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NEWSMAKER OF THE YEAR: Hoschton recall committee

Words are easy. Action is much harder and requires a rare level of commitment to a cause.

But in Hoschton during 2019, one group backed up their words with action. Using shoe-leather to gather names and hiring a lawyer to pursue their case, the Hoschton recall committee did something exceedingly rare in Georgia — take a recall effort beyond the courts and to a call for a vote.

In the end, the group's efforts led to the resignations of Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly and mayor pro tem Jim Cleveland. While the scheduled January recall election has been canceled following the resignations, that likely wouldn't have happened without the pressure of an impending recall vote.

Because of their impact on the community's political dynamics, and the legal precedent it set in the state for future recall movements, the Hoschton recall committee is The Jackson Herald's Newsmaker of the Year for 2019.

BACKGROUND: The recall movement was born out of frustration in August following several months of intense controversy and disputes in the small town.

Kenerly came under fire in May after a fellow council member said she did not include the resume of a candidate for city administrator because he is black and she didn’t know if the city was “ready for that.” In a following news article, Cleveland defended Kenerly and added his views against interracial relationships.

The town was quickly labeled as being "racist" and the news went national. The town received hate mail and nasty phone calls from all across the country.

Locally, the backlash was also strong and vocal. Many local citizens called for Kenerly and Cleveland to resign. Churches held prayer vigils about the situation. The leaders of the local Republican and Democratic parties joined hands to call for the two officials to resign.

Over the summer, efforts by citizens to have a city ethics hearing were unsuccessful. That led to the creation of a formal recall movement in August, a group led by Mary Morrison.

After gathering the necessary number of signatures to begin the recall process, Cleveland and Kenerly petitioned the court to show sufficient cause for the recall. That is a routine part of most recall efforts and more often than not, the judge refuses to allow the recall to move forward.

But in the Hoschton case, the judge did allow the recall to move forward. Kenerly faced three recall counts: That she had pulled a job resume from consideration due to race;  that she had failed to create a city ethics commission; and that she had not bid out a project for the city over $5,000. One count went forward against Cleveland: That he had not created a city ethics commission.

Kenerly appealed the judge's decision, but lost that appeal.

Another round of gathering signatures soon began and in November, the recall group had a sufficient number to force a recall vote. That election was set for Jan. 14, 2020.

But in early December, that changed. First, Cleveland resigned, then a few days later, Kenerly also tendered her resignation, moderating her last council meeting by phone. An election to fill the two seats has been called for March 24.

Other impacts: While the recall movement led to those two resignations, it was also a factor in the town's November elections. Because of the controversy created by the recall movement, the city elected two new council members, ousting one council member who came under fire for having sat on the sidelines during the controversy. Those political changes subsequently led to the ouster of the town's administrator.


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ECONOMIC STORY OF THE YEAR: Big projects move tons of dirt in 2019

Dirt.

Lots of dirt.

That was the scene across Jackson County in 2019 as a number of major industrial and residential projects began grading. In Hoschton, the massive Crosswinds residential development began grading roads. As the year ended, its developers got approval to begin marketing and selling lots this coming spring.

In rural West Jackson, the Jackson County School System's new high school began taking shape with grading taking place for most of the year.

In Commerce, the massive SK battery plant began grading early in 2019 and the structure itself was coming out of the ground as the year ended.

Also in Commerce, the new Southeast Toyota facility was graded in 2019 on its property just south of town.

In Jefferson, another massive warehouse was graded at the Dry Pond exit.

Also in Jefferson, the site for the county's new agricultural facility was graded early in the year.

Altogether, the various projects represent a huge amount of physical change in the county. But they also represent the potential for future economic and political changes as well.

The SK project could bring in additional support firms — or it could all be a bust if SK loses a pending lawsuit with a larger rival over intellectual rights to its technology. And the SK facility has sparked a renewed battle between local school systems over how much each will get from the firm's tax payments (actually payments in lieu of taxes).

