Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tony Thomas censured after contentious hearing; Van Johnson speaks in support of accused alderman

Posted By on Wed, May 31, 2017 at 7:07 PM

Tony Thomas - PHOTO BY ORLANDO MONTOYA
  • Photo by Orlando Montoya
  • Tony Thomas
In what is almost certainly the most contentious City Council meeting in recent memory, Council voted today to censure Alderman Tony Thomas for "sexist, vulgar comments" to a female TV reporter.

But with censure being an almost completely toothless punishment of a defiant Thomas — who attended his own hearing, sitting in his usual seat — the greater cost might have been to the rest of Council.

The resulting scene was something much closer to a reality TV episode than to the deliberations of a government body.

The original censure resolution mentioned two offenses: Thomas calling a WTOC reporter a "cunt" on video this past weekend — for which the resolution called for an apology — and a widely publicized incident involving Thomas being publicly intoxicated this past St. Patrick's Day.

Mayor DeLoach opened the special called meeting, with censure its only agenda item, by rehashing his press conference from the other day.

Referring to the St. Patrick's Day incident at the Desoto Hilton, DeLoach added, "I stood up for [Tony] at St. Patrick's Day and asked everybody to go for one more chance. But I also told him, Tony, this is your chance but if this happens again I have no other choice but to call you on it."
Before the vote could be taken, Thomas insisted on his parliamentary right to speak. And speak he did, variously threatening members of council including the mayor, often in intensely personal terms.

"This whole thing is political and this bill was originally introduced at county level to try and censure a former County Commissioner," Thomas said, referring to former Commissioner Yusuf Shabazz.

Thomas accused Mayor DeLoach of having "secret meetings in Atlanta and in the capitol without full knowledge of all council members," with regards to that state legislation permitting censure, which only passed the legislature just last year.

About the St. Patrick's Day incident, Thomas said, "Drinking with me after the parade were two members of this council, Julian Miller and Brian Foster, at the same location."

Alderman Foster immediately responded, "That is a lie."

Thomas went on to accuse Alderman Miller of covering up for the now-imprisoned former Police Chief Willie Lovett while Miller was the head spokesman for the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police.

"Did you know what was going on?" Thomas asked Miller.

Miller shot back, "Mr. Thomas, no one's buying what you're selling. You don't even know how you got to the Hilton that day."

Thomas set his sights directly on Mayor DeLoach, accusing the mayor of having substance abuse problems of his own:

"I want to challenge you publicly to submit to any alcohol or drug test that I will. This is a smokescreen for your own personal issues," Thomas said to the mayor.

Thomas then turned to Alderwoman Carol Bell and mentioned a "controversy" he claims she's involved in regarding scholarships.

After Thomas had finished his rounds against his fellow Council members, Van Johnson — who had been conspicuously late to the meeting — spoke up in Thomas's support.

"I don't believe in kicking a man while he's down," said Johnson. "The St. Patrick's incident shouldn't be in this resolution," he said, pointing out that Thomas had already apologized for that.

"The apology to reporter is a moot issue," Johnson added, but clarifying that "What Tony said to the reporter was dead wrong, not cool, not appropriate."

Mayor DeLoach then accused Johnson of "another attempt to cover up" for Thomas, and the two went toe-to-toe debating the particulars of the resolution.

At one point during the exchange, Tony Thomas chimed in, in a low voice:

"You need to be very careful, Mr. Mayor."

Johnson was victorious over DeLoach in having the St. Patrick's Day incident stricken from the resolution. Johnson then attempted to get the clause about the apology to the TV reporter stricken as well.

As the meeting very hastily and confusingly wrapped up and rushed to a final vote, Alderman John Hall — who had been silent up to that moment — pleaded to no one in particular, "Why are we being put through all this?"

The censure passed unanimously and Mayor DeLoach immediately adjourned the meeting, with all parties getting up from their seats very quickly.

Alderwoman Estella Shabazz was the only Council member not in attendance.




