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Georgia DOT: With Irma approaching, stay off the roads

State transportation officials say an easy morning commute and relatively light winds and rain should not lull metro Atlanta residents into thinking it’s safe to go out.

With the worst of Irma expected to reach the Atlanta late this afternoon and evening, it’s still a good idea to stay home from work if you’re able, Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Natalie Dale said.

Anyone caught on the road on their way home this afternoon could find conditions dramatically worse.

“We don’t want them to be lulled into a false sense of security because it’s not so bad outside (right now),” Dale said.

IRMA: Latest news, map and resources UPDATES: Irma kills power to 350,000 on coast and across South Georgia

Already GDOT is contending with road flooding and non -functioning traffic signals in southeast and southwest Georgia.

GDOT has more than 100 maintenance employees and contractors out in metro Atlanta clearing debris and checking storm drains in preparation for high winds and possible flooding this afternoon. That preemptive work will help alleviate problems, Dale said.

RELATED: Irma knocks tree into road near Emory in DeKalb County

But with the worst of the storm yet to come, there will be flooding and downed trees later, she said.

Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency and urged residents to stay in today, and MARTA and other transit agencies have canceled service.

“We hear, ‘is this an overreaction?’” Dale said. “The time to make decisions for the safety of the public is before the storm comes in, not as the storm comes in. That’s something we’ve learned from hurricanes and from winter weather.”

Georgia’s most diverse county will soon have its first black mayor

Local political observers don’t believe any city in Gwinnett County — the most diverse community in Georgia, if not the entire Southeastern United States — has ever had a black mayor.

But that’s almost certain to change. And soon.

MORE: The candidates for Gwinnett’s 2017 city elections

Craig Newton, a Norcross native and longtime city councilman, was the only candidate to qualify last month for his hometown’s mayoral seat. And his eventual swearing in will be a symbolic but significant milestone for one of the Southeast’s most diverse counties that has, nevertheless, had a historical dearth of non-white government leadership.

Read more about who Newton is — and about Gwinnett’s history of lacking non-white representation — at myAJC.com.

In other Gwinnett news: 

Watch: Unveiling of new Martin Luther King Jr. statue

After a three-year wait, the 8-foot-bronze statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has been unveiled at the Georgia Capitol at 10 a.m. Monday.

The sculpture is visible from at least two blocks away, along the boulevard named for the civil rights icon.

“He’s gazing slightly toward MLK Boulevard,” said sculptor Martin Dawe. “You make people smile not by the mouth but by the eyes, so I have a slight glimmer that I hope comes through.” 

Dawe said the statue’s placement as well as the timing of the dedication raised the stakes for him.

To find out why and  to read how Dawe used video to perfect King’s likeness, click here.

RELATED

Aug. 28, the date of King’s statue dedication, has poignant meaning in Civil Rights history

How lifelike is the new Martin Luther King Jr. statue?

Shared space, shared history: What Georgia’s governor might say

Photos: Statues of MLK around the nation (and beyond)

MLK statue comes to GA Capitol Monday on poignant anniversary

 After a three-year wait, the 8-foot-bronze statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was unveiled at the Georgia Capitol at 10 a.m. Monday.

The sculpture is from at least two blocks away, along the boulevard named for the civil rights icon.

“He’s gazing slightly toward MLK Boulevard,” said sculptor Martin Dawe. “You make people smile not by the mouth but by the eyes, so I have a slight glimmer that I hope comes through.” 

Dawe said the statue’s placement as well as the timing of the dedication raised the stakes for him.

To find out why and  to read how Dawe used video to perfect King’s likeness, click here.

For the latest, follow AJC Politically Georgia on Facebook or @GAPoliticsNews on Twitter.

Watch the unveiling ceremony below:

RELATED

Aug. 28, the date of King’s statue dedication, has poignant meaning in Civil Rights history

How lifelike is the new Martin Luther King Jr. statue?

Shared space, shared history: What Georgia’s governor might say

Photos: Statues of MLK around the nation (and beyond)

GPB Political Rewind: Preview of the MLK statue dedication

Georgia prepares to unveil new statue in Martin Luther King’s birthplace

Original sculptor selected for Atlanta’s MLK statue was killed in motor accident

Prominent statue of Georgia populist Tom Watson was removed in 2013

Learn about MLK Jr. in this interactive quiz

Photos and facts: 29 things to know about Martin Luther King Jr.

Looking back: MLK’s 1965 Nobel Prize Dinner in Atlanta

Qualifying for Atlanta mayor race to end Friday

Qualifying ends at 4:30 p.m. for those hoping to be Atlanta’s next mayor. 

