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Local_news
City considers 'pour tax' for bars, restaurants
 tylerjones  / 
 11.15.18

A cocktail in Brunswick may soon cost a little bit more, if a plan circulating around city hall comes to fruition.

City commissioners are considering a 3 percent excise tax on the sale of poured liquor drinks in establishments inside the city limits, said Brian Corry, city attorney.

Glynn County already assesses such a tax, commonly referred to as a “pour tax,” but Brunswick has never followed suit, Corry said.

“I do not recall ever getting this far (with an ordinance change),” Corry said Wednesday. “Not for the practical nature of implementation, at least.”

Corry began drafting the ordinance after Commissioner Vincent Williams, North Ward, learned about the excise tax at a Georgia Municipal Association conference on finding new city revenues.

“We were looking at how to fund projects,” Williams said Wednesday. “That was one of them. I inquired through our city attorney if we’d been doing that, and evidently, we hadn’t.”

Williams said he was looking to find new sources of city revenues, other than raising property taxes.

“There’s a lot of projects out there we could get done if we had additional revenue streams,” he said. “Without going up on property taxes, this is one of the things we can look at.”

It’s unclear exactly how much money a 3 percent pour tax could generate for Brunswick. Kathy Mills, city finance director, said Wednesday there were 17 establishments licensed to pour liquor drinks for on-premise consumption in Brunswick.

One of those is Tipsy McSway’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill on Newcastle Street downtown. Owner Susan Bates said Wednesday she’s concerned an additional tax to keep up with will only further burden her business.

“I don’t think people have an idea the number of taxes businesses are responsible for,” she said. “Between payroll, state, federal, unemployment — it’s not the glamorous side of business and it takes a lot of time.

“When someone says they want to add another tax, my knee-jerk reaction is to say, ‘No!’. There’s just so much everybody wants (in taxes). Three percent might be my (profit) margin one month.”

She also has concerns about how a new excise tax would be collected. The draft city ordinance proposes the tax be collected monthly, and Bates wondered if she would be able to pay it online, or would be more burdensome.

“With all the things I have to do personally, and all the tax forms I have to do, to add another to that seems unnecessary,” she said. “Is it worth 3 percent? Is the city prepared for this?”

Williams said he thinks businesses and customers will grow accustomed to the new tax, and after a while it will become the norm.

“If (a cocktail) is $3, then this would make it $3.09,” he said. “Do you think patrons are going to argue about a nine-cent difference? They may at first, but they’ll eventually get used to it. They pay it in the county already.”


Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News 

The shrimp boat Lady Denise sits in the St. Simons Sound as golfers tee off on the 10th hole on Sea Island Golf Club’s Plantation Course on Wednesday. The tournament officially tees off today at Sea Island’s Seaside and Plantation courses. It was a chilly and wet day on Wednesday, and the weather is expected to be similar for today’s first round.


Local_news
Settlement conference scheduled for ACLU lawsuit
 wwolfe  / 
 11.15.18

The ACLU lawsuit against Glynn County for its misdemeanor bond practices is headed to a settlement conference in Savannah, according to an order Friday by U.S. District Court Judge Stan Baker.

The suit, filed in March, states the county’s misdemeanor bond system is unconstitutional because it obstructs a detainee’s ability to bond out of jail if they or their families cannot secure the funds needed for pretrial release.

Events took a bit of a turn in the following months, when Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law Senate Bill 407. In a preliminary injunction hearing Aug. 29, Glynn County Magistrate Judge Alex Atwood testified that he’s taken steps to ensure that he and others responsible for administering the new state bond law took into account the financial considerations of those arrested for misdemeanor offenses.

However, in a brief supporting the motion for preliminary injunction, the plaintiffs argue “courts need only apply a standard due process analysis where a ‘standing bail order guarantees release to indigents within 48 hours,’” citing prior cases.

The plaintiffs go on to state, “Here, heightened scrutiny is required because the Glynn County (standing bond order) does not ‘guarantee’ release within 48 hours, but instead authorizes preventive detention for a host of broadly defined reasons…. In practice, misdemeanor arrestees remain detained after their trial appearance on bonds they cannot afford…. Further, defendants’ (standing bond order) does not guarantee release to indigents arrested on a warrant within 48 hours. They instead delay release for up to 72 hours.

“Defendants’ post-arrest system does not satisfy heightened scrutiny.”

The brief by the defense contends that the plaintiffs don’t even have standing to sue, because they have “sustained no prior constitutional harm from defendants and have not alleged any imminent threat of future harm.”

The defense also reiterates their argument that Glynn County and Sheriff Neal Jump aren’t the proper entities to sue, even if the plaintiffs had standing, “because neither of them is the policymaker with respect to the practices at issue.”

In his order, Baker lays out the process for the settlement conference: “At the mediation, the court will first hold separate conferences with each party, with counsel present. Each party and counsel should be prepared to engage in a discussion of the factual and legal issues of the case. Separate, confidential caucuses will then be held with counsel for each party — and, at times, the parties or a party’s representative(s).”

