2019: A Year in Review

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By Tia Lynn Ivey, managing Editor

Like most years, the year 2019 was full of triumphs and tragedies, successes and failures,  joys and sorrows. Take a look back at the Morgan County’s top stories in 2019.

JANUARY

A Morgan County resident fired four shots while driving by Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley’s house, landing himself in a mental hospital for evaluation after Markley detained the man in the Rutledge without incident. A couple weeks later, Gary Daniel Mullins, Jr. was arrested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) for aggravated assault for firing the shots. 

Stewart Spece, a former Morgan County High School Bulldog, won a National Championship for Valdosta State University. 

Foster Park, a controversial housing development planned for the Historic District in Madison, faced another delay when a group of historic district residents filed an appeal case hoping to halt the 19-house subdivision. But the Georgia Court of Appeals declined to hear the case. 

After years of negotiations, the City of Madison and Morgan County signed a new Service Delivery Strategy (SDS), which sets forth the services provided to the city from the county. 

Morgan County officials launched a series of Town Hall to campaign for a new one penny sales tax, TSPLOST (Transportation  Special Project Local Option Sales Tax) to increase funding for transportation-related infrastructure and expenses, such as road repairs, paving and maintenance. TSPLOST is expected to raise $18 million over the course of 5 years. 

Jordan Huff, a stellar basketball player for the Morgan County High School Bulldogs, played his last game as a Bulldog. 

The Caboose, a favorite restaurant in Rutledge, announced it was going green to become more environmentally conscious and sustainable. 

The Steffen Thomas Museum of Art (STMA) debuted the Faces in Time Exhibit, which featured the art of Steffen Thomas and two other artists, Leanna Leithauser Lesley and local artist Chris Cook. All three artists immortalized influential historical figures through their artwork. 

Y’allywood returned with a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s 1980s Sci-Fi/Horror show, Amazing Stories, began filming in Morgan County. 

Scarlet Benjamin, a local hearing-impaired  baby went viral on the Internet, after receiving her first pair of hearing-aids. Her family posted a video of the Scarlet joyously laughing at the sound of her older sister’s voice, hearing for the first time. 

Morgan County Middle School Seventh Grader Leigha Helton became the first female in Morgan County wrestling history to become a part of the all-male squad. 

The Morgan County High School Basketball team was ranked one of the top 10 teams in the state. 

Madison Police utilized Facebook to catch a robbery suspect, by posting a picture of Travis Quinn Holland. Holland was identified within one hour of the posting. 

February

Local leaders, organizations and community members celebrated Black History Month with numerous gatherings, art displays, and highlighting the stories of triumphs of local African-Americans. The Madison-Morgan Cultural Center opened Connexus, an art exhibit celebrating African-American culture. 

Morgan County High School Wrestlers Donovan McElligott, Finn Williams, Mason Adamas, and Trevor Craft advanced to the 2019 Sectionals. Donovan McElligott won the State Championship for his weight class. 

Despite a second majority vote from the Madison Mayor and City Council to raise the city’s Hotel/Motel Tax by one percent, State Representative Dave Belton refused to bring the locally approved measure to the state legislature for finalization for the second time, arguing that the vote must be unanimous in order to be taken before state leaders. 

The Morgan County High School Boys Basketball team won the Region Championship trophy by defeating Monroe Area in the semifinals and Jefferson in the Championship contest. 

A report from the Coalition of Good Governance alleged that 127,000 votes were “missing” from the 2018 Mid-Term election, with a total of 295 votes unaccounted for from Morgan County. The controversy revolved around the statewide race for Lt. Governor in which a phenomenon known as “undervoting” attracted scrutiny due to “unprecedented margins.” Undervoting is when election races appearing lower on the ballot are left unmarked while election races on the top of the ballot are marked. The controversy inspired voting activists to lobby for paper ballots to be adopted in Georgia, taking their case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. 

Ellen Sims, a Morgan County resident, led the campaign for ambulance service reform after her mother, Donna Martin, tragically died from complications after a fluke wasp sting and waited nearly 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. Sims became the face of a statewide campaign from the Georgia Ambulance Transparency Project, pushing Georgia lawmakers to improve ambulance service regulations in Georgia. 

The Morgan County High School Cheerleading squad was crowned Game Day Champions at the inaugural GHSA state cheerleading competition. 

Morgan County announced its anticipated first tax revenue share from Stanton Springs in 2020, totaling over $141,000 generated from Takeda, a $1.2 billion biopharmaceutical company that set up shop in the industrial park. 

The Joint Development Authority (JDA) approved a $3.5 million parkway extension project to bring the Stanton Springs parkway all the way into Morgan County, which will make nearby undeveloped land ready to market. 