John Malkovich set to deliver SCAD Commencement Address in Savannah and Atlanta

Posted By on Wed, May 31, 2017 at 9:50 AM

john_malkovich.jpg
In what is being called his first university commencement speech, renowned actor, director, and producer John Malkovich will deliver this Saturday's address to mark the commencement of the Savannah College of Art and Design Class of 2017, the school's largest-ever.

Malkovich will speak at both the Savannah and Atlanta campus ceremonies on Sat. June 3. The Presidential Conferment of Degrees ceremony for the Savannah campus begins at 9 a.m. at the Savannah Civic Center, followed by two degree presentation ceremonies in the afternoon.

The Atlanta commencement happens later that day at 6 p.m. at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Both commencement ceremonies will also be available via livestream at scad.edu

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Council to vote on censure of Tony Thomas for 'unacceptable sexist and vulgar' comments to reporter

Posted By on Tue, May 30, 2017 at 11:32 AM

With news breaking over the weekend of an ugly confrontation between 6th District Alderman Tony Thomas and a female reporter for WTOC-TV, Mayor Eddie DeLoach at a press conference this morning said Council will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday to vote on a formal measure censuring Thomas for "conduct unbecoming an alderman."

DeLoach said he had decided to "move on with a clean slate" after Thomas's public intoxication this past St. Patrick's Day, and the alderman's subsequent apology.

But what clearly prompted DeLoach to take action on the latest incident is that apparently no apology was forthcoming this time.

Indeed, Thomas was defiant.

"Tony told me he would make the same comment again if given the chance," Mayor DeLoach said, referring to Thomas's description of the reporter as a "cunt."

"There's no way we can accept this approach to talking to anyone," DeLoach said of what he called "unacceptable sexist and vulgar comments."

The Mayor said, "Sadly this follows a downward spiral for Alderman Thomas."

However, the Mayor was also frank that the move to censure Thomas is very limited in scope.

"In reality not a lot" might come of it, DeLoach admitted. "It depends on how he takes it. There's no teeth to it."

The ability of local governments to censure local elected officials was only passed by the state legislature last year.

Any effort to actually remove Thomas from office, barring his own resignation, would have to either involve a special recall election — which requires signatures from at least 15 percent of the number of district voters who participated in the prior election just to get started — or defeating Thomas when he is up for reelection in 2019.

The initial TV report was prompted by reports of neglected cats at a Southside home which Thomas used to reside in, but is now allegedly in the foreclosure process and vacant.

DeLoach also demurred on the issue of Thomas's residency.

"I don't [know where Thomas is living] and I'm not going to get into any of that," said the Mayor, cautioning reporters to do their research before assuming Thomas doesn't live in the district anymore.

"I don't know any of that for a fact right now, and neither do you," said DeLoach.

Friday, May 26, 2017

SCAD New Alumni Concert to feature The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra

Posted By on Fri, May 26, 2017 at 4:42 PM

The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra
  • The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra
SCAD's annual New Alumni Concert from 5-7 p.m. Friday, June 2, will feature a 'Jazz at the Museum' performance by favorite local ensemble The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra, held this year at the SCAD Museum of Art's Alex Townsend Memorial Courtyard on Turner Boulevard off MLK.

As with past New Alumni Concerts, the event is free and open to the public. A new twist will be the addition of a cash bar.

The concert is held in conjunction with a reception for the exhibition 'Character Study' by Kelly Boehmer and Summer Wheat.

Immediately after the show, the public is invited to attend a free screening of the new live-action film Beauty and The Beast at the Trustees Theatre on Broughton Street.

Location Details SCAD Museum of Art
601 Turner Blvd.
Savannah-Downtown
Savannah, GA
912-525-7191
Sun. 12 p.m.-5 p.m.Tue.-Wed. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.Thu. 10 a.m.-8 p.m.Fri. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.Sat. 12 p.m.-5 p.m.
Museum, Historic Site, Community Education and Gallery
Location Details Trustees Theater
Trustees Theater
216 East Broughton St.
Savannah-Downtown
Savannah, GA
912-525-5050
Mon.-Fri. 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Music Venue, School/College/University and Live Theatre

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

'Visitor Impact Fee' tabled indefinitely by City Council

Posted By on Thu, May 25, 2017 at 5:56 PM

The highly controversial proposal to levy a 25-cent surcharge on almost every downtown transaction $10 and over was on the agenda for a discussion and second reading vote at today's City Council meeting.

