Top 5 stories of 2015

Published 1:36 pm Thursday, December 31, 2015

1. City and county approve new SDS agreement, take steps toward cooperation

In what seemed like and almost endless back and forth battle between the City of Bainbridge and Decatur County, the two entities began working toward common goals in 2015.
But it wasn’t without speed bumps along the way.
The year began with a mediator being selected in response to Bainbridge’s petition in November 2014 for mandatory mediation of service delivery strategy.
After a two-day negotiation process in March under mediator Will Sanders, The Bainbridge City Council unanimously approved a new resolution mapping out which entity was in charge of providing certain services. The Decatur County Commission approved the resolution 5-1, with Commissioner George Anderson dissenting.
Despite struggling with many provisions in the resolution, the majority of the commissioners made clear the agreement marked progress for the county as a whole.
“There have been some decisions made that were not easy,” Commissioner Pete Stephens said. “It’s one of those deals where you hold your nose, take a deep breath and swallow the pill. My compliments to those at City Council. I’m sure they feel the same way.”
Despite difficulties on deciding how to handle millage rate increases on the county’s end, the negotiation was legally settled.
With new county commissioners on board and former county administrator Alan Thomas returning to the job in the wake of administrator Gary Breedlove’s resignation in April, both entities showed a conscious effort to work together on projects.
A fire station in West Bainbridge was opened that both the city and county would use and discussions are currently being made to create a joint health insurance plan with the city, county and hospital.

2. Three DCSO deputies convicted by federal court

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In July 2014, three Decatur County deputies and a former Grady County deputy were federally indicted for an incident at BikeFest 2012.
An altercation with civilian Ronnie Aaron Parrish at the festival led to former GCSO deputy Wiley Griffin, IV, son of Decatur County Sheriff Wiley Griffin, allegedly using a flashlight to beat and subdue the man. The incident led to now former DCSO deputies Elizabeth Croley, Christopher Kines and Robert Wade Umbach covering up the event and lying to an FBI special agent about what happened.
In June, less than a year later, the deputies went to trial in Albany.
After an 11-day trial, the jury found the defendants guilty on four of seven counts.
Griffin, IV, was found not guilty for Deprivation of Rights Under the Color of Law in relation to allegations of him using unreasonable force at Bikefest 2012 with a flashlight.
Croley was found guilty on two counts: Deprivation of Rights Under the Color of Law and False Reporting. The jury’s verdict was that Croley deprived Parrish’s rights to a fair criminal trial for his conduct at Bikefest by writing false reports.
Umbach was found not guilty for False Reports, but found guilty for Tampering With Witness Evidence. Umbach was involved in the altercation with Parrish, but reported false information to FBI special agent Steve McDermott about Griffin, IV’s involvement with Parrish.
Kines was also charged with the same counts as Umbach. He was found not guilty for False Reports but found guilty for Tampering With Witness Evidence for the same reasons as Umbach.
The sentence hearing for the three convicted deputies was scheduled for before the New Year, but a court emergency delayed the hearing until an unknown date.
The trial was draining physically, emotionally and mentally for all involved. It was also draining financially for Decatur County. The Board of Commissioners ultimately voted to pay all attorney fees for Kines and Umbach.
Sheriff Griffin announced his intention to handle the attorney fees for his son, but said in July 2014 he was fully confident Decatur County, Grady County and the federal government, “will make the correct decision to reimburse my son’s attorney fees to the Griffin and Pennell families.”
It has yet to be discussed in open meeting if and how the attorney fees will be reimbursed.

3. Two solar panel projects completed in Decatur Co.c

Two solar farm projects in Decatur County, one spanning 165 acres and another spanning 800 acres, were completed in December 2015.
The more than a million of solar panels are expected to add roughly $1.7 million annually to Decatur County’s property tax income, making it a major boost for the local economy.
Tradewind Energy installed the solar panels and Southern Power will operate the solar power facilities. Southern Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, is a wholesale energy provider. The energy generated by the solar farm would be sold to Georgia Power to meet the needs of customers throughout the area. The two projects combine for 100 megawatts of energy, enough to power up to 16,000 homes and businesses.
Throughout the year, the project brought onboard local subcontractors to help complete the project by the target date of Dec. 15. Locals filled more than 100 jobs ranging from temporary positions to full-time jobs at several capacities.

4. Alan Thomas hired as Decatur County administrator

When former Decatur County Administrator Gary Breedlove announced his resignation effective April 1, the Board of Commissioners set out to look for a replacement that had the experience and understanding of what it took to lead a county.
Advertisements were placed on the Decatur County website and in the Post-Searchlight. A search team comprised of commissioners Pete Stephens, Rusty Davis and commission chairman Dennis Brinson reviewed 21 applications and whittled the pool down to five over the course of a month.
During this time, Bainbridge CPA Perry Henry was named interim county administrator.
At a special called meeting in July, more than two months after Breedlove’s resignation, the board announced one candidate for the administrator job: Alan Thomas.
Thomas served as Decatur County administrator from 1989-2005. He voluntarily resigned after his 16-year tenure for personal reasons. The board approached Thomas and the two shared a mutual interest in having him return to the position again.
At the regular meeting on July 28, the board voted unanimously to bring Thomas on as County Administrator, effective immediately.
“He is going to do the county a good service,” Brinson said in July. “Everything that I’ve heard about his previous tenure at the county has been very positive. Often times I think you have to talk to the staff that served up under his administration. Everything has been very positive. We are looking forward to working with him.”

5. Sam Griffin passes away at 79 years old

Third generation Post-Searchlight owner and publisher Sam Griffin passed away on April 27, 2015, at 79 years old.
Cancer took him after a long, hard fight, but his legacy will always be remembered in Bainbridge history. The stories he told during his 46-year tenure as a journalist have touched the lives of many.
Griffin was born Feb. 12, 1936, in Bainbridge. His father, Marvin, was the editor of The Post-Searchlight at the time, and later went on to serve as state Adjutant General, Lieutenant Governor and Georgia’s 72nd Governor. Marvin’s father, E.H. “Pat” Griffin,” was the newspaper’s founder. Right there from the beginning, newspapers were part of Griffin’s life.
Shortly after resigning from the Navy in 1963, he took over The Post-Searchlight, and that’s where he stayed until the newspaper was sold to Boone Newspaper, Inc. in 2008.
In our special edition published on April 29, 2015, celebrating Griffin’s life, many friends from over the years shared stories and memories with the larger-than-life man.
One thing was clear: Griffin’s legacy was firmly ingrained in Bainbridge’s history, and he and the Griffin name will never be forgotten by those he met.