The state Legislature will be back at the Gold Dome Monday to kick off what’s likely to be its first full week since the first week of the session. It’ll be a five-day week without holidays, and, fingers crossed, without any snow emergencies that cripple Atlanta traffic or threaten to bring down an administration.
Some key priorities await: the 2015 budget, for example, and legislation that would loosen restrictions on where Georgians can carry firearms.
But the winter storm won’t immediately recede into the distance since Gov. Nathan Deal plans to announce members of his Severe Weather Warning Task Force Monday afternoon. And there’s some chance another storm will hit parts of Georgia this week.
Plus, did you forget that this is an election year? Here’s a reminder: the Democratic Governors Association has already put together a video that uses images, interviews and other information from storm coverage to ask Georgia voters if Deal is the right man for the job. You can watch it here
There will likely be more questions about the professional future of Charley English, head of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, who on Thursday struggled to explain why he didn’t coordinate response efforts sooner.
Who Knew What When, SnowJam Version
“I made a terrible error in judgment late on Monday afternoon and early Tuesday,” he said then. “I should have declared the state’s operations center open sooner – six hours sooner.”
Deal, for his part, said English had given 16 years of “adequate and above adequate” service – is that what my mother would call damning with faint praise? – and in general declined to “look for a scapegoat."
But many at the state Capitol think some staff reshuffling will occur. And Common Cause Georgia is calling on Gov. Deal to fully disclose what specific decisions and steps lead to “thousands of drivers stuck on the metro area’s interstates for hours.”
The watchdog groups wants a “panel comprised of experts to independently examine what went wrong, then publish their findings to the public, media, and all levels of government affected by this crisis.”
The story is likely to linger also because with another two months of winter, who can say what weather Georgians will be facing? And a new problem could emerge: the premature emergency.
As Deal indicated in his press conference Thursday, last week’s storm may change how Atlanta and Georgia respond to severe weather. Deal said he will declare a state of emergency even in instances when a real emergency isn’t likely to manifest.
And Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed echoed his political ally’s remarks.
Sunbelt Getting Fitted For a Snow Belt
“We will adjust. We understand the effects of climate change,” Reed said Friday. “I won’t rely on the fact that it will be another 10 years before a terrible snow event.”
He continued, “The deal is changed forever and I believe it is largely because of the results of climate change. I think the weather patterns are going to change. I think we are going to see more snow, more severe weather events. I got the message loud and clear and I’m going to act like and do something about it.”
Reed said he will from now on announce publicly the city of Atlanta is closing, and any entity that doesn’t follow suit will have to justify the decision.
Both men reiterated the likelihood of “over preparation” in op-ed articles in the AJC on Sunday.
But is overkill better than under-preparation?
State Sen. Charlie Bethel, a Dalton Republican, raises that question when he says, “I don’t know if I want to live in a Georgia where I have to call my government whether I can or can’t get in my car.”
Weather Deals Blow To The Dynamic Duo?
The snow could, arguably, alter the political futures of the two faces of the storm. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed jauntily told reporters Friday that he will be fine because he luckily won re-election before the storm.
Speaking to members of the Atlanta Press Club, he apologized, but in Reed style, which has been observed to often include traces of defiance.
He rebutted any notion that he wasn’t sorry about the poor preparation, and took issue specifically with a New York Times headline that labeled him “unapologetic.”
And he bristled at any suggestion he didn’t feel badly about how things went or that he was gallivanting while the city’s residents suffered. During the Q&A, and then afterwards as he answered additional questions from reporters, he defended attending a lunch in his honor on Tuesday, and then later receiving a police escort to The Weather Channel so he could deliver a message that city residents should avoid the roads.
“I had already given the order to pre-treat the streets,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was at an awards luncheon, not doing my job.”
He added, “You can say a lot of things about me but nobody can say I don’t work hard.”
He also said some in the media are demanding a level of preparedness that’s unrealistic – and also costs a lot of money (aye, there’s the rub).
Reed was just back from giving a talk at the World Economic Forum where he pressed private donors to finance a light rail line along the city’s rails-to-trails Beltline development. He was full of plans for his second term, and was able to laugh – mostly – at the past week.
Election-Year Priorities Compete With SnowJam
“I’ll be okay. I will get through these next 4 to 5 days,” he said. “I can take the heat.”
But for Deal, the situation is quite different since he’s up for re-election in November, and faces three challengers in two parties.
Gov. Deal struck a palpably apologetic tone during a press conference Thursday in which he pledged to make changes in how the state anticipates and responds to weather emergencies. He only launched a grenade at the very end of the press conference when CNN asked for a one-on-one interview (the Governor declined, saying the network should get its facts straight about how many nights students remained marooned at their schools. Correct answer: one. Just one.)
Many reporters present remarked he seemed on the verge of tears.
What happens to these two politicos, who have formed a notable, party-crossing friendship, is no small deal for many reasons. But looking forward, here’s the most important reason all Georgians need to care about Deal and Reed. They haven’t delivered on the biggest project of their partnership: the $652 million Savannah Harbor deepening.
A new federal spending bill clears up some bureaucratic hurdles that had been holding up the dredging project. And the Associated Press reports, the Army Corps of Engineers is optimistic the new law signed a week ago eliminates the roadblocks that's kept the proposed harbor expansion at a virtual standstill for 15 months. But the AP says, the Corps' Savannah District, which is overseeing the project, is still awaiting a final interpretation from its Washington headquarters.
And Deal, Reed and the rest of Georgia are also awaiting the federal money needed for the project. Hopefully, they can find time to press the Obama administration on the funding while reconstructing what led to SnowJam 2014.