019   A FOIA request for Coley’s new contract last week revealed that he doesn’t yet have one, leaving room for speculation that need soon be answered. Is Coley staying, or might   he be headed for the NFL? Big staff raises The bottom line for the Georgia football coaching staff is there is plenty of money available for raises and the new hires. So far, the Bulldogs’ offensive staff has traded Jim Chaney’s $950,000 salary for new tight ends coach Todd Hartley’s first-year deal of $300,000. RELATED: Details of Georgia football assistant Todd Hartley’s new contract The defense, meanwhile, has the $1.5 million Tucker was making to spread around. Warren was due to make $401,500 at Florida next season, per the USA Today salary database, but he’s sure to get a healthy boost at Georgia. Bulldogs defensive line coach Tray Scott has earned a raise up from $420,000, with Georgia’s defensive line showing more improvement than perhaps any other position group last season. Certainly, linebackers coaches Schumann and Lanning — both previously making $325,000 — will have deals worth more than a half-million annually next season. It’s more math for Smart to do, more pieces of the puzzle, and if the Georgia head coach has proven anything his first three seasons, it’s that he’’ll take his time to make sure he gets things right. Georgia football coaches 2018 annual salaries DEFENSE DC, secondary: Mel Tucker $1.5 million Defensive line: Tray Scott $420,000 Inside linebackers: Glenn Schumann $325,000 Outside linebackers: Dan Lanning $325,000 Special teams Scott Fountain $300,000 * Charlton Warren, new coach was due $401,500 at Florida in 2019 OFFENSE OC, tight ends: Jim Chaney $950,000 Offensive line: Sam Pittman $825,00 Quarterbacks, Co-OC James Coley, $850,00 Running backs: Dell McGee $550,000 Receivers Cortez Hankton $375,000 * Todd Hartley, new tight ends coach, will make $300,000 in 2019 at UGA   The post 3 things: What’s next for Georgia football and ever-patient Kirby Smart? appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — The Georgia basketball challenges could be attributed to the brutal league slate assigned by the SEC office. Already, the Bulldogs (9-8, 1-4 SEC) have played the three top-ranked teams in the league in Tennessee, Kentucky and Auburn, and next up is a road trip to red-hot LSU. Georgia coach Tom Crean hasn’t mentioned the schedule since it was released in the preseason, instead focusing on what he can control, which would include the roller coaster play of forward Rayshaun Hammonds. The talented 6-foot-8, 235-pounder from Norcoss is the Bulldogs leading scorer this season — except when he isn’t, which would be against the better teams this season. Hammonds has been held scoreless in losses to Tennessee and most recently at home against Florida, running into foul trouble early in both games, offering little help to his teammates in other capacities. Georgia was outscored by 18 points with Hammonds in the game against the Gators, as shown below in the plus-minus category for UGA players: “ I am going to look around and see what we can do to help him and I talked to him a lot,” Crean said. “I am not down on him at all, I want him to continue to learn and want him to understand he is a lot more than just a guy who shoots and scores.” But yes, Crean admitted, “him not scoring and us not scoring are together.” Hammonds has at times shown the sort of growth and ability many projected when he was rated the No. 51 player in the nation by the 247Sports composite. It’s far too early for Hammonds to be considered a bust, especially when others have noted the growth they’ve seen from him under Crean’s direction. “I thought (Nicolas) Claxton and Hammonds have both blossomed this year under Coach Crean and that staff, and I told them both that after the game,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “They ask Rayshaun to do a lot, they don’t have a lot, they are kinda point guard by committee.” Hammonds’ issues involve fundamentals and decision making, Crean indicated. “Sometimes right now he makes the read and people are just lining up for the charge because he is going to go right into their chest,” Crean said following Saturday’s 62-52 home loss to Florida. “He is not low enough when he makes the move. “I am going to have really spend some time and be creative, look for creative ways to get him the ball in better spots than we are right now because we need him to score.” Georgia is 3-1 in its last seven games Hammonds has scored in double figures, and 0-3 when he’s been held to single-digit scoring. Rayshaun Hammonds against SEC teams 0 points Vs. Tennessee 0-for-4 shooting (0-of-2 from 3) 1 turnover 19 points Vs. Vanderbilt 6-for-13 shooting (2-of-6 from 3) 3 turnovers 9 points Vs. Auburn 2-of-6 shooting (1-of-2 from 3) 5 turnovers 11 points Vs. Kentucky 3-of-8 shooting (1-of-5 from 3) 2 turnovers 0 points Vs. Florida 0-for-4 shooting (0-for-2 from 3) 4 turnovers   The post Georgia basketball: Roller coaster Rayshaun Hammonds a key for Bulldogs appeared first on DawgNation.