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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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. 

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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:

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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. 

Atlanta mayoral candidates pitch affordable housing plans at forum

Six of the major contenders in the race for Atlanta mayor vowed at a forum Wednesday to work with the development community to tackle key issues such as affordable housing and to find fixes to other challenges that will arise as the city’s population swells in the years ahead.

The forum, held by the Council for Quality Growth, an influential trade group for developers and related fields, focused on economic issues, such as growth, transportation and regionalism. The candidates’ answers to questions were largely in the spirit of finding common ground with business leaders.

RELATED: Atlanta mayoral candidates wrestle over what it means to be a regional leader

On the topic of the city’s notoriously frustrating permitting process, for instance, candidates Peter Aman, Keisha Lance Bottoms, John Eaves, Kwanza Hall, Ceasar Mitchell and Mary Norwood all said the process was overdue for an overhaul.

The Council for Quality Growth helped develop an affordable housing ordinance in Atlanta and the topic of affordability loomed large in the forum. Here’s what the candidates, in alphabetical order, had to say on affordable housing:

Peter Aman, former Atlanta chief operating officer:

Aman called affordability “a critical need of the city,” and one that if the city gets right will help traffic congestion. Working-class people have had to move away to afford their rents and mortgages, but their jobs remain in the city, meaning more workers drive into Atlanta.

“We have people who built Atlanta being forced out of Atlanta,” he said. Aman said he’d create a committee on the subject of inclusionary zoning, and said the city needs to set objectives and create predictable development rules. He also said the city will use land trusts, tax incentives and other tools.

“We’re only 8 percent of the metro Atlanta population, and capital will flee if we get this wrong,” he said of business investment.

City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms:

Bottoms said the city needs to get creative, and she touted her effort to create displacement-free zones in neighborhoods where residents fear displacement from redevelopment.

Out of that effort, city leaders, the Westside Future Fund and corporations created an Anti-Displacement Fund, designed to protect homeowners near the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium from rising property tax rates, she said. The fund is backed by private dollars and will help cushion longtime residents in the shadow of the new stadium from the shock of rising taxes.

“It will be most important to look at expansion of displacement-free zones throughout the city and make sure they’re neighborhood-specific.”

Former Fulton County Chairman John Eaves:

Eaves focused his comments on the issue of taxes, including a property tax freeze approved by the Fulton County commission that Eaves championed after residents got sticker shock from soaring property tax assessments.

“I think there’s tremendous opportunity to work with the state Legislature to provide creative ways to provide relief to seniors,” Eaves said, including exempting or reducing the burden of school taxes.

In hot neighborhoods such as the Old Fourth Ward, where rising property values have displaced many longtime residents, Eaves said the city could look at freeze taxes in those specific areas.

City Councilman Kwanza Hall:

Hall said he would leverage 11 Atlanta Housing Authority properties totaling 400 or so acres to develop new units and said as mayor he believed 20,000 new units is an achievable goal.

“But we need to bring partners to table,” he said.

The city also must build more density, including affordable units, at MARTA stations. Building near MARTA reduces the need for a car, cutting residents’ monthly costs, he said. If you remove the need for a car, he said, “you change the game.”

City Council President Ceasar Mitchell:

“Affordable housing is probably the most important issue in our city,” Mitchell said. He said a city without affordable housing loses its diversity.

Mitchell pitched what he called a “blight to light” program, to turn vacant houses and lots into homes for cops, firefighters and teachers, and said he would incentivize affordable housing development through Invest Atlanta. He said his goal would be to create 30,000 new affordable units as mayor.

He also said the city should look at increasing the homestead exemption to help prevent displacement of seniors and make ease the burden of property taxes on working families.

City Councilwoman Mary Norwood:

“We need to ensure every part of the city has affordable housing,” Norwood said.

She said the issue will require a number of tools, including federal housing assistance, the Atlanta Housing Authority, Invest Atlanta and the development community. She also said she’d like to see an enhanced lease-to-own purchasing model to turn more renters into buyers, and tax abatements to encourage landlords to rehab older affordable properties.

