Go Vote, For Cryin’ Out Loud

I called the elections officer in DeKalb a moment ago, to see how turnout had been in elections today for the new city of Stonecrest. Fewer than 900 people had cast a ballot so far.

Stonecrest has 55,000 residents.

Both Stonecrest and the shiny-new 100,000-person city of South Fulton have municipal elections today, while Cobb County voters will consider an E-SPLOST sales tax to raise about $800 million for the county school system.

Fewer than 1 percent of Cobb County voters had drawn an early ballot — another indication of anemic turnout.

I’m watching two races in the municipal elections. Two Black Lives Matter local leaders — Mary-Pat Hector in Stonecrest and Khalid Kamau in South Fulton — have laid their activist credentials on the line as a test of the movement’s political strength.

Kamau is an attorney and served as a Democratic delegate for Bernie Sanders last year. He’s also one of the main organizers for the Black Lives Matter movement in Atlanta. The South Fulton ballot is a hot mess — more than 60 people have qualified to run for the seven council seats. (The annual salary is $17,500, if anyone thinks this is actually worth the trouble.)

Hector is a 19-year-old Spelman College student who also serves as national youth leader for the National Action Network. She had to survive an attack on her qualifications because of her age — the success of which has given her the kind of national publicity candidates only dream of.

Also, liquor by the drink is on the ballot in Rossville, Ga.

Priorities, people. You know what to do.

Stonecrest Election Gets Dirty In Last Days

Elections for the new city of Stonecrest started off with a curious, interesting dispute over the age of a city council candidate, and have devolved over time into one of the ugliest political races DeKalb County has had in quite a while.

And yes, that’s saying something.

Mystery mailers — a staple of DeKalb politics — emerged over the weekend. One set favored a slate of candidates including Jason Lary, the leader of Stonecrest’s incorporation movement now running for mayor. Another contains ugly and entirely false accusations against a candidate running for mayor.

The attack mailer falsely describes Charles S. Hill II, a mayoral candidate, as having been diagnosed with mental illness. It also conflates an image of Charles Hill with Anthony Hill, the entirely unrelated Air Force veteran who was killed in 2015 by a police officer during a bipolar episode.

There’s text, in the finest of print, below the picture of Anthony Hill’s last moments. “As reported in the news regarding Anthony Hill, not Charles Hill II, but they have the same mental disease.”

That’s right after the larger-print text on the photo, saying that “Hill was confronted by Police as he walked around naked in his apartment complex.” Anthony Hill, not Charles Hill.

The other side of the flyer “blames” Charles’ Hill’s father for pushing his son into politics.

I wouldn’t dignify this kind of attack by exploring its claims, however Charles S. Hill Jr. insisted — over my objections — in noting that he has never been diagnosed with a mental illness of any sort, and has never even seen a psychiatrist. “I barely see my primary care physician,” he said.   Continue reading “Stonecrest Election Gets Dirty In Last Days”

The Ethics of Vernon Jones

Rep. Howard Mosby speaks to the DeKalb house legislative delegation, with Rep. Vernon Jones seated behind.

Vernon Jones’ return to the capitol didn’t have a political honeymoon so much as it had an armistice.

Jones sent a signal of sorts at the inauguration of Michael Thurmond. Present for the festivities was Sharon Barnes-Sutton, who had just lost her seat to Steve Bradshaw, becoming the first commissioner in two decades to lose a race in a primary challenge. Sutton remains festooned with decorative criminal investigations and ethics complaints.

Jones approached her, knelt at her feet, and kissed her hand.

Jones has ever since then been galloping through the halls and committee meetings of the legislature as a state representative once again for the southeast corner of DeKalb and part of Rockdale. The word most frequently used is “divisive,” though unprintable other language has been common.

He seems to be having fun. Almost no one else is.

Jones — in between self-serving monologues in committee hearings about how much good he did for DeKalb as its CEO — has become the prime critic of ethics legislation binding the county he once led. His confrontations over the new ethics board has divided the county delegation almost completely along racial lines, which alarms most of them, black and white.

Yesterday, Jones offered a surreal attack, filing an ethics complaint against the county’s ethics officer herself. Jones argues in a letter to the ethics board that Stacy Kalberman “has violated the very law she is entrusted to enforce” by making public comments about the state of ethics legislation.

The irony is that Jones does not believe the ethics board itself is constitutional as it stands.

And — reason save me for admitting this aloud — Jones may be right.  Continue reading “The Ethics of Vernon Jones”

A Word To The Sixth

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, people standingI was raised in the part of Massachusetts that Georgians don’t know exists. There’s a reddish-blue center to the state, in Worcester County, that better resembles Lawrenceville than Lindbergh Station.

