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Political Notes: August 2015

Legislative Honors: The Georgia Chamber of Commerce named three Legislators of the Year for 2015, recognizing them for their leadership on business measures supported by the chamber.

Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) was named top legislator in the Senate, and Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe) was selected from the House. Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon) was singled out as top freshman legislator.

Chamber President and CEO Chris Clark noted Gooch’s role in passing significant transportation legislation. Williamson was honored for his efforts to extend the angel investor tax credit, and Kennedy was hailed for his support for education reform, transportation funding and legal reform.


Top Tech Lawmaker: The Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) named Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville) as its 2015 Technology Legislator of the Year.

“Rep. Brockway has worked with technology industry leaders to create pieces of legislation that advance solar energy, safeguard student privacy and encourage school districts to utilize technology in the classroom,” said Tino Mantella, TAG president.


Who Ya Gonna Call?  If you are an elected official – Democrat or Republican – with legal troubles, odds are you will be calling on former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes.

Speaker of the House David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) is the latest to do so, hiring Barnes to defend him against charges he is in violation of State Bar of Georgia rules – charges Ralston has denied.

The accusations arose from a complaint filed by a client of Ralston’s, Paul Chernak, who was injured in an automobile accident in 2006. Chernak’s claim says Ralston used “legislative leave” to delay his trial and that the speaker sent his client $22,000 to pay living expenses while waiting for the case to go to court – money Chernak says came from other clients and third parties, which is considered a serious violation of state bar rules.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted Ralston’s previous legal team as saying the complaint was wrong.

A state bar investigation ruled there was probable cause to show that Ralston violated rules. The complaint went to the Georgia Supreme Court, which appointed Mark Dehler of Hiawassee as a special master to investigate the charges.

Barnes has filed, on Ralston’s behalf, a Petition for Voluntary Discipline to settle the case. Dehler will make recommendations to the Supreme Court.


New DHS Commissioner: Gov. Nathan Deal nominated Robyn A. Crittenden to take the helm of Georgia’s Department of Human Services, surely one of the toughest jobs in all of state government. Crittenden served as executive vice president and COO for the Georgia Student Finance Commission.

She succeeds Keith Horton, who is moving to the Department of Juvenile Justice as assistant commissioner.

Crittenden was approved by the Department of Human Services Board and started her new job July 1.


Isakson Draws Support: Outpourings of encouragement and confidence quickly followed Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s announcement that he has Parkinson’s disease, a progressive nervous system disorder.

“Over one million Americans have Parkinson’s, and I am one of them,” Isakson said in a news release. “My diagnosis has not impacted my ability to represent the state of Georgia in the U.S. Senate.” He said he is “eager to take my record of results to the voters of Georgia as I run for re-election in 2016.”

Statements of support came from fellow Georgia Sen. David Perdue, Gov. Nathan Deal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and several members of Georgia’s congressional delegation.

Isakson’s release included a statement from his neurologist, Dr. Thomas M. Holmes, who said the senator is in stage 1.5 of the accepted five stages of Parkinson’s, which is indicative of his mild symptoms.


New Floor Leader: Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) is a new member of Gov. Nathan Deal’s floor leader team. He replaces Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), who is chairing the Transportation Committee.

Peake led this year’s successful effort in the state legislature to legalize medical cannabis oil for patients with certain conditions, among them childhood seizure disorders and cancer.


Ellis Convicted: Suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis will serve 18 months of jail time and will be on probation for another three and a half years. His sentencing came after a jury found Ellis guilty of one count of attempted extortion and three counts of perjury – all felonies – and not guilty on five related counts stemming from charges he tried to shake down county vendors for campaign contributions.

In an earlier trial last year, jurors were unable to reach a verdict. Judge Courtney Johnson denied Ellis’s request to remain free while he appeals his convictions.

Lee May has been acting CEO since Ellis was indicted in 2013.


Buh-Bye, P-Cards: And in other DeKalb County news, Interim CEO Lee May has suspended use of the county’s much-abused P-cards, or purchasing cards, on the recommendation of Richard Hyde, one of two special investigators – the other is former Attorney General Mike Bowers – hired by May.

The charge cards were intended to be used for supplies, services and vehicle repairs, but were widely used for questionable donations and personal vacations – most infamously by former Commissioner Elaine Boyer, now serving prison time for corruption charges.

The card ban affects county commissioners and county employees.

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