Top 10 news stories of 2012

Published 1:58 pm Monday, December 31, 2012

Changes at the highest level of county government, improvements and announcements at Bainbridge College, and a new CEO at the local YMCA, were just some of the stories headlining the top 10 news stories of 2012, as selected by the staff at The Post-Searchlight.

This year’s top 10 news stories were events that occurred or had significant newsworthy developments during the 2012 calendar year. The goal was to select and rank the stories that had the greatest impact, affected the greatest number of people, had an impact for the longest amount of time, or were sufficiently significant to an individual or group as to attract state or national notice.

No. 1 — Changes in Decatur County government

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Decatur County’s government underwent a number of significant changes throughout the year in 2012, and will enter 2013 looking very different than it did a year ago.

Perhaps the biggest development came in late February, when then-County Administrator Tom Patton announced his resignation. Patton’s job status had been discussed in a closed executive session earlier that month, when the Decatur County Board of Commissioners debated whether he had been forthright in reporting a large sewage spill at the county’s wastewater treatment plant. Col. Gary Breedlove, a former junior ROTC director at Bainbridge High School, took over as the interim county administrator on Tuesday, March 13. In June, the county voted to keep Breedlove in the position until at least June 2013.

There were other administrative changes throughout the year. The commissioners voted 4-2 Tuesday, May 22, to terminate the employment of County Finance Director Carl Rowland and County Human Resources Director Marjorie Mayfield. Those positions have not since been refilled and the duties are being handled by other administrative staff. Breedlove also eventually fired EMS Director Bill Hogan, Planning Director Paul Soudi and Wastewater Treatment Plant Supervisor Mike Miller, for various reasons. In October, the commission tried to terminate the employment of County Attorney Brown Moseley, but that attempt failed by a 3-3 vote.

Even more changes are occurring at the commissioners’ level, where District 3 Commissioner Charles T. Stafford lost his bid for re-election, and District 1 Commissioner Dr. Earl Perry announced his resignation effective Dec. 31, 2012. Local businessman Dennis Brinson will replace Stafford, and the commission will likely name Perry’s replacement sometime in early 2013.

No. 2 — Big announcements for Bainbridge College

Bainbridge College President Dr. Richard Carvajal had several big announcements for the college in 2012, put perhaps none was larger than one he made in late October.

At a Tuesday, Oct. 23, meeting of the Bainbridge College Foundation, Carvajal announced that members of the Georgia Board of Regents will vote during their January 2013 meeting whether to grant “state college” status to BC. That change in designation will allow the college to offer four-year baccalaureate degrees; the first program offered will likely be business management.

In addition, on Tuesday, Oct. 30, the college broke ground on a new library expansion that will increase the library’s size from 10,000 square feet to about 24,000 square feet. The expansion should be completed by the fall 2013 semester, and Phase 2 of the project should be completed sometime in the next four years.

Other newsworthy changes at BC in 2012 included a new logo, a possible name change, and the addition of the Department of Adult Education. Adult education services were previously overseen by the Decatur County Schools, but are now under the auspices of the college.

No. 3 — New homes for BPS, Bainbridge City Hall

During the 2012 calendar year, the most important offices in Bainbridge city government eventually moved to new homes — one permanent and one temporary.

In January, the Bainbridge City Council approved the purchase of the Marvin Griffin National Guard Armory on Louise Street, at a price not to exceed $120,000. That facility was eventually converted into the new home of the Bainbridge Public Safety headquarters. The move was finalized with an official opening ceremony at the new BPS headquarters in July. The old Shotwell Street location is still being used as a satellite BPS fire station.

Also, in February, the Bainbridge City Council officially signed off on a $4.1-million renovation project to City Hall, which began in March. The work required City of Bainbridge employees to temporarily move operations to the old Gowan Furniture Building in downtown Bainbridge; city council meetings are now held at the Potter Street Community Center.

