Top 10 news stories for 2011

Published 6:18 pm Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The death of a well-known Decatur County citizen, the reshuffling of the Bainbridge Public Safety department and the financial crisis facing the local YMCA were among the top 10 stories of 2011, as selected by the staff of The Post-Searchlight.

The year’s top 10 news stories were events that occurred or that had significant newsworthy developments during the 2011 calendar year. Our goal was to select and rank the stories that (1) had the greatest impact on (2) the greatest number of people in Decatur County for (3) the longest time; or (4) which are sufficiently significant to an individual or group to attract state or national notice.


No. 1 — Jack Wingate dies

Jack Wingate, the “Sage of Seminole,” died Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011, at the age of 82.

Wingate helped make Lake Seminole a popular destination for bass fishing, operating Wingate’s Lodge on the lake for several decades. He also helped grow the sport of bass fishing across the nation, working with early organizers of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) to develop competitive tournaments, including some in southwest Georgia.

Wingate made it his life goal to grow the sport of bass fishing, and helped nurture a new generation of anglers through his annual boys’ camps. He also published a weekly fishing and outdoor sports column in The Post-Searchlight for many years.

Wingate’s contributions to the area were remembered on a permanent national scale, as well. In 2006, Georgia State Route 97 South from Bainbridge to the Georgia-Florida border was officially designated as Jack Wingate Highway. Also, on Monday, Dec. 12, 2011, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D) honored Jack Wingate by speaking some remarks that are preserved in the Congressional Record for all time. Among those remarks, Bishop said, “I ask my colleagues to join me today in paying tribute to Mr. Jack Wingate for being an outstanding ambassador and unyielding supporter of communities throughout Southwest Georgia and for all the outstanding work he did on behalf of working families throughout our United States of America.”


No. 2 — Changes at BPS

A change at the top spot in the Bainbridge Public Safety department was the highlight of a busy year that featured arrests, retirements and resignations of some of the area’s highest-ranking public safety officers.

On Tuesday, Sept. 6, Bainbridge City Manager Chris Hobby announced that 49-year-old Eric Miller of Albion, Mich., had been chosen to succeed BPS Director Larry Funderburke, who had earlier announced his plans to retire at the end of the year. Miller officially took over the position Monday, Dec. 12.

Hobby also hired a new fire chief in August, when Craig Tully was named to succeed retired Fire Chief Dennis Mock. Tully, who had been the chief of the Colquitt/Miller County Fire-EMS Department, later resigned from the position on Sept. 30, citing personal reasons. Deputy Fire Chief Doyle Welch currently serves as the leader of the fire department under Miller.

On Thursday, Dec. 1, BPS Major Walter Landrum also announced his retirement from the department. He had served as the patrol commander, a position that is now filled by Captain Jerry Carter.

Also, on Tuesday, Aug. 30, Marty Brown, one of four assistant fire chiefs at BPS, was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. He was subsequently fired.


No. 3 — YMCA in crisis

In late July, the local Bainbridge-Decatur County YMCA’s board of directors said the local nonprofit was in a “dire” situation. At that time, the YMCA’s membership had dropped from 1,400 in 1996, to approximately 900 members, and the YMCA was $340,000 in debt and operating at a monthly loss of approximately $1,000. Then-Executive Director Ken Bailey even said, “There’s really a good likelihood that our YMCA won’t be here at the end of 2012.”

Bailey resigned from his position in August, and the leadership role has since been filled by an interim CEO, Mike Haynes of Jacksonville, Fla. Haynes, who has previously managed YMCAs of similar size, was selected by the YMCA’s national headquarters to come to Bainbridge to help stabilize the non-profit organization.

Haynes helped spearhead a fundraising campaign that he said has been successful in stabilizing the YMCA’s finances. Haynes says the search has already begun for his permanent successor, and that the YMCA is in much better shape now.


