COVID-19

The end of 2020 couldn’t get here fast enough for many. It’s been the year of the toilet paper shortage, face masks, quarantines, job losses and political strife. It will be remembered as the Presidential election year when a pandemic altered life for people across the globe.

Coronavirus affected life in Madison County, too. And there were numerous COVID-19 stories on the front page of The Madison County Journal in 2020, but there was plenty of local news not related to the virus this year.

Here is a look back at front-page news in The Journal in 2020:

JANUARY

•Madison County commissioners voted 5-0 to include a referendum on the 2020 General Election ballot to allow voters to decide on whether to give senior citizens a break on their property tax bills.

•Michael Jason Massey was sentenced by Judge Lauren Watson to serve 10 years, with the first five to be served in confinement and the remainder on probation on a charge of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute (trafficking in methamphetamine).

•Danielsville officials approved a significant hike in water and sewer rates, primarily affecting other governmental bodies, such as the school system and county government.

•Seagraves Lake, which was once seen as a potential water source for the county, is viewed as a liability by the industrial authority. The IDA talked about the matter once again at its January meeting.

•The Journal reported that Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) was issued an environmental violation in December by state regulators for mishandling chipped wood that was being blown onto neighboring property.

•Election official Tracy Dean reported the new election equipment with a paper trail was set to be delivered to Madison County in early February.

•Timothy Demone Carruth, Jr., 24, of Colbert, was arrested after firing his gun at a Georgia State Patrolman, who was uninjured, during a pursuit on Hwy. 72.

•Retired Madison County Magistrate Judge Harry Rice spoke of the need for unity as a polarized

society remains soaked in partisan hostilities. Rice was the featured speaker at the Madison County Pastors and Laymen’s Fellowship hosted its 16th-annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration Jan. 20 at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Hull.

•After hearing from constituents for several months, county commissioners agreed to support the push against Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) to stop burning creosote-treated railroad ties.

•Madison County citizens concerned about emissions from GRP protested in front of the power plant on Hwy. 72.

•BOC chairman John Scarborough announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election.

FEBRUARY

•Two local legislators — Alan Powell and Tom McCall — introduced a bill to ban the burning of creosote-treated railroad ties as a fuel source.

•Steve Shaw resigned as the county’s utility director.

•The Journal reported on a lawsuit including four Madison County poultry farmers, who allege that they were the victims of a scheme by Pilgrim’s Pride to force small, family chicken farms out of business.

•Commissioners agreed to seek bids on the courthouse roof replacement.

•Madison County deputy Gabe Dalton was charged with meth possession.

•The Danielsville City Council postponed action on a rezoning for a proposed facility for the Department of Family and Children’s Services.

•Josh Kincaid captured his second state wrestling title.

•A federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) lawsuit against GRP was dismissed.

•Former Madison County deputy Trey Adams, who admitted to shooting a man he believed was having an

affair with his wife, was indicted on felony murder charges in Clarke County.

•Madison County was recognized by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development for having the top farm gate value in the state for 2018.

•National Salvage and Service Corporation, which managed railroad ties at the GRP plant in Colbert, received a “notice of violation” Feb. 5 from the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) for failure to adhere to state regulations on handling the crossties at the GRP’s Colbert facility.

•The City of Danielsville offered the county government its sewer system.

•Edward Lee Wessinger, Jr., 42, of Arnoldsville, was arrested after allegedly pulling a knife on a

bus driver and a store clerk.

MARCH

•County commissioners considered a proposal to make Madison County a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” county.

•County elections official Tracy Dean asked commissioners for more storage space for new voting equipment.

•A man suffered a medical emergency and drove his vehicle into the Bread Basket in Comer. No one was injured.

•Commission chairman John Scarborough re-entered the 2020 race.

•City, county and school officials met in the Danielsville City Hall and discussed a proposed county DFCS facility.

•Friday the 13th — the day it all changed. Businesses shut down, schools closed, government offices closed. Panic buying ensued over the spread of COVID-19, leading to toilet paper shortages.

•Madison County had its first confirmed case of COVID-19. Citizens were urged to stay home, keep their distance and help stop the spread of the virus.

APRIL

•The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) reported the first COVID-19 death in Madison County, a 71-year-old man with pre-existing conditions.

•The Journal highlighted 10-year-old Kaytlin Thornton, who worked to sew face masks for health care workers. Trinity Baptist quilters also busied themselves with the same task.