Likewise, the Toyota facility could become a flash-point between school systems if that property is annexed into Commerce, as has been discussed.

The new high school on the west side of the county has the potential to shift the county's overall political dynamics as it creates a new, central institution around which that diverse and disparate community can rally.

The massive Cresswinds project in Hoschton will someday overwhelm the rest of that small town by tripling its number of residents. That community will certainly come to dominate the town's politics in the next decade, just as Chateau Elan dominates Braselton's politics today.

Housing development stories: Not all of the county's big economic stories in 2019 were successes for the developers. A proposed apartment complex at the Hwy. 60 and Hwy. 124 intersection near Braselton got a very vocal backlash from area homeowners. A rowdy crowd packed a Jackson County Board of Commissioners meeting in June to oppose the project.

Although the area's commissioner, Ralph Richardson, supported the project and made a motion to allow a map amendment for it to go forward, but he didn't get a second to his motion and the issue died. Richardson came under intense fire from those in the room for his motion.

Despite that outcome, a lot of large, new residential projects got approval across the county in 2019. Some 308 lots were approved for a new development on Gum Springs Church Rd. and another for 151 lots on Hwy. 53, both in November.

A 200-lot development got a minor revision to its regulations in December to proceed off of Old Pendergrass Rd. in Jefferson.

Earlier in the year,  Phase 1 of the Crosswinds Twin Lakes development in Hoschton got approval, a move that will affect 283 lots. Those lots should begin going on sale this spring.

Industrial also gets a focus: Not all of the economic news in 2019 was about residential housing. The year saw further controversy over proposed warehouse developments.

A bizarre case was the county-initiated rezoning for a 90-acre tract at Hog Mountain Rd. and Storey Ln. in Jefferson. The county had rejected a rezoning in 2017 amid an outcry from neighbors, but the developers sued the county.

In a move to strengthen its position with the courts, the board of commissioners initiated its own rezoning of the property from agricultural to a mixed-use residential community. Along the way, the county's own planning commission opposed the board's rezoning move.

In the end, the BOC approved its own rezoning, but the developers were still not happy, insisting they want an industrial rezoning on the property.

In other industrial action in 2019, Commerce got notice that Rooker development plans 10 warehouses with over 6 million sq. ft on a 600-acre tract on the north side of I-85. Commerce also annexed in some additional land along I-85 for future industrial development.

In Jefferson, Shenandoah Growers, an herb-growing firm, moved into the former Fresh Frozen Foods facility on Washington Street, filling an empty industrial building.

Over in the West Jackson Area, rumors were spreading at the end of the year that the developers of a proposed industrial project on the old Pirkle farm would soon be back to again pursue a project on the property. Developers were unsuccessful in 2018 to have the project rezoned by both the county and Town of Braselton.

Commercial project approved: As the year ended, the City of Jefferson approved a rezoning for a new shopping center, supposedly with another grocery store in the works. The project is to be located at the intersection of Old Pendergrass Rd. and the Jefferson bypass, across from the existing Kroger shopping center area.

The issue was controversial with a number of area citizens opposed. But the promise of some new restaurants in the development seemed to sway some in the community to support the plans.

Braselton area: The Braselton area also saw development in 2019, but not all of that was inside Jackson County (the Town of Braselton overlaps four counties.) The Chateau Elan resort got a $25 million makeover in 2019 under its new owners. In addition, the resort's owners got approval, after much controversy, to build townhouses where some of its vineyards are and to build additional single-family homes on its money-losing Par 3 golf course.

Across Hwy. 211 from Chateau Elan on a sliver of Barrow County land, HECE, LLC, finally got the green light from Braselton to move ahead with a massive mixed-use development on 230 acres that wraps around the existing Publix shopping center. The land has long been targeted for development and HECE proposed and then withdrew its plans several times over recent years. The firm eventually took the town to court and the town council approved the project in mid-December.

Plans call for 460 single-family homes and over 200,000 sq. ft. of commercial development. In an unusual move for a school system, the Barrow County School System opposed the density of the project at one town hearing.


