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Premature release of early voting totals in Albany municipal election under state investigation
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ALBANY — The Georgia Secretary of State’s office confirmed on Wednesday that it is investigating reports of early voting totals for three Albany municipal races being released prior to the close of Tuesday’s election.

The vote totals were spotted on Tuesday by at least two reporters who were covering the races for the Albany City Commission in Wards II, III and V.

In one instance, Black Voters Matter representative Kenneth Florence showed the totals for the Ward V race to a Herald reporter at about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. The totals on the phone screen showed incumbent Commissioner Bob Langstaff with 271 votes, Colette Jenkins with 256 and RyShari Burley with 15. Those correspond with the totals for early voting in the race, which was won by Langstaff.

“Yes, we are investigating,” said Walter Jones, communications manager for voter education in the Secretary of State’s office. “We had gotten word of it during the day yesterday (Tuesday), which allowed us to send an investigator to the site.”

Florence, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the Dougherty County School Board, told a reporter the results were available on the county’s Board of Registration and Elections website.

On Wednesday, Dougherty Elections Supervisor Ginger Nickerson disputed the assertion that votes were available on that website.

“The Board of Elections doesn’t have a website,” she said.

Nickerson said she could not comment further on the investigation other than confirming that a report of the allegations about individuals having numbers from the early voting period was made to the Secretary of State. She also said she could not say when early votes were counted for the election.

“That’s all part of the investigation,” he said.

Jones said a television reporter who called the office reported seeing a tape of totals from City Commission races on Tuesday. If the investigation indicates that a violation occurred, the case could be presented to the State Election Board, which meets several times a year, to determine what, if any, action should be taken, up to referral to the district attorney for a criminal case.

In a case sheet provided, the office identifies the nature of the investigation as “Elections-Tabulation/Reporting Problems.”

Georgia’s legal code states that it is unlawful to disclose to another person or receive any results of vote tabulation of absentee ballots prior to the close of polls.

On Wednesday, Florence said he received the vote tallies on his phone from a person he does not know.

“I have no idea who it is,” he said. “I had no idea. I don’t know her at all.”

Florence said he found out that sharing the information was illegal when he received a call from a candidate in the Ward II race.

“I talked to a guy yesterday” at the Secretary of State’s office, and I am cooperating “100 percent,” with the investigation, he said. “I shared the information. I just hate this. I had no idea.”

In the election, incumbent Ward V Commissioner Langstaff was re-elected to another four-year term, earning 2,038 votes, or 56.62 percent of ballots cast. Jenkins finished with 1,154 votes and Burley received 56 votes.

In the Ward II race, Jalen Johnson won in his bid to replace incumbent Commissioner Matt Fuller, who did not seek re-election, garnering 903 votes, or 53.71 percent of the votes cast. Former commission member Bobby Coleman finished in second place with 260 votes, and Adam Inyang collected 158 votes.

In Ward III there will be a runoff election on Nov. 30 between incumbent Commissioner B.J. Fletcher, whose 297 votes placed her in second place behind Vilnis Gaines, who finished with 435 votes. Daa’iyah Salaam received 279 votes in the race.

Turnout for the election was low, with 12.35 percent of registered voters turning out in Ward II, 13.28 percent in Ward III and 22.07 percent in Ward V.

“The election was, I think it was good,” Nickerson said. “We had a good day. The turnout was rather low, unfortunately.”

All eligible Ward III voters, even those who did not cast ballots on Tuesday, are eligible to vote in the runoff contest, but there will be no open registration for those who are not currently registered ahead of the election.


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Goober harvest nears completion
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MOULTRIE — Michaela Adderton bags peanuts on Wednesday at DeMott Peanut Co. in Colquitt County. After a wet harvest season, farmers have dug most of the legumes out of the ground. Georgia is the largest peanut-growing state in the nation, and the 2020 crop had a $1.27 billion farm gate value for growers in the state.


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Lee police plan to utilize automated speed cameras in school zones
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LEESBURG — Beginning in January of 2022, speeding motorists in Leesburg school zones may receive a citation by mail for exceeding posted speed limits.

