Top 10 news stories: Leadership changes top stories

Published 8:01 pm Tuesday, January 4, 2011

No. 8 – 2010’s general election

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop beat the odds of other Democratic incumbents on Nov. 4 by narrowly winning re-election over Mike Keown, a state house representative and minister from Coolidge, Ga.

Bishop, an 18-year veteran of Congress from Columbus, pulled out large margins of votes from his home county of Muscogee as well as Dougherty County.

Nathan Deal, a Republican and former congressman from Gainesville, Ga., beat former Gov. Roy Barnes.

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Incumbent Decatur County Commissioner Gary Phillips, a Republican, was defeated by a slim margin by Oliver Sellers, a Democrat who had previously lost to Phillips in 2006.

Along with incumbent Commissioner Earl Perry, who clinched re-election in the July primary, Frank Loeffler will be another new county commissioner in 2011. Loeffler, a Republican, defeated Democrat Ted Snell.

State Rep. Gene Maddox, a Republican from Cairo, was sheltered from the anti-incumbent sentiment, winning re-election against Democrat Marjean Boyd, a Democrat from Bainbridge.

No. 9 – City-county jail contract falls apart

In July, the Bainbridge City Council voted 5-1 to begin housing city inmates in the Pelham City Jail, in lieu of renewing a previous contract with the county. City inmates had been housed at the Decatur County Jail, part of the Sheriff’s Office, since the jail’s construction in 1994.

Pelham is located about 35 miles northeast of Bainbridge in Mitchell County. Bainbridge constructed its own holding cells at Public Safety headquarters and began transporting inmates to Pelham on July 21.

One of the issues was the two proposals’ price: Pelham offered to charge a fee of $30 per inmate, per day, whereas Decatur County offered a fee of $38 per inmate, per day, based on a 1995 per inmate cost of $24, adjusted for inflation.

County officials attempted to re-negotiate the contract through a series of letters sent between Commission Chairman Earl Perry and Bainbridge Mayor Edward Reynolds. But the talks reached an impasse and Reynolds eventually suggested the matter be laid aside for at least a year. In turn, county commissioners passed a resolution forbidding the placement of city inmates at the jail until such a future contract was in place.

No. 10 – Sheriff’s deputies investigate string of fires

Four fires set in one July afternoon were just part of a string of suspicious fires Sheriff’s deputies investigated in the Blackjack community east of Bainbridge during summer and fall.

Sheriff’s investigators combed through the remains of four buildings damaged or destroyed by fire, all on July 20. Firefighters braved extremely hot, humid weather as they fought the fires in succession.

On Nov. 22, the Sheriff’s Office arrested 46-year-old Lisa Ponder of Bainbridge, whom they believe is a suspect in the string of suspicious fires.

Three brush fires were reported in the area east of Bainbridge on Monday, and deputies collected evidence that indicated Ponder was responsible for setting them, said Chief Investigator Chip Nix of the Sheriff’s Office.

Nix said investigators are aware of numerous suspicious fires that occurred in the coverage area of the Black Jack Volunteer Fire Department.

“We believe all the recent arsons are related,” Nix said. “The investigation is still ongoing, and charges against Ms. Ponder or other persons could be pending.”

While Nix declined to discuss any possible motive Ponder may have had, he said deputies had other reasons beyond physical evidence which made them classify her as a suspect.