It’s the Massachusetts of Dennis Leary and Howie Carr, of gloriously obnoxious Patriots fans, and four wheelers at the kegger in the woods, and bitching about property taxes or police union salaries or how much road flagmen get paid, and good pizza next to the townie bar, and hoping for snow to grab some plow money and the uncle with half a dozen junked cars behind the barn that he’s hiding from the code enforcement guys. My home town, Northbridge, went for Trump five to four.

My home town is why we know the name Scott Brown.

I bring this up because if a Democrat is to win the congressional seat formerly held by Dr. Tom Price, it will be a Scott Brown moment.

I have some unsolicited advice for those earnest campaigners — advice that might be surprising to hear from a man who started calling Donald Trump a fascist sometime in mid-July of 2015.

Never mind Trump.

Attach your competitors to the health care bill. With cement.  Continue reading “A Word To The Sixth”

Old Enough To Vote, Young Enough to Be Trouble

Mary-Pat Hector has been drawing attention as an activist for about a decade. She has commendations from Congress for her work in urban anti-violence initiatives, a community service award from President Barack Obama and a position with the National Action Network as its national youth director.

She’s also one of the key local organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement. Remember the flash mob die-in demonstration at Lenox Square a few years ago? Hector.

So it would not be a leap to consider her a viable candidate for one of the five city council seats in the newly-constituted city of Stonecrest in South DeKalb.

She is also a 19-year-old freshman at Spelman College. And that might be a problem.

Her candidacy is being challenged legally by another candidate, George Turner, over her age.  Continue reading “Old Enough To Vote, Young Enough to Be Trouble”

Tax Return Inquiry First Petition on Trump White House Website

Social media is beginning to notice that the Whitehouse.gov website deleted pages related to LGBT issues and climate change almost immediately after Donald Trump completed the oath of office.

Add to that one more curiosity — the famed White House petition process appears to be thwarting an early attempt at asking the new president to release his tax returns.

A single petition is visible right now on the site, to “(i)mmediately release Donald Trump’s full tax returns, with all information needed to verify emoluments clause compliance.”

Petitioner “A.D.” asks the White House to release Trump’s returns because “(t)he unprecedented economic conflicts of this administration need to be visible to the American people, including any pertinent documentation which can reveal the foreign influences and financial interests which may put Donald Trump in conflict with the emoluments clause of the Constitution.”

Many people who have tried to sign the get an error message, however.

A petition requires at least 150 signatures to be visible. The count on signatures has been reset several times over the last hour, however. This may be a technical problem, a function of web administrators mirroring the site under unusually-heavy hit volume. Or it could be Trump’s web team trying not to let the first petition of his administration be one this embarrassing.

A Passing in the DeKalb Democratic Party

Image may contain: 2 people, people smilingSandra Austin, chairwoman of the DeKalb Democratic Party, died at home this morning. She was 69.

Austin won re-election to a fifth two-year term as chairwoman in December, and was also serving as vice president of the Georgia Association of Democratic County Chairs.

“We have lost a gentle giant,” said state senator Gail Buckner.

She made a little news this summer, when her grandson Kendall Austin, 18, of Decatur, earned a seat as the youngest Georgia delegate at the Democratic National Convention.

Austin, herself, had been a delegate to the 2008 convention in Denver, and had previously served on the Democratic National Committee and in various roles at the local level.

The county party membership had begun a resurgence after the November election, with local progressive voters looking for an avenue to organize and to create change. Postings on Georgia Pantsuit Nation and elsewhere attracted dozens of new people to party meetings in December and January. Empty posts for party officials are being filled.

It’s a sensitive time to sustain a loss.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

The Return of Burrell Ellis

I am imagining the moment Burrell Ellis walks back into his old office as DeKalb CEO once again, reinstated with three weeks left in his term in office, after eight months in stir and a year of appeal time to contemplate just where to stick the shiv.

How easy might it be for him to channel his inner Kevin Spacey, to drink deep of Alexander Dumas and Quentin Tarantino, and blow the entire edifice to hell?

Oh, but Ellis was the quiet one, right? Urkel as CEO. The quotidian alternative to the volatile, abrasively confrontational Vernon Jones. And never mind that Ellis looks just as much like Gus Fring as Jaleel White.

Ellis was offered a deal. Ellis said no. And Ellis fought through two trials, a jail sentence and an appeal to be standing atop the smoking ruin. I wouldn’t bet on equanimity.   Continue reading “The Return of Burrell Ellis”

Democracy, Death and Bearing Witness

Democracy requires more of its people than a vote. I’ve said this before – democracy is a tool of war, or perhaps a substitute for war. The Greeks used democracy to husband their strength against common enemies, counting men with spears in hand rather than the bodies on the ground. To prevail in a vote meant that the next village over would face more men in war … assuming they too did not join. Democracy ceases to be useful when the losers of a vote believe they may lose less fighting than voting.

