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Watch the Georgia Senate 'Call the Dawgs' before championship game

The state of Georgia and city of Atlanta are ready for their moment in college football’s limelight.

>> Read more trending news

On Monday morning, members of the Georgia state Senate “called the Dawgs” during the session ahead of tonight’s College Football Playoff Championship in Atlanta.

Watch the video below:

Georgia and Alabama kick off at 8 p.m. ET at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Streets named for the Confederacy in Atlanta to be renamed

Atlanta streets named for some of the Confederacy’s most recognizable generals and leaders will likely be renamed in the coming weeks, Mayor Kasim Reed is expected to announce as early as today.

What names might replace them is unclear, as are plans for other streets, monuments and markers named for rebels, according to a new report by a select committee studying the issue. The committee, appointed by Reed and the City Council earlier this year, was charged with devising a plan to address one of the most contentious issues facing cities and states today: what to do about Confederate iconography at a time of racial discord across the nation.

» PHOTOS: Confederate memorials in metro Atlanta

Atlanta’s committee of 11 appointees held public hearings through October to help decide the fate of dozens of streets and about a half dozen monuments and markers across the city. In a report given to Reed late last week, the committee recommended:

  • The immediate renaming of “Confederate Avenue, East Confederate Avenue, and any street named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, John B. Gordon, Robert E. Lee, Stephen Dill Lee, or Howell Cobb. The aforementioned were significant Confederate military leaders and actively involved in white supremacist activities after the war, making them undeserving of the honor of a street name in Atlanta.”

The panel also recommended that:

  • The city remove the Peace Monuments in Piedmont Park and at Peachtree Battle near Peachtree Road because they represent, “Lost Cause mythology” and ignore the experience of enslaved African Americans. Both should be put in city storage.
  • The Confederate Obelisk and Lion of the Confederacy monuments in Oakland Cemetery remain, but more context be added to the monuments. It also recommends no flags of the Confederacy be flown on the grounds.
  • A longer-term committee be formed at the city level to review whether to rename the dozen or more streets across the city also named for those with ties to the Confederacy.

“The committee was sensitive to the complexities of the situation,” said Douglas Blackmon, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and committee member. “Does any connection to the Confederacy become an immediate disqualifier? If this process continues, it will lead to some of the most complicated questions.”

In an interview with WABE late last week, Reed said he was inclined to implement the committee’s recommendations as soon as possible. But doing so will require clearing some hurdles. The city has a detailed ordinance for changing street names which includes getting approval of 75 percent of property owners along the proposed street. There is also a big obstacle with the state. In 2001, as part of a bargain to remove the 1956 state flag and its Confederate battle emblem, the Legislature was given all authority over Confederate monuments and statuary – even if they were owned by specific counties or cities. The compromise, however, didn’t include street names.

“I think that it’s certainly within the city’s purview to change the name of a street,” Reed said in the WABE interview. “We’re going to change the name of the street. If a member of the Legislature decides that they have a different opinion, that’s something that we’ll just have to have a conversation about.”

The mayor suggested in the interview that if the Legislature tries to block any of the city’s decisions, the city might mount a court challenge. But Reed only has a few weeks left in office. The new mayor could take a different path and could possibly leave the names and monuments as they are, which may be one of the reasons Reed is trying to act quickly.

» MORE: One Cobb company made more than 140 of the South’s Confederate statues

Even in such a highly charged environment, Blackmon said, the committee thought it was important not to lose nuance in the debate. Some of the city’s neighborhoods with large African-American communities have high concentrations of Confederate street names, such as in the West End, Blackmon said. And there are whole neighborhoods named for former Confederate leaders, but the personal histories of those men complicate the matter of renaming. For example, Grant Park. The popular neighborhood is named for Lemuel P. Grant, an engineer who built the fortifications around Atlanta during the Civil War and who later donated land that became Grant Park. Blackmon said that after the war Grant “became a more equitable person than one might expect. He gave money to black churches,” and other causes.

On the other side of town is Adair Park, name for George Adair, a noted slave dealer before the war. Blackmon said Adair was an associate of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slaver who went on to found the Ku Klux Klan.

