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Fox 5 obtains copy of grand jury report

Fox 5 Atlanta news has obtained a copy of the Gwinnett grand jury report investigating Gwinnett land deals.  The report indicates that former Commission Chairman Charles Bannister offered to resign his seat to avoid indictment on a perjury charge.  According to Fox 5, there was no evidence of a bribe in Bannister's case, though the same grand jury indicted Commissioner Kevin Kenerly on bribery charges.

Fox 5 reported that the grand jury's finding showed that "commissioners [were] often clueless about the most cost-conscious way to buy land for future parks." Former Superior Court judge James Oxendine was mentioned as having handled negotiations for a property owner selling land to Gwinnett County.  According to the report, Oxendine pushed the county to increase its offer.  The report noted that no member of county staff had any reservations about negotiating with a sitting judge.

You can watch Randy Travis' report below.


So who wants to run for chairman?

The schedule for a special election for Gwinnett Commission Chairman to replace recently resigned Charles Bannister has been set:

  • On Nov. 15, a Probate Court judge will officially call for the special election.

  • On Nov. 16, the County Commission plans to set a qualifying fee for candidates.

  • Candidates can qualify for the office beginning at 9 a.m. Dec. 6 and ending at noon Dec. 8.

  • The deadline for voter registration for the special election will be Feb. 14. Absentee voting also will begin on Valentine’s Day.

  • Advanced voting for the special election will be March 7-11 at the county elections office, 455 Grayson Highway, Suite 200, in Lawrenceville. The office will have extended hours, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

  • The special election will be March 15. If needed, a runoff election will be held April 12.

  • The AJC article goes on to speculate who might run for the office.  Those mentioned (along with my comments) are:

    Former Gwinnett Commissioner Lorraine Green: This makes me think of Roy Barnes.  We said no to her in 2008, but she may not have gotten the message.  Even with all I know about Charles Bannister now along with the other commissioners that have done such a lousy job, I would still pick any one of them over Lorraine Green.

    Republican Party Chairman Bruce LeVell: The Buzz endorsed LeVell when we ran in the 2008 primary against Shirley Lasseter in District 1.  This would be a great choice for Gwinnett assuming his positions remain the same as they were two years ago.

    2008 Democrat Commission Chairman candidate Vincent Passariello: Gwinnett has grown more and more Demorat in recent years, but I do not think we are quite to the point where a Democrat has a strong chance of winning a county-wide seat.  Of course, Lorraine Green nearly beat Bannister in 2008 and I don't really see much difference between her and a Democrat.

    Gwinnett Village CID head Chuck Warbington: I honestly do not know much about Warbington.  He is a graduate of Dacula High School and he played for the 1990 Georgia Tech National Championship football team.  While I think having a national championship ring as a Yellow Jacket is a great part of his bio, that alone is not enough to gain the endorsement even from a website with "Buzz" in its name.

    Other names mentioned include Dacula mayor Jimmy Wilbanks and Suwanee mayor Dave Williams.

    I am still surprised not to see Mike Beaudreau listed as a possibility.  I have not seen any articles or tweets saying he has decided against running.  Until that happens, I have to believe he is a strong possibility to throw his hat into the ring.

    Grand jury declines to indict Bannister

    Former Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister will not be indicted despite much speculation to the contrary in the wake of his resignation Friday from the commission.  This morning, a Gwinnett grand jury returned a "no bill" on a potential charge of making false statements.  The legal situation of Commissioner Kevin Kenerly, however, remains unclear.  "Superior Court Judge Michael Clark Monday ordered that any presentments by the grand jury related to Kenerly be sealed until Oct. 22."

    Even though Bannister has now been cleared of potential perjury charges, there stands to be plenty of political action as Gwinnett faces a special election to fill Bannister's unexpired term.  I suspect that, once we get past the November elections, things will start to get interesting as candidates position themselves to run for the chairmanship.

    Bob Griggs opines on aftermath of grand jury probe

    Longtime Gwinnett political insider Bob Griggs has posted on his blog an interesting analysis of the aftermath of the ongoing grand jury probe into Gwinnett land deals .  He expects both former Chairman Charles Bannister and District 4 Commissioner Kevin Kenerly to be indicted as a result of the probe.  In such a scenario, the resulting falling dominoes would make for a very interesting period for Gwinnett politics:
    [District 1 Commissioner Mike] Beaudreau, as the Chairman Pro Tem, will lead a three-member Commission until January. John Heard and Lynette Howard will win in the general election, take office in January and will vote, subsequently, to hold a special election for Chairman. Heard will then announce that he intends to seek the Chairman’s seat. He has reportedly told associates that it was always his plan to run for Chairman in two years. He risks a 2012 loss if someone else is given two years in the seat to build goodwill.