The conference is scheduled for Dec. 6 at 9 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Savannah.


Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News 

Zach Johnson watches his tee shot on Sea Island Golf Club’s Plantation Course 17th hole.


Local_news
EPA regional administrator indicted
 wwolfe  / 
 11.15.18

Trey Glenn, who came into the administrator job for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 4 in November 2017, was indicted Friday by a Jefferson County, Ala., grand jury for “multiple counts of conspiracy and/or complicity” with business partner Scott Phillips to violate Alabama’s state ethics act.

The indictments of Glenn and Phillips were announced Tuesday. EPA Region 4 covers Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Glenn was the Trump administration’s first EPA regional administrator appointment.

A news release from the Alabama Ethics Commission states the charges related to Phillips and Glenn involve violations of laws preventing use of office for personal gain, soliciting and/or receiving a “thing of value” from a principal, lobbyists or subordinate of a lobbyist, and receiving money in addition to that received in one’s official capacity.

Glenn had served previously as director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management from 2005-09, and before that as director of the state’s water regulatory office. He also worked for seven years with Alabama Power, a division of the Southern Company, which is also the parent company of Georgia Power.

From 2014-17, Glenn and Phillips worked together as principals of Southeast Engineering & Consulting, when Phillips was still an appointee on the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, a board that oversees the ADEM. Both men, in turn, conducted work for the law firm Balch & Bingham and a client of theirs, the Drummond Company, which owned ABC Coke.

Drummond and Balch — along with Phillips and Glenn — worked to thwart efforts by Birmingham environmental advocacy organization GASP and other community efforts in north Birmingham and Tarrant to put the 35th Avenue Superfund site on the National Priorities List. The community advocates also sought to expand that Superfund site to cover the Inglenook neighborhood and part of Tarrant to deal with “elevated levels of arsenic, lead and benzo(a)pyrene” found in the soil from ABC Coke’s activity.

A federal corruption trial this year revealed Balch partner Joel Gilbert and Drummond vice president David Roberson conspired to bribe Alabama state Rep. Oliver Robinson to halt efforts by the community and the EPA to put the 35th Avenue site on the NPL and expand the site.

According to AL.com, “One exhibit in that trial showed that Phillips proposed to ‘hijack’ a north Birmingham community organization that had been working with the EPA to clean up neighborhoods there. During his testimony, Phillips said that by ‘hijack’ he meant ‘work with.’”

Further exhibits showed a memo sent to Phillips in 2014 that suggested Robinson be their community liaison.

Also, AL.com reported that trial testimony revealed that while Phillips was on the AEMC, he sent an advance copy of a presentation by the aforementioned environmental group, GASP, “to Glenn, who then forwarded those materials to Gilbert at Bach.”

A criminal information document filed against Robinson by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama stated Balch paid the legislator through his foundation. In exchange for that money, he was to use his position as a state representative, vice-chairman of the Jefferson County legislative delegation and as a community leader to further the cause of Drummond against the EPA, through its legal representation at Balch.

As an example, according to the document filed against Robinson, Gilbert wrote letters that Robinson “would and did print verbatim on his official Alabama House of Representatives letterhead and sign before delivering to members of the AEMC and ADEM director.”

When the trial concluded in July, the jury in the case found Gilbert and Roberson guilty of three counts of wire fraud and one count each of conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to launder money and converting the property of another to one’s own use. Gilbert received a sentence of five years in prison, two years supervised release and ordered to pay a $25,000 fine, while Roberson received two years and six months in prison, one year of supervised release and a $25,000 fine.

Robinson pleaded guilty in September to four counts of wire fraud and one count each of conspiracy to defraud the United States, converting the property of another to one’s own use and tax evasion. He received a sentence of two years and nine months in prison and three years supervised release. Robinson also has to forfeit to the federal government $390,783 cash.

Phillips and Glenn, though a law firm, said they would fight the charges, AL.com reported. According to The Hill, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said at an EPA event Tuesday he’d just learned of the news and had yet to talk to Glenn.

In a news release at the time of Glenn’s appointment to the EPA, Georgia Environmental Protection Director Richard Dunn said the EPD looked forward to working with Glenn. The EPD told The News on Wednesday that the agency has no comment on the allegations.

Last year, The News asked local environmental leaders their outlook following Glenn’s appointment, considering his past going into the job.

Contacted Wednesday, David Kyler of the Center for a Sustainable Coast said such an alleged breach of the public trust isn’t unprecedented, but “deviation from enforcing environmental safeguards for any reason” shouldn’t be tolerated.

“On the other hand, we cannot allow these troubling examples of corrupt public officials to degrade our commitment to applying the law as intended,” he said. “Despite these nefarious practices, there’s no justification for presuming that ‘things are (irreversibly) getting worse’ — or if there’s any such trend, that it’s not reversible.

“Citizen involvement and appropriate corrective actions are essential to preventing long-term decline in environmental protection.”