“They almost certainly did business together,” Blackmon said. “Adair became one of Atlanta’s most wealthy citizens. That fortune all began dealing in human beings.”

So should both neighborhoods get a name change? Those are the kinds of questions a new mayor/council-appointed committee might answer. It is also unclear who has ownership of some monuments across the city, including the Obelisk at Oakland Cemetery, the report says. In the case of the Obelisk and the Lion, the report recommends that clear title be given the the Historic Oakland Foundation.

The current committee was formed after a series of racially charged killings and incidents that began with the massacre of nine African-American worshippers in Charleston, S.C., by a white supremacist who draped himself with the Confederate battle flag. Then earlier this year, Heather Heyer was killed while protesting against white nationalists and supremacists in Charlottesville, Va.

When he called for the committee, Reed cited Heyer’s death as a catalyst for re-examining Confederate iconography in Atlanta. Cities across the South from New Orleans to Baltimore are tackling the volatile issue of what to do with the divisive monuments. The city’s urban design commission has contacted some of those cities, and even universities in the North such as Yale, to examine how they dealt with the removal of monuments and the attendant debate.

While the committee did not recommend new names for the streets it identified as especially problematic, it did say that underrepresented Atlantans should be considered for the honor. It did, however suggest specific historical figures who might replace the peace monuments. But those names are sure to stoke even more debate because they are African-American men: Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.

Staff writer Jim Galloway contributed to this report

Top Florida state senator resigns in wake of affair

A Florida state senator, in line to become the Democratic leader in the Florida Senate next year, abruptly resigned Friday.

>> Read more trending news

State Sen. Jeff Clemens of Atlantis, made the announcement after Politico reported he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.

“I have made mistakes I (am) ashamed of, and for the past six months I have been focused on becoming a better person. But it is clear to me that task is impossible to finish while in elected office. The process won’t allow it, and the people of Florida deserve better. All women deserve respect, and by my actions, I feel I have failed that standard. I have to do better,” Clemens said in a statement.

He emailed a shorter statement to Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, saying “Please consider this email as my resignation from the Florida Senate.”

Clemens said his resignation was effective immediately. Under state law, Gov. Rick Scott must set the date for a special election to fill Clemens’ seat.

“It is clear to me Senator Clemens made a decision he feels is best for both his family and his constituents,” Negron said.

In his public statement, Clemens said, “Though they have been aware for some time now, I apologize again to my wife, my family and anyone and everyone that I have treated poorly in the past for putting you through this in such a public way. I will continue the therapy I began months ago, will seek to personally apologize to anyone I have wronged while seeking forgiveness, and will spend my time being a better husband and father.”

The resignation came less than 24 hours after Clemens sent an email apologizing to Senate Democrats on Thursday night as Politico was preparing to report that Clemens had an affair with lobbyist Devon West. West worked for the Martin County government and now works for Broward County’s lobbying office. Efforts to reach her on Friday were unsuccessful.

“I take full responsibility for my behavior, and I apologize for bringing any embarrassment to the Caucus,” Clemens said in the Thursday night email to his colleagues. “I have spent much of the past six months going to therapy, strengthening my relationship with my wife and my kids, and trying to be a better human being. I still have quite a ways to go. But I am unwavering in my resolve to get there.”

Ex-DeKalb Commissioner Stan Watson pleads guilty to $3,000 theft

Former DeKalb County Commissioner Stan Watson pleaded guilty Wednesday to receiving about $3,000 in advances for government trips and using the money for personal purposes.

Watson, who repaid the money before he was charged with crime, was sentenced to 12 months of probation and 150 hours of community service for a misdemeanor count of theft by conversion.

Watson, 63, withdrew advance checks early last year for conferences in Chicago and Savannah, but then he resigned from office in March 2016 before those trips took place.

County policy requires that unused travel funds must be repaid immediately, but he didn’t complete his reimbursing the government until nearly a year after the trips, according to District Attorney Sherry Boston’s Office.

