On the Friday, Feb. 16 edition of Georgia Today: Former Gov. Roy Barnes testifies in the hearing over whether to dismiss DA Fani Willis from the Trump election interference case; a Macon elementary school honors Black History Month with a living museum of great African Americans; and we introduce you to the newest member of the GPB Radio News team.

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Peter Biello: Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Friday, Feb. 16. I'm Peter Biello. On today's episode, former Gov. Roy Barnes testifies in the hearing over whether to dismiss DA Fani Willis from the Trump election interference case. A Macon elementary school honors Black History Month with a living museum of great African Americans. And we introduce you to the newest member of the GPB Radio News team. These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.

Fani Willis

Fani Willis

Credit: AP Photo/Ben Gray

Story 1:

Peter Biello: Former Gov. Roy Barnes testified this morning at a hearing that could change the course of the Georgia election interference case. The hearing is looking into whether Fulton County DA Fani Willis should be dismissed from the case because of her relationship with a special prosecutor, Nathan Wade. One of the defendants in the case argues that relationship amounts to a conflict of interest. Barnes was called to the stand to explain that Wade was not Willis' first choice for the job.

Roy Barnes: She told me — it was to me, she said: "Would you be interested in being special prosecutor in this case?" And I gave the reply that I've already — "No."

Peter Biello: Barnes said he turned down the job, in part because he had, quote, "mouths to feed" at his law practice and was concerned about potential threats of violence. It's unclear when the judge might rule on the motion to dismiss Willis. If she or others in her office are dismissed from the case, it could cause significant delays in the case against former President Donald Trump and 18 co-defendants.



Story 2:

Peter Biello: Georgia is once again under fire for the way it's managing payments to beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, which helps people with low income afford food. GPB's Sofi Gratas has more.

Sofi Gratas: According to the most recent national data, Georgia's agency in charge of SNAP, both underpays and overpays SNAP recipients more often than federal policy says is acceptable. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is urging Gov. Brian Kemp to address this and other issues in a recent letter. Kemp is one of 47 state and territorial governors to get such a letter. The Department of Human Services was already given a deadline in December to fix payment backlogs and errors, following months of complaints from members. A DHS spokesperson says the agency already has implemented suggestions made in Vilsack's letter, including hiring more workers and redesigning certain systems with a plan to reach compliance on SNAP application response times over the next six months. For GPB News, I'm Sofi Gratas.


Story 3:

Peter Biello: This weekend marks one year since former President Jimmy Carter entered hospice care at his home in Plains. A year ago, many people, including members of his family, thought he had days to live. But since then he celebrated his 99th birthday, attended the funeral for his late wife Rosalynn, and continues to defy expectations. Dorothy Davis, of Visiting Nurse Health System, oversees Hospice Atlanta, which is not part of Carter's care.

Dorothy Davis: One of the things that I think is important to say about just this opportunity that President Jimmy Carter is giving folks who are experiencing is the courage to say, "I'm ready."

Peter Biello: She says the average length of a hospice stay is 67 days. There is no update on Carter's condition.


Story 4:

Peter Biello: The mayor of LaGrange in West Georgia, has died after being hospitalized since last week for an undisclosed illness. Mayor Willie Edmundson made history when he was sworn into office in March of last year. He'd served on city council for two decades and was senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in LaGrange. Willie Edmundson was 70 years old.


Story 5:

Peter Biello: The Georgia House is backing a measure that would double the amount of paid parental leave for state employees. GPB's Sarah Kallis reports.

Sarah Kallis: House Bill 1010 would increase paid parental leave to six weeks for full-time state employees. Current law allows them three weeks of paid parental leave, and federal law guarantees them 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Speaker Pro Tem Jen Jones says this bill aims to help families.

Jen Jones: This will provide a low-cost, high-value benefit to our state employees. As I mentioned from the well, we are the largest employer in the state and so it really will make a difference for a lot of men and women and frankly, women in particular. Two-thirds of state employees are female.

Sarah Kallis: HB 1010 passed 153 to 11. The increased leave would apply to foster and adoptive parents as well. For GPB News, I'm Sarah Kallis at the state Capitol.


Story 6:

Peter Biello: Officials at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport want to prevent the non-flying general public from accessing the terminal. Citing safety and security concerns, Atlanta City Council members are considering a proposal to limit access to ATL. Right now, the airport's six-year old loitering ordinance only applies overnight and is aimed at preventing homeless people from sleeping there. ATL's senior deputy general manager, Michael Smith, says the new ordinance would apply at all hours every day.

Michael Smith: We're going to have 24/7 where we restrict access to the airport to ticketed passengers, those meeting no greeting passengers, those who are employed and those are those having business at the airport.

