The Times’ 2015 in Review

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

It was a very busy year in all corners of Henry County. Here, in no particular order, is just a sampling of what the Times reported on in 2015.

In January, 13-year-old MacKenna Gosart of McDonough ran 118 miles in Clayton and Henry counties - one mile for each police officer who died in the line of duty in 2014 - to raise money and encourage the men and women of law enforcement.

Southern States in Hampton unveiled a new complex to house its Power Switching Division and dedicated it to Mary and the late Sash Spencer, an investor in the company credited with helping put it on the worldwide map.

The Henry County Rotary Club joined other Rotary clubs around the world to celebrate the 110th anniversary of Rotary Inter-national with “Light Up Rotary” on the McDonough Square.

County manager Jim Walker’s contract was extended in March for two years instead of the normal one-year rollover. Walker resigned in May and Cheri Hobson-Matthews served as interim county manager until October, when Lyndon Bonner was named Walker’s permanent successor a year and a half after being a finalist for the position and a week after submitting a letter removing himself from consideration.

A bill addressing the roles of the county commissioners passed the General Assembly in the spring. Legislative action was requested by the Board of Commissioners in response to Chairman Tommy Smith’s lawsuit against the rest of the board in late 2014.

An investigation was launched by the Stockbridge City Council in March into the actions of Mayor Tim Thompson, whose outburst at a council meeting garnered news coverage across metro Atlanta. That inquiry concluded several months later although not to the satisfaction of council members. Thompson resigned in the middle of a Dec. 14 meeting as the council was preparing to investigate a separate incident.

Tax Commissioner David Curry opened a second self-service tag kiosk inside the Kroger on Fairview Road, several months after the first machine began operating at the McDonough tag office. Both have become quite popular.

Locust Grove received a $92,000 Livable Centers Initiative grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission to use for studying various ways to improve the city’s downtown area. City A few weeks after that announcement, Council member James Rosser passed away in April while in office after serving just over five years.

Derrick Austin was named police chief in Hampton, succeeding Rad Porter. The announcement was made shortly after extensive new renovations to the city’s police headquarters were completed.

In May the Stockbridge City Council voted to pay nearly $60,000 in legal expenses incurred by former mayor Lee Stuart in his litigation against the city and also learned of an opinion from the Georgia Attorney General’s office that a meeting it convened with the Downtown Development Authority was likely illegal.

Later that month, Amy Berkes of McDonough and her family laid their father to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, nearly 50 years after his plane was shot down in Vietnam and less than a year after his remains were positively identified.

McDonough Elementary School closed its doors last spring after more than six decades in operation to make room for EXCEL Academy, formerly Patrick Henry Academy, which began operating on that campus in the fall. Patrick Henry Academy’s previous campus, the old Stockbridge High School, was the site of a huge reunion with more than 1,400 students from the 1966-1994 era in attendance. That site is now a film set as the Board of Education in September approved an agreement with a production company that will pay the district $78,140 to shoot an eight-part Netflix series on the campus.

In June, Gary Wright took over as executive director of A Friend’s House, succeeding Jill Holder, who retired after eight years at the helm. Haven House marked its 25th anniversary in September.

Shingleroof Campground hosted families from the area in the summer for its annual Campmeeting, a tradition that has held firm for more than a century. Some Henry Countians over 80 years of age have attended their entire lives.

Dr. Marinelle Simpson was honored in July by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution for her service and achievement in education in Henry County over four decades.

The Henry County Board of Education voted in June to approve a $341 million budget for the 2015-2016 school year, the largest district budget in history. It includes no furlough days and a five-percent raise for all employees while adding more than 100 new positions to meet the district’s growing needs. In December the school board approved a 2017-2018 school calendar that will start classes July 31 that year.

Henry County Probate Court was ready to go within an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court’s July ruling that states could no longer ban same-sex marriage, rolling out new forms with “Applicant 1” and “Applicant 2” instead of “Bride” and “Groom.” In November an associated judge position was created for the Probate Court.

Renowned sculptor Andy Davis of McDonough died in a July motorcycle crash less than two weeks after being named as the artist who would create a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for display in front of the Capitol in downtown Atlanta.

A number of merchants in downtown McDonough came to a City Council work session to express their displeasure with what they thought was inaction on the city’s part regarding the traffic and parking situations in the downtown area. A few months after approving a millage increase, the council approved the purchase of land for the Alexander Park expansion. The property is adjacent to a house belonging to Gail Notti, who voted in favor of the move two days after losing her bid for re-election.

New Hope Elementary School principal Dr. Tim Tilley went skydiving in August for the first time in his life on behalf of his students who raised $22,500 to meet a significant fundraising goal during the previous school year.

The Mt. Carmel Road bridge over I-75 was closed in September for what is expected to be nine months as part of the ongoing expansion of the expressway through Henry County, including the development of new managed toll lanes from Hwy. 138 in Stockbridge to Hwy. 155 in McDonough. That same month a feasibility study was submitted to the Georgia Department of Transportation regarding a possible new interchange on I-75 somewhere between Hwy. 155 and Bill Gardner Parkway in Locust Grove. The best spot is likely on the northern end of that span near the county’s industrial corridor.

A street in downtown Stockbridge was renamed this fall in honor of Martin Luther King Sr., who was born and grew up in the city. Locust Grove officials announced that they will soon rename a street in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A large annexation proposal will go before Locust Grove voters in March.

U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland returned to Henry County in October to address his constituents at a luncheon in McDonough, talking about such issues as his service on the Select Committee on Benghazi and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s testimony only days earlier.

The Board of Education recently called for a March referendum to extend the county’s E-SPLOST for five more years, through Dec. 2022, and fund a variety of capital projects throughout the district. Also this fall, Sarah Barnett of Woodland High School was named Henry County’s Teacher of the Year.

The annual Scarecrow Contest in McDonough blossomed in only its third year of existence, welcoming 144 entries to the square this fall, more than double the total from two years ago.