Most of the major candidates -- those with strong financial backing -- qualified throughout the week with rallies before and after declaring their intentions to succeed Kasim Reed as mayor of Atlanta.

“Atlanta is at a critical juncture,” state Sen. Vincent Fort said Wednesday at a rally outside City Hall before qualifying. “The real question on the ballot is, ‘Are we going to have a City Hall for the 1 percent or are we going to have a City Hall that works for the 99 percent.’”

Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who is the frontrunner in the race according to polls, said if elected she will focus on transparency and accountability and promote a responsive government. 

“I have stated during this campaign that our people are better than our politics,” Norwood said in a release. “I want to provide the leadership that makes our politics as wonderful as the people we serve. As your next mayor, I will dedicate all my energy to leading a well-run city that will be Atlanta at its best.”

Qualifying is traditionally seen as an unofficial kickoff of the campaign season because it’s when candidates — especially those who already hold office and will have to relinquish their seats — decide whether they have the campaign infrastructure and the cash to stick with a long fall run.

Michael T. Sterling, the former director of the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, said he plans to qualify on Friday. 

Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, who has led the county since 2007, resigned from his position on Tuesday and qualified on Wednesday.  Eaves had a year and four months remaining in his term. 

Perennial candidate Elbert “Al” Bartell announced on Tuesday he was dropping out of the race and would instead focus on running for a U.S. Senate seat in 2020.

Qualifying began on Tuesday with Atlanta City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell and Norwood jumping in. 

Former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard and former city of Atlanta COO Peter Aman qualified on Thursday. 

In a Facebook post, Aman said, “Qualified and proud to stand with my family and my team. Today at City Hall, we made it clear that we’re in this race to win. Across Atlanta, we’ve heard from people who want a mayor with the will and the skill to collaborate and led the city at a time of major change.”

 

MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.

The AJC's Leon Stafford keeps you updated on the latest in the Atlanta mayoral race and everything else going on at City Hall. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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

DeKalb judge’s racial discrimination case settled for $90,000

A DeKalb judge who alleges she was fired because of her race recently won a $90,000 settlement from the county.

Former DeKalb Magistrate Judge Tracy Dorfman, who is white, alleged that she was discriminated against when DeKalb Chief Magistrate Judge Berryl Anderson, who is black, decided not to reappoint her to a four-year term at the end of last year.

Instead of retaining Dorfman, Anderson filled two positions with black judges who had less experience: Judge Curtis Miller and Judge Nora Polk, according to a letter from Dorfman’s attorney, Lee Parks.

Anderson’s actions led to the “inescapable conclusion” that race was the reason for Dorfman’s dismissal, Parks wrote.

The DeKalb Commission voted 5-1 to approve the settlement on July 6.

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

Seven-member panel to help Kasim Reed decide fate of Confederate statues, streets

UPDATE 8/21/2017 -- A seven-member advisory committee will help Mayor Kasim Reed decide what to do about Atlanta’s “Confederate-themed” statues and street names.   

The Atlanta City Council on Monday passed a resolution giving Reed authority to name four members to the committee while the Council names three members. The Council also agreed to allow the committee to appoint ad hoc members -- historians, residents and others -- but they will not have voting privileges.

The city is trying to decide whether to remove Confederate statues and rename streets for those fighting for the south in the Civil War or related themes.

Reed has said he hopes to have a decision made in 60 days, but the Council’s resolution added an additional 10 days to add flexibility as the November election of a new mayor, Council president and Council members nears.  

ORIGINAL STORY: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said he will pull together a group of leaders to help him decide how to address growing calls to remove Confederate statues and rename streets bearing Confederate monikers.

“Over the next 60 days, we are going to take a thoughtful approach to any Confederate-themed monuments or street names,” Reed said Thursday. “I want people to know that I heard their concerns loudly and clearly.”

Atlanta residents have petitioned the city to rename roads such as Confederate Avenue and Stonewall Street as municipalities across the country grapple with objections to memorializing the nation’s painful Civil War past. Several cities, including Lexington, Ky., have decided to remove monuments to Confederate leaders such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, despite threats by neo-Nazi, white nationalists and KKK groups that they will march in protest.

Baltimore’s mayor removed several Confederate monuments overnight earlier this week after the City Council unanimously signed off on taking them down.

A city spokeswoman said Atlanta’s Confederate-themed monuments include The Lion of the Confederacy statue in Oakland Park (erected in 1894), the Confederate Obelisk Monument in Oakland Cemetery(1874), the Peace Monument in Piedmont Park (1911), the Sidney Lanier Bust in Piedmont Park and at Oglethorpe University (1915), the Henry Grady Monument on Marietta Street (1889) and the General Walker Monument on Glenwood Avenue.

