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Robinson accused of violating election law
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Douglas County District 2 Commissioner Kelly Robinson is facing allegations that he improperly spent $3,114.92 in campaign contributions for the 2020 election cycle and may have used taxpayer money to pay for campaign work.

Robinson, who serves as vice chairman of the Board of Commissioners, won a fourth term last year after defeating two Democratic primary opponents and drawing no Republican opposition in the November general election.

A preliminary hearing was scheduled before the state ethics commission on Thursday.

During the hearing, an attorney for Robinson told the ethics commission — formally known as the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission — Robinson had received an amended set of complaints in the mail earlier in the week.

The attorney asked the commission for a continuance, which the board granted.

David Emadi, executive secretary of the commission, said Robinson’s new preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, June 24 at 10 a.m.

Documents related to the case were obtained by the Sentinel via an Open Records Request, including the complaints against Robinson, campaign disclosure reports, bank records, and correspondence between an ethics commission attorney and Robinson.

An amended complaint filed Jan. 28, 2021 spells out the allegations.

Specifically, the complaint alleges Robinson “improperly utilized $3,114.92 in campaign contributions which were not utilized to defray ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with the campaign for elective office spanning from December 2, 2019 to the present …”

There are 14 ATM withdrawals and payments by Cash app and Square that the complaint alleges Robinson failed to disclose as required by the state Campaign Finance Act in his regular Campaign Contribution Disclosure Reports (CCDRs). The complaint also alleges Robinson spent $1,252.97 of campaign funds at Publix in Lithia Springs on April 6, 2020, “to pay for an expense that was not a necessary and ordinary campaign expense” and that he failed to disclose the expenditure as required by state law on a CCDR.

The issue over whether Robinson was using the county to pay for campaign work involves Anna Teal, a contract worker with the county who is paid to do social media outreach for Robinson’s commission district.

Robinson lists payments of $1,250 and $675 to Teal on campaign disclosure reports where he shows her occupation as “social media consultant.” However, Robinson’s bank records don’t show either payment to Teal.

In a letter to ethics commission senior staff attorney Joseph Cusack dated Feb. 12, 2021, Robinson argues that the omissions of expenditures from his CCDRs were corrected and an amended filing was submitted last fall. He also argues that state law doesn’t prohibit “use of an ATM to facilitate a transaction.”

However, the ATM withdrawals and other omitted expenditures could be ruled as violations of state law since they weren’t disclosed until after the ethics commission began its investigation. Robinson’s letter does not directly address the complaint’s accusation of improper use of campaign funds and other allegations.

'Finally get to be brothers' — Gammills' ties to fallen deputy bring men together after seven decades
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Don Gammill calls it “faith” that brought him and his half-brother, James, together.

The two grew up in different states and never knew each other existed.

A couple months ago, they met for the first time in person.

James, 81, grew up in Mississippi with 10 other siblings along with their mother following the divorce of their parents.

James’ father, Haven McKinley Gammill, moved to Georgia and remarried. The couple had two sons — Don and Del.

After over 76 years, the brothers finally met and have become friends.

“It is great, it really is,” said Don, who is 77. “I didn’t know I had another family. We have been estranged for many years. ... It’s just by faith that we finally get to be brothers.”

All that changed when James’ son, Mark, spotted a marker honoring the memory of former Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Blake Gammill.

In February 2005, Blake was the first Douglas County deputy killed in the line of duty when he was fatally shot serving a warrant on Highway 5.

Don and his wife, Nancy, had just moved to the county from Mississippi 15 years ago when Mark inquired if they were related to Deputy Gammill.

After doing some research and with the help of the sheriff’s department, Don, discovered he was Blake’s uncle.

Don reached out to Del to no avail.

“It was a while back, and he wasn’t interested in meeting,” James’ wife, Janice said.

The couple did not press the issue until they finally got some contact information about Don.

After reaching out to Don, the brothers met for the first time earlier this year. They now text each other and talk on a regular basis, and have had lunch on a couple more occasions.

Del has since inquired about meeting Don.

“It is wonderful to finally get to meet my brothers,” said James, who has only one other sister still alive. He is the youngest of his 11 siblings.

They are proving that its never too late to unite with a family member.