News
2019 year in Jackson County reviewed

JANUARY

•Marty Clark was named newsmaker of the year for his efforts to develop the county agricultural facility.

•Hoschton City Council approved a “special assessment” for public services on a 3-2 vote.

•Three new members of the Jackson County Board of Education were sworn in as members of the group.

•The Commerce Board of Education unanimously increased bus drivers pay to $21 an hour as a way to retain and recruit new people.

•Jefferson High School wrestlers won their state duals championship for the 18th year in a row.

•A grading contractor, a Gainesville company, for the SK Battery site in Commerce was picked.

•The groundbreaking for a new Jackson County High School was set for the end of the month.

•The Jackson County Board of Commissioners agreed to rezone property at the intersection of Hog Mountain Rd. and Storey Ln. to residential after an industrial proposal stirred opposition from neighboring property owners and a lawsuit against the county by the property’s owners.

FEBRUARY

•Increasing the earned income limit for exemption from school taxes was proposed in the state legislature by Rep. Tommy Benton and the county elections board would be expanded from three to five members in another change.

•Commerce mayor Clark Hill said the city would take a “slow and deliberate” approach to growth in the annual “State of the City” talk.

•Retiring Superior Court Judge David Motes was honored with the William H. Booth Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce banquet.

•Commerce High School won its sixth straight traditional wrestling championship.

•Early voting began on the special election for a $52 million bond referendum to pay for the new Jackson County High School.

•Ron Johnson said he would resign from the county’s election board after controversy over his political activities in the county and state.

MARCH

•Jackson County government paid $460,000 to unlock its computer files after cyber thieves locked up the county’s system. County agencies went to a hand-written system for most of its computer operations.

•A gated community for senior citizens of more than 2,000 houses on more than 800 acres was proposed in the Arcade area.

•SK Innovation held its official groundbreaking for the SK Battery America plant in Commerce.

•Construction started on a bridge over the North Oconee River on the Hwy. 82 Spur. The road was projected to be closed for 180 days.

•Jackson County residents Jim Dove and Mott Beck retired after decades of service at the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission.

•The Jefferson water system was dealing with taste and odor problems with the city’s water. City officials said rains washed vegetation into the city reservoir and hot temperatures caused water to “invert” – bringing water to the top and sending water on top to the bottom of the reservoir.

APRIL

•The Jackson County School System budget included a pay raise for teachers, more retirement costs paid by the county and as many as 25 new teachers because of growing enrollment.

•The grand jury for the county was to nominate someone to be the chairman of the elections board although the final decision would be made by Superior Court Judge Joe Booth.

•Commerce school superintendent Joy Tolbert said the city schools would “lose” money on funding from fiscal year 2026 to 2031 because SK Battery America will make payments based on an abatement agreement with the county Industrial Development Authority and local governments, but the tax digest would include the full value of the plant.

•Maysville annexes 63 acres for industrial use. Developers asked for smaller lot size.

•Shenandoah Growers plans to close an Atlanta location and move to Jefferson in the former Fresh Frozen Foods plant on Washington St.

•Cara Lindsey is named principal for Commerce Primary School and Commerce Elementary School, which are next to each other.

•A heavy rain in a few hours caused problems with broken utility lines and roads washed out in the county

•The Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority approved agreements for water purchases by Braselton, Hoschton and Nicholson Water Authority.

•The SK Battery America project in Commerce continued to stir interest in the county.

MAY

•The Jackson County Board of Commissioners approved a mixed-use re-zoning for a 90-acre tract at the intersection of Hog Mountain Rd. and Storey Ln. The property was first proposed for an industrial use.

•Dale Hall was named Hoschton administrator. He replaced April Plank, who resigned earlier in 2019.

•A controversy over comments made by mayor Theresa Kenerly and council member Jim Cleveland involving a city administrator candidate led to calls for them to resign.

•A body was found in the washed-out McCreery Rd. when crews started to repair the road, which washed out in a heavy rain.