Some of the streets under consideration include Confederate Avenue in Grant Park, Stonewall Street near Northside Drive and English Avenue, which was named for former Atlanta Mayor and Civil War soldier James English. 

Reed also on Thursday decried President Donald Trump’s responses to last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Va.

“I think that President Trump’s response has been a national and international embarrassment,” Reed said Thursday, two days after the president gave an impromptu press conference on the deadly protests. “I thought that it was one of the most sad days of many sad days of a presidency that is disastrous for our country.”

Charlottesville paralegal Heather Heyer died and 19 people were injured after being struck last Saturday by a car allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr., who was seen attending a “Unite the Right” demonstration of neo-Nazis, white nationalists and members of the KKK in Charlottesville.

Many people, including Republican leadersaccused Trump of sending mixed messages on his reaction to the violence. Initially the president said that both the “Unite the Right” demonstrators and counter protesters shared the blame on Saturday. He seemed, however, to focus more on the neo-Nazis, white nationalists and Klan members on Monday.

But on Tuesday, he forcefully said again that both demonstrators and counter protesters were to blame and accused the media of ignoring unrest caused by the so-called “alt-left.”

Reed said Trump created the term “alt-left” to push a false equivalency and that he failed to support Heyer as well as two Virginia State Police officers — H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates — who lost their lives when the helicopter they were in to monitor the rally crashed.

He said Trump failed when he tried “to be even-handed when there is clearly a right and a wrong side.”

Andrew Young opposes fight over Confederate statues

Civil rights icon and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young said Wednesday he doesn’t back the fight to tear down Confederate memorials around the country and that he fears it could have unintended consequences.

“I think it’s too costly to refight the Civil War,” Young said Wednesday at a press conference in which he and fellow civil rights icon C.T. Vivian endorsed Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell to succeed Kasim Reed as the city’s next mayor. “We have paid too great a price in trying to bring people together.”

Young’s comments came just days after a woman was struck and killed and at least 19 others were wounded in Charlottesville, Va., when a car plowed into a group of demonstrators who were protesting neo-Nazis, KKK members and white nationalists who had descended on the city because of plans to dismantle Confederate statues.

President Donald Trump sent what many consider mixed messages to the nation in reaction to the violence, saying on Tuesday that “alt-left” demonstrators shared some blame for the confrontations after a day earlier saying racism had no place in the nation.

Young said the fight in the early 2000s to replace the Confederate battle emblem on the Georgia flag hurt the state and Atlanta because the Democrats lost the governor’s mansion. If Georgia had not been embroiled in the battle, it might have salvaged the deal to bring a Mercedes-Benz plant to southern Georgia and an accompanying 3,000 jobs and that Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act might have expanded in the state.

“I’ve always been interested more in substance over symbols,” Young said, calling the fight over the flag a mistake.

“If the truth be known, we’ve had as much agony but also glory under the United States flag,” he said. “That flew over segregated America, it flew over slavery.”

Young also said he thinks James Alex Fields, the driver alleged to have been behind the wheel in the fatal death of Heather Heyer in the Charlottesville melee, is probably suffering from some type of mental illness and needs professional care.

“That’s not normal behavior,” he said of Fields. “That’s not militant behavior. That’s not patriotic behavior. That’s sick behavior.”

Gwinnett judge suspended after posts about Confederate monuments

A Gwinnett County judge and longtime local politician has been suspended after making controversial Facebook posts about protests over Confederate memorials in Charlottesville, Virginia, and elsewhere.

Judge Jim Hinkle — a magistrate judge who served as mayor of the city of Grayson for more than two decades before retiring in 2013 — took to Facebook on Saturday to label the Charlottesville protesters “snowflakes” with “no concept of history.” On Tuesday morning, he followed that missive with another post, this one comparing “the nut cases tearing down monuments” to the so-called Islamic State. 

MORE: PHOTOS: Controversial Facebook posts by suspended Gwinnett judge MORE: Petition calls for removal of Confederate flag in Kennesaw

A few hours after that post — which was not the first on Hinkle’s Facebook page that could be considered inflammatory — Gwinnett County Chief Magistrate Judge Kristina Hammer Blum told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she had suspended Hinkle.

Blum said she’d been unaware of the recent post and others until The AJC asked her for comment.

“After reviewing the Facebook posts you brought to my attention this morning, I have suspended Judge Hinkle effective immediately while I consider the appropriate final action,” Blum wrote in an email. 

