LISTEN: On the Wednesday, Feb. 21 edition of Georgia Today: Columbia County officials seek to turn most of the county into a new municipality; a Georgia Senate committee has advanced a proposal requiring libraries to notify parents of every book a child checks out; and we'll introduce you to the man who is single handily taking on Atlanta's wide range of road hazards.

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Peter Biello: Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Wednesday, Feb. 21. I'm Peter Biello. On today's episode, Columbia County officials seek to turn most of the county into a new municipality. A Georgia Senate committee has advanced a proposal requiring libraries to notify parents of every book their child checks out. And we'll introduce you to the man who is scooping up hazards on Atlanta's roads with magnets. These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.


Story 1:

Peter Biello: Officials in Columbia County want to incorporate most of the county into a new municipality. The new report shows a consolidated government, comprised mostly of suburbs northwest of Augusta, would be fiscally feasible for the county. County Manager Scott Johnson says they are passing up millions of dollars in potential revenue by remaining mostly unincorporated. He says the county is growing quickly but has an identity crisis.

Scott Johnson: Things that you would typically see in Atlanta, we have here in Columbia County, but people just don't know who we are. Certainly by doing this, we would become either the fifth or sixth largest city overnight. I think it would help put Columbia County on the map.

Peter Biello: Two existing municipalities, Harlem and Grovetown, would remain separate. Harlem Mayor Roxanne Whitaker:

Roxanne Whitaker: We're very proud of Harlem. We're very proud people. We don't want to be named anything else. We want to remain who Harlem is.

Peter Biello: State lawmakers would have to approve a referendum, which then would be decided by unincorporated voters.

Story 2:

Peter Biello: A proposal that would require school libraries to notify parents of every book their child checks out, passed out of a Georgia Senate committee yesterday. The State Senate Education and Youth Committee voted 5 to 4 to send the bill to the full Senate for more debate. The proposal would let parents choose to receive an email anytime their child obtains library material. Another proposal that would subject school librarians to criminal charges for distributing material containing obscenity is up for a committee hearing today. Senate Bill 154 removes an exemption for school libraries from state code outlawing the distribution of harmful material to minors, which some school librarians said could put them at risk of arrest for doing their jobs.


Story 3:

Peter Biello: The state House has passed a bill to prevent officers from having to arrest people who refuse to sign traffic tickets. Representatives overwhelmingly approved the bill today. It's sponsored by Jonesborough Democrat Yasmin Neal.

Yasmin Neal: Get a ticket? Refuse to sign? Officer says "No problem." Writes "refuses to sign" on the ticket and sends them on their way. No more arguments, no more fights.

Peter Biello: The change comes after an Atlanta church deacon died last year after refusing to sign a citation and struggling with an officer. The bill now goes to the Senate for more debate.

Person pointing to chart

Currently, reporting to the federal core set is voluntary, although reporting all children’s health measures and adult mental health measures will become mandatory in 2024.

Credit: Georgia Health News

Story 4:

Peter Biello: Georgia House leaders are signaling Medicaid health care coverage won't be expanded this year. A bill introduced yesterday by a top lieutenant to Republican House Speaker Jon Burns proposes to create a comprehensive health care commission that could lead to more health coverage in the future. But not this year. Burns has said he wants to explore using Medicaid money to buy private coverage for residents, as Arkansas does.


Story 5:

Peter Biello: Researchers from Augusta University are using Census data to find out how many adults in the U.S. are currently living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or IDD. GPB's Ellen Eldridge has more on a recent study.

Ellen Eldridge: People with Down syndrome, autism and other disabilities want to live and work and be part of their community, but it's also important that they live where they can receive support and services. That's what study coauthor Teal Benavides says. She's an associate professor with Augusta University.

Teal Benevides: We would expect that the distribution of people with intellectual disability in this state would be unequal, mainly because there are unequal resources between Atlanta and some of our rural portions of the state.

Ellen Eldridge: She says there are more than 7,000 Georgians seeking Medicaid services for intellectual and developmental disabilities, and there are not enough resources availabl. For GPB News, I'm Ellen Eldridge.


Story 6:

Peter Biello: The search continues for a 10th day for a City of Albany employee who went missing while collecting water samples from the Flint River. Georgia Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark McKinnon says the search for Darius Stevens has taken helicopters all the way to Lake Seminole, and has included 20 miles of the river by boat.

Mark McKinnon: We had a difficult time getting boats on the water for most of the 10 days, simply because of the conditions of the river. It has been very high. It has been very swift.

Peter Biello: The water crested yesterday. The search also continues by foot on riverbanks. McKinnon says authorities hope to provide some closure for the family.


Story 7:

Peter Biello: Attorneys suing a Georgia county over zoning changes that they say threaten the Gullah Geechee community on Sapelo Island asked a judge yesterday to let them correct technical problems with their civil complaint to avoid having it dismissed. Residents of Hogg Hummock sued coastal McIntosh County in October, after county commissioners voted to weaken zoning restrictions that residents say will lead to property tax increases that they won't be able to pay. A lawyer from McIntosh County argued the judge must throw out the lawsuit because it clashes with a 2020 amendment to Georgia state constitution dealing with legal immunity granted to state and local governments.

