Political Notes: February 2017

Consolidation In Albany: The University System of Georgia Board of Regents has merged Albany State University (ASU) and Darton State College, effective last month. The vote came following approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Albany State is a historically black institution founded in 1903; Darton State was a two-year school. Dr. Arthur Dunning, president of ASU since 2015, and interim president prior to that, serves as president of the consolidated university.

In a statement to students and faculty, Dunning said, “Collectively, I know that we will stay true to our mission of providing a world-class education to our students and serving as a powerful catalyst for economic development in Southwest Georgia. Together, we will ensure that this is a holistic learning environment that empowers students to be great decision makers in every facet of life.”

This consolidation, the seventh in recent years, reduces the total number of University System of Georgia colleges and universities to 28 institutions.

Perdue as Ag Chief: Two days before his inauguration, President Donald Trump announced former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as his choice for agriculture secretary.

“From growing up on a farm to being governor of a big agriculture state, he has spent his whole life understanding and solving the challenges our farmers face, and he is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land,” said Trump in a statement.

Perdue, who has strong agribusiness ties, served from 2003 to 2011 as Georgia’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.

PSC’s Vogtle Vote: Georgia’s Public Service Commission voted unanimously to approve a settlement with Georgia Power regarding cost overruns at Plant Vogtle. As part of a compromise, the commission approved new costs for the Vogtle nuclear expansion and agreed that the utility’s spending through 2015 and legal costs from a dispute between Georgia Power and contractor Westinghouse Electric Co. would be considered “prudent,” or allowed.

The PSC-Georgia Power settlement also provides for a $325-million rate reduction for Georgia Power customers over the next four years, according to the PSC, which directed a review of the nuclear plant’s costs. Should the Vogtle project be delayed beyond Dec. 31, 2020, the utility will incur financial penalties.

The PSC forecasts Georgia Power’s capital cost for the project at $5.68 billion.

Commissioner Stan Wise, PSC chair, called the agreement “an extraordinary balance of interests among all the parties.”

Reprimand For Ralston: The Georgia Supreme Court accepted the recommendation of a special master that House Speaker David Ralston be reprimanded for violating state bar rules that prohibit lawyers from lending money to clients while their case is pending and using money from a trust account for the loan.

The Supreme Court ruling noted that Ralston could have lost his license; but Special Master Jonathan Peters, a former DeKalb Superior Court Judge, recommended a bar review panel public reprimand with no additional charges.

Oops, Yet Again: Nothing’s been easy about dealing with Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) of late – and that’s not likely to change.

A Fulton Daily Report story noted that Georgia will have a surfeit of agencies supervising judicial disciplinary matters before July 2017, with more than a few clouds of confusion hovering for several months after that.

The paper’s R. Robin McDonald quotes State Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), author of the constitutional amendment that voters approved in November to redo the JQC, as saying there was a “mix-up” when the amendment was drafted. Said mix-up relates to dates to abolish and reconstitute the agency. The old JQC was set to end Dec. 31, 2016, when a new agency would be created; that agency in turn would be abolished July 1, 2017, pending new legislation.

However, members of the final iteration of the JQC must be approved by the state Senate, Willard said, which is not likely to happen until the 2018 General Assembly session.

More College Combos: The University System of Georgia announced more institution consolidations: Georgia Southern University and Armstrong State University, to be led by GSU President Jaimie Hebert; and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) and Bainbridge State College, to be led by ABAC President David Bridges.

Categories: Political Notes