It is estimated the renovation will be completed by March 2013.

No. 4 — Bainbridge approves some alcohol sales

On Tuesday, March 6, City of Bainbridge voters narrowly approved a referendum to allow the Sunday sale of alcohol by the drink, but rejected another referendum that would have allowed Sunday package sales of alcohol.

The alcohol by the drink referendum passed by just nine votes, 659 “yes” to 650 “no.” The package referendum failed, 691-626. The Bainbridge City Council amended the city’s alcohol ordinance to reflect the vote, and local restaurants with alcoholic beverage licenses began serving drinks on Sundays for the first time, on Sunday, April 15.

No. 5 — YMCA hires new CEO

The Bainbridge-Decatur County YMCA hired Adam Schrott as its new CEO, on Monday, April 23, and began work at the YMCA on Tuesday, May 1.

Schrott, who moved from Fort Myers, Fla., is the son of a 40-year retired YMCA CEO and served in a variety of positions in his 15-year professional career with YMCAs in South Florida. He replaced Mike Haynes, who had served as interim CEO since September 2011. Haynes replaced Ken Bailey, who resigned in August 2011.

In February, the YMCA’s board of directors initially announced two finalists for the open CEO position, including former Superintendent Ralph Jones. However, Jones eventually withdrew his name from consideration, and the board elected to reopen the application process.

No. 6 — New Jones-Wheat Elementary School announced

The Decatur County Board of Education announced in September that a new school will be built in 2013, to replace the existing Jones-Wheat Elementary School.

The board granted Superintendent Dr. Fred Rayfield the approval to move forward with the $10 million project and two other capital projects, which are funded by a $15 million bond sale. The debt from that sale will be repaid from the one-cent Education Special Local Option Sales Tax (E-SPLOST).

The existing JWES was opened in 1954 and is no longer a candidate for renovation, Rayfield said. Demolition will begin on the current building in May 2013, and JWES students will be relocated to the old West Bainbridge Middle School location for the 2013-14 school year, pending school board approval. The new school building should be ready for occupancy by the 2014-15 school year.

No. 7 — Jim Stone dies

James W. “Jim” Stone, the founder of the Stone’s Home Centers chain of stores, died Thursday, June 7, at the age of 94.

Stone opened his first store in Bainbridge in April 1959, with the help of his friend and financial partner, the late Charles H. Kirbo. The chain now has nine stores located across southwest Georgia and north Florida.

No. 8 — State Sen. John Bulloch resigns

State Sen. John Bulloch, whose District 11 includes Decatur County, resigned from office in December, citing health reasons. A special election will be held Jan. 8, 2013, to fill the seat.

Six candidates qualified to run in the special election, including Dr. Dean Burke of Bainbridge.

No. 9 — Main Street Broadband ceases operations

Main Street Broadband, a communications company that received more than $2.5 million from Decatur County taxpayers, ceased its operations on Wednesday, Aug. 1.

Shane Turner, who had served as the local area technician for Main Street Broadband, took over management of the network and its more than 1,300 customers in the county.

No. 10 — Changes, growth in local industry

Rick McCaskill, the executive director of the Industrial Development Authority, announced in February that the Authority and its new chairman, Keith Lyle, were undergoing a strategic effort to attract new industry and create jobs in Decatur County.

The effort involved a new development team featuring representatives from the IDA, Chamber of Commerce, city and county governments and Bainbridge College. From that group, several committees were formed to develop growth strategies in different categories, including outdoor recreation, retail, agriculture, industry, minority community, and government.

The team’s focus paid off dividends in late November, as the county signed a contract to allow an energy company to construct a “solar farm” on unusable land at the county’s airport. Although the farm will not create many jobs, it will put more than $417,000 annually on the county’s tax rolls.

Also, in October, Meredian, a privately-held company in the county’s Industrial Park, held a grand opening for what is now the world’s largest producer of bioplastics using a technology known as PHA biopolymers.