•Madison County teachers discussed the challenges of trying to educate children in a completely online way.

•Gov. Brian Kemp announced a shelter-in-place order through April 13 and announced that school would not return in person through the end of the school year. He then extended the shelter-in-place order until April 30.

•Madison County deputies discussed policing in a pandemic with The Journal.

•Primary elections were pushed back to June 9 due to the pandemic.

•Danielsville Baptist Church Pastor Robert Burt was back home on Easter weekend after battling COVID-19 in intensive care.

•County commissioners approved a contract to replace the leaking roof at the old county courthouse in the center of Danielsville.

•Gov. Kemp ordered that gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, aestheticians, their respective schools and massage therapists to re-open their doors April 24, with theaters, social clubs and restaurant dine in services able to open April 27.

•Brian Dellinger, 44, of Colbert was killed in a skid steer accident April 22 at a property off Hwy. 172 in Colbert.

•The Danielsville City Council approved a rezoning for a proposed new DFCS facility off Hwy. 29 at the site of the old school board office.

•The Madison County Journal featured Cortney Gunter and her COVID-19 experience.

•A staff member at the Comer Nursing Home tested positive for coronavirus.

•The Madison County Chamber of Commerce held a virtual state-of-the county event.

•The Journal featured Danielsville Baptist Church pastor Robert Burt and his recovery from COVID-19.

MAY

•The Journal focused on how businesses search for normalcy during strange times.

•The Madison County Chamber of Commerce hosted an online political debate for local candidates.

•The industrial authority discussed county water supply concerns.

•The Journal featured Madison County High School valedictorian Taylor Evans and Salutatorian Aidan Russell-McCorkle.

•A group of about 20 people attended a two-mile run/walk in Comer in honor of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed as he jogged through a Brunswick neighborhood in February.

•A man attacked Broad River kayakers, threatening to kill them

•County commissioners approved a nine-percent increase over the next year in insurance premium payments for county employee health care coverage.

•Comer Health and Rehabilitation officials confirmed that 56 residents and nine staff members tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, with one hospitalized.

•Willie Andrea Howard, 48, Athens, drowned when his boat sank while he fished on Seagraves Lake May 12.

•Madison County High School held a virtual graduation for the Class of 2020 on May 22.

•State investigators determined that a fire around 2:10 a.m., Wednesday, May 20, at a Madison County residence, was intentionally set.

JUNE

•A Minneapolis police officer was charged with murdering George Floyd, who died with his neck under the

officer’s knee. This death sparked unrest in the country not seen since 1968.

•The county industrial authority forgave GRP’s construction debt of $346,887 in exchange for $1 million in escrow money to improve water system.

•Four Madison County residents were among 68 people charged in a large-scale drug trafficking investigation dubbed “Operation Wu Block,” which yielded the seizure of kilos of methamphetamine and heroin. Madison County residents charged included Benjamin Bray, 23; Ashley Davis, 26; Bruce Hicks, 39; and Ronald Kelley, 49.

•County primary elections were held. Winners of contested elections included Dennis Adams, BOC District 1; Katie Cross, Clerk of Court; and Cindy Nash and Brenda Moon, county school board. Runoffs were set between Terry Chandler and Grant Gillespie, BOC GOP District 2; Todd Higdon and John Scarborough, BOC chairman; and Tripp Strickland and Rob Leverett, House District 33.

•City leaders met in the Comer Travel Museum and voiced dismay with a county bond resolution plan to allocate Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds.

•Two Madison County school mentors, Ryan Melton and Jane Fitzpatrick, were recognized for seeing their mentees from kindergarten through graduation.

•Madison County deputy Mason Bennett and Cpl. Zach Brooks pulled two teens from a burning Jeep after they crashed it head on into a tree inside Clarke County.

•Colbert icons John Waggoner, long-time mayor, and Jack Fortson, former county sheriff, both passed away on June 16.

•An in-person graduation was held for Madison County Class of 2020 graduates on the Red Raider football field June 20.

•The Madison County Journal featured Eric Keen, a former shift supervisor for Veolia, the company managing

GRP plants in Carnesville and Colbert, who spoke of company practices at the Carnesville plant.

•Darrious Showers pleaded guilty in Madison County Superior Court to the 2019 murder of retired Marine veteran Samuel David Jordan. He received a life sentence and will be in prison until at least 2049.

JULY

•Paul Aaron Poss, 72, died in a fire at 107 South Sixth Street in Colbert.