This includes one hour before classes begin, throughout the school day while school is in session, and until one hour after classes end (between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.). The city of Leesburg has enlisted Georgia-based RedSpeed-USA to install and maintain automated speed cameras in select Leesburg school zones. This decision comes following a study of vehicle speeds in the city of Leesburg performed by an independent highway engineering firm and concern about the number of vehicle accidents during school transit hours.

During the 2021 school year, the Leesburg Police responded to 104 motor vehicle accidents inside the city limits during school-traffic hours. 52.8% of these were drivers ages 16-23, with 9.6% resulting in injuries to at least one occupant. Collectively, this comprises more than 70% of the accidents occurring in the city limits annually.

Leesburg is a school community, and for many years the city of Leesburg administration and Lee County School Board have relied solely on the Leesburg Police Department to manually enforce traffic laws in a growing number of school zones. The sleeping population of Leesburg is slightly more than 3,000 live-in residents, with the daytime population exceeding 10,000 during school days. The Lee County School System student body and school staff account for more than 70% of this daytime population. Pair this with the non-centralized layout of the school system and city streets with traffic volumes exceeding 700 vehicles per hour [per a 2019 D.A.R.T.S. School-Connectivity-Study], and this leads to significant traffic problems. Vehicle operation becomes competitive to do everything from get to the front of the line, beat the buses, or just to simply merge into traffic or navigate an intersection.

When driving becomes competitive, physiological stress goes up, and acceleration, braking levels and pressures increase. Speed is a contributing factor in every accident that results from one or more drivers not having time to react to, or counter-maneuver, to maintain control and avoid a collision. Thus, it comes as no surprise that speed has been a contributing factor in many of these increasing number of accidents.

For the past 25 years that I have been with the Leesburg Police Department, we have manually enforced these school zones to slow people down. Each year, as the school system continues to grow, this becomes more and more of a challenge. One-third of my full-time sworn staff are state-certified SROs [School-Resource-Officers] that are assigned solely to the schools Monday-Friday, and this accounts for more than 60% of my day-shift officers.

Good officers are getting harder and harder to recruit, and everyone in front-line law enforcement is working short-handed. Our children in these schools are our most precious asset, but as our call volumes increase and out-run our manpower, our ability to maintain officers in these school zones is diminished, and I feel it is much more important for my SROs to be on the bus ramps, student and teacher parking lots, and monitoring car pick-up lines in the early mornings and afternoons instead of leaving the schools while students are present to enforce traffic regulations.

When I was first approached about automated speed cameras after the state legislature approved them in 2018, I was resistant. But In February of this year, we had a speed study evaluation performed in 11 school zones by an independent engineering firm and the results were staggering. The only factor we changed was directing my officers not to sit stationary as a visual deterrent in any of our school zones for one week while the engineers conducted the test for best accurate results.

In just one school day, the results indicated 3,217 motorists exceeding the posted speed limits by 10 mph or more across all 11 zones between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. while school was in session. (That is not a typo, 3,217 violations.) In fact, six of these motorists were timed inside one school zone exceeding 65 mph or more during either the morning and afternoon 25 mph reduction time, which meets the statutory qualifications for reckless driving. I know, this sounds completely astonishing after only having officers not sit in school zones for one week. I was in absolute shock as I reviewed the times and speed table graphs, and I will be happy to share the hard-copy results with anyone interested.

At this time, we have installed these cameras only in the school zones adjacent to Lee County High School, the Ninth-Grade Campus, and the middle school because these are the schools most justified in which students walk or bike to and from school or have athletic or other outdoor classes that require crossing a roadway or are not secured by fencing or other physical barriers.

We want to take every opportunity to let the community become aware of these devices before we begin issuing citations, and thus have set the system up to issue solely warnings for the remainder of the year until classes return on Jan. 3. The cameras will only be in operation on school days between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you receive a School Zone Speed Notice in the mail prior to this date, it will not have any fine and should be considered a reminder to slow down in these school zones.