Peter Biello: The council's transportation committee approved the ordinance change this week. It now goes to the full council for a final vote.

Harmony Johnson, a fourth grade student at Macon's Vineville Academy for the Arts, shares the life story of physicist Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson during the living Black history museum at the school recently.

Harmony Johnson, a fourth grade student at Macon's Vineville Academy for the Arts, shares the life story of physicist Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson during the living Black history museum at the school recently.

Credit: Grant Blankenship/GPB News

Story 7:

Peter Biello: Black History Month is about half over, and many teachers are trying to make the most of the remaining days. To make this time come alive for students, the fourth grade at Vineville Academy in Macon put together a living museum of great African Americans. GPB's Grant Blankenship has more.

Grant Blankenship: In the school auditorium, students in costumes stand in front of trifold boards full of facts. There's more than one Muhammad Ali. A LeBron, a Kobe and a Jordan. But prim in a knit plaid dress suit, a curly wig and glasses, Harmony Johnson gets in character.

Harmony Johnson: I'm Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson.

Grant Blankenship: And tells a true story.

Harmony Johnson: I am the first African-American woman to have a Ph.D. from the Massachussetts Institute of Technology.

Grant Blankenship: Elsewhere, in leather aviator's helmet and goggles, young Jaleigh Rhodes IS Bessie Coleman.

Jaleigh Rhodes: I was an American pilot in 1921. I became the first African American woman to hold a pilot's license.

Grant Blankenship: Tyler Burns teaches fourth grade at Vineville Academy and helped make this living Black History Museum happen. She says she's learning with the kids.

Tyler Burns: Someone just told me that LeBron James was a billionaire. I had no idea. So I think that's pretty cool. But just to see the, you know, Ruby Bridges.

Grant Blankenship: That was student Taylor Moss.

Taylor Moss: I showed courage and bravery at the age of 6 by integrating my school for a year.

Tyler Burns: I think that's pretty cool. At the end of the day, Black history is American history.

Grant Blankenship: And she says that should be celebrated. For GPB News, I'm Grant Blankenship in Macon.


Story 8:

Peter Biello: Starting next week, you'll hear a new voice on GPB's Morning Edition. Pamela Kirkland comes to GPB with nearly two decades of experience in journalism. She, along with Devon Zwald, will be bringing you the news. And she's already been speaking with newsmakers. Pamela is with me now. Welcome to GPB.

Pamela Kirkland: Thank you. Thank you for the warm welcome.

Peter Biello: It is so nice to have you here. You're going to be covering things hosts cover — everything, basically. But tell us about the things that interest you in particular.

Pamela Kirkland: Yeah, there's no limit to what we'll be talking about, right?

Peter Biello: Right.

Pamela Kirkland: So I love music. I come from a pretty musical family. My dad has a little bit of musical background. My sister has a little musical background, and I've spent a lot of time growing up around it. And, you know, Georgia's just a really musical place no matter what kind of music you're into. And so I'm excited to to talk about those stories, stories around the arts. I've done a lot of reporting and research in my career about criminal justice issues and the criminal legal system, and particularly some of the systems here in Georgia. So we'll be digging into that. And I would be remiss if I did not mention politics.

Peter Biello: Right. Yeah. You have some background in politics, yes?

Pamela Kirkland: Yes. So I grew up in Washington, D.C. I spent some time covering the White House and covering Congress, presidential campaigns and, you know, growing up in the nation's capital, I think you're just kind of required to be either super into politics or want nothing to do with it. And so —

Peter Biello: And you are super into it.

Pamela Kirkland: I'm super into it. I was I was bitten by the bug early. And so I'm excited to talk about politics here and what's happening both on the presidential level, but mostly on the local level. There's a lot of really great stuff happening up on the statehouse right now, and so I'm looking forward to getting into that. And, you know, talking about things that really affect Georgians and affect the communities that we live in.

Peter Biello: You're going into a position that is primarily radio, although you do have a background in television. So what's drawing you to radio?

Pamela Kirkland: Yeah. You know, I've always loved radio. I kind of grew up in radio stations and just hanging around them.

Peter Biello: And tell me more about that. Where did you grow up in a radio station? What kind of radio station?

Pamela Kirkland: Sure. So my dad was a DJ for a lot of stations that programed the quiet storm format, that programed a lot of the '70s and '80s R&B and disco that you love. And so he would work. He worked at WHUR in Washington, D.C.. I spent a lot of time with him there at Howard University's campus, which was very cool. He worked at WBLX in New York City and KBLX in San Francisco, and so we spent a lot of time with his friends who were always on the radio and talking about everything radio. My basement, if you ever get a chance to go to my parents' house, is full of vinyl and records that he used to spin when he was on the air. It's its own little musical archive of sorts down there because.

