Knocking Down A Lie About A Midtown Murder And The I-85 Fire

A fake news piece has been circulating through social media, trying to tie the death of Atlanta attorney Trinh Huynh to the I-85 bridge collapse. It is a lie.

Trinh Huynh, a staff attorney for UPS, was killed by a lunatic in Midtown earlier this week, shot dead in a crosswalk outside of Taco Mac on Peachtree Street.

Police arrested a suspect, Raylon Browning, a couple of days ago. No motive has been announced, but he is also accused of stabbing two other, unconnected people.

The story — to which I will not link — suggests that Huynh filed a request for documents about the bridge after the collapse and was killed to stall her inquiries, that ISIS is responsible for the bridge destruction and that there’s a Russian FSB report about it.

NONE of this is true.

The PACER court filings site shows no activity by UPS or Huynh at the federal courthouse in Atlanta between the fire and her death. She was an expert in construction law, which is why the hoax article is seductive.

A good hoax takes bits of information that is true and weaves it into a narrative that might be believable, particularly when it’s tied to sensational breaking news events.

But it is a hoax.  Continue reading “Knocking Down A Lie About A Midtown Murder And The I-85 Fire”

Hell Burns Hotter Than The I-85 Fire

A reporter asked Georgia Department of Transportation commissioner Russell McMurry if the homeless guy charged with arson, Basil Eleby, is a scapegoat.

“I won’t speculate on what people call the person who caused this fire,” McMurry said.

Note the phrasing. Eleby caused the fire. Not GDOT.

GDOT did nothing wrong. That’s the line.

When the state or local government screws up, they’re usually invulnerable to criminal prosecution or serious civil prosecution. One must prove a state employee violated one’s constitutional rights. It’s the doctrine of sovereign immunity – a court is an instrument of the state, and the state can’t punish itself.

The “I” in I-85 stands for “Interstate.” That’s a problem right now for the Georgia Department of Transportation. And I think that’s why McMurry is so eager to push all of the responsibility for the collapse of the I-85 overpass on a homeless man with apparent substance abuse problems.

Most of Georgia’s highway budget comes from federal funds. Georgia gets that money on certain conditions. One of those conditions presumably involves not letting those roads be vulnerable to immolation by anyone with a lighter. The feds sure as hell can hold state government to account when one of its roads gets barbequed into gravel, particularly if they think someone was negligent or criminal.

Consider the federal prosecution of George H. Bell last year. Bell worked as an assistant area maintenance foreman for GDOT. He was convicted for taking bribes to let contractors dump dirty fill on GDOT lots in DeKalb.

I pay attention to corruption issues in DeKalb. That one stuck with me, because corrupt GDOT officials figured DeKalb would be suitable to dump waste. The same division office covering DeKalb covers the I-85 underpass at Piedmont, and this case suggests the possibility of systematic oversight problems.  Continue reading “Hell Burns Hotter Than The I-85 Fire”

Sure. Blame The Crackhead.

Three homeless people, smoking crack under I-85, are apparently responsible for destroying the interstate and causing untold millions of dollars in infrastructure damage and untold millions more in economic damage. That’s what we are asked to think.

Yeah. Right.

It’s not that I don’t believe that someone stupidly set fire to the combustible conduit stored under the bridge. The very quick arrest and arson charges for Basil Eleby may or may not be sustained. There will be hearings, and perhaps a trial, assuming Eleby doesn’t simply cut a deal like 90 percent of indigent criminal defendants do.

I don’t really care.

Let me state the obvious: whoever is responsible for storing material under the interstate that could melt a bridge had better still be in prison when Eleby gets out.  Continue reading “Sure. Blame The Crackhead.”

DeKalb Ethics Board Member Resigns In Protest Of Legislative Attack

Scott Bonder, a DeKalb County commercial litigation attorney serving on the newly-constituted board of ethics, resigned yesterday in protest of legislative changes proposed this year.

House members advanced a bill to change the appointment process for the board, in anticipation of a court ruling in a lawsuit by former county commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton that may invalidate the board’s appointment process. Appointments to the board overseeing ethical conduct for the county board of commissioners would be made by the county’s legislators and no longer by groups like the chamber of commerce or the bar association.

Legislators — principally State Rep. Vernon Jones — have taken issue with public comments by the county’s ethics officer, Stacey Kalberman, about this pending legislation. Bonder’s resignation short-circuits those criticisms.

Bonder, a former Marine and instructor at Emory Law School’s Trial Advocacy Program, made his objections clear in an open letter, below.  Continue reading “DeKalb Ethics Board Member Resigns In Protest Of Legislative Attack”

This Road Is Closed For Domestic Terrorism

Image result for black lives matter protest atlantaGeorgia House Judiciary committee member Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) had his constitutional hackles raised high during a Georgia House committee hearing last week on Senate Bill 1, which proposed a new domestic terrorism law.

“It’s not the right to ‘lawful’ assembly, it’s the right to assembly,” he said to the bill’s author, Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), taking issue with some of the bill’s language.

“I’m not a brilliant word smither,” Cowsert replied. “But if we don’t draw a line somewhere, we are descending into chaos.”

The bill failed to achieve a constitutional majority Tuesday night — short seven votes of the 91 needed to pass, but some late efforts are being made to attach its language to a proposal to create a public list of noncititzens who have committed a felony, said Larry Pelligrini -Executive Director at Georgia Rural Urban Summit.

Civil liberties leaders have on red alert throughout the session over the proposed domestic terrorism bill, interpreting it as a way to make it easier for state and local law enforcement to arrest and jail unruly protesters, particularly those who engaged in a massive Black Lives Matter street protest in downtown Atlanta last year.  Continue reading “This Road Is Closed For Domestic Terrorism”

Jon Richards, Saving Us From Ourselves

Last month, during the flap over Elizabeth Warren’s speech about Jeff Sessions, Marco Rubio took to the Senate floor in defense of civility.

“I am just telling you that if this body loses the ability to have those sorts of debate, then where in this country is that going to happen?” he said. “What other forum in this nation is that going to be possible?”

That forum is what Jon Richards built.

Many of you, my friends, look to my Facebook feed for an interesting word here or there about politics. Some insight. The occasional polemic. Reason.

You see that from me in small part because Jon Richards helped show me, even now, even in the hell that is our politics today, that there is an appetite for political discussion that can be both partisan and reasoned.

We are in grief. It’s hard to describe what Richards meant to politics in Georgia — and means to the country — but it’s worth trying.  Continue reading “Jon Richards, Saving Us From Ourselves”

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”