    Beaudreau will not run for Chairman; he is gainfully employed in a career job and won’t give it up for more headaches and a pay cut. I expect several– the usual suspects and a few newbies– to run, however.

    Seems plausible given that Bannister resigned this morning.  While we do not yet know what connection that resignation has to the grand jury investigation, the timing is suspicious to say the least.  I would disagree on his prediction that Mike Beaudreau would not run for Commission Chairman.  While Beaudreau may well have a career job, I have always thought he had career politician written all over him and I would have been stunned had he not run for Chairman or some other higher office at the end of the his current commission term in 2012.  While I certainly do not have the connections that Griggs has, to think that Beaudreau's political aspirations end at commissioner does not resonate with me.

    One prediction that really encourages me is that John Heard, who I expect to win Kenerly's seat next month, would resign to run for Chairman.  This would open the door for another bid by Tommy Hunter.  While John Heard was certainly preferable to apparent Beaudreau-clone Tim Sullivan, Hunter was far and away the best choice in District 4.  Tommy barely missed the runoff so another chance for him to get on the Commissiongreatly excites me.

    One thing is for sure - things look to get very interesting in Gwinnett political circles in the coming weeks and months.

    Bannister resigns

    Chairman Charles Bannister has resigned his as charman of the Gwinnett County Commission.  Bannister was scheduled to testify today before a grand jury investigating land deals approved by the board.  Bannister made the following statement this morning through his attorneys:
    "It is with deep regret that I announce my immediate resignation as chairman of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners. While I am proud of Gwinnett County government's many accomplishments over the past six years and had hoped to guide more of this board's work to completion, I find myself near the end of an extremely trying year that has placed an undeserved strain on my family and has threatened my own health.  I believe that stepping down at this time is necessary to preserve my family's well-being and will allow the important business off Gwinnett County to move forward without further distraction."

    It is not clear at this time what, if any, connection exists between Bannister's resignation and the grand jury investigation.

    Bannister blood test comes back negative; Charges dropped

    CBS Atlanta has just reported that Commission Chairman Charles Bannister's blood test has come back negative for alcohol in his system.  This result confirms the 0.0 reading on a Breathalyzer test administered to the chairman prior to his arrest for DUI Monday night.  Combine this with the fact that there is no video of Bannister failing a field sobriety test and Bannister's claim that he would be exonerated is looking more and more likely.  (I would note, I do not put much stock in the field sobriety test failure.  If I had a police officer having me recite the alphabet starting at a letter other than A, on the side of a road, my nerves could cause me to get flustered and mess that up as well!)

    What is going on here?  Is Bannister being setup for political purposes?  The story does shed some light on why the Sheriff's Department was involved.  Apparently, someone in the restaurant called an off-duty deputy who, in turn, phoned an on-duty deputy.  However, as I questioned previously, why did this tip not get forwarded to Gwinnett Police who normally handle traffic cases in this area?  According to the AJC, the fact that the Sheriff's department handled the arrest is not the only irregularity with this case.

    Sheriff Butch Conway has stated that he stands behind his deputy.  So long as there is no evidence of a setup, I cannot argue with this because a good superior backs up his employees.  However, if something starts to look fishy, which certainly is shaping up to be the case here, Conway should absolutely look into this matter very closely.  The question is what he will say during a news conference today regarding the blood test results?  Don't forget that Conway backed Bannister's opponent, former commissioner Lorraine Green, in the last election.  Will the sheriff let politics get in the way of seeking out justice for a political opponent?  Stayed tuned.

    UPDATE: Sheriff Conway has announced that DUI charges would be dropped against the chairman.  However, per the irregularities in this case, this should not be the end of the matter.  Someone, whether it be the sheriff or other authorities, should look into whether any laws have been violated in the treatment of Bannister.  Even if no laws have been violated, there should be close scrutiny that no law enforcement official abused their authority in order to humiliate Bannister with trumped up charges.

    Bannister charged with DUI

    The Buzz has been quiet lately as I have simply not had time to devote to the site (still open to accepting other contributors - let me know if you are interested in writing for the Buzz!).  However, after reading the news of Commission Chairman Charles Bannister being charged with DUI last night, I had to comment.

    While I supported Bannister in his race against former Commissioner Lorraine Green two years ago, I have been less than pleased - to put it mildly - with the job performance of the chairman and the rest of the board since that time.  However, despite that, this is not a post to "pile on" the chairman.  Rather, after reading the latest news account of yesterday's events, I wanted to write to urge my fellow Gwinnett residents not to rush to judgment.  There are enough red flags to prompt the fair-minded observer to allow the facts of this situation come to light before forming a hardened opinion on guilt or innocence.