We laugh about the coercion of the state when it comes to tax policy, and how men with guns enforce that policy, but it is just that. A vote, in essence, is a pledge saying that but for this scrap of paper with a name on it, I might kill you and take your possessions. The absurdist comedy that modern politics has become obscures the seriousness of this underlying truth, but it doesn’t change it.

The Greeks had a word for citizens who didn’t take their public responsibilities seriously. They called them idiots.

The unexpected death of two friends in the last couple of weeks leaves me chewing on what it means to participate in democracy, and how vital it is that we remember what that means today.

Janet PierceJanet Pierce, 68, died the day after Thanksgiving. Her published obituary makes gestures toward her volunteer work with the NAACP and other civic groups that are wholly inadequate descriptions of her value to DeKalb County and the world.

Local government runs to some degree on the power of little old ladies. I mean that without condescension. Retired people – often women – who have the time and inclination to attend horridly stultifying meetings of the local library board or the pension committee or the city parks department hearings make the difference between government that works and government that doesn’t.

This is for precisely the same reason murders become less likely with witnesses present.   Continue reading “Democracy, Death and Bearing Witness”

This Gregory Adams Is Good, Too.

Gregory Adams, candidate for the DeKalb County CommissionIn the coming Age of Trump, local politics will matter more than ever.

It’s been a couple of weeks since the DeKalb county commission race ended for me, and I’ve had some time to process what happened and where to go from here. Gregory Adams, a police officer will face Randal Mangham, an attorney and former state representative, in a December 6 runoff.

I’ve spoken at length with both. I believe Adams is the better choice for the job, given what we’re facing today.

I’m encouraged by Adams understanding of the nuances of the public argument about police misconduct and policing issues in DeKalb County today.

The force has been bleeding talent for years to affluent cities like Sandy Springs and is understaffed by at least 300 positions. DeKalb’s police have been politicized to some degree. And they’re often substituting in a role better served by our crumbling social services infrastructure – cops as social workers. Crime deters growth.

Pay is driving away good officers, but so is a sense that there’s a leadership vacuum. Right now, no one on the commission has law enforcement experience. Adams is best positioned to advocate for both the big and the granular changes to solve policing problems. Adams supports body cameras and external review of use-of-force, and is deeply concerned about the role of mental health response in policing. He also supports a raise in salaries. He’s going to be able to make credible arguments to his peers on the commission about the need for change here, arguments that will also be credible to officers in the field.

Adams has also been involved in homelessness services. He’s a former board member of Project3Sixty, a shelter and rehabilitation nonprofit based in Lawrenceville. I think Adams has better experience here. Modern policing has to break the connection between homelessness, mental illness, substance dependency and prison. I’m hoping to work with Adams and the county, however I can, to tackle this problem.

I’m also assured that he’ll address some of the quality of life community issues I encountered over the course of the campaign – drainage issues on Rockbridge Road, construction delays at the new animal shelter, extending the moratorium on shutting off water until the billing mess has a plan, reviewing the proposed club district on Memorial Drive and the like.

Adams plainly benefited from the power of ballot placement and the fact that he shares the same name as a long-serving superior court judge in DeKalb County. Sometimes we get lucky. That said, this is going to be bloody confusing for anyone writing about this place for a while.

“But … but … Larry Johnson is supporting him! He’ll vote with the South DeKalb guys all the time!”

To a degree, it doesn’t matter. Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton is being replaced by Steve Bradshaw. For truly stupid self-serving things like the stadium deal, they just won’t have the votes. I think Johnson’s been really, really wrong at times, but I’m not convinced he’s actually corrupt, and the distinction is important.

I also have reason to believe Adams will be less susceptible to political pressure than Mangham. Adams was plainly willing to take on the establishment. He ran against the incumbent commissioner Stan Watson for this very seat two years ago, and Watson was a principal author of the county’s litany of political abuses. Adams’ act of political courage should have been recognized in the moment.

Image result for george chidiMangham has a strong relationship with the immigrant community, something that could prove valuable to the county if he wins this race. He appears focused on infrastructure issues. He spoke at length on the campaign trail about empowering black-owned businesses and drawing more money from the federal government to help the county.

I question how well that might work in a Republican federal administration, of course. I expect massive cuts to anything related to spending in urban America, all double-talk aside.

Mangham’s conduct as a candidate also raises questions.   Continue reading “This Gregory Adams Is Good, Too.”