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter

Story 8:

Peter Biello: This past Monday, Presidents Day, marked a year since former President Jimmy Carter entered hospice care and three months since the death of former first lady Rosalynn Carter. Earlier this week, GPB's Sofi Gratas traveled to Plains to see how the town commemorated Presidents Day and how they're working to keep the Carters' life and work in the public eye.

Sofi Gratas: At the Jimmy Carter National Historic Park, it's presidential historian Larry Cook's 13th year, speaking on Presidents Day on the same stage that Carter once walked across for his high school graduation. He remembers the Carters coming to this talk.

Larry Cook: As often as they could, President and Mrs. Carter would be right here in the front row.

Sofi Gratas: Cook covers presidents other than Carter, but he says...

Larry Cook: I'm particularly dedicated to promoting the legacy of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter because it's a unique legacy, even in — within the presidency.

Sofi Gratas: Visitors Jeff and Susan Ragusa say it's Carter's story being from this small town that gives them hope for the future.

Jeff Ragusa: I don't know, makes you feel like anybody, maybe. Maybe she could grow up and be president, you know?

Sofi Gratas: Ragusa points to his niece, Riley.

Susan Ragusa: She says, oh, that sounds like a lot of work.

Jeff Ragusa: I'm sure it is.

Sofi Gratas: Superintendent of the park and friend of the Carters, Jill Stuckey, says it's been a year full of changes in plans, but they hope to keep welcoming visitors.

Jill Stuckey: You know, we want people to come here. We've lived to tell people about President Carter, about Mrs. Carter and their impact on this town, on this state, and on this world.

Sofi Gratas: She says the town will soon start planning for Carter's 100th birthday. For GPB News, I'm Sofi Gratas in Plains.


Story 9:

Peter Biello: This year's official white House Christmas ornament will honor former President Jimmy Carter. The nonprofit White House Historical Association has designated the official ornament each year since 1981. Today, it unveiled the 2024 ornament, which is in the shape of an anchor and includes elements reflecting Carter's service in the U.S. Navy and other aspects of his life and career. Also on the ornament: peanuts, representing his career in farming, and doves representing his peacemaking efforts. The association says the ornament is made in the U.S. by a veteran-founded business.


Story 10:

Peter Biello: If you've ever gotten a flat tire from a rusty nail, you know that roads are full of unseen hazards. One Atlanta man has taken it upon himself to do something about those hazards. Alex Benigno, also known on Instagram as Atlanta magnet man, using a bike trailer equipped with magnets. He canvasses Atlanta roads, picking up all manner of debris. In this video posted to Instagram, Alex dumps into a plastic crate a month's worth of rusty nails, screws, wire, bottle caps, a wrench, what looks like a whole piston, and pounds and pounds of other things you'd rather not run over. Alex Benigno joins me now. Atlanta Magnet Man, welcome to the studio.

Alex Benigno: Thank you for having me.

Peter Biello: So why did you start doing this?

Alex Benigno: During the pandemic, I was an essential worker, and I was picking up nails and screws with my tires. And I realized that if I'm out here alone (mostly) and I'm picking up all these nails and screws, that means that everyone else's tires are picking up all these nails everywhere. And I think the catalyst to get this project started was when I went to the Kroger on Howell Mill (Road) one morning and I saw a five-pound bag of screws had fallen off of a contractor's truck on the driveway. And I was like, oh, man, I hope somebody does something about this. And I came back around lunchtime and I saw that everything was still there and realized, okay, by the end of the day, if this hasn't been done, I'm going to take care of it. So I borrowed a broom and dustpan and a little magnet sweeper from work. And I went there and I picked up everything, and I realized, okay, well, I've got to get my idea rolling because these things are everywhere, and no one's taking care of it.

Peter Biello: And then you affixed to the back of your bike a few different versions of what is essentially a trailing magnet facing the ground. If you scroll through your Instagram, you see these photos of not just nails — you expect nails and screws and stuff — but ... cables; metal cables. I don't know what these are, why they're on the road, what they could have fallen off. Giant clumps of metal. I can't tell what they are. All of this in the street?

Alex Benigno: Yeah. It's everywhere.

Peter Biello: You even found a bullet.

Alex Benigno: Steel case bullet. And it was hilarious.

Peter Biello: I mean, have you found something that was particularly surprising to you?

Alex Benigno: Well, there was a very large crane hook just on the side of the road. I picked it up by hand, but it's just like, what is this doing? How'd this fall off the back of a truck and nobody noticed for however long it's been there?

Peter Biello: You've got a mission statement on your Instagram pinned to the top, and part of it is: "We are better than this. We can lift these nails and screws from our streets and prevent them from taking that which we hold most dear: our time, our money and our precious tires. Join me and we can fight this fight together." That's what you've written as a mission statement. Do I get the sense here that you're speaking metaphorically, that this is about more than just picking up loose bits of dangerous metal?