The cameras will operate on school days. They will be set to enforce the morning and afternoon 25 mph reductions with a threshold that exceeds 10 mph over that limit, and to enforce the regular posted speed limit during the remainder of the school day between these hours with a minimum threshold buffer of 10 mph.

Unlike a citation issued by an officer (which by statute carries points and can double fines), citations issued by the cameras will be fixed at $75 for a first offense, and $125 for a subsequent offense. They will carry no points, and thus have no effect on driver’s license or auto-insurance premiums. By statute, the citations are handled as a civil action by the Georgia Department of Revenue similar to that of an automated paid-parking facility or toll booth.

Citations will be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle that will include a photo of the vehicle and license plate, and a link to view a video of the vehicle speeding through the enforcement zone. Failure to pay the citation can result in a suspension of the vehicle registration. Under the statute in which the offense is handled as a civil action against the vehicle registration, the vehicle owner is held responsible just like a toll booth. However, there is also a procedure in place in which a vehicle owner can complete a sworn affidavit to identify an alternate operator and alleviate his or herself from liability.


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Sam, Kara Shugart honorary Phoebe Lights of Love tree-lighters
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ALBANY – This holiday season, the Phoebe Foundation will honor local cancer patients and their families with the organization’s annual Lights of Love tree lighting ceremony. Sam and Kara Shugart of Albany have been named the honorary tree lighters for this year’s ceremony, which will take place virtually on Dec. 2 at 7 p.m.

As one of the founders of Cancer Ties, a local cancer support nonprofit, Sam Shugart was already familiar with Phoebe’s outstanding cancer team when he was diagnosed in 2017 with Stage 4 tonsillar cancer.

“I had a mass on my neck. I went to a doctor. They tested, tested, tested, tested and said, ‘It’s absolutely not cancer,’” Shugart said.

But, they were wrong.

After his cancer diagnosis was confirmed, Shugart says he could’ve probably gone to any oncology department in the country, but he chose Phoebe Cancer Center, right here in his hometown.

“I vetted and vetted and researched and here’s the deal: At Phoebe Putney, if you’ve got cancer, you’re in the right building. We have an awesome cancer center,” he said.

Just a few months before his diagnosis, Sam met Kara, who had recently returned to Albany.

“I told her, ‘I don’t blame you if you walk.’ And, of course, she did the exact polar opposite and was an incredible caregiver,” Shugart recalled.

Sam and Kara planned to get married in early 2020, but the COVID pandemic derailed those plans, and then Kara was diagnosed with breast cancer last fall. Sam, of course, knew just what to do, and within days Kara began an intense treatment regimen that included chemotherapy, cold-cap therapy and a double mastectomy.

While both Sam and Kara say they feel blessed to have strong ties to area medical experts, they both agree that at the end of the day, the level of care they received from Phoebe’s cancer team is something the group provides to any patient.

“As far as having everybody’s phone numbers, I felt like the doctors gave them out to any and everybody,” Kara said. “They genuinely care about people.”

Finally married, Sam and Kara are both on the road to recovery and say they’re honored to be this year’s Phoebe Foundation Lights of Love tree lighters.

“This provides yet another opportunity to give back and help others,” Sam said.

The other honorary tree lighters are Alex Riccardi-Turner of Americus at Phoebe Sumter and Carole Marchant of Sylvester at Phoebe Worth. Their stories of hope, along with Sam and Kara’s, can be found by visiting www.lights-of-love.org.

Started in 1983 by the Junior Woman’s Club of Albany, Lights of Love has since raised more than $1 million for cancer services and patients at Phoebe Cancer Center. This year’s donations will benefit the Light House, a place of respite and comfort for cancer patients throughout southwest Georgia as they prepare for and undergo treatment.

The Lights of Love trees are special for their symbolic white lights in memory and honor of individuals. For each light purchased for a suggested $25 donation, a card is sent to those honored or to family members. To donate, call (229) 312-GIVE or visit lights-of-love.org.

The public is invited to watch the Lights of Love ceremony on Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. on the Phoebe Foundation’s Facebook page (@phoebefoundation). For more information, contact Phoebe Foundation at (229) 312-4483.


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