    When I received a text from a friend last night telling me that 11Alive had tweeted that Charles Bannister had been charged with DUI, my initial inclination was to believe that he was guilty.  I mean, after all, DUI is pretty cut and dried right?  You get pulled over, you blow a high reading on a Breathalyzer...bam, DUI.  Not really any extenuating circumstances for that in my book.  However, as details of last night's events have emerged, I have begun to think "Hold on...maybe things are not as they seem:"
    ...the Breathalyzer producing a .000 reading.

    Hmm.  Of course, given the description of Bannister's driving, the decision of Gwinnett Sheriff's Deputy M.G. Cummings to ask for a blood test was understandable:
    "Once I received the blood kit I explained to the defendant that due to the results of the breath test being inconsistent with someone who had drunk a beer, as he admitted to at the scene of the pullover and at the jail, and his current manifestations, I requested he submit to the state test of his blood. He stated he would."

    However, this raises another question to me.  Why was this incident being handled by the Sheriff's Department?  While I know the Sheriff's Department certainly has the authority to conduct traffic stops, in Gwinnett, I normally think of the Gwinnett County Police Department taking on that responsibility.  Could it be because the Sheriff is an elected official and, as such, not a direct report to Bannister?  Is it normal procedure for the GCSD to handle such incidents to avoid a situation where a county employee is arresting his boss?  If anyone knows about this, please post.  If the GCSD handling this is not standard operating procedure, I think asking why the Sheriff's office and not the police department was waiting outside the restaurant for the chairman to leave is a fair question.

    While none of the above suggests that Bannister is definitively not guilty of the charge, these facts suggest to me that we be all the more cautious about jumping to conclusions.  Whether anyone agrees or disagrees with Chairman Bannister politically, as an American citizen, he has a right to be treated fairly under the law and not to be immediately assumed guilty due to political unpopularity.

    I am absolutely not taking DUI lightly.  In fact, I feel that the justice system is too easy on those convicted of DUI.  This is a serious offense that takes too many innocent lives across our country.  However, before applying strict punishment, any American, including Chairman Bannister, must be proven guilty of a DUI charge.  Once that occurs or if the chairman admits guilt, only then is consideration of whether he should resign his office or any other response appropriate.

    The Gwinnett Commission has completely ignored you!

    EDIT (2 March 10): I stated below that the audience could not address the commission during the meeting.  I am watching the meeting right now and the audience does have the opportunity to address the board.  The first two speakers are grilling the commissioners - way to go!

    Just when you thought it was safe to take your garbage to the curb, there stands the Gwinnett County Commission waiting at the end of your driveway to "help" you take out your garbage.  That's right - socialized garbage is back. Tomorrow, the board will consider a new version of the ordinance that looks almost identical to the old version.  What does that tell us?  The Gwinnett County Commission did not listen to a word that was said to them - loudly and clearly - at the various meetings and hearings in the last 15 months.  They have effectively brushed you aside and will do exactly what they intended to do all along - micromanage your life!

    The most substantial difference between the previous ordinance and the current iteration is of little real importance to the average citizen: Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful will not be administering the program.  Whew!  That makes me feel so much better knowing that someone else will deny my economic freedom and tell me I am not capable of handing my own affairs.  At the end of the day, the county will still mandate that you must have garbage service.  The county will still tell you what company you must have as your garbage hauler.  They will still bill you for the service as part of your tax bill.  The only substantive item that appears to be different is that recycling is not mandatory.  Exactly how is this different than the socialistic program the board attempted to foist upon us last year?  In a nutshell- IT'S NOT!

    Our commissioners are thumbing their noses at us.  They are saying we listened and we ignored virtually everything you told us.  Why?  Because we are politcians and we know how to live your life better than you do!  And these are supposed to be five REPUBLICANS, one of whom may want to go to Washington as a Congressman!

    Unfortunately, this will ordinance will pass because this commission is not accountable to you.  Two members of the board, District 2 Commissioner Bert Nasuti and District 4 Commissioner Kevin Kenerly, are not running for reelection.  They can vote for the ordinance and not have to worry about facing the music from the voters.  That means there only needs to be one other vote to pass socialized garbage.  If Commission Chairman Charles Bannister has already decided not to seek a third term in 2012, he would be just as unaccountable as Nasuti and Kenerly.  I suspect he will not run again, but only he knows for sure.  The other likely source for the third vote is Mike Beaudreau.  Whether he runs for Congress or not, Beaudreau will likely run for a higher office in 2012 given that his interest in Congressman John Linder's congressional seat confirms my suspicions that Beaudreau is aiming politically higher than the county commission.  Granted, running for any office from within Gwinnett would force him to face voters in some way should he vote for socialized garbage. However, if his next race is for a different office, that would provide some insulation from voter angst over socialized garbage.  That leaves Shirley Lasseter who likely will run for relection in 2012.  With a third vote coming from Bannister or Beaudreau, Lasseter would be afforded political cover by being able to vote against the ordinance knowing that it will still pass.  (To be fair to Lasseter, the original socialized garbage ordinance was passed before she joined the Commission.  Thus, she may truly be opposed to the measure.)