There was no plea deal, but Watson asked DeKalb Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson to reduce the charge against him to a misdemeanor, which she agreed to do after listening to testimony about Watson’s character and public service. Prosecutors had sought five years on probation.

Exclusive for subscribers: Read the full story on myAJC.com.

Rep. Betty Price says comments about quarantining HIV patients 'taken out of context'

A Georgia lawmaker now says she does not support quarantining HIV patients after she seemed to ask if it was legal to do so during a House study committee meeting last week.

>> Read more trending news

“I do not support a quarantine in this public health challenge and dilemma of undertreated HIV patients,” Georgia state Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell) wrote in a statement.

Price, the wife of former Health and Human Services Secretary and Georgia Congressman Tom Price, was at a meeting of a House study committee last week when she asked a state health official about HIV patients.“What are we legally able to do?” Price asked during the meeting. “I don’t want to say the quarantine word, but I guess I just said it. Is there an ability since, I would guess that public dollars are expended heavily in prophylaxes and treatment of this condition. So we have a public interest in curtailing the spread. What would you advise? Or are there any methods, you know, that we could do that would curtail the spread?”

>> Previous story: Georgia Rep. Betty Price suggests ‘quarantine’ for HIV patients

Price said in the statement that her comments were “provocative and rhetorical” and “part of a free-flowing conversation which has been taken completely out of context.”

“I do not support a quarantine in this public health challenge,” she said.

Metro Atlanta’s LGBTQ community was quick to condemn the original statements.“The comments from Rep. Price were incredibly disturbing,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of LGBT organization Georgia Equality. “In this day and age, to be even mentioning quarantine around people living with HIV, there just really is no excuse for it. I was heartened to see that she made some recognition of this with the statement that she made over the weekend. I think that is a good start, but clearly, we need to go further than that.”

4 Michigan city council members take knee during Pledge of Allegiance

Four members of the 11-member city council in Ann Arbor, Michigan, took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance before Monday night’s meeting, MLive reported.

>> Read more trending news

Sumi Kailasapathy, a third-term council member, took a page out of NFL players’ playbooks and decided to make a statement protesting social injustice.

Kailasapathy asked several City Council members to join her in the protest and Chip Smith, Jason Frenzel and Chuck Warpehoski agreed. MLive reported."People tell me to go back to my country and I don't know how to tell them that this is my country, this is my home, and I work very hard to take care of and support my community. If I leave, where am I going to go? " Kailasapathy told CNN.

In a blog post, Warpehoski wrote, "I can't speak to what is in each person's heart, but for me to 'take a knee' is an act of attention, of concern, and of respect," MLive reported. He also said he didn't mean to offend anyone by his actions, let alone dishonor those who have sacrificed for this country.Kailasapathy said she believes kneeling is not disrespectful."If you are someone who works hard to make your community and country a better place, you have the right to be treated with respect," she said.Kailasapathy said she does not plan on kneeling again at a meeting anytime soon, saying she just wanted to get her point across.

Since being elected to the City Council in 2012, normally stands silent during the Pledge of Allegiance , often with her head down, MLive reported. She does not recite the Pledge of Allegiance and said in March that she had no plans to do so in the future, stressing that no disrespect was intended.

Gwinnett employee suspended after referencing racial slur during event

A Gwinnett County employee has been suspended after referencing a racial slur while emceeing a department awards ceremony, officials said. 

The incident involving community services manager John Register is just the latest in a recent string of racially charged controversies to spring up within Gwinnett’s government.

According to the suspension letter sent to Register on Monday by Tina Fleming, the director of the county’s Department of Community Services, Register emceed part of the team’s annual “service award meeting” on Oct. 6. 

More on myAJC.com: New Sugarloaf Parkway extension may be a toll road More on myAJC.com: Gwinnett adopts new county logo, slogan, seal More on myAJC.com: Gov. Deal makes suspension of Gwinnett mayor official

While holding a microphone, Register allegedly referred to aquatics manager Jim Cyrus, who is black, as “still the HNIC.” He used only the letters in the initialism, which stands for “head [slur] in charge.”

