Sheriff Mann Will Get Off

I am forced by circumstances to compare Sheriff Jeffrey Mann of DeKalb with another local sheriff who found himself facing public ignominy: Victor Hill.

As we hear calls for Mann to resign in the wake of an embarrassing arrest in Piedmont Park, it’s probably instructive to remember that two years and a week ago Hill shot a woman and remains sheriff. The Clayton County sheriff was showing Gwenevere McCord “police tactics” while in a model home in Gwinnett when he shot her … by accident. She lost a kidney, spleen and part of her large intestine.

Mann isn’t going anywhere.  Continue reading “Sheriff Mann Will Get Off”

The Road Less Traveled

The opening of the northbound half of I-85 a mere six weeks after its collapse merits a word or two of praise.

I’ve held the engineering staff of the Georgia Department of Transportation in high regard, an impression I first formed more than 10 years ago. I spent many days covering the construction of the crazy overpasses at GA-316 in Gwinnett for the AJC, walking the construction zones with the department’s spokeswoman Teri Pope.

Half the state is now going to wonder why it takes two years to build a bridge. The speed of this can, I think, be attributed to four factors.

First, metro Atlanta more or less wanted to burn down GDOT headquarters after the fire, on general principles. The bridge collapse was a tremendous black eye for the department, and there’s nothing like a construction engineering success to rebuild some public trust.

Second, it’s considerably easier to build a bridge when you are working from a known design, and don’t need to obtain new rights-of-way and new engineering plans. This isn’t new.

Third, a $3.1 million incentive for Marietta-based C.W. Matthews Contracting Co. Inc., to complete it early is a tremendous motivator. The total cost will be around $20 million, which is expensive … but a lot less expensive than taking extra time. My thumbnail guess is that the state economy was losing between $1 million and $2 million a day while the bridge was down. That cost means using expensive quick-dry cement becomes a financially-viable decision.

And last, the bidding for this construction was not subject to normal procurement rules, which made the entire process faster. That, however, meant setting aside requirements to seek minority and women-owned construction firms for some of the work, a point Georgia NAACP leader — and attorney for accused bridge-burner Basil Eleby — was particularly sore about last month when discussing the aftermath of the fire.

Eleby received a release on bond last month, and is staying in a residential drug treatment facility a five-minute walk from the courthouse.

I spent some time walking his old neighborhood in the week after the fire. Whatever else, Eleby was well known to folks on Piedmont Road, sleeping in an old car behind a repair shop, 200 feet from the bridge and about 400 from the illegal skate park under I-85.

My opinion about the relative culpability in this case remains unchanged. GDOT should have sold the plastic fiberoptic cable insulation a decade ago instead of storing it under a bridge. I await answers from the federal probe, and I expect the department to take some responsibility.

But handling the reconstruction of the bridge with professional engineering skill, without allowing it to be bogged down in politically-driven idiocy or apparent corruption, is a good first step toward making amends. Thanks.

Identity Games at Atlanta United

I walked into the cheering section of Bobby Dodd stadium Sunday for the Atlanta United game with Lil’ Yachty on my mind.

Someone brought a flag with a giant Yachty head on it to the last game, a stylized emoji silhouette with the teenage Atlanta rapper’s bright red braids behind goal. I stood, agog, looking at it wave beside one with a Mooninite from Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and another with Samuel Jackson’s face from Pulp Fiction, promising righteous anger and furious vengeance.

Lil’ Yachty bothers me.

I’m also 44 years old and Yachty bothers anyone over 30.

I’ve had a long-running argument about Lil’ Yachty with Rodney Carmichael, Creative Loafing’s former music editor who is now NPR’s man on hip hop. He believes Yachty’s undeniable popularity reveals something about youth culture. I view Lil’ Yachty as the herald for the end of civilization and the descent into the American dystopia William Gibson promised us.

But there his pink head bobbed over the crowd. And his head’s been stuck in mine since.

I went looking for Yachty today, but I found something even more disturbing.

Continue reading “Identity Games at Atlanta United”

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.