    The board will vote on this unAmerican ordinance tomorrow.  Conveniently, these sessions do not allow the public to address the commission, so you will not have the opportunity to remind the board that their support of socialized garbage is unacceptable.  Ironically, that is very appropriate given that they chose to ignore you when you did have the opportunity to speak.  Who needs Democrats when you have Republicans like this bunch?

    Bannister warns of effects of budget cuts

    In a letter posted on the Gwinnett County homepage (thanks to Buzz reader ceej for posting this link in a comment to an earlier post), Commission Chairman Charles Bannister outlines some of the budget cuts the board will be considering next week.  Bannister highlights cuts to public safety funding and the associated reductions in force levels.  Gwinnett County Fire Chief Steve Rolader, referencing the cuts for the fire department, worries about the impact on protection for the public:
    "With a reduction in force, it could impact our response times," he said. "It concerns us."

    Now, I must be fair and note that I am not clear that the commission would be cutting force levels as opposed to simply not growing them per the previous plan.  (This is a common tactic in Washington where Congress will refer to a reduction in planned growth as a "cut.")  However, by holding staffing levels constant while the county's population continues to grow, the number of firefighters per capita will fall.  This logic alone lends credence to Rolader's concerns.

    Aren't you glad that we have that nice, new minor league baseball stadium?  If your house burns down because the fire department is unable to respond quickly enough, at least you can console yourself while taking in a Government-funded Gwinnett Braves game at Gwinnett Taxpayers' Stadium.  Yes, I keep bringing up the stadium.  The people of Gwinnett should not be allowed to forget about the abysmal stewardship of our tax dollars represented by that facility.  The stadium looked like a bad deal when it was proposed.  GIven our current fiscal situation, the stadium deal looks like perhaps the biggest example of governmental mismanagement in the history of Gwinnett County.

    Remember this during primary season next summer, folks!

    The commission sure is a stubborn bunch

    The AJC has an excellent article chronicling the Gwinnett Braves stadium history over the last year.  The article does a good job of outlining why this deal was bad for Gwinnett County taxpayers: cost overruns, weakening county tax revenues due to the recession, and inability to sell the stadium naming rights in the current economic environment.  All this while the county was slashing its budget, cutting jobs, and "[postponing] adding 88 positions for public safety and the courts."

    Despite an overwhelming case that, financially, this was a worse deal in retrospect than it was initially, the commission stubbornly clings to the position that the county should have undertaken the project.
    “Our board was completely unanimous on baseball Jan. 15 of last year, and I think our board will be completely unanimous on baseball today,” said Commissioner Bert Nasuti, the project’s chief proponent.

    Gwinnett Board of Commissioners Chairman Charles Bannister, Commissioner Kevin Kenerly and Nasuti said they would have voted for financing the stadium last year even if they had known what they know now about the economy and the county’s finances.

    “I think we would have voted for it,” Bannister said. “It would have been much cleaner — perhaps prettier — publicwise if all the dollars had been in the accounting upfront.”

    What incredible arrogance to say that, even had they known then what they know now, they would have still proceeded.  What we know now is that, if the stadium revenue projections remain down, the stadium threatens to place a greater burden on taxpayer wallets.

    Nasuti believes that the stadium will boost "boost Gwinnett’s economy."  He also made a valid point about economic development.
    “You don’t shut down economic development opportunities when times are bad,” Nasuti said. “That is when you look at economic development opportunities.”

    Nasuti is absolutely correct that smart managers pursue opportunities in hard times.  However, let the private sector make that decision, not government.  We elect Republicans because we want limited government, lower taxes and a positive environment for business.  I do not call making sweetheart deals for a professional sports franchise to be an example of limited government even the deal improves the business environment.  Over the life of the contract, the Braves will pay an average annual rent to Gwinnett County of $365,000 per year.  On top of that, the team keeps half of the parking revenue, all ticket revenue except for  $1 per ticket($400,000 minimum to the county), and a share of the stadium naming rights income.  This for an organization that just signed pitcher Derek Lowe for $60 million over four years.

    I know I will never find the perfect elected official with whom I will agree all the time.  However, over the last year, the Gwinnett commission has begun to develop quite a track record of poor management of county government.  Socialized garbage.  Gwinnett Braves stadium.  North Georgia retreat to figure out how to save money.  The hole they are digging is already pretty deep.  Fortunately for them, the next election is still nearly two years away.  They have time to turn things around, but to climb out of this hole, they need to stop digging and starting putting the Gwinnett residents and taxpayers first in what they do.