The Morgan County High School Lady Dogs closed out their basketball season after losing a pivotal game in the Sweet Sixteen Competition in Columbus, Ga. 

MARCH

Morgan County celebrated the long-awaited opening of the new $.19 million soccer complex. 

Morgan County High School’s top students were announced, all females for the Class of 2019: Callaway Pederson as valedictorian, and Emma Alligood and Mackenzie Ward were both named Salutatorians after tying in grades.  

The Morgan County Bulldogs emerged as victors, winning the the Georgia 3A State Championship, defeating rivals from Hart County for the coveted title. The school celebrated with a parade through Downtown Madison, honoring the basketball champions, as well as the state cheerleading and wrestling champions. 

Morgan County High School Senior David Rachkovsky was named the 2019 STAR Student for this notable academic achievements and aspirations. 

Morgan County voters approved TSPLOST, the new one penny sales tax to transportation-related projects, in a special referendum.

After a citizen’s tip, The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office teamed up with the Madison Police Department arrest six people involved in a drug ring, finding meth and cocaine at the scene. Locals Jermaine Shaffer, Jarid Ray Gordon, Matthew Earl Lyonais, Kerry Ann Smith, and Mandrell Dyshawn Higgins were all arrested in the bust. 

The Georgia Department of Transportation unveiled plans for a $100 million project aiming to widen Highway 441 from the Madison Bypass to the Watkinsville Bypass, beginning in 2023. 

The City of Madison adopted a new zoning ordinance to help facilitate the development of affordable housing projects in the future. The ordinance reduces the minimum square-footage and lot size requirements for new houses built in certain areas of the city. Madison’s lack of affordable housing options has prompted local officials to embrace policies that would make affordable housing projects in the city easier to accomplish. 

APRIL

Hundred Acre Farm in Morgan County becomes the nation’s first certified forest therapy trail.” The trail opened with international fan-fare. 

Justin Slaughter was given two life sentences after he pled guilty, and mentally ill, in the murder of his own mother, Paula Slaughter, and family friend, Collin Smith, back in 2017. 

The Morgan County Board of Education approved an extra $1.3 million for the new school project in light of unanticipated cost increases. The extra funds bring the consolidated school campus project to a total cost of $47.5 million. 

Local businesses, Empire Mills and Amici’s Italian Cafe, were awarded top state historic preservation awards for the work each business completed to renovate and repurpose beautiful structures in Morgan County. 

Students in Morgan County participated in the annual local Special Olympics, celebrating children with a diverse range of challenges and abilities while playing various games and sports. 

Local authorities seized 200 pounds of marijuana, the largest drug bust in Madison’s history. The Madison Police Department discovered over 200 pounds of maurijuna hidden in four duffle bags in the cab of Quanitini Thomas’ tractor-trailer. Thomas was sentenced to 30 years, with his first 15 years to be served in confinement and the second 15 years to be served in probation. 

Morgan County Diamond Dogs headed to the first round of playoffs, facing Redan High School. 

MAY

Spring kicked off with the annual MadFest event in Town Park. Locals and out-of-town visitors gathered for a day of informative and family-friendly fun. 

After a serious wreck at the Bethany Road Intersection, rescue workers saved two Labrador Retrievers from an enclosed bed of  pickup truck that flipped over on its side. 

The City of Madison announced the Fiscal Year 2020 would  increase by $2 million. Despite the increase, the city still adopted the new rollback millage rate. 

Morgan County continued to be the center of a heated legal battle between Governor Brian Kemp and the Coalition for Good Governance, revolving around the issue of election security in the State of Georgia and the alleged “missing votes” in the Georgia Lt. Governor race during the November 2018 Midterm election. Morgan County Democrats joined the fight, advocating for paper ballots to be used in future elections. 

Long-time public servant Troy Dobbs died after sustaining fatal injuries during  a tragic wreck in Bostwick. Dobbs had served as a Bostwick City Councilman and as superintendent of the city’s water department for more than 50 years.

Morgan County High School Diamond Dog Hunter Lane was named Region 8AA Player of the Year. 

Three back-to-back car wrecks at the Bethany Road Intersection reignited local efforts to secure a traffic light at the dangerous intersection. But the efforts were  to no avail once again, as the Georgia Department of Transportation insists that intersection does not qualify for a traffic light. Instead the GDOT is moving forward with an RCUT turning lane, much to the chagrin of local leaders and community members. 

The City of Madison approved a purchase agreement to help facilitate the development of a “workforce affordable” 60-unit housing complex. The project is planned on a 10-acre plot of land located at 1180 Wheat Street. 

American Legion Calvin Georgia Post 37 hosted 1400 patriotic motorcycle enthusiasts as part of the annual Ride for America celebration on Memorial Day in Madison’s Town Park to commemorate the service veterans. 

