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Political Notes: Ups, Downs and In-betweens

In Memoriam: Former Georgia First Lady Betty Russell Vandiver, a champion of improvements to the state’s mental health facilities, died in January at the age of 90. She was the widow of the late Gov. Ernest Vandiver, who held office from 1959 until 1963 and presided over the desegregation of the University of Georgia.

As part of her efforts to improve the lives of those who are mentally ill, she worked with the Georgia Municipal Association to establish the Georgia Mayors’ Christmas Motorcade to provide holiday gifts for patients in Georgia’s mental hospitals. The motorcade continues today.

Gov. and Mrs. Vandiver also helped raise money for a Chapel of All Faiths on the grounds of the old Central State Hospital in Milledgeville.

She was the niece of former Georgia Gov. and U.S. Sen. Richard B. Russell Jr. and the granddaughter of Georgia Chief Justice Richard Brevard Russell.

Gov. Nathan Deal, in a statement, paid tribute to the former first lady: “Historians and pundits often talk about the sacrifices of a governor, but the truly unsung heroes are the members of the first family, who give of themselves for the betterment of others, often quietly, with dignity, and without the applause they deserve. Betty was a prime example of such a woman of grace and Southern charm.”

CDC Director Out: Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, resigned her position in late January over financial investments that included tobacco stocks and, apparently, necessitated her recusal from a number of CDC duties.

ARC Audit: The Atlanta Regional Commission was hit hard in a state audit covering 2016. The agency was criticized for “questionable purchases, reimbursements and policy violations,” according to Greg S. Griffin of the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts. Most were related to food and alcohol charges, with the expenses of ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker coming in for particular scrutiny.

In its response, ARC said it plans to use the report as “a roadmap to help identify some needed policy and procedural updates that fall in line with the unique role we play in the region as a quasi-governmental agency.” The agency said it is exploring options for changes to governance policies and procedures, but denied any financial impropriety on Hooker’s part.

New Gig For Price: Former Georgia Congressman Tom Price, a physician who was briefly President Donald Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services before he resigned over criticism of his use of charter flights, is now a member of the advisory board of Jackson Healthcare, based in Alpharetta. According to Georgia Health News, the company is the third-largest U.S. healthcare staffing service with revenues close to $1 billion.

Legislators Leaving: Some veteran lawmakers will be leaving the General Assembly after the session or at the end of the year. State Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), first elected in 1998, announced that he will retire after the 2018 session. State Rep. Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas) will complete his eighth term, which ends in December, but will not seek a ninth.

State Rep. David Casas (R-Lilburn), a member of the General Assembly’s Hispanic Caucus and first elected in 2002, is not running for another term.

State Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth), former president pro tem of the Senate, is leaving to run for the office of lieutenant governor; and State Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville) is seeking the office of secretary of state.

Isakson Pressing VA: Georgia’s U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, has called on VA Secretary David Shulkin to report on progress made by the agency in implementing 10 pieces of veterans reform legislation that became law in 2017.

“I’ve told the secretary that we want to really take the legislation that we passed last year … to give them the tools to address the significant problems confronting the veterans of America and begin moving away from the problems of the past and toward the solutions of the future,” Isakson said in a statement.

Isakson also expressed concerns over key positions in the VA that are vacant, including the post of assistant secretary for IT, which has gone unfilled for a year.

PSC Orders Refunds: The Georgia Public Service Commission ordered Georgia Power to refund customers a total of $43.6 million, as company earnings for 2016 were more than the return on equity (ROE) approved by the commission. Exact amounts per customer and the dates of returns are not yet determined.

KSU Presidential Search: The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia has appointed two committees to conduct a national search for the next Ken- nesaw State University president.

Lack of such a search was a sore point for many critics of former President Sam Olens’ appointment.

The 14-member Presidential Search and Screen Committee is chaired by Douglas Moodie, a KSU professor, and includes faculty, students and community representatives. The committee will be assisted by the firm Parker Executive Search of Atlanta and will be responsible for providing three to five candidates to the Regents’ Special Committee, which is chaired by Regent Neil L. Pruitt Jr.

The full Board of Regents will make the final decision on the next president.

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