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Reporter’s Notebook: Early voting, unemployment checks and more

Social distancing dots on the floor at the State Farm Arena early voting location. Credit: Maggie Lee

By Maggie Lee

Some 1.2 million Georgians have requested absentee ballots to vote by mail in the Nov. 3 general primary, according to figures through Oct. 14 from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

And on Monday, the first day that polling places were open for early, in-person voting, a total 128,590 Georgians cast ballots.

Turnout so far is 165 percent higher than the turnout at this time in 2016, calculates hard-working data presenter Ryan Anderson. Check out his Georgia Votes page for more stats.

Want to vote early? Hours and locations vary by county, so Google your county’s voting page. Fulton ‘s page is here.

If you need a free COVID-19 test, Fulton County lists locations.

If you need a flu shot, they’re available at county health offices and many pharmacies.  Check VaccineFinder (from Boston Children’s Hospital) to find flu shot locations across the country.

On to other happenings in metro Atlanta:

Governor to spend CARES money on unemployment debt

Georgia is among the states that’s spent down its unemployment trust fund as COVID-19 drives people out of work. So like other states, Georgia is borrowing federal money to make sure unemployment checks continue to go out.

That money has to be paid back.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday that as much as $1.5 billion in relief funds from the federal CARES Act would be used to repay that debt.

According the governor’s figures, the allocation will save the average Georgia employer $350 per year per employee.

Kemp’s office followed up his original announcement with two more emails full of comments from business organizations praising the move.

Back during the Great Recession of 2008, Georgia also borrowed federal money to make its unemployment payments. To pay back the loans at that time, Georgia increased some employment taxes and cut benefits.

Atlanta City Council cringes at Chattahoochee transfer facility

Members of Atlanta City Council aren’t trying to see the old Chattahoochee Brick site in northwest Atlanta turned into a bulk rail transfer facility that will be focused on transport of fuels.

Dustin Dustin Hillis (File/credit: Michael A. Schwarz)

Dustin Hillis (File/credit: Michael A. Schwarz)

Norfolk Southern and Lincoln Energy Solutions have started a state permitting process to for such a facility. But the neighborhood has opposed fairly similar moves in the past.

In a new letter to the CEOs of those companies, northwest Atlanta District 9 City Councilman Dustin Hillis pointed out that Atlanta and Georgia rolled out a high-dollar red carpet for Norfolk Southern’s new Midtown headquarters.

“We expect them to embrace Atlanta as their new home – especially such a sacred, historic, and ecologically important site as Chattahoochee Brick,” Hillis wrote in a letter co-signed by his Council colleagues.

Around the turn of the last century, The Chattahoochee Brick Co. was a notorious employer of forced convict labor. Most of those laborers were Black and had been locked up by courts on minor charges.

Proposed trails along the site, as well as a memorial dedicated to the atrocities committed there, were featured in the recently completed Chattahoochee RiverLands Study.

Turnover in Atlanta mayor’s office

Chief Operating Officer Joshua Williams will “transition from” the city on Dec. 1, according to a press release from the office of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Joshua Williams

Joshua Williams

“Thank you to the more than 20 departments and teams I have had the pleasure of working alongside these past few years, as well as a special thank you to the Atlanta community for their support,” said Williams in the announcement.

Williams’ Deputy, John Keen, is taking over as interim COO.

Also according to the mayor’s office, Mikita Browining, the interim Department of Watershed Management Commissioner is staying in the job permanently, after an earlier promotion from assistant commissioner. The job was previously held by Kishia Powell, who departed earlier this year to run Washington D.C.’s water utility.

And Martin Clarke will now be the city’s chief procurement officer, after having lead the city’s office of contract compliance. He replaces David Wilson.

Atlanta City Council proclaims Greg Block Day

October 16 will be Greg Block Day in Atlanta, which marks the anniversary of the 2007 day that the company he founded, First Step Staffing, got its nonprofit status.

Greg Block Dave Shaffer

Greg Block and then-CEO Dave Shaffer stand in front of First Step’s offices in the Odd Fellows Building in 2016. (File/Photo by Maria Saporta)

First Step works in six states and employs people who are struggling with chronic homelessness.

Block died on August 14, 2020, after a seven-year battle with cancer.

“Greg’s legacy of innovation and compassion changed and saved the lives of hundreds of homeless, returning citizens and veterans in our city who were losing hope for their own future,” said Atlanta east side District 2 City Councilman Amir Farokhi.

Pandemic or no, people still need signs

Four months ago, a pair of entrepreneurs from Atlanta and from Coral Gables, Florida started up a new yard greeting sign company, pandemic aside.

In that short amount of time, Sign Greeters has signed up 38 owners across 11 states, according to a new announcement from the company.

“One unique aspect to this business is having female business owners launch a new venture during a global pandemic and economic recession,” said Atlanta’s Stacie Francombe, Sign Greeters CEO. “We saw a demand for this type of service and wanted to offer a unique way to celebrate, especially at a time when people are feeling anxious or uneasy.”


Starting Oct. 28: The Atlanta Girls’ School is launching a virtual speaker series celebrating and advocating for women in leadership and empowering young girls. The first speaker is Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls and other books mainly touching on helping girls and women be more assertive and resilient.  8 p.m. Free and open to the public. Schedule and registration here.


Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.


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