•Two people from Jefferson were among 82 people arrested in eight Southeastern states as part of a child pornography investigation.

•The county’s oldest veteran, Rebecca Harber Dixon, died at 100. She was in the women’s reserves during WWII.

•Jefferson council members agreed to study the feasibility of an aquatic center.

•Hoschton residents were encouraged to file ethics complaints against mayor Theresa Kenerly and council member Jim Cleveland.

•The Jackson County BOC agreed to double the number of school resource officers in county schools from four to eight.

•Eric Crawford was appointed chairman of the county elections board after the resignation of Ron Johnson.

•More than 80 ethics complaints were filed against Hoschton mayor Theresa Kenerly and council member Jim Cleveland following comments they made about race.

JUNE

•Work on renovating the Oxford building, which was last used about 20 years ago, began. Plans call for apartments, a restaurant, a beer brewer and a coffee shop to be in it.

•Commerce City Schools publicly discussed setting a first-ever tuition for students.

•The East Jackson Comprehensive High School National Beta Club received the 2019 Hall of Fame Service Award, the only high school to earn the distinction.

•The Jefferson City Council approved an ordinance amendment that would allow alcohol sales of beer and wine in taprooms. The Revival Hall Taproom plans to open on the town square.

•Mixed-use zoning was approved for the Hoschton subdivision, Creekside.

•A group of about 160 people opposed a re-zoning near the intersection of Highways 124 and 60 for apartments. The board of commissioners denied the re-zoning.

•Commerce City Council adopted its fiscal year 2020 budget of $29.3 million.

•Concrete work on the SK Battery America plant was to start soon, industrial developers were told.

•The county’s historic courthouse was to get a renovation.

•A combination of single-family houses and townhomes at the intersection of Hwy. 441 and Old Carnesville Rd. were rejected by the Commerce Planning Commission.

JULY

•Hoschton reported 104 building permits were issued in the first five months of 2019 and 440 have been issued in the county.

•The Jackson County Planning Commission recommended adding two small tracts to a 55-and-older subdivision across Hwy. 124 from the Traditions subdivision.

•The Commerce Board of Education approved a budget of $16.8 million for fiscal year 2020.

•Members of a study committee about building an aquatics center were named.

•The Commerce City Council denied a proposal to build an apartment complex on Hwy. 441.

•The Jackson County Board of Education agreed to name the new high school in west Jackson “Jackson County High School,” dropping only “Comprehensive” from the title.

•The county school board was evenly split about hiring a construction manager for the new high school. The recommendation of Carroll Daniel was approved at a July 25 meeting.

•Jackson County had about 29 million opioid pills sold between 2006 and 2012, according to figures from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

•About 140 acres of land owned by James Bouchard of Commerce was recommended to be re-zoned.

•School started back as Commerce students returned for the school year.

•Jefferson schools led the county in scores on the Georgia Milestones test for elementary and middle schools.

AUGUST

•Jackson County government created a “computer security administrator” after its ransomware attack, which cost Jackson County $440,000 in ransom, in the spring of 2019.

•The Hoschton City Council tabled ethics complaints for the second time. The complaints were made after Mayor Theresa Kenerly pulled a resume for a black man who was a candidate for city administrator and council member Jim Cleveland expressed views against interracial marriage.

•Jackson County Board of Commissioners was to consider pay increases for county employees.

•The three school systems in the county reported having about 14,000 students in school.

•Qualifying for municipal elections in Jackson County was held Aug. 19-23. Some city council and school board seats were contested.

•Jefferson agreed to allow food trucks to park and operate on city property. The owner of the Revival Taproom asked the city to allow the trucks.

•The Jefferson-Talmo Planning Commission recommended a variance on 70 acres fronting Concord Rd. – which is behind Burger King – and it could lead to the development of apartments on the land.

•Recall efforts against Hoschton mayor Theresa Kenerly and city council member Jim Cleveland were started.

