Robin Rhodes retiring from Georgia Press Association leadership post

Robin Rhodes

ATLANTA – Thirty years ago, the newspaper industry was just beginning to feel the first ripples of what would become a massive wave of change brought on by the internet.

That same year – 1993 – Robin Rhodes was stepping up from a staff position at the Georgia Press Association (GPA) to take the organization’s helm as executive director. Thanks to her leadership, newspaper executives across the state made the transition to the digital world smoothly instead of fighting it.

“The internet has made a huge difference in the way newspapers are produced,” said Rhodes, who will retire as the GPA’s full-time leader this fall. “We’ve had to move the legal [notices] online. That was a huge accomplishment.

“The members realized that had to be done or they would lose that business. We were probably one of the first states to have 100% participation.”

Rhodes was a natural fit for the GPA when she joined the association in 1986. She had been working for a company that hosted trade shows, including the Atlanta Home Show, where she sold booths to real-estate vendors.

Rhodes got a phone call from then-GPA Executive Director Kathy Berry asking if she’d be interested in handling arrangements for the association’s annual convention.

“Going to the GPA involved pretty much the same thing,” Rhodes said.

When Berry left the association in 1993, Rhodes applied for and landed the job as her successor.

Along with adapting to the internet era, Rhodes said a major challenge of her tenure in office has been coping with large corporations buying up local newspapers.

“They’re from out of state. They don’t care about the community,” she said. “It’s not the same presence as local ownership.”

One of the executive director’s key roles is representing the newspaper industry’s interests with state government leaders. That involves wearing out a lot of shoe leather in the hallways of the Gold Dome during annual General Assembly sessions.

“Robin Rhodes has more connections than Georgia has pine trees,” said Alan NeSmith, regional publisher of The Northeast Georgian in Cornelia and past president of the GPA. “Her relationships with influential leaders and hardworking newspaper people across the state has been the bedrock of our beloved association.”

Rhodes said Atlanta-based Troutman Peppers Strategies and its principal, Ragen Marsh, have been highly effective representing the GPA at the state Capitol. She also gave a shout-out to the various executives at member newspapers.

“Their relationships with local legislators has been tremendous,” she said.

GPA’s strong working relationship with Georgia decision makers paid off this year when the General Assembly passed and Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation allowing newspapers to raise their rates for legal notices. House Bill 254 cleared the legislature with just one “no” vote.

“[Newspapers] hadn’t had an increase in 27 years,” Rhodes said. “It was time.”

Kemp had parting words of praise for Rhodes in congratulating her on her retirement.

“For decades, her leadership has helped bring awareness of important developments to communities all across our state,” the governor said. “She has played an essential role in informing Georgians of what’s going on, both locally and statewide.”

Rhodes credited Capitol Beat News Service, which the GPA launched nearly four years ago, with contributing to that mission of informing Georgians about the latest happenings in state government.

“The small newspapers don’t have the opportunity to have somebody at the Capitol,” she said. “That was a void across our state. You ask any newspaper out there, and it has a lifeline to the Capitol.”

Rhodes isn’t stepping away from the GPA completely. She plans to spend the next two years in a part-time capacity,

“I’ll be giving up the day to day and working with Ragen and the [GPA] board, which is a great opportunity for me,” she said. “It keeps me involved.”

Georgia communities land federal public safety grants

ATLANTA – The Justice Department is awarding more than $6.4 million in grants to local civic groups, governments, and law enforcement agencies in Georgia to support public safety and community justice activities.

Fifteen grants will go to recipients in the cities of Albany, Americus, Athens, Butler, Columbus, Macon, Thomasville, Tifton, and Warner Robins.

“These grants address many of the greatest concerns our citizens have today, which boil down to safer communities for all,” said Peter Leary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. “This kind of support for our community and law enforcement partners’ efforts goes hand in hand with our focused efforts to reduce violence and hold the most violent offenders accountable.”

Three of the grants are worth nearly $1 million each. In Albany, a group called This WORKS Inc. will partner with the Dougherty County School System to provide a behavioral health program that will include antiviolence education.

The Muscogee County School District in Columbus will use its grant funds to support efforts to prevent group-based retaliatory violence.

The Taylor County School District in Butler will put its grant toward improving school safety and increasing access to mental health care for students.

Athens-based Area Committees to Improve Opportunities Now Inc. will receive nearly $785,000 to support a 36-county program providing employment coaching and mentoring for young people before and after their release from the criminal justice system.

Thomasville will use a grant of more than $435,000 to launch a law enforcement and mental health co-responder program for real-time responses to emergencies.

Macon-Bibb County will put a $385,000 grant toward expanding its domestic violence unit by adding an investigator and prosecutor.

The city of Columbus will use a grant of nearly $120,000 to buy protective gear for law enforcement and jail personnel, add two K-9 units and provide a new smart app giving residents early warnings of emergencies.

The grants are being provided through the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs.

State Sen. Colton Moore suspended from Republican Caucus

State Sen. Colton Moore

ATLANTA – The Georgia Senate Republican Caucus has suspended freshman Sen. Colton Moore after he unsuccessfully pushed for a special legislative session to investigate Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s prosecution of former President Donald Trump.

Moore, R-Trenton, mounted his bid for a special session despite Gov. Brian Kemp publicly dismissing the idea and over the objections of the other 32 Republican state senators.

In a statement issued Thursday, the caucus accused Moore of using false statements to whip up public sentiment against those opposed to a special session .

“Senator Moore has a right to his opinion,” the statement read. “However, during his advocacy for his ill-conceived proposal, Senator Moore has knowingly misled people across Georgia and our nation, causing unnecessary tension and hostility while putting his caucus colleagues and their families at risk of personal harm.”