“Many” staff members heard what Register said, according to Fleming’s letter, and at least four later complained to their supervisors. 

“Your behavior reflected unfavorably, not only on this Department, but on the County as an employer,” Fleming wrote. “While your comments may not have been intended to be offensive, they in fact were as evidenced by complaints received thereafter.”

Register is serving a one-week suspension this week and is not receiving pay, Gwinnett spokesman Joe Sorenson said. Register is not a merit employee so “there will not be any kind of hearings regarding the matter,” Sorenson said.

Attempts to contact Register were not successful Wednesday.

Gwinnett, a minority-majority county and one of the most diverse communities in the Southeast, has seen a  spate of racially charged incidents this year. 

To learn more about those incidents and the fallout from Register’s alleged comments, read the full story at myAJC.com.

MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.

The AJC's Tyler Estep keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Gwinnett County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

Never miss a minute of what's happening in Gwinnett politics. Subscribe to myAJC.com.

In other Gwinnett news:

Relatively shocking: Bernie Sanders, Larry David are distant cousins

For Bernie Sanders and Larry David, it’s all relative.

Sanders, the U.S. senator from Vermont, and David, the man who lampooned him on “Saturday Night Live” during the 2016 election campaign, found out they were distant cousins.

>> Read more trending news

The PBS show “Finding Your Roots” released a clip of its Season 4 premiere on Tuesday, capturing the moment when both Sanders and David discovered they were related, Mediaite reported.

“What the hell?!” yelled David, the co-creator of “Seinfeld” and the creator-star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” 

“You’re kidding!” an equally surprised Sanders said. “This true?”

It was. On the show, which premieres Friday on PBS, series host Henry Louis Gates Jr. told both men that their DNA tests revealed they both had more than 97 percent Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, Variety reported.

Gates and his researchers were able to determine that the family of David’s mother came from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, with his grandparents having been born in the city of Tarnopol, Poland. In addition to information about David’s grandparents, Gates and his team also uncovered that David’s mother was also born in Poland, Variety reported.

Sanders learned that his family also had roots in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in a region known as Galicia, Variety reported. After World War I, Sanders’ relatives lived in what became part of what is now Poland. Most of the relatives of Sanders’ father remained in Europe and were killed by the Nazis during World War II, Variety reported. Sanders’ uncle was put to death for refusing to hand over a group of Jewish resistors.

Although it was supposed to be kept secret until the season premiere, David leaked the news that he was distantly related to Sanders over the summer, Mediaite reported. 

Confederate monument’s removal from Decatur under review

The DeKalb Board of Commissioners is exploring ways to remove a 30-foot tall Confederate monument from downtown Decatur.

DeKalb Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson introduced a resolution Tuesday that condemns the monument for glorifying the Confederacy and questions whether the monument is even owned by the county. 

State law restricts removal of publicly owned Confederate monuments, but DeKalb officials haven’t been able to find any records showing that the county government ever accepted the donation of the Decatur monument, according to the resolution.

Protesters have been seeking to move the monument, an obelisk erected in 1908 outside what is now the former county courthouse.

The resolution says the monument has been vandalized at least twice, and it could become “a flash point for violence” like the deadly white supremacist rally in Augusta in Charlottesville, Va.

The monument contains an inscription praising soldiers of the Confederacy in part because they “were of a covenant keeping race.” It was built at the direction of the A. Evans Camp of Confederate Veterans and Agnes Lee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, according to the resolution.

If the resolution is approved, the county would seek to have a title attorney determine ownership of the land where the monument sits. Then government attorneys would determine legal options for removing or relocating the monument.

The resolution will be considered by the DeKalb Planning, Economic Development and Community Services Committee on Tuesday, and it could come to a vote of the DeKalb Commission on Oct. 24.

In Case You Missed It: Mayoral Town Hall Meeting 

Learn how the 2017 candidates will best handle the issues facing the Atlanta community. 

Thank you for submitting your questions via Facebook.

Watch the town hall meeting below. 

All Mayoral candidates have been invited to participate. 

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