SEPTEMBER

•The names of 10 World War I soldiers were to be added to the monument at the Historic Courthouse.

•The Commerce Board of Education imposed an “out-of-district” tuition on students starting with the 2020-21 school year. It is the first-year Commerce has had a tuition for students. Current students will be “grandfathered” and will not have to pay the $150 per student. Superintendent Joy Tolbert told the BOE in June it was running out of space for some grades.

•The Jefferson City Council considered an ordinance change that would allow alcoholic beverage consumption in front of businesses on city sidewalks and right-of-way for businesses that do not have enough space for outdoor drinking.

•The Commerce City Council and the Board of Education were set to approve an increase in the millage rate because the “rollback” millage rate is higher than the rate for 2018.

•A human skull was found in Pendergrass by utility workers installing sewer lines.

•The three school systems in Jackson County set their 2019 millage rates – Jackson County’s rate went down; Jefferson remained the same; and Commerce increased its rate.

•All four Jackson County high schools exceeded the state’s average graduation rate of 82 percent. The county high schools all were above 90 percent in graduation.

•An amphitheater behind the South Public Square for $2.5 million was discussed. The project was proposed by Main Street Jefferson.

OCTOBER

•The Jackson County Board of Commissioners lowered the millage rate slightly for the incorporated and unincorporated parts of the county.

•A 600-acre industrial park – the Bana 85 Commerce Center – adjacent to Interstate 85 on the Maysville side of the road was proposed by an Atlanta development company, Rooker.

•A retired Superior Court judge allowed recalls against Hoschton mayor Theresa Kenerly and council member Jim Cleveland to move forward.

•The new Jackson County High School on Skelton Rd. will cost more than $68 million.

•Jefferson police chief Joe Wirthman asked Jefferson City Council to consider putting speeding cameras in school zones. They would detect speeding violations and violators would be automatically cited.

•The Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority approved a 5 percent increase in water rates as part of its fiscal year 2020 budget.

•A mix of multi-family, commercial and warehouse space was to be considered for a 77-acre site on Hwy 53 at Braselton Parkway. The hearing before the Braselton Planning Commission was canceled when the request was withdrawn.

•The state-required CCRPI scores were down in all three Jackson County school districts.

•Hoschton mayor Theresa Kenerly appealed a court decision that allowed a recall effort against her to move forward.

NOVEMBER

•Municipal elections saw several incumbents lose in Hoschton, Jefferson, Braselton and Commerce.

•The Diana Food plant at Banks Crossing, which gets its utility service from Commerce, was to be sold to a company based in Ireland.

•Two new council members were to be sworn in for Hoschton.

•The Commerce City Schools stayed with a calendar that starts school in late July.

•Two new subdivisions with about 460 houses were approved by the county’s board of commissioners on Gum Springs Church Rd. and Hwy. 53 in Braselton.

•The Georgia Supreme Court denied an appeal by Theresa Kenerly of Hoschton in a recall against her.

•The SK Battery America plant in Commerce was honored as the “Deal of the year” by the Georgia Economic Developers Association.

•Modernizing Jackson County’s public safety communications could cost $13- to $21-million.

DECEMBER

•Jefferson City Council approved speed cameras in school zones.

•The recall effort against mayor Theresa Kenerly and council member Jim Cleveland will go forward after judge ruled opponents of the two had enough signatures to hold the vote.

•Commerce Planning Commission recommended an annexation and rezoning to industrial use of about 97 acres owned by James Bouchard. Adjacent property, also owned by Bouchard, was annexed and rezoned in the summer.

•The Hoschton recall vote was set for Jan. 14, 2020, and city council member Jim Cleveland said he would resign his seat.

•Speculation that Southeastern Toyota Distributors would be annexed into Commerce would affect the city and county school systems.

•The Jefferson City Council approved a new commercial development on both sides of Old Pendergrass Road at the Hwy 129 bypass. The site was once considered for a Walmart. The new development is projected to include an anchor store, attached retail stores and three out-parcels for restaurants.

