Georgia Today: More trouble for Athens DA; Biden slips up about Carter funeral plan; Carter's legacy
On the Tuesday March 14 edition of Georgia Today: More trouble for the Athens-Clarke and Oconee County District Attorney; President Biden slips up about Carter funeral plans; The story of one of Carter's most lasting accomplishments
Peter Biello: Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Tuesday, March 14. I'm Peter Biello. On today's episode: More trouble for the embattled Athens-Clarke and Oconee County district attorney; President Biden makes an unexpected announcement about former President Carter. And we'll have the story of one of Carter's most lasting accomplishments. These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.
Peter Biello: A former Georgia sheriff convicted of violating the civil rights of people in his custody, was sentenced today to serve a year and a half in prison. Victor Hill was sheriff of Clayton County just south of Atlanta. A jury convicted him in October of six of seven federal charges. Prosecutors said Hill ordered detainees strapped into restraint chairs at the county jail for hours, even though they posed no threat and complied with deputies' instructions. His trial included about a week of testimony from more than three dozen witnesses, including the men who said they were unnecessarily restrained. Before he was sentenced, Hill told the judge he was trying to maintain ∫ addition to the prison term. The judge ordered Hill to serve six years of supervision once he's released. During that period, he must perform 100 hours of community service and cannot work in law enforcement or serve as a consultant to a law enforcement agency. Hill will remain free on bond until the Bureau of Prisons orders him to report.
Peter Biello: The district attorney for Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties is facing a new lawsuit accusing her of being, quote, "unable and unwilling to do her job." As GPB's Stephen Fowler reports. Deborah Gonzalez also has faced pressure from state lawmakers who are seeking more oversight of prosecutors.
Stephen Fowler: The lawsuit filed by an Athens bar owner accuses the Democratic DA of failing to effectively run the office, blaming Gonzalez for staffing shortages, including an alleged 50-plus investigators, assistant DA's and other staff that have left since the start of her tenure in 2021. One letter, sent last October from Superior Court judges in the circuit, said assistant district attorneys had issues with timeliness in offering pleas, sharing information with defendants and securing witnesses for trials. The lawsuit also alleges a failure to prosecute crimes in a timely manner. Gonzalez has defended her work, telling a recent town hall she wouldn't resign and called criticism partisan in nature. Republican state lawmakers have cited Gonzalez as part of the reason why they want a new prosecutor oversight commission to hold DAs accountable. For GPB News, I'm Stephen Fowler.
Peter Biello: Deadlines are approaching for Georgians seeking federal assistance after January's tornadoes. The U.S. Small Business Administration is giving business owners until Friday to apply for low-interest disaster loans. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency is giving homeowners until Monday of next week to apply for disaster relief.
Peter Biello: President Joe Biden says former President Jimmy Carter asked him to deliver his eulogy. Carter remains under hospice care at his home in South Georgia. Biden told donors at a California fundraiser last night about a recent visit to see the 39th president. The two have known each other since Biden was a young Delaware senator supporting Carter's 1976 presidential campaign.
Peter Biello: Jimmy Carter's resume is impressive. He was president, sure, but he was also a builder of homes for the poor, an eradicator of disease, a champion of world peace, and a teacher of his faith, GPB's Grant Blankenship explains how you can add "a protector of rivers" to Jimmy Carter's accomplishments.
Grant Blankenship: A little west of Thomaston is a place called Sprewell Bluff. Face the water, and hiking trails, lace the hill behind you, rising from the beach in front of you, past shoals and a boulder people jump from in the summer, jutting 500 feet out of the water is the Sprewell Bluff. West from the bluff, you'll find rare old growth longleaf pine forest, a little north that blends with plants you'd find in the Appalachian highlands, like mountain laurel. Sprewell Bluff Park coordinator Sarah Williams works in the camp store back up the hill. Williams loves this place as much as visitors, although she says they aren't always sure what they're seeing.
Sarah Williams: You know, we have people even call this "a lake" down here. We're like, "No, it's a river, you know?"
Grant Blankenship: The Flint River. And believe it or not, at one time, Sprewell Bluff came very close to being the bottom end of a lake, if not for Jimmy Carter. Janet Morgan Mapel remembers being excited about the idea of a new lake when she was a child.
Janet Morgan Mapel: I'm thinking water skiing. I think I had just learned to water ski and how nice it was when I'd go to the lake, you know, and I didn't I wasn't a part of Dad's business, a part of the agriculture or whatever, but I was a part of hearing him so concerned.
Grant Blankenship: Tom Morgan was Mapel's dad. In the 1970s when Mapel was in the eighth grade, her dad was a farmer and ran a fertilizer business in the town of Woodbury. Mapel says her dad was concerned because he loved, maybe even lived for a trip down the Flint River. It started right out their back door.
Janet Morgan Mapel: We would just slide the canoe down.
Grant Blankenship: Like otters down the riverbank and off they'd go past Pine Mountain, Dripping Rock, Paisley Shoals.
Janet Morgan Mapel: You've got the spider lillies down the way. You've got mussels, you've got the river shoal bass
Grant Blankenship: Up on the bluff there are endangered red cockaded woodpeckers and Bachman sparrows. There are coral snakes. But back in the 1970s, politically powerful entities, including the ironically named U.S. House member Jack Flynt, wanted the dam. Tom Morgan would tell anyone who would listen to oppose the project of the Army Corps of Engineers that would have drowned the lilies, the shoals, and would have left a lake lapping at his door.