No. 4 — EPD finding leads to water-treatment plant update

In spring 2008, representatives of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division inspected the Flint River to investigate a citizen’s complaint that raw sewage was flowing into the river. In April 2011, the county agreed to pay a $15,000 fine and take steps to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant at the industrial park. The upgrades are currently in progress.

The controversy also embroiled a number of political officials in accusations of wrongdoing. County Administrator Tom Patton had hired a Macon, Ga., attorney to represent the county in the EPD negotations, rather than County Staff Attorney Brown Moseley. Although Patton’s decision was legal and, he said that he based it on the suggestion of the county’s consulting engineers, some county commissioners were upset by the lack of communication.

Also, local businessman Terry Ellis spoke at a public meeting in April and accused Patton of covering up the water pollution investigation. Patton denied the accusations and said at the time he planned to consult with a lawyer about possibly suing Ellis for slander.


No. 5 — Carvajal becomes BC president

Dr. Richard Carvajal took over as Bainbridge College’s fourth president Jan. 10, replacing Tom Wilkerson, who had retired at the end of 2010.

Carvajal came to Bainbridge from Cascadia Community College, which is near Seattle, Wash. He has helped orchestrate the development of the college’s “master plan,” which projects how the campus might look in the next 10-20 years. Some of the possible changes may include a new 80,000-square-foot academic building, dormitories, athletic facilities and possibly four-year baccalaureate programs. Carvajal’s official inauguration was in October.


No. 6 — Redistricting affects county’s state representation

As a result of population changes from the 2010 Census, Decatur County will have a new state representative, starting in 2013. Previously, the entire county had been in District 172, represented by Republican Gene Maddox of Grady County.

The redistricting plan will split Decatur County into two districts — the northern portion would be in District 171 and the southern portion will be in District 173. District 173 is represented by Darlene Taylor, a busniesswoman from Thomasville, Ga., while District 171 is represented by Jay Powell, an attorney from Camilla, Ga.

Maddox announced in August that he does not plan to run for relection. Had he sought re-election, it would have been in District 173 and he would have competed against Taylor and other candidates.


No. 7 — Sunday alcohol sales placed on March 2012 ballot

Decatur County voters will have the opportunity this year to decide if they want to permit the local sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays.

In an October city council meeting, several local citizens asked the council to place the issue on a referendum, but no action was immediately taken. However, at the Nov. 15 meeting, the council voted unanimously to place the issue on the March 2012 presidential preference primary ballot.


No. 8 — Money Tree files for bankruptcy protection

The Money Tree, a Bainbridge-based financial company with branches across the Southeast announced in December that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The company’s president, Bradley D. Bellville, cited a “historically difficult” economic environment as the reason for the filing. The company has already cut its number of branches from 92 to 46, and intends to continue implementing cost-cutting measures, Bellville said.


No. 9 — Three arrests for murder in 2011

Three Decatur County citizens were arrested for murder in 2011.

Roderick Elliot Smith was arrested in March, in connection with the stabbing death of Trevis Raymonte Clemons. Smith was indicted by a grand jury in May on counts of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assualt and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony.

Twenty-seven-year-old William Philip Mosley, 27, of Attapulgus, was arrested in September in connection with the shooting death of John Jefferson Gray, 47, of Attapulgus.

In late December, 40-year-old Carolyn Denise Perkins of Bainbridge was arrested and charged with murder in the death of 85-year-old Gerald Woodward. On Wednesday, Dec. 28, Perkins reportedly robbed Woodward at his recreational vehicle in the KOA campground, and he collapsed after going to a neighbor’s trailer for help. Woodward died a short time after collapsing, and Perkins was arrested the following day.


No. 10 — Five killed in tragic April car crash

Five Decatur County citizens, including four with ties to Bainbridge College, were killed in a car accident on U.S. 27 South in April.

Ashley Moten, Joycelyn Alexander, Greg Mosley, Kedric Footman, and Jessica Alexander were each killed in the crash, and four others were injured. Jessica Alexander was a senior at Bainbridge High School.