•Hoschton does not have a mayor or city administrator after one resigned and the other was fired. A city council member also resigned. Both officials faced a recall vote in mid-January.


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EDUCATION STORY OF THE YEAR: County breaks ground on new high school

There were several pretty big education related stories in 2019. The Commerce City School System announced plans to begin charging tuition for some out-of-district students and the Jefferson City School System completed a number of major facilities projects during the year.

But the biggest education story of 2019 in Jackson County was the beginning of construction in West Jackson on the new high school and the related issues that came out of that project.

School and community leaders broke ground on the site in early 2019.

"This is a momentous occasion," said superintendent April Howard at the groundbreaking.

Technically, the system is relocating its existing Jackson County Comprehensive High School to the new site. There was some discussion about what to name the new school, but most patrons wanted to keep the same name. In the end, the board of education kept the name, but dropped the word "Comprehensive" from it. That returns the school to its original name when it was first located in Braselton in the 1950s before it was moved to Jefferson in the late 1970s.

But dropping "Comprehensive" from the name also reflected another major aspect of the school system's upcoming projects — the creation of a county-wide college and career academy in the existing JCCHS facility in Jefferson.

The Empower College & Career Center (to be known casually as EC3) is a partnership between the county school system, Commerce City School System, the Foothills school, local industries and area colleges and technical schools. It will be a major center of both vocational teaching and college dual-enrollment.

Essentially, the system is moving much of its vocational classes out of the high school and into the new EC3 facility. In doing that, the system, by state standards, had to drop the word "Comprehensive" from the high school name. The new EC3 facility is slated to open in 2021 after JCCHS relocates to West Jackson.

In a related move, the system hired John Uesseler as CEO for the EC3 facility in 2019 to begin planning the details of opening the facility.

Some controversy involved: While projects and planning for both the new high school and EC3 facilities made a lot of progress in 2019, it wasn't without some controversy. New county BOE member Don Clerici opposed hiring Carroll Daniel Construction as the construction manager for the new $65 million high school and he also voiced opposition to using Carroll Daniel to do a $6 million Phase 1 upgrade to JCCHS for the EC3 facility.

Clerici questioned the CM process and wanted a more hard-bid system for the new high school project. He was also critical of what he said was a lack of notice about the proposal to hire the CM.

After some delay, the BOE moved forward with hiring Carroll Daniel, clearing the way for the projects to move forward.

On the political front, the school system got a successful bond referendum vote in March 2019 to raise over $52 million toward paying for the new high school (other funding will come from the state and ESPLOST dollars to pay for the full $65 million+ cost.)

But that bond vote had a very low turnout, over 1,000 fewer voters than the system's last bond vote 20 years ago. In addition, the bulk of support for the new high school came from Central and West Jackson with voters in other areas of the county voting in opposition.

Reshaping the county: The new high school and EC3 facilities will undoubtedly reshape education in the county, but they could also dramatically reshape the political and economic dynamics in the county when they open in the fall of 2021.

As seen with the bond vote, the political center of Jackson County is moving toward the west side. Having a high school on the west side will undoubtedly act as a community catalyst around which voters will rally. It will unite a newer group of residents in a way that nothing in that geographic area has done in the past.

Likewise, the EC3 facility will bring together students, and their parents, from across the county, building bridges and creating an entirely new community. It will, to an extent, ease the school system's east-west divide by giving students from across the county something in common.

Beyond the politics, the new high school could push residential growth on the west side into hyper-mode. There are already hundreds of new homes being planned in the area, but in 2021 when the high school opens, those looking to move to Jackson County from other areas will have something real to look at. A new high school is always a draw and the new Jackson County High School being close by could make the area even more attractive to new residents (along with pushing up existing home values.)


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POLITICAL STORY OF THE YEAR: County board of elections sees changes and controversy in 2019

There was a lot of political news in 2019, but the agency that stayed in the spotlight the most was the Jackson County Board of Elections. From a new structure to two major controversies, the board was repeatedly under a microscope during the year. For that reason, it is The Jackson Herald's Political Story of the Year.