•Legislators unanimously passed HB857, which bans the burning of creosote-treated wood as a fuel source at biomass energy facilities, such as the ones in Colbert and Carnesville. The action followed months of protests from citizens about the negative effects of the practice on their health and well being.

•The Madison County School System released guidelines on returning to school. Masks were mandated in classroom settings and whenever social distancing was not possible. Online school options were given to those who were uncomfortable returning to in-person instruction.

•The state cut the Madison County School System budget by $3.4 million for 2020-21.

•Madison County commissioners voted 3-2 — with Lee Allen and Theresa Bettis voting “No” — to purchase the old Brown funeral home building on Albany Avenue in a $325,000 lease/purchase agreement to be paid over three years.

•William Martin, who lived alone at 7668 Wildcat Bridge Road, died in a fire at his home July 10.

•The Georgia Supreme Court extended a statewide judicial emergency.

•A Commerce teenager, Evan Michael Davis, 17, was killed in a single-vehicle accident on Hwy. 98 in Madison County July 15.

•Madison County schools delayed opening by a week, from Aug. 7 to Aug. 14.

•County Republicans hosted an in-person debate between Republicans Matt Gurtler and Andrew Clyde, who were vying for the GOP U.S. 9th Congressional District nomination.

•The Madison County Journal reported on an online candidate forum for local runoff candidates.

•Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) leaders talked to The Journal about their plans as GRP neighbors waited for Gov. Kemp to sign HB857 into law.

AUGUST

•Gov. Kemp signed HB857 into law, banning the use of creosote-treated wood as a fuel source at biomass facilities.

•County industrial authority (IDA) members agreed to proceed with a water line project with an estimated price tag of at least $1.1 million that will allow them to purchase more water from Franklin County and to utilize water from a well on Roger’s Mill Road.

•Investigators determined the fire at a Galilee Holiness Church metal barn was purposefully set.

•Todd Higdon was elected as the new county commission chairman. Rob Leverett was elected the new House District 33 representative. And Terry Chandler was picked to face Conolus Scott for the BOC District 2 post in November.

•Madison County COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions doubled over the previous month. The Aug. 11 Georgia Department of Public Health report showed Madison County with a total of 417 COVID-

19 cases since March, up from 162 on July 11.

•Madison County students returned to in-person instruction Aug. 14.

•Danielsville leaders voted to proceed with a “letter of condition” for a $5,986,000 loan/ grant package from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for sewer upgrades and expansion.

•The Madison County High School football team resumed practice after a 14-day shutdown after a coach tested positive for coronavirus.

•Madison County topped 500 cases of COVID-19 since March.

•Madison-Oglethorpe Animal Shelter (MOAS) Director Shaina Knight announced her resignation.

SEPTEMBER

•Industrial development authority leaders gave an overview of the Madison County Water System at the local Rotary Club meeting.

•Madison County commissioners approved a small rollback of county tax rates.

•County resident David Jones appeared before commissioners and offered his help in securing good Internet service for Madison County.

•Stan Elrod was mourned in Madison County and beyond after the long-time law enforcement officer lost his life after being struck by a car. Arvil E. Hamons, 31, Danielsville, faces first-degree vehicu¬lar homicide and other charges for the collision that claimed the life of the 49-year-old Department of Natural Resources Captain from Danielsville.

•A Madison County Labor Day celebration was held at Madison County Memorial Park.

•Madison County will get a new Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) building after all and should be open in August 2021. The 13,800-square-foot building will be constructed on 7.257 acres formerly owned by the county school system.

•The Madison County varsity football team opened its season at Habersham Central.

•Madison County schools declared teachers as “essential workers.” This policy change means teachers who have been exposed to coronavirus have the option of returning to school following a three-day quarantine if they are symptom free and follow safety guidelines.

•Madison County commissioners said they were interested in conducting a noise study of GRP in Colbert. A number of neighbors of the facility have long said the noise is unbearable.

•Madison County held its 72-annual Agricultural Fair.

•Madison County had 50 new COVID-19 cases in a week.

•Local citizens angered by Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) in Colbert put up a billboard on Hwy. 72.

•County commissioners picked nine roads to be resurfaced in with a combination of state and local funds totaling roughly $1.4 million.

OCTOBER

•County commissioners voted 4-0, with Theresa Bettis absent, to move hiring and firing responsibilities to the district commissioners and away from the chairman.