But Savannah City Council, obviously responding to the measure's toxic unpopularity among citizens and small business owners, tabled the measure indefinitely.

The fee was envisioned as a way to fund increases in the 'Savannah Serves' program of downtown ambassadors and increased police patrol in the tourist district.

Next week's public info session on the proposal was canceled in response.

The move likely means the proposal is dead at least for the foreseeable future. Indeed, Alderman Tony Thomas could be overheard on a hot mic joking that "this means it ain't coming back."

In other City business, Council unanimously approved a $50 million-plus infrastructure investment in the Savannah River Landing project, mostly for new parking garages.

Alderman Julian Miller said the new garages will "tie into the new parking study," in other words, the added space might alleviate citizen concerns about the dramatic extension of downtown parking rates and hours approved at the last Council meeting.

Other plans for the site include extending the SPLOST-funded Riverwalk from River Street, in front of the Marriott, and joining up with a new section at Savannah River Landing.

A City-funded and maintained park will line the waterfront of the new development.

Alderman Thomas reminded citizens that taxpayers already pay over a million dollars per year just to service existing debt on the site, and that an opportunity for such a transformative investment "comes once in a lifetime."

Drugs, stolen guns seized in arrest of seven in West Savannah

Posted By on Thu, May 25, 2017 at 5:43 PM

drugs.jpg

Savannah Chatham Metro Police’s Strategic Investigations Unit (SIU) "arrested seven people and seized a large amount of drugs, cash and two stolen firearms outside an apartment complex Wednesday," police say.

Undercover officers were conducting surveillance on a group of individuals outside an apartment on Westlake Avenue around 5:45 p.m. "when they observed several large bags of marijuana being distributed among the group. When the undercover officer approached along with marked detectives in marked police vehicles, the group scattered, discarding the drugs and a firearm. The suspects and the discarded drugs were located," police report.

Seven suspects were arrested: Marvin Williams, 19; Akeem Williams, 24; Antwan Speaks, 28; Sharron King, 27; Antwan Bush, 21; Andre Ferguson, 29; and Duane Hawkins, 35.
A K-9 also conducted a free air sniff around three vehicles involved in the suspected drug activity. Searches of the vehicles resulted in more drugs and a gun.

The investigation resulted in the seizure of 1,563.8 grams of marijuana, 21.8 grams of crack cocaine, 2.1 grams of heroin, 7 Ecstasy pills, 28 Oxycodone pills, five digital scales, two stolen firearms and $1,026 in currency.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

New academic structure in place for Armstrong/Georgia Southern consolidation

Posted By on Wed, May 24, 2017 at 5:43 PM

The Armstrong State University/Georgia Southern University Consolidation Implementation Committee (CIC) says it has reviewed and approved a new academic structure for the new Georgia Southern University.

The consolidated Georgia Southern University will consist of nine colleges: the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Computing, the College of Arts and Humanities, the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, the College of Business, the College of Education, the Waters College of Health Professions, the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health, the College of Science and Mathematics and the Jack N. Averitt College of Graduate Studies.

“We couldn’t move forward with continuing to populate our entire organizational structure until we had this academic structure in place,” said Georgia Southern University President Jaimie L. Hebert, Ph.D. “Institutions are dynamic entities that continue to change. This is our starting point to get this new institution moving forward.”

The CIC considered an alternate academic structure proposal from faculty members, in accordance with President Hebert’s request at the previous CIC meeting at Georgia Southern on May 10, a CIC spokesperson says.

"After extensive discussion, the CIC ultimately decided to approve the original proposal."

Additional Operational Working Group recommendations also were approved in areas including faculty development, honors programs and undergraduate research, international programs and study abroad, research services and sponsored programs, admissions, orientation and family programs, athletics, public relations and media, social media, student conduct and academic integrity, preserving traditions and history, and leadership and volunteer programs.

