Senior staff leaders with Sen. Raphael Warnock's office told the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce board on Friday that the new Georgia senator is working every day to convince the Biden Administration to overturn the ITC's ruling on SK Battery.
Warnock's chief of staff Mark Libell said the senator would be meeting with President Biden during the president's visit to Atlanta March 19 and the SK issue would be discussed.
The president is the only person who can overturn the ITC's ruling against SK Battery, which it found had stolen information from rival LG Chem to make its battery design for electric vehicles. The trade board sanctioned SK in February by limiting the scope of its battery production.
Biden has until April 10 to overturn the ITC ruling against SK. For its part, SK has threatened to abandon its Commerce plants, and a promised 2,600 jobs, if the ruling isn't overturned.
Libell said the senator's office had spent more time on the SK issue than any other since he took office in January. The office has been in on-going contact with both SK and LG about the ITC ruling and a possible resolution. It's also had discussions with the White House and other various federal agencies about the issue.
But Libell said one of the frustrations in the matter is that SK seems to have "put all its eggs into one basket," meaning that it is expecting the president to overturn the ruling.
Libell said the thought that was a "very risky strategy."
He said he thought SK should be negotiating with LG to settle the issue outside of government intervention. But he noted that the two South Korean rivals "hate each other" and that getting them to settle might be difficult.
Libell said that discussions with LG leaders led him to believe that regardless of the ultimate outcome, if SK did abandon its Commerce plant, LG would step in to either take over the facility to make batteries, or perhaps build another plant to fulfill SK's EV battery contracts.
"The best thing for everyone would be a settlement," Libell said.
Another effort by the Republican members of the Jackson County Board of Elections to have a list of 211 voter names sent to the state for possible investigation failed at the board's March 19 meeting. The vote was 2-2, killing the motion.
The effort is rooted in a list of around 2,000 names given to the board by former Jackson County GOP chairman Ron Johnson. The names came from a national lobbying group that has promoted the idea of voter fraud.
Johnson said the names were of voters in Jackson County who had requested a change of address in the U.S. Postal Service.
Of those, county election officials found that 211 had voted in the January Senate runoff elections in Jackson County.
GOP board members Jeff Hughes and Larry Ewing have pushed to have those names turned over to the state for investigation, although there is no evidence that anyone committed voter fraud.
Some of the requested address changes could have been for college students or for other reasons not related to residency, officials have said. In addition, the ballot was the same state-wide so that even if someone had moved and voted in the county, it would not have made any difference in the election.
When voters move and register to vote in another county, the local elections board gets a notification from the state. The county had not received any notification from the state of a change in voting before the January runoff election for those 211 people.
Several citizens attended the elections board meeting, apparently encouraged by local GOP leaders. One person suggested that the 211 names should be investigated while another asked about the duties of the board of elections.
A third person wanted to know why the March ESPLOST vote had not been held in January to save money. County elections manager Jennifer Logan said that SPLOST votes are held in March and November and that the county hadn't even received a request for the ESPLOST referendum until after the January runoff.
Both Hughes and Ewing had spoken against holding the March ESPLOST vote at earlier meetings, although the board doesn't have the authority to not call an election when requested by local government agencies. Hughes said at a previous meeting that the school superintendent should have come before the elections board to explain why the vote was being called, although the board has no legal role in second-guessing government policies.
At its March 19 meeting, the board also certified the results of the March 16 ESPLOST referendum and rejected two provisional ballots from people who said they were registered voters in the county, but who had no record of registration on file with Jackson County. One was registered in Barrow County while the other was registered in Gwinnett County.
Despite what can only be described as a challenging year, the City of Commerce is looking ahead and preparing for anticipated growth.
Commerce Mayor Clark Hill presented his State of the City address at the Commerce City Council’s March 15 meeting, highlighting the town’s accomplishments during the past year and expanding on future goals.
“This has been anything but a normal year for us as a community,” Hill said. “But I think all-in-all…we got pretty lucky.”
Hill said 2020 started off with a number of floods and water main breaks in the city.
Then in March, COVID-19 hit the area. Local governments issued states of emergency in late March and Governor Brian Kemp followed, issuing a stay-at-home order and requiring some businesses to close temporarily statewide.
Despite the pandemic, Hill said the city fared pretty well and few businesses were forced to close permanently.
“Our community adapted. Our businesses adapted. Our schools remained in-person,” said Hill.
The one major loss, Hill said, was the closing of Northridge Medical Center. Hill said the community lost 78 jobs with the closing of that hospital, which had been open since 1960. He added the community also lost access to the basic medical services offered at Northridge, but said the community just didn’t support hospital.
“The facility lost $5 million the last year it was open,” said Hill. “And then COVID was the final straw.”
He added that Ethica and CHS have been investing in improvements to the nursing facility on the Northridge campus.
Meanwhile, the city is gearing up for anticipated growth and Hill outlined a number of priorities and plans for the future.
“You’re going to see this council roll out a pretty bold platform that’s going to set the stage for us over the next 10-20 years,” Hill said.
The city is considering a major expansion of its recreation department.
“We realize that we have a lot of people moving here in the 55-and-older neighborhood,” Hill said. “There’s more of an interest in having activities and things through the rec department for those people.”
Enrollment is up 30% from 2012 in the city's recreation department and a recent study showed local children are most interested in soccer, football and basketball.
“Indoor facilities are a huge need, and multi-purpose fields are a huge need,” Hill said.
He added that the city is working to develop a plan that will prepare the city’s recreation department for the foreseeable future.
