Sunday Solutions — April 16, 2023

In these days of lean county governments, officials look for ways to save or earn for their departments. We look at what happens when emergency adaptations open up a new revenue stream for sheriffs. Disclosures – or non-disclosures – about a court official turn decidedly local, and there’s more as we head into a week already marked by fire in Glynn County.

Making money on call$ from jail

As the Covid emergency ended quietly this week, we’re all left with many things that may never go back to the earlier form. One of these changes comes in an unexpected place: The county jail. At a point where we were all discouraged from meeting in person, newer technology allowed virtual jail visits during the pandemic. Prisoners could pay to talk, text or video chat with people outside the jail using technology managed by a telecommunications company. Now, those contracts for basic communication are feeding the local county jail budgets and the proceeds are now accepted as regular jail revenue. Rates vary but at least one area jail collected $500,000 in 2021. In Chatham County, in-person jail visits are no longer allowed, despite heaps of research that says these visits limit recidivism and help prisoners maintain relationships that aid their re-entry back into the day-to-day world. As Coastal Georgia sheriffs work to find funds to run their departments, The Current’s Jake Shore describes how Covid-temporary fix has become a permanent way to feed the jails’ bottom lines while creating debt for families of those awaiting trial or a bail hearing.

The block in Savannah, Georgia, where Texas billionaire Harlan Crow bought property from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Today, the vacant lots Thomas sold to Crow have been replaced by two-story homes. Credit: Octavio Jones for ProPublica

Thomas story comes home

In an update to ProPublica reporting describing the lavish vacations and other gifts from billionaire Harlan Crow that went undisclosed by U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, the story has moved a bit closer home. Tax documents show Thomas sold Savannah property to Crow, including the justice’s mother’s house. Crow poured tens of thousands of dollars of improvements into the house and remains her landlord. Federal laws require justices and other officials to disclose details for most real estate sales over $1,000, and Savannah-native Thomas did not disclose the sale. Here’s the story.

Pinova fire smoke spreading just before dark on Saturday. Credit: Ed GaNun

Pinova: fire and evacuation

As this newsletter is being written, parts of the Pinova plant in Brunswick are burning and residents nearby are evacuating or sheltering in place. The American Red Cross has set up a temporary shelter at Howard Coffin Park. The thick black smoke has been visible miles from the plant that processes plant-based raw materials like resins and rosin from wood. Emergency and county officials were on the scene but residents complained that information was slow to reach them. The county’s emergency officials just dealt with another potentially dangerous chemical fire last year at Symrise. For some background on its history and the various cleanup sites and efforts there, here are links to The Current’s stories over time. Keep up with breaking fire and any safety precautions at The Brunswick News.

Commuter rail in Portland, Oregon.


Housing shortage, commuter rail: An area in North Carolina is re-examining what it will take to connect more people with work over a larger area. Sound familiar? Georgia DOT is already investing millions in small Class II freight rail to connect rural areas like Vidalia, Preston and Midville, just west of the Savannah area. But no commuter rail is planned. Coastal Georgia counties are seeing a quick influx of manufacturing and support jobs but few places to live in the immediate area. Commitment to larger projects is key, and the rough experience of the NC planners proves it. What can we learn from that? Here’s the story from

Environment and economy: Banks say they are more vigilant about lending policies as they aim to slash pollution and encourage cleaner spending. Two reports say the reality is not that clear, and banks are finding balance by supporting green energy while keeping fossil fuel clients moving ahead. Inside Climate News gives a good overview of the tough decisions bankers must make to sustain growth.

girls reading
Credit: Mary Taylor/Pexels

Your second cup: What should schools teach?

Last week, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed 5 school-related bills into law. These included safety-training requirements in case of school “intruders,” bills to help students with special health concerns and two addressing literacy for students in early grades. These measures reflect growing concerns about schools’ abilities to teach and protect students, and it’s no surprise it’s part of partisan politics. All of this comes after a Pew study last fall found that political affiliations affect what parents expect from schools, but most are fairly satisfied with the quality. Here’s the study and data for you to ponder for your own ideas.

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Covid’s over but county jails still profit from virtual communication

Jails run by Coastal Georgia sheriffs collect more revenue from detainees trying to stay in touch with loved ones over phone, video or text messaging, while they still ban in-person visitation after Covid. Jails in Chatham and Glynn counties were the biggest earners on the coast.

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Billionaire Harlan Crow bought Savannah property from Clarence Thomas. The justice didn’t disclose the deal.

The transaction is the first known instance of money flowing from Crow to the Supreme Court justice. The sale netted the GOP megadonor two vacant lots and the house where Thomas’ mother was living.

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Kemp signs 5 school-based bills into law 

School systems will also be required to amp up training of teachers in “the science of reading” – a method of teaching reading that draws on evidence from psychology and neuroscience and includes phonics instruction.

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The Tide: Did lawmakers address your top issues?

When readers of The Current were asked before the session’s start to rank your top legislative preferences from a list of nine candidates, you rated “climate resilience” and “education funding” as your top priorities.

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State Senate study group to look at certificate of need process

Legislation that gained the most traction before falling by the wayside was a bill that would have exempted most rural hospitals from Georgia’s CON law, which requires applicants looking to build new health-care facilities or provide new medical services to demonstrate a need for them in their communities.

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Data dive: How much does a school superintendent cost?

Data from near neighbors and far peers suggests what the Savannah-Chatham County School Board can probably expect to pay the next superintendent.

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What does Symrise make at plant where fires forced evacuations?

An early morning fire and multiple explosions Monday morning at the Symrise Chemical Plant at Colonel’s Island forced the evacuation of the plant itself as well as nearby neighborhoods including The Hickory Bluff, Sanctuary Cove, Satilla Shores and Royal Oaks.

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Hercules cleanup: Complex process, hard to explain

The draft cleanup plan for the 34 sites inside the property calls for various methods of removal for land and groundwater contamination.

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This information compiled by and reported by The Current's staff. We use this credit line when information requires aggregation, compilation or organization from various staff and/or official sources.