On Jan. 11, 2017, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia voted to consolidate Armstrong State University and Georgia Southern University, creating a new Georgia Southern University with three campus locations in Savannah, Hinesville and Statesboro. For updates visit consolidation.GeorgiaSouthern.edu

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Man arrested with guns, machetes, and a cattle prod

Posted By on Wed, May 17, 2017 at 4:44 PM

Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department’s Strategic Investigation Unit (SIU) arrested Nathaniel Harvey, 20, for drug-, firearm-, and traffic-related offenses on May 16.

"On May 12, SIU initiated a traffic stop in the area of Pennsylvania Avenue and Indiana Avenue. The car fled, nearly striking a police vehicle. Harvey was identified as the driver," police say.

"SIU secured warrants for Harvey, and were successful in arresting him on May 16 around 2:30 p.m. in the 4600 block of Lanier Drive. SCMPD’s Crime Suppression Unit, K-9, and ATF assisted with Harvey’s apprehension," police say.

When Harvey was taken into custody, he was in possession of a stolen gun.

"During the execution of a search warrant at Harvey’s home, ammunition, body armor, drugs, machetes, a cattle prod, and six more guns were found," police say.

Harvey was charged with felony fleeing to elude, theft by receiving stolen property, and additional drug and traffic offenses. Additional charges are forthcoming.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Council adopts amended new parking hours and rates

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 4:33 PM

City Council today voted to approve an amended version of the expansive new changes to parking rates and times downtown.

The newly adopted version features an expansion of enforced parking fees to $2 an hour from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat., beginning with a two-year phase-in for areas north of Liberty Street only.

Sundays had originally been proposed.

Read the original proposal here.

Alderman Julian Miller said of the plan as originally proposed, "We're biting off more than we can chew. We're not ready to tackle Sundays yet."

Alderman Brian Foster agree, saying "We've put the cart before the horse," referring to the broad application of the original study.

The support of phasing in the new plan — which would include all new meters and meter technology — was broad. However, Alderman Van Johnson said it was still an arbitrary decision as to which area would bear the brunt of the changes first, and perhaps it might be better to accomplish the changes all at once.




City changes Horse and Carriage Ordinance

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 4:18 PM

Savannah City Council members voted 7-1 to approve revisions to the City’s Horse and Carriage Ordinance.

"The revisions are intended to regulate the horse-drawn carriage industry, protect the health, safety, and welfare of the animals used in the tourism industry, as well as citizens, motorists and pedestrians using the public rights of way," a City spokesperson says.

“Over the past two years, the Tourism Management and Ambassadorship Department brought together representatives from the carriage industry, local veterinarians who treat large animals, animal advocates and the Tourism Advisory Committee (TAC) to revise the Ordinance,” said Tourism Director Bridget Lidy.

One of the biggest adjustments is when to take the horses off the streets based on the heat. The City now prohibits horse-drawn carriage tours to operate when the temperature exceeds 95 degrees, rather than 98 degrees Fahrenheit.

In addition, the horse’ respiratory rate and temperature must be monitored when the temperature reaches 85 degrees. Previously, only a visual inspection was required when temperature reached 90 degrees.

Guidelines on caring for animals are now part of the ordinance. The City’s tourism director will biannually review a tour company’s certificate of serviceability to verify the animal’s health is in good standing with a licensed veterinarian and conduct inspection to make sure the horse are healthy and being cared for. The ordinance also requires horse-drawn carriage companies to train employees in equine first aid.

Other changes include:

• Accidents requiring a police report shall be reported to the tourism director within 24 hours
• The issuance of commercial decals are now tied to annual vehicle inspections

• Horse and carriages cannot be left unattended in horse-drawn carriage stands and horse cannot be separated from the carriage except during an emergency

• A structured training program for the tour guide driving the carriage and horse

• Any horse-drawn carriage company whose operators receive five or more citations within a 30-day period will be subject to a fine ranging from $500-$1,000.

This is the first revision to the ordinance since it was created in 1977, the spokesperson say.

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