Both say their only regret is not knowing each other a lot sooner.

“All three have some medical issues so it is not known how long they will still be around,” Janice said. “It is wonderful that they are connecting. James is excited about having a living brother. It has just been James and his sister for a long time.”

The brothers’ sons have also started to form a relationship. Don says the sons are both musically gifted and share that common joy.

“If it’s God’s will, we will still have a lot of good times to share,” Don said. “It’s been almost 80 years since we have united. It is fantastic.”

Normalcy returning as churches offer limited in-person seating for Easter
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Live-streaming church services has become the new normal for many worshippers on Sunday mornings.

However, this Easter Sunday could offer some challenges for worship leaders on what is commonly the most well-attended church service of the year.

Several churches have in-person worship scheduled along with their livestream broadcasts.

With people continuing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, some worship leaders expect an uptick in attendance on Sunday.

“We anticipate a little surge but we want to make sure we keep everybody safe,” said the Rev. Edwin Jones of Bright Star United Methodist Church. “We are going to monitor the situation.”

Jones said his church has been averaging about 50 worshipers on a typical Sunday since going to in-person services about five months ago. He said that they could safely get about 60 in the worship hall.

Douglasville First United Methodist Church has capped its services off at 120 worshipers.

Anyone wishing to attend services had to make a reservation online for one of its three services.

The Rev. Scott Brown said they have averaged between 60-70 people on a typical Sunday since returning to in-person worship.

“We have room to add more if needed,” Brown said.

He said attendance has been rising, and thinks Easter is the target date most worshipers will use to come back.

“It has been a pretty steady increase,” Brown said.

Last Easter, the entire state was under shelter-in-place orders from Gov. Brian Kemp, and services were all done digitally.

Worshipers have three options at Shepherd of the Hills United Methodist Church — in-person (limited to 50 people), livestream or in the parking lot listening to FM frequency.

The Rev. Matt Murphy said Sunday’s 10:30 a.m. in-person service will be limited to only 50 people.

“Since going to in-person worship in July, we have had no major problems,” he said.

Shepherd of the Hills will do a drive-by Easter egg hunt on Saturday.

All the churches require a mask and social distancing, according to leaders.

Pastor Greg Towler of Crossroads Church said having an in-person worship service is important to most worshipers. He said he does understand some people’s reluctance to gather in groups at this time because of the pandemic.

“To me, there is nothing like being in the presence of the Lord with other believers,” Towler said. “I think when you gather as a group, you sense the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

BOE approves second round of bonuses
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The Douglas County Board of Education voted Monday evening at a called meeting to approve giving $1,000 emergency bonuses to all full- and part-time school system employees.

The bonus was paid for with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER I) federal stimulus funds. Gov. Brian Kemp and State School Superintendent Richard Woods announced earlier this year plans to provide funds for the bonus for all K-12 teachers and other school system employees in Georgia who have helped keep school buildings open during the 2020-21 school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school system distributed the bonus checks Thursday, with spring break beginning Friday and running through next week in Douglas County.

“The Douglas County School System recognizes the extraordinary effort of all of our employees,” Superintendent Trent North said. “Every day they inspire, educate and protect our students. Together, our employees persevered throughout the many challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presented. I am grateful to Governor Kemp and Richard Woods for recommending that we offer this school emergency bonus grant to our employees.”

The Douglas County school board’s approval Monday came after the State Board of Education gave its OK to provide the funds to all public school systems in Georgia on March 25.

The Georgia Department of Education said in a release after the state BOE approved the funds that the bonus is being provided to teachers and education support staff to support stronger recruitment and retention of critical positions as a gesture of gratitude for their work and sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These bonuses are intended to thank all public-school employees — from the teacher who found new ways to reach a classroom of students, to the bus driver who kept those students safe on the way to school,” Woods said. “We want to ensure these hard-working employees are recognized for their above-and-beyond efforts and we want them to stay in public education for the benefit of the students they serve.”

For most Douglas County School System employees, the checks they received Thursday were on top of a $1,000 hazardous pay bonus the school system provided in February.

In addition to the $2,000 total distributed to teachers and other staff, DCSS also provided special gifts to school system employees in February and March.