Norwood also said the city needs to do more to ensure seniors aren’t displaced by rising property taxes, and wants to explore an employer-assisted workforce housing model.

MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.

AJC Business reporter J. Scott Trubey keeps you updated on the latest news about economic development and commercial real estate in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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In other City Hall news:

Reports: Florida GOP leader once beat female classmate with claw hammer until it broke

Florida GOP officials find themselves in an unusual position after they learned that a newly elected member of the Broward County executive board was once charged with attempted murder in connection with the brutal claw hammer attack of a female classmate at his California prep school.

Rupert Tarsey, 28, was elected secretary of the Broward County GOP chapter four months ago, according to the Miami Herald. His new position came into question after a fellow member made the discovery earlier this month. 

That member informed Broward County GOP chairman Bob Sutton about Tarsey’s past over the Labor Day weekend.

“We were blindsided,” Sutton told the Herald. “He’s a member of the Knights of Columbus, for Christ’s sake. And he came highly recommended by the former chair. We had no idea what his background is.

“We want him out, but he is refusing to resign. He deceived us. It looks like he even used a reputation management firm to make sure we wouldn’t find out who he is.”

Tarsey, who volunteered on President Donald Trump’s campaign, admitted that he has no intention of resigning his post. 

“Why should I resign?” Tarsey asked. “I did nothing wrong, and I was elected. This is just party politics.”

Sutton suspended Tarsey from party functions last week. 

Tarsey’s real name is Rupert Ditsworth, the Herald reported. He changed his name to Tarsey, his mother’s maiden name, when he moved to Fort Lauderdale two years after the 2007 incident, the newspaper said. 

Los Angeles Times story reported that Tarsey, then 17, was accused of attacking Elizabeth Barcay, an 18-year-old classmate at Harvard-Westlake School in L.A., on May 14, 2007, with a claw hammer, hitting her at least 40 times and splitting open her head. Barcay’s mother, Barbara Hayden, told the Times that her daughter also suffered a shattered leg and a broken nose in the attack. 

Tarsey’s parents admitted him to a psychiatric hospital immediately after the assault, the Times reported. He was initially charged as a juvenile with both attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

The juvenile case was dropped, and he was rearrested in June 2007, the day after his 18th birthday, so he could be tried as an adult.

Prosecutors at the time told the Chronicle, the online newspaper of Harvard-Westlake School, that Tarsey was tried as an adult because of the seriousness of the injuries suffered by the victim. If convicted of the charges, he faced a possible life sentence.

The Times reported that the attack started after Tarsey invited Barcay to ride with him to a juice bar after a big Advanced Placement exam at school. After drinking smoothies and returning to his Jaguar, he grabbed a backpack from the rear seat and placed it between his legs, according to Barcay.

Barcay told police that instead of returning to school, Tarsey parked in a residential neighborhood in Studio City, not far from campus. Appearing anxious, she said he told her he was contemplating suicide.

When she urged him to return to school to seek help from a counselor, she said he told her, “It isn’t going to happen that way,” the Times reported.

Telling her he wasn’t going to kill himself alone, he pulled a claw hammer from his backpack and attacked her, the newspaper said. 

A witness walking nearby saw the struggle inside the Jaguar and called 911, the newspaper said. 

Tarsey got out of the car, pulled open the passenger-side door and pulled Barcay out by her hair, the Times said. He continued hitting her with the hammer until the tool broke.

He then choked her until she bit his finger, the Times reported. That’s when Tarsey got back behind the wheel and drove off. 

>> Read more trending news

Tarsey ultimately claimed self-defense in the case.

“In the end, I pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor,” Tarsey told the Herald. “It’s not the charges that matter, it’s what happens in court.”

He argued that he did not change his name to hide who he was, but did so after his parents divorced. He said he is estranged from his father. 

After moving to Florida, Tarsey went to college and earned an MBA from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. He is now married with two children and a third on the way.

Barcay, who went to prom and graduation in a wheelchair following the attack, went on to study at Williams College. Her alumni information shows that she went on to earn a master’s degree in education from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. 

She is now an elementary school teacher in the Boston area. 

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