•Karen “Kay” Kirk, 64, Royston, was killed in a three-vehicle accident on Hwy. 29 and Moon’s Grove Church Road Oct. 2.

•A Madison County 7-year-old second grader, Gus Boykin, recovered from complications from COVID-19 that required a stay at Scottish Rite. His father, Bo, spoke to The Journal about his son’s experience with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).

•The Madison County Board of Education heard from those in favor and opposed to a mask mandate in classrooms.

•Emma Ollis was crowned the 2020 Madison County High School Homecoming Queen. Brady Bates was named Homecoming King. Pasha West was named the 2020 Madison County High School Homecoming Princess.

•A man was attacked by a pack of dogs on Farm Road.

•The Madison County Food Bank announced it would not host a Christmas program this year due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

•Andrew Kitchens was named the new director of the Madison Oglethorpe Animal Shelter.

•Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger met with the Rotary Club of Madison County to discuss state voting policies.

•The Madison County Red Raider softball team advanced to the Elite 8 by defeating Marist two games to one in a best-of-three series.

•A federal $3,186,000 loan and $2,677,000 grant were awarded to the City of Danielsville to upgrade and expand its sewer system, which serves the city and also the county government and school system in Danielsville.

•The Madison County School System dropped its requirement for students to wear masks while in classrooms, though a number of students continued to wear the face coverings.

NOVEMBER

•Donald Trump was favored by a 3-1 margin over Joe Biden in Madison County in the 2020 Presidential election.

•Terry Chandler was elected BOC District 2 commissioner.

•A homestead exemption for Madison County property owners over 70 was approved by 92 percent of county voters.

•The Madison County High School 2020 graduation rate was 95.1 percent, up from 94.64 percent in 2019. It was the highest rate ever at MCHS.

•A memory card for a ballot scanner at the Pittman precinct in Madison County didn’t successfully upload on election night, leaving 231 votes from that precinct off the county’s election-night totals. But those totals were added to the official count for Madison County and Georgia.

•The 17th annual Madison County Toy Ride was held Nov. 14, beginning at Madison County Memorial Park.

•Hwy. 72 from Hwy. 98 in Comer to the Elbert County line was named the “Bill Madden Parkway.”

•Madison County High School basketball star Kayla McPherson signed a scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina.

•The Journal featured Grant Belk, who donated a kidney to his father-in-law, Dwayne Kidd.

•The industrial authority agreed to seek grant funding to tie a water line in the Blacks Creek Church Road/Mize Road area in western Madison County to the county’s main system.

DECEMBER

•After months of discussions, county commissioners approved a contract with Mobile Communication America (MCA) to install a new 911 radio system.

•Madison County commissioners approved a per-bag increase. Trash bags of 33 gallons or less will go up from 50 cents to a $1 fee in 2021, while bags over 33 gallons will cost $2 to drop off.

•Madison County COVID-19 numbers began to sharply increase.

•The national Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced a reduction in the number of days someone should quarantine if in close contact with a positive COVID-19 case.

•The Journal featured Patrick Blount and his new blacksmithing business, Greenhow

Handmade Ironworks in Comer.

•The Journal featured MCHS running back and actor Dayton Gresham.

•The Journal featured Mei Deavers, a sixth-grade Madison County Middle School student, who plays soccer on his recreation all star team on prosthetic legs.

•Madison County High School and Madison County Middle School went to distance learning for the final week before Christmas break due COVID-19. Elementary schools remained in person.

•The Rotary Club of Madison County constructed its 800th ramp.

•The 36th-annual Christmas Luminaries took place on Moon’s Grove Church Road with a Live Nativity at Moon’s Grove Baptist Church.

•State school leaders decided to weigh end-of-course (EOC) tests at .01 percent of students’ grades for the 2020-21 school year.

•Three elected officials at the county commissioners’ table said their goodbyes — BOC chairman John Scarborough, District 1 commissioner Lee Allen and District 2 commissioner Tripp Strickland.

•Two hundred and eighteen needy Madison County kids had a brighter Christmas this year thanks to the county sheriff’s office and community volunteers and donors.

•The Journal reported on a lawsuit between several Oglethorpe and Wilkes county residents against Madison County’s Smith Dairy Farms, saying their properties are being used for waste disposal, not ag production. The Smiths said their claims lack merit.

•Local elected officials talked about a range of issues at the Madison County Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Eggs and Issues” breakfast.

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