Morgan County unveiled at $18.5 million budget for Fiscal Year 2020, a three percent increase from the prior year’s budget. 

The Class of 2019 threw their caps in the air after walking the aisle to receive their hard-earned high school diplomas at the Spring Graduation. 

JUNE

The Morgan County Branch of the NAACP hosted the annual NAACP parade and festival through Downtown Madison, celebrating African-American history and culture. 

The push for ambulance service reform was reignited when local citizens pressed county leaders to add a third ambulance after another case of long wait times emerged. This time, Scott Sellers of Buckhead suffered a severe seizure outside his home, but no Morgan County ambulances were available to come to his aid. County leaders are still reviewing options to improve ambulance service in the county. 

Armed Gunmen held up Madison’s Happy China restaurant on Eatonton Highway, beating the elderly employees and forcing four customers to the ground. They struck a 90-year-old man on the head and threw a 60-year-old woman to the ground before striking her with a pistol. After struggling with an elderly employee at the register, the bandana-masked gunman fled with an undisclosed amount of money. A few weeks later, three men were arrested in Atlanta believed to be the gunmen at Happy China as well in a string of other armed robberies: Emmanuel Rakestraw, Shaquille Rucker, and Earnest Sims. 

The annual Rutledge Summer Music series kicked off with Bluegrass Musician Caroline Aiken. 

The Historic Foster-Thomason-Miller House was sold to a couple from Atlanta with Madison roots who intend to restore the home to its former glory. Elizabeth and David Minnix bought the historic house from the Madison-Morgan Conservancy, a non-profit tasked with protecting local historic sites and resources. 

Nicholas Hall and Erica Babcock, both from Newton County, were arrested in connection with a string of car burglaries in Morgan County and Newton County. The crime spree spanned over 31 incidences of theft from vehicles in both counties. They were also charged with marijuana and prescription drug charges when arrested. 

At the 65th annual award ceremonies, the Madison-Morgan Chamber of Commerce honored the contribution of local government in bettering the community. The City of Madison and Morgan County were awarded for their efforts to promote “a suitable climate for quality economic development in all its forms; industrial, commercial, agricultural and residential.”

Canaan Crossing, a residential development in Madison, was rated the highest scoring non-urban project in the state, according to reports from Woda, the construction gand management company in charge of the project. Canaan Crossing is being developed in the historic Canaan area as a form of workforce housing. 

JULY

Morgan County ELection Supervisor testified in the ongoing lawsuit against Governor Georgia Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. The case revolves around the alleged missing votes from the 2018 Midterm Election and pushing state leaders to adopt paper ballots to enhance election security and verifiability. 

The Morgan County Under-11 Youth Baseball team won a World Series baseball tournament in Panama City, Fla. The MC Bulldogs U11 team, under the direction of Head Coach Danny Tillery, finished with a perfect 6-0 record in the Grand Slam World Series. 

The Madison-Morgan Cultural Center and Bill Wood Park hosted  annual Fourth of July Independence Day celebrations for the community to celebrate patriotically with patriotic music beneath bursting fireworks.

A vigil to protest Detention Camps at the nation’s southern border was held in Madison’s Town Park called “Lights for LIberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps.”

Morgan Medical Center received $430,000 from the hospital’s foundation through the Rural Hospital Tax Credit program. The money will be used to update the hospital’s medicinal dispensary system. 

The community held the annual Back to School rally to equip returning students with the supplies they need to succeed. 

The ambulance service controversy continued as Huey Atkins, director of National EMS, defended his company’s emergency medical response times and overall service to Morgan County at a Board of Commissioners meeting. Atkins’ passionate defense came after months of criticism and calls from citizens to either add a third ambulance in Morgan County or to switch ambulance providers altogether. County is still reviewing options to enhance emergency medical services in the county. 

An explosive health report connected emissions from BD Bard in Covington to elevated cancer rates in the surrounding areas. The report from Georgia Health New and WebMD led to an extensive investigation from local and state government leaders and prompted Madison officials to question the local BD Bard plant’s emissions, since it utilizes the same carcinogenic gas, ethylene oxide. 

Madison Police Officer Jordan Fincher was honored for saving a woman who fainted and stopped breathing. Fincher arrived at the scene before emergency medical services and performed CPR on the woman, who revived after two cycles of CPR. 

AUGUST

A new database from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) shows Morgan County is part of a disturbing national trend of increasing opioid prescription drug use.  The Washington Post sifted through the newly released DEA information to compile a navigable database of hydrocodone and oxycodone quantities on the state and county level. The results reveal a nation increasingly dependent on highly-addictive, and sometimes fatal, prescription pain medicine. According to Washