The headlines of 2019 were consumed by the saga of Clarke County schools Superintendent Demond Means, police shootings and a new Athens-Clarke government working toward change.
Here’s a look back and those and other top stories from this year, as reported in the Athens Banner-Herald:
In January, Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Cleveland Spruill took over the Athens-Clarke Police Department after former chief Scott Freeman was asked to resign in 2018 for losing the support of many officers.
On May 1, Michael Burnett became the new CEO of Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center after leaving Piedmont Fayette Hospital.
In July, the University of Georgia welcomed Jack Hu, who left a job as vice president for research at the University of Michigan to become senior vice president of academic affairs and provost at UGA, the university’s second-ranking administrator after UGA President Jere Morehead.
An operational audit of the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office revealed low morale, questionable policies, safety and security issues, and overworked deputies.
Many of the department’s issues stemmed from its high turnover rate, Athens-Clarke County’s Office of Operational Analysis concluded after a lengthy examination. The sheriff’s office made some changes in hopes of reducing the department’s turnover rate.
The University of Georgia set a new attendance record for a football game when Notre Dame played in Sanford Stadium for the first time. The Bulldogs won 23-17 and had 93,246 attendees.
In a Nov. 5 special election, voters gave approval to keeping the county’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for 11 more years.
Almost 80 percent of voters said yes to extending the tax, which will fund about $314 million in construction and other infrastructure projects. The three dozen projects include more sidewalks, a new Eastside library, and renovations at the Bear Hollow Zoo and the Athens-Clarke Animal Shelter. Big-ticket items included a $77.9 million “facilities space modernization project,” mostly for a new courthouse, a $44.5 million affordable housing fund, and $32 million for an indoor arena at The Classic Center.
There was a lot of gunfire in the low-income apartment complex in 2019, but the year ended with hope for better living conditions for the people in the dilapidated downtown complex’s 190 subsidized apartments.
In September, Athens-Clarke Mayor Kelly Girtz implemented a plan to redevelop Bethel and nearby government-owned acreage. With the Athens Housing Authority and a private development company, Bethel would be part of a larger mixed-income housing development with the Athens-Clarke government contributing $39 million.
Under Superintendent Demond Means, ethics issues, accreditation questions and tension plagued the year for the Clarke County Board of Education.
An anonymous complaint was filed against Means with the state agency that oversees the ethical conduct of licensed educators in the state. Means plagiarized in an official email and did not disclose his financial ties to a company he asked the board to hire to train Clarke teachers and administrators.
Not long before putting Means on leave Dec. 9, the board had approved a letter to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, saying that the things for which Means was accused did not rise to the level of an ethics violation and the state board did not need to investigate.
Then the board faced its own investigation.
Means also filed a complaint, his with Cognia, the accrediting agency for the school district. The board and some of its members were interfering in personnel decisions and undermining the administration, stated the complaint. In December, Cognia announced it was sending a team to Athens for a “special review.”
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