MORE: After Charlottesville, a fresh look at Atlanta’s Confederate symbols MORE: Atlanta protesters deface Peace Monument in Piedmont Park MORE: Abrams calls for removal of Confederate faces off Stone Mountain

“As the Chief Magistrate Judge, I have made it clear to all of our Judges that the Judicial Canons, as well as our internal policies, require Judges to conduct themselves in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity, impartiality, and fairness of the judiciary. I consider any violation of those principles and policies to be a matter of utmost concern, and will certainly take any action necessary to enforce compliance and to maintain the integrity of this Court.”

Reached at his home early Tuesday afternoon, Hinkle said he didn’t "see anything controversial” about the posts.

“But you know, with the way things are going in the world today, I guess everything’s controversial,” he said, declining to comment further.

Read the full story about Hinkle’s posts at myAJC.com.

Hinkle’s Saturday afternoon post was written less than an hour before one of the white supremacists rallying in Charlottesville allegedly drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring many more.

“In Charlottesville everyone is upset over Robert E. Lee statute (sic),” Hinkle’s post said, in part. “It looks like all of the snowflakes have no concept of history. It is what it is. Get over it and move on. Leave history alone - those who ignore history are deemed (sic) to repeat the mistake of the past.”

The proud Marine Corps veteran then appeared to express support for the Confederacy — or, at the very least, contempt for the North.

“In Richmond VA all of the Confederate monuments on Monument Ave. have people on horses whose asses face North. PERFECT!” he wrote.

MORE: DeKalb rallies against racism and hate after Charlottesville

The post was one of several on Hinkle’s page that could raise questions about his impartiality as a judge in one of the Southeast’s most diverse counties.

In March, Hinkle shared a link to a story with the headline “U.S. Marine Dad Makes School PAY After Pushing Muslim Propaganda On Little Girl.” In a January post, the judge declared himself “proud to be a deplorable infidel.” 

In June 2016, he wrote the following post, a reference to Islam: “This is a tenet of what peaceful religion? ‘Slay the unbelievers wherever you find them.’”

Two months earlier, on the same day the United States Treasury announced that Underground Railroad leader Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, Hinkle wrote this: “Well, the U.S. Treasury has just announced the ugliest $20 bill, or any money ever.” 

Gabe Okoye, the chairman of Gwinnett County’s Democratic Party, called Tuesday for Hinkle to “apologize and resign.”

“When history of oppression and bigotry is celebrated, future generations may accept such as societal norms,” Okoye told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Given his biased views on this Charlottesville matter, how can ethnic minorities and religions trust him to render fair and equitable justice from the bench?”

Hinkle’s Facebook page appeared to be deactivated or set to private sometime around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, after The AJC first attempted to contact Hinkle and other Gwinnett County officials regarding his recent posts.

Charlotte Nash, the chairman of Gwinnett County’s Board of Commissioners, declined Tuesday to comment directly on the situation. She's spent the last eight months or so trying to maintain order in the wake of colleague Tommy Hunter’s own controversial social media posts. 

In January, Hunter, the county’s District 3 commissioner, called civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig” on Facebook. He’s since been publicly reprimanded.

“Since the individual involved is an employee within the Magistrate Court and the Board of Commissioners has no authority over those employees, this is a matter for that Court to handle,” Nash wrote in an email. “I have confidence that the Chief Magistrate will review and address the situation.”

Read the full story at myAJC.com.

Atlanta mayor orders flags at half-staff, considers renaming Confederate roads

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is ordering flags at City Hall to fly at half-staff after last weekend’s deadly demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., and is considering petitions calling for streets with Confederate names to be changed.

Reed, in a statement, said he has ordered flags on city property to flown at half-staff “out of respect for the victims of violence in Charlottesville.

MORE: Atlanta protesters deface Peace Monument in Piedmont Park

“I am deeply saddened that hate-based violence took the lives of Heather Heyer and state troopers Jay Cullen and Berke Bates, and seriously injured many others,” he said. “My thoughts and prayers are with each of these individuals, their families and loved ones.”

Reed said he also will soon make a decision on petitions seeking to rename streets such as Confederate Avenue. A change.org petition seeking to change the name of the Grant Park road had more than 3,700 signatures by mid-afternoon Thursday.

MORE: Petition grows to remove Decatur Confederate memorial MORE: At Atlanta churches, anger and sadness over Charlottesville violence

“Over the past two days, Atlanta residents have started petitions and called for city streets bearing the name of the Confederacy or Confederate leaders to be renamed,” Reed said. “I will carefully consider these petitions, because symbols matter, and as those espousing hate-filled ideologies grow bolder, we must grow stronger in defense of our values.”

MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.

The AJC's Leon Stafford keeps you updated on the latest in the Atlanta mayoral race and everything else going on at City Hall. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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

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