Peter Biello: I thought I was old school. I'm like the last one on GPB who plays CDs. We got to get a record player for you in the studio?

Pamela Kirkland: I appreciate that you still play the CDs though, cause, you know, I might be able to find some that we can get into rotation here.

Peter Biello: You know, I would appreciate that. I would appreciate that. So what Georgia stories in particular are you looking to dive into?

Pamela Kirkland: Yeah. Well, I mean, the election, we gotta — we gotta talk about it. And there happens to be this trial that's going on. I don't know if you've heard about it.

Peter Biello: Tell me more, I don't know.

Pamela Kirkland: Something to do with election interference in the 2020 presidential election.

Peter Biello: Yeah.

Pamela Kirkland: It just seems like every story that's popping up here in Georgia has some level of national interest for one reason or another. And it's whether you're talking about the political stuff and, you know, the presidential election and the campaigns, or if you're talking about some of the more environmental stuff that's going on, it's all everyone wants to know. And I'm excited to be able to help tell them, tell those stories.

Peter Biello: Well, you've been working here behind the scenes at GPB for several weeks now. You've been doing some interviews and you're working on an interview, about a documentary about James Brown, correct?

Pamela Kirkland: Yes. So I spoke with Deborah Riley Draper. She directed a new miniseries on James Brown that premieres next week on A&E. It's called James Brown: Say It Loud, and it looks at who James Brown is, his impact on music, his legendary career. But I also asked her about how she handled some of the things that we remember Brown for later in his life when he, you know, went back to prison, his drug use and the arrests for domestic violence.

Deborah Riley Draper: So James Brown is quite complicated. He's a creative genius and he's flawed. He knows how to entertain. He knows how to be the hardest-working man in show business. But at the same time, he has trauma that was not healed. He had pain that he didn't know how to deal with.

Peter Biello: So when will we get to hear the full interview?

Pamela Kirkland: So you can hear the full interview on Monday morning. We're going to aired at 8:45 on Morning Edition. You can hear everything that she has to say. Ultimately, you know, it paints Brown's big career comeback from all of these things and just really looks at how James Brown influenced a lot of the music that we even still hear today. So it's very, very cool. I'm really excited for people to hear it.

Peter Biello: I'm excited to hear it as well. So in this role, like me, you're going to be doing a lot of interviews. Our audience is going to hear Q&A segments: you putting questions to people who are in the know. Can you tell me a little bit about your approach to interviewing? What's your end goal when you're talking to someone?

Pamela Kirkland: Yeah, it's — it's funny because we're talking about radio and radio, something that's so personal and intimate and something that I learned really, really early on in my career. I was interning, actually, at the PBS station in Pittsburgh — home of Mister Rogers — and my very first supervisor let me go on a story with him, and he said, "I'm going to let you handle the interviews." And I was so excited to do them. And I interviewed a kid who was like the lead boxer and just super successful. You could tell he was on this, like, great trajectory and he had a stutter. And so when I went to do the interview, I had the urge to interrupt him, and my mentor tapped me on the shoulder. And he's like, "you just need to listen. Just stop talking and listen." And so that's an approach that I really try to remember and take with me in everything that I do, that this job is about listening. It's about holding people accountable, but it's also about listening to what they have to say. And I think those are always the best interviews that you get when you really have a chance to focus in on what someone is saying.

Peter Biello: Okay, so final question for you: Georgia celebrity guest. You could get anybody in the studio. Who would it be?

Pamela Kirkland: I am going to put out a call for Andre 3000. I have — he's got a new album out. It is an instrumental flute album. But I am a huge fan and would love to talk to him about all things Georgia and his perspective on music and where it's gone, what he's seen and where it's going.

Peter Biello: Andre 3000. If you are listening, consider yourself invited to our studios for a chat with Pamela Kirkland. Pamela, we're so excited to have you looking forward to your debut on Morning Edition on Monday. Thank you very much for speaking with me.

Pamela Kirkland: Thank you so much for having me.


Peter Biello: And that is it for this edition of Georgia Today. If you want to learn more about any of these stories, visit our website GPB.org/news. Remember to subscribe to this podcast. We'll be back in your podcast feed every weekday afternoon with all the latest news from Georgia. And if you've got feedback or a story idea, we would love to hear from you. Send us an email. The address is GeorgiaToday@GPB.org. I'm Peter Biello. Thanks again for listening and have a great weekend.


For more on these stories and more, go to GPB.org/news

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