For Columbia County, the past and future collided in 2004. Old stories, grievances and problems brought themselves to closure, while new achievements set the pace for the county's next steps.
Through it all, the major theme for the county continued to be one of growth. The topic sometimes seems like the old joke about the weather: Everyone discusses it, but no one does anything about it.
In Columbia County, however, 2004 may have been the year that the real dialogue began on getting control of residential development. An important revision of the county's Growth Management Plan got underway, and talk of impact fees started to get traction. School officials finally began to speak out about the added load from residents drawn to low-cost, high-density housing.
Will the discussions make a difference? Probably not much. Slow-growth advocates are still rare among county leaders. Any changes will have to come from grass-roots pressure.
Whatever the future holds, looking back at some of the newsmakers for the year may give us a glimpse at what's ahead.
It was close to a statewide record: 82 percent of the county's voters cast ballots in the November General Election.
That election, and the July primary, returned Sheriff Clay Whittle to office over a well-funded challenger; saw former County Commissioner Jim Whitehead oust long-time incumbent state Sen. Joey Brush; and sent Danny Craig back to the district attorney's post, unopposed, even though he switched parties.
Another party-switcher, state Sen. Don Cheeks, lost re-election after he was redistricted out of Columbia County. The district of state Rep. Sue Burmeister, who ran unopposed, was drawn into the county.
Law and order
The highest-profile crime story of 2004 for Columbia County was the 18-count indictments against former State School Superintendent Linda Schrenko, of Martinez, and her former deputy superintendent, Merle Temple, of Evans.
Locally, band and school boosters were accused of mishandling or stealing funds, the last dregs (we hope) of school-system accounting cleanups.
It also was the year in which Thryshaun McCladdie went to prison for child molestation of a fellow Greenbrier High School student, Christopher Allen Hall went to prison for molesting a fellow Harlem High student, and Chad Muns received two years' detention and 20 years' probation for charges including statutory rape. Real crimes, real time.
Meanwhile, three Evans High students, caught up in a legal loophole that criminalizes sex between teens, landed in jail for an oral-sex party with several girls. Those charges, wisely, were later reduced.
Closure came this year to a lingering case when the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the murder conviction of Jason Kennedy, who went to prison for killing his girlfriend's 19-month-old daughter. It took four trials with hung juries to convict Kennedy, and dogged determination by District Attorney Danny Craig to put him behind bars for good.
Government and business
The Marshall Square project, announced in 2004, will create a true town center in Evans. County officials also voiced their intention to purchase the Doctors Hospital field across the street from Marshall Square to turn the popular land into a public park.
County officials won a lawsuit against the stormwater utility fee, but ended 2004 facing another suit against the county's smoking ban. In between, the county lost a challenge to Gordon Park Speedway.
The year ends with legal-language disagreements over fire service contracts between the county and the two cities, as Harlem and Grovetown express concern about details.
Columbia County officials spent much of the year either extricating themselves from one-sided "partnerships" with Augusta, or in salvaging similar agreements. As the year ends, there still is little progress on regional economic development.
Am apt metaphor for 2004 could be found in the Evans Middle School pillars and arch, relics of history awaiting their fate as developers prepare to take over the property.
One of the pillars has been knocked to the ground and broken, and will stay there until a new location for the stone edifices is found. For Columbia County, though some things occasionally got knocked over in 2004, in the end we'll face the future unbroken and unbowed, ready to build and rebuild.
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