“We hope to acquire a large tract of land that will take the recreation department into the next 30-40 years,” said Hill.
Hill also noted the city may need to reevaluate its housing needs in the future.
Home values have been steadily climbing over the past several years, Hill said. He added the supply of houses priced under $399,000 is limited and said most of those houses are selling quickly and for list price.
“It’s a seller’s market,” he said. “If you put your house on the market in Commerce, Georgia, you better know where you’re going to move, because you’re not going to have a place to live in two months.”
He said the city may need to consider affordable housing options in the future, focusing on the quality of the housing instead of just considering the size.
“What I’m talking about is where could a policeman and a school teacher raise a family of two and afford that house. That’s affordable housing,” he said, giving the example of owner-occupied townhomes and condos.
Hill said the city’s also poised for commercial and industrial growth. He specifically cited the Hwy. 98 corridor at I-85 for potential industrial growth.
The city is also considering a major change to the town’s civic center.
“We’re reevaluating what this building (the civic center) is going to be,” Hill said.
He added there are some “grand ideas” for its future use, but it’s not yet known exactly what the improvements will include.
“There’s some pretty grand ideas about what can be done here,” said Hill. “What I can tell you is this building will not look like it looks now.”
Hill said the 1818 project across from the civic center continues to progress and said the city is planning to upgrade the parking lot next to that facility.
“We will hopefully have a parking lot across the street that’s more than adequate, but also nice and functional, before this (1818) opens and for our civic center to use,” he said.
He also noted there are a number of new businesses in the downtown area and said there’s also been renewed “serious interest” in the Harmony Grove Mill on the south side of town.
Other projects planned in the city include:
•improving entryways into the town with signage and cleanup.
•expanding the city’s water/sewer and improving sewer infrastructure.
•forming a landbank to help rehabilitate dilapidated properties.
•negotiating a service delivery strategy with Jackson County (currently in progress).
•considering a future stormwater utility.
•getting Vogtle 3 online.
•attracting healthcare investment in the area.
•installing automatic utility meter reading.
Total doses administed — 9,973
Dose 1 — 6,603
Dose 2 — 3,370
Doses per 100,000 — 14,691
Cases confirmed — 9,406
Cases per 100,000 — 11,006
Deaths — 128 + 11 probable
Hospitalizations — 477
While acknowledging it’s not their preferred option, Jefferson leaders endorsed the state department of transportation’s proposal to install an “R-cut” at the intersection of Old Swimming Pool Rd. and the Hwy. 129 bypass to remedy traffic problems there.
The Jefferson City Council voted unanimously at its March 22 meeting to support the R-cut (Restricted Crossing U-Turn), which will prohibit drivers on Old Swimming Pool Rd. from crossing over the highway or making left turns onto it.
“I think we all recognize that a traffic signal is our first choice, but given that being not a option from G-DOT, this (the R-cut) moves us toward a safer intersection,” mayor Jon Howell said.
The problems at the intersection including vehicles stacking during peak hours and multiple vehicles stopped in the median as drivers attempt to cross over the highway or make a left turn, presenting a safety hazard.
The R-cut would utilize raised concrete islands to block that access. Drivers needing to turn left off Old Swimming Pool Rd. to travel north on the bypass would instead have to turn right and make a U-turn at a median break near Panther Dr.
The intersection doesn’t not meet traffic volume thresholds to qualify for traffic light, leading the DOT to offer the R-cut as an alternative.
The Jefferson City Council discussed the issue at its March 8 meeting and then held a virtual town meeting March 15 over the matter, which included input from two DOT officials. Both said the R-cut would improve safety at the intersection.
Concerns with the R-cut have included limited site distance for U-turns at the median break near Panther Dr. The DOT, however, said site distance at the location met standards. Worries have also been expressed that the R-cut would shift the traffic problem down to Panther Dr.
ACTION ON FOOD TRUCK ORDINANCE POSTPONED
Action on Jefferson’s proposed ordinance related to food trucks and public events will wait until at least May.
Councilman Clint Roberts asked for the decision to be postponed to allow for more time to study the ordinance. Roberts heads a subcommittee to modernize the city charter and ordinances.
“What I’d like to do, since I’m currently heading up the charter and ordinance subcommittee, is kind of take the reins on this with the committee for the next couple of weeks and bring that back to the council in May for us to present and then adopt,” Roberts explained.
SUBCOMMITTEE TO LOOK AT ACCESS ROAD
Howell has asked the city’s I-85 exit beautification committee to investigate the acceptance of an access road running behind McDonald’s as a city street. Tractor-trailers parking along the road and leaving excessive litter have been a long-standing issues for the city. City leaders have expressed interest in acquiring as much land along the road as possible to allow for greater enforcement options to address problem.
“If we don’t have the right to keep that place clean and keep the parking from there, this is going to happen again and again and again,” said councilman Mark Mobley, who chairs the exit beautification committee.
Mobley noted that clean-up efforts were recently made, but the litter returned just days later.
•approved a health and dental insurance renewal plan for city employees.
•approved a variance requesting a setback reduction from 10 feet to five feet on Monte Lane to allow for an accessory building.
•approved a resolution to accept from Trammell Crow additional right-of-way along the northside of Hog Mountain Rd.
•approved two resolutions related to abandoning portions of Park St. and McKenzie Ave.
•approved a resolution to abandon land previously utilized for Horace Head Road’s old intersection with Hwy. 82 and a resolution to accept Horace Head Rd. as realigned and right of way at the road's new intersection with Hwy. 82.
•approved the reappointment of Downtown Development Authority members Christine Dalton, Shawn Watson and Les Crane.