Alex Benigno: Yes. This is something that anybody can do. And it takes somebody, too, who wants to do the work, to do the work, to get this kind of stuff done. And it's unfortunate that however our society has gone where this isn't being taken care of and that someone like me has to come along and say, "I'm tired of this job not being done. If no one's going to do it, I'll do it." That's kind of my philosophy in a lot of things. When I see a little problem or something, something where I can help, I like to do it, try to do little things to alleviate unnecessary suffering that benefits everyone. It's just kind of a thing that motivates me.

Peter Biello: Have you heard from the city of Atlanta about what you're doing?

Alex Benigno: Not yet. I know a lot of people have been trying to get the city of Atlanta to contact me or do something, but I want to tread carefully, to see, because I think there's a lot of potential to possibly get some sort of funding involved so that I can try to get other people in other parts of the country and other cities who also want to do this, to get the resources they need to do it, because it's a pretty easy thing to do that anybody with a little bit of technical tinkering can do.

Peter Biello: Well, there's a link on your Instagram to your GoFundMe. Last check, I think you're about two-thirds of the way to your goal.

Alex Benigno: Yeah. So I think I'm at $2,800 now out of $3,500. 

Peter Biello: OK, so what are you gonna use that money for?

Alex Benigno: ... A bike lane sweeper. I've already ordered it. It should be here in middle of March. And it's the same thing as a trailer with a spinning brush. It's battery operated, can pick up gravel and all sorts of other debris and glass and stuff from the roads. And my goal is to go through all the bike lanes, because so many of our bike lanes are covered in glass and gravel and stuff, and that's pretty much all the debris in the road ends up in the bike lane. And I'm just tired of getting flat tires.

Peter Biello: Yeah. Have you been getting flat tires on your bike while you've been out collecting metal?

Alex Benigno: Yeah, I did, I did last Tuesday downtown.

Peter Biello: Oh the irony.

Alex Benigno: Yeah.

Peter Biello: Well, let me ask you, because Atlanta's famous for those giant metal plates. How does your setup handle those plates? Do you just get stuck on the plates?

Alex Benigno: That's one of the reasons why I think, like the maintenance crews can't just stick a magnet sweeper on the back because they go over a metal plate or a little or a manhole cover or the little, the water meter plates are in the road. They'll just suck those up or anchor themselves down to them. And I have in all of my trial and error — lots of errors — I have gotten myself stuck to manhole covers. And one day, I wasn't paying attention. I went too slowly over a manhole cover, and I anchored myself to the manhole cover. And it —

Peter Biello: In the middle of the street?

Alex Benigno: The first time was — luckily, I wasn't on the street, but it did take me a while to separate myself from the manhole cover. But there was one day a few weeks ago. I was in Collier Road, it was at night after work. I didn't see the manhole cover and I took a turn. I went over the manhole cover. Eight magnets stuck to the manhole cover. And this is during rush hour traffic. And I had like 20 seconds of time and I would run out the street, get on my hands and knees, try my best to scrape these magnets off this pure iron cover.

Peter Biello: How expensive are these magnets? Were they worth it?

Alex Benigno: They're one inch by one inch by half inch, and they're $16 each.

Peter Biello: OK.

Alex Benigno: And they're really, really strong.

Peter Biello: Seems like you're working full days and you're doing this on your lunch break. I don't know if you do it on the way to and from work as well. That sounds exhausting. Are you exhausted?

Alex Benigno: I sleep really well. I'm in the best shape of my life. It's great exercise on this bicycle, and it's amazing.

Peter Biello: I'm probing for a downside here. Alex. I'm not seeing one. We should all be out there with magnets on our bikes!

Alex Benigno: Well, I guess the only thing is, because the way the setup is, I don't have anything covering the magnets. Except maybe I'll put some cloth over the magnets to help pull everything off. But those little tiny, hair-sized pieces of steel from tires, that hold tires together. Those are everywhere. And they will sometimes stick through the tape that I have on my gloves and poke my fingers. And it's just like, that's pretty painful. And that's pretty much the only drawback. But I like lifting up and taking all the stuff off the magnets and doing the work to do it. It's kind of relaxing.

Peter Biello: Well, Alex Benigno, Atlanta Magnet Man, thank you so much for, first of all, what you're doing, and for coming into GPB today. Really appreciate it.

Alex Benigno: Thank you so much. This was wonderful.

Elton John in Norway

Story 11:

Peter Biello: A collection of items from Elton John's home on Peachtree Road in Atlanta are up for auction tonight. Artwork including pieces by Banksy and Andy Warhol, a Yamaha Conservatory grand piano and a pair of prescription sunglasses are among 49 items in the sale, hosted by auction house Christie's. John sold the Park Place condo last fall, three decades after purchasing it. And if you miss the auction tonight, additional items from the home will be on sale four more days this month.

Peter Biello: And that is it for this edition of Georgia Today. If you want to learn more about any of these stories, visit That's also where we will have a link to the conversation with Atlanta Magnet Man and a link to his Instagram. And if you haven't subscribed to this podcast yet, take a moment now and keep us current in your podcast feed. If you've got feedback or a story idea, we would love to hear from you! Send us an email. The address is I'm Peter Biello. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.


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