This past year didn't seem to be one in which many things were started. But for better or worse, a lot of things were finished in 2006.
For The News-Times, we wrapped up our 125th year of chronicling the passage of time in Columbia County. Here in the final issue of the year, we join the news and sports pages in looking back on some of the significant events of the past year - particularly those that started in an earlier time, but came to a close in 2006.
- Linda Schrenko and Merle Temple will have the next eight years to contemplate their impact on Georgia and Columbia County. While their saga began several years earlier when the two plotted to steal more than $600,000 in federal education money, it came to a climax in 2006 when the pair were convicted in federal court in Atlanta and sentence to prison.
Though the case focused on the state capital where Schrenko ran the Department of Education, with Temple as deputy superintendent and later gubernatorial campaign manager, it also left an ugly stain on Columbia County: Schrenko hails from Appling and Temple from Evans. Their eight-year prison sentences will give Columbia County time to recover from the embarrassment.
- Like the Schrenko saga, the concept of Columbia County consolidation also started long ago - and it likewise ran into a ditch in 2006.
The idea of creating a hybrid city/county government started way back in 1995, but fizzled when Augusta-Richmond County hastily consolidated and prevented Columbia County from becoming a larger city.
That effort created a perpetually gridlocked Augusta, cementing a perception that consolidation is bad. Now, even though changes in state law would now allow consolidation, Augusta's experience still spooks Columbia County from trying it.
Voters had their say in straw-poll questions on Republican and Democratic primary ballots in July - and in all cases delivered a resounding "no" to the idea. That won't stop it from coming up again, but it certainly doesn't give the concept momentum.
- The hopes for a new Columbia County library began many years earlier but finally came to fruition in 2006.
Dr. Jeff Hardin, chairman of the county's library board, ended 10 years of service on the board in 2006 - service that coincided with his non-stop work to replace the county's outgrown Gibbs Memorial Library.
The result is the county's new library, performing arts center, amphitheater and memorial gardens, the cultural nexus of our growing community.
It is a phenomenal credit to Columbia County that the biggest criticism of the new library is that it isn't open enough hours, or that the Jabez Sanford Hardin Performing Arts Center is too small.
- An important set of under-appreciated statistics also marked 2006. In spite of the county's fast growth, the community saw the crime rate fall by 22 percent during the past 10 years. And arrests for driving under the influence during that time also declined.
Both statistics are a credit to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office led by Sheriff Clay Whittle. It's hard to argue with that kind of success. Along with the county's top-notch schools, the county's safety and security go a long way to attracting the residents who drive the county's growth numbers.
- Speaking of schools, today marks the end of a significant era in Columbia County: 2006 will be recorded as the last year in which the School Board chairman was chosen from among the five members of the board.
Changes in the way the county's school system is governed has been a slow process, with the first significant reform nearly four decades ago when board members began to be elected to office instead of being chosen by the grand jury. Nearly two decades later, voters statewide approved a constitutional amendment ending the practice of also electing the school superintendent - even though Columbia County voted in favor of elections.
The change to a county-wide elected board chairman is the next step in the metamorphosis of the school system; newly elected chairman Regina Buccafusco will be sworn into office Wednesday.
There were plenty of other events in 2006, of course. And undoubtedly many of the events of the year will have significant impact in later years.
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