Janet Morgan Mapel: If he was going to give a speech, he would practice at home and I would hear him.
Grant Blankenship: The allies he won often shared traditions of farming and outdoor life, and luckily for them, one of their own was in the governor's mansion.
Janet Morgan Mapel: A lot of other outdoor people were involved in even getting Jimmy Carter to get on the river and go down it. And just to see. "before you make any decision, see what you are going to be destroying.
Grant Blankenship: That's what Gov. Jimmy Carter did. "I personally canoed down the river twice," Carter writes in the preface to a 2001 book by Fred Brown and Sherry Smith called A Recreational Guide to the Flint River. And Carter was really taken by the beauty he saw. "The wildlife that exists in that river corridor," he wrote. "Otter. Fox. Muskrat. Beaver. Bobcat. You cannot describe it." On the other hand, Gov. Carter was a businessman who had a responsibility to consider the economic impact a new lake might make. Martin Doyle is a professor of environmental science and public policy at Duke University and an expert in U.S. water policy. He says this is where another, more fundamental side of Carter came into play.
Martin Doyle: You know, Carter was an engineer — I think he was a nuclear engineer from — from Annapolis.
Grant Blankenship: In the U.S. Navy. And so Carter, the engineer —
Martin Doyle: The way that he seems to make sense of it is — is, "I got to go and look at these numbers myself."
Grant Blankenship: By "numbers," he means the cash benefits the Army Corps of Engineers said would flow into communities around Sprewell Bluff after the dam was done.
Martin Doyle: And Carter kind of dug into them and he said, well, No. 1, I think that they're overestimating the benefits.
Grant Blankenship: Carter was far more blunt. He called the Corps of Engineers' economic projections, quote, "a complete passel of lies." So Gov. Carter vetoed the Sprewell Bluff Dam. He ended it. Later, President Carter remained convinced he'd found a pattern of overpromising around federal dam projects. He would veto projects across the country.
Martin Doyle: And that — that pivot in particular sets the dam building industry back on its heels.
Grant Blankenship: Some got built anyway, but Martin Doyle says before he left office, Carter left behind some of his way of thinking about dams and how they should be built. And it had to do with who was paying.
Martin Doyle: If the federal government was spending, was paying for 100% of the cost, there's no reason for a congressional representative or a senator or the local community to not want a project.
Grant Blankenship: Or, as Carter wrote, "One of the congressman's goals in life was to have built in his district a notable dam at federal government expense that created a lake that could be named for him. For Carter, this was the very definition of pork barrel politics.
Martin Doyle: And what Carter started was what was called a local sponsorship: that the local benefiting community had to put up about 25% of the costs of a dam.
Grant Blankenship: And once the people in town, like at the Chamber of Commerce or in the grocery store, were told to dig into what felt like their pockets for millions of dollars, they'd have to ask themselves, "How much do I really want to water ski?"
Martin Doyle: Exactly right. And do you — do you value it that much?
Grant Blankenship: It was a fiscally conservative move.
Martin Doyle: In this way, he was Reagan before Reagan was Reagan.
Grant Blankenship: Under President Ronald Reagan, the mandated local buy-in for a federal dam would ramp up to 50% of the price tag. Doyle says that, plus a general lack of easy places to dam, meant half as many new projects in the decade after Carter left Washington. Jimmy Carter apparently never quit caring for the Flint River. As recently as 2008, Georgia politicians again floated the idea of a Sprewell Bluff Dam, this time to satisfy a thirsty Atlanta. Carter, by then a Nobel Peace laureate, spoke for the river again, and the idea faded away. "Lakes and dams are everywhere," Carter said in the preface to that 2001 guidebook. But to experience something that is undisturbed and has its natural beauty?" he asked. "You hope and pray that it will be there a thousand years in the future, still just as beautiful and undisturbed." For GPB News, I'm Grant Blankenship in Upson County.
Peter Biello: Longtime NBA guard Damon Stoudamire has been hired as Georgia Tech's men's basketball coach. The 49-year-old Stoudamire comes to the jackets from the Boston Celtics, where he had served as an assistant coach since 2021. He previously was head coach in the college ranks at Pacific University and an assistant at Memphis and Arizona. Georgia Tech moved quickly after the firing of Josh Pastner less than a week ago.
Peter Biello: Things have gotten very cold in Georgia over the past few days. We hope you have managed to stay warm. We've got another cold night coming our way tonight. You know, I am relatively new to Georgia, and when things started to heat up a couple of weeks ago, I was very happy. But I was told by people who've been here a while that, you know, another short burst of winter is going to come and then things will start to heat up. I was hoping it wasn't true, but alas, here we are, temperatures in the 30s and 40s. I suppose it can't be hot here all the time, but at least it's sunny.
That is it for today's edition of Georgia Today. Really appreciate you listening. We've got more news coming out of the newsroom. We hope you'll be around for it. Best way to do that, of course, is to subscribe to this podcast, Hit subscribe. And that way we will pop up in your feed tomorrow if you've got feedback. As always, we really love to hear it. You can send it to us by email. The address is GeorgiaToday@GPB.org. And if you like this podcast, leave a review; that'll help other folks find it. I'm Peter Biello. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.