The year began with Rep. Tommy Benton introducing legislation to change the board from its traditional 3-member structure to a new 5-member board with four of those appointed by the two local political parties.

The move was apparently pushed by former Republican Party chairman Ron Johnson, who had been appointed as chairman of the elections board in late 2018.

But Johnson created controversy on the elections board after its other two members accused him of continuing to be active in Republican Party politics while serving as the board's chairman, a situation that would violate state law. Johnson had been GOP chairman in the county for 10 years and also held a state GOP position.

“While Ron resigned his position as chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party to take the board of elections position, it is our understanding that he continues to engage in political activity on its behalf,” said an email from elections board members Peg Sheffield and Theressa Tate to Superior Court Judge Joe Booth.

After weeks of controversy, Johnson eventually resigned his elections board seat in March and soon returned as local GOP chairman.

But that wasn't the end of controversy on the elections board in 2019. In July, the new 5-member board was created following Benton's legislative push. For a while things were calm, but in October, new board member Erma Denney came under fire for her dual role as a board member and also for being one of Hoschton's leading voices calling for the recall of two town council members.

The board of elections had a role to play in the recall by certifying the process, creating the perception of a conflict-of-interest for Denney.

Denney defended her dual roles as a board member and a citizen calling for the recall, but said she would recuse herself from any further elections board actions regarding the recall.

OTHER MAJOR POLITICAL STORIES

Several other big political stories happened in Jackson County during 2019, including:

• the resignation of the county's new GOP leader, Katie Griffin. Griffin said her board hadn't been loyal to her and that she had been undermined by Ron Johnson, who had returned to GOP politics after his stormy tenure on the board of elections. Johnson resumed his position as GOP chairman after Griffin resigned.

• county school system voters approved a $52 million bond referendum in March, funds that will be used to build the system's new high school facility in West Jackson. There was a small turnout for the vote, much lower than the turnout for the system's last bond referendum vote 20 years ago. West Jackson voters largely carried the day in the vote, which was opposed in other areas of the county.

• the November municipal elections saw several incumbents fall to challengers. In Jefferson, Clint Roberts defeated incumbent Don Kupis in a race that could shift the dynamics on the town's city council. In Commerce, two school board members were defeated, a sign of some dissatisfaction in the city's school system. In Braselton, one council member lost his seat and in Hoschton, two new council members were elected amid a slew of controversy.


News
PUBLIC SAFETY STORY OF THE YEAR: Good Friday Storm of 2019

It was the storm for the ages that slammed into Jackson County on Good Friday, washing out roads, causing sewerage to spill into rivers and flooding homes and businesses.

That Good Friday Storm will be one talked about for a generation and was Jackson County’s top Public Safety Story of the Year for 2019.

The area hardest hit was Banks Crossing where businesses were closed due to a massive amount of flooding. Many roads were also closed due to the storm, preventing school buses from delivering children to their homes that afternoon.

The area got over five inches of rain that Friday, much of it in a short time. It was an unusual situation for the community. The topography and geography of the county is not prone to flooding, so this event was uncommon

CYBER ATTACK

Another big public safety story for 2019 was the March ransomware attack on the county government. The attack came from overseas and totally locked down the county’s computer network. Many offices could not function for days, including courts and public safety departments.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners held an emergency called meeting on a Sunday afternoon to review the problem, eventually deciding to pay a $460,000 ransom in Bitcoin to the attackers.

OTHER PUBLIC SAFETY STORIES

Other major public safety stories in 2019 included:

• a man from Colorado was murdered after coming to Braselton and meeting with a woman at her home. She allegedly killed him.

• two men were killed in an Apple Valley shooting in November.

• a man and woman from Jefferson were charged in a child pornography sting.

• a Braselton physician was charged with illegally prescribing drugs.

• a Pendergrass man was killed in a Nicholson stabbing in January.