Moore drew national attention with his call for a special legislative session. He argued lawmakers could override Kemp’s objections by signing a petition demanding a special session, but he only convinced two other legislators to sign it.

At a news conference early this month that drew a raucous crowd of sign-waving supporters, Moore accused his legislative colleagues of “cowering” rather than stepping up and insisting on a special session.

Kemp had rejected the idea one week earlier during a news conference of his own, arguing Willis had not done anything illegal.

The caucus statement went on to accuse Moore of violating caucus rules on multiple occasions.

“[Moore] was given every opportunity to simply adhere to the rules going forward,” the statement read. “Unfortunately, he has refused and was suspended by leadership from participating in the caucus until he agrees to abide by the rules, which he voted for at the beginning of his term.”

Moore was elected to the Senate last year, succeeding longtime Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, representing Senate District 53 in Northwest Georgia.

The suspension from the Republican Caucus does not preclude Moore from continuing to represent his constituents in the Senate. The suspension is indefinite.

Government shutdown threatens to hit Georgians hard

Correction: This story originally reported that U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens, was among House Republicans holding out against a short-term spending bill. On Friday, Clyde voted in favor of a bill that would have kept the government funded through Oct. 31.

ATLANTA – With the federal government barreling toward a shutdown later this week, Georgia Democrats are warning of lost paychecks for service members and federal civilian employees, interrupted Social Security and welfare benefits, and closed national parks.

While the U.S. Senate is moving forward with debate on a bipartisan stopgap funding bill aimed at keeping the government open after the end of the federal fiscal year at midnight Saturday, a small group of far-right House Republicans is blocking attempts by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to get a floor vote on a short-term spending bill.

The group of GOP holdouts includes Georgia Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Rome.

If the government shuts down at midnight Saturday, nearly 64,000 Georgia service members could be forced to work without pay, according to a news release from the Democratic Party of Georgia. More than 167,000 Georgians who are federal civilian employees in jobs considered essential also may have to work without being paid.

Georgia seniors could see a delay in Social Security checks, while more than 220,000 low-income Georgia mothers, infants and older children could lose monthly food benefits.

“It’s shameful that while Georgia Democrats are working in lockstep to deliver for Georgia families, Georgia Republicans … are risking Georgians’ livelihoods with a devastating government shutdown in pursuit of their extreme agenda,” Georgia Democratic Party spokesperson Ellie Schwartz said this week.

“Republicans are forcing families to brace for two extremes: a government shutdown that would devastate Georgians or extreme cuts that would raise costs and slash funding for child care, schools, veteran services and more.”

For their part, the Republican holdouts are looking to use the budget impasse as leverage to force spending cuts upon reluctant Democrats and push other priorities.

For Greene, it’s cutting off further U.S. funding for Ukraine. President Joe Biden is seeking another $24 billion in additional security and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

“For weeks, I’ve been asking for Ukraine funding to be a standalone vote, not cash hidden inside of other bills. For a moment, it seemed like that would happen. But it didn’t,” Greene said this week in a statement aimed at her Northwest Georgia constituents.

“This means billions of your hard-earned money will be at the disposal of Joe Biden, his State Department, and his [Defense Department] to be spent on his proxy war against Russia.”

Congressional Democrats and many Republicans argue Ukraine must prevail in its war against Russia or Russian President Vladimir Putin will set his sights next on one or more NATO countries, forcing the U.S. to commit American ground troops.

Other GOP holdouts are objecting to the budget process itself, the perennial 11th-hour scramble in Congress to pass a single omnibus bill each year that covers the vast majority of spending, rather than the more orderly system of taking up the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund federal agencies one at a time.

But Democrats say such qualms aren’t worth shutting down the government.

“Make no mistake: If the government shuts down, leaving thousands of Georgians without the paychecks or services they rely on … Republicans will be squarely to blame,” Schwartz said.

Five rural Georgia school districts getting grants for innovative programs

ATLANTA – Five school districts in rural Georgia will receive $20,000 grants to pilot innovative educational programs, the state Department of Education announced Thursday.

The Clay, Crisp, Dooly, Macon, and Sumpter county school systems will get grants from the nonprofit Georgia Foundation for Public Education (GFPE) funded through a dollar-for-dollar state income tax credit program.

The five school districts were among school systems located in counties with populations of 35,000 or fewer invited to participate in a series of workshops that guided them through the process of developing innovative programs. Following the workshops, districts were given an opportunity to apply for the pilot program.

“The Georgia Foundation for Public Education is so proud to support these five districts and the innovative projects they have planned to expand educational opportunities for their students,” GFPE Executive Director Paige Pushkin said.

“These grants will fund creative, meaningful, and much-needed programs for students in rural Georgia. I can’t wait to see all that is accomplished.”

The Clay County School District will use the grant money to launch a mentoring program for third- through fifth-grade male students, a group that data found lacking in robust vocabulary usage, which hinders reading comprehension.

The Crisp County School District plans to open an early learning academy at the local elementary school to help young students recover from the learning loss they suffered when child-care centers were forced to close during the pandemic.

In Dooly County, the school system will use the grant to boost its academic rewards system to incentivize students who, in some cases, have been found to lack motivation. Students at the gifted level, those with perfect attendance, and selected “students of the month” will take part in monthly field trips to local businesses to gain career exposure.

The Macon County School District will launch an intervention program for at-risk students entering the ninth grade. The program will feature a mentoring component through which students will participate in college and industry visits.

The grant to Sumter County Schools will fund a program geared for faculty and staff members, following a recent survey that found many showing signs of decreased job satisfaction and burnout. A mental health and wellbeing space will be designated at each of the district’s five schools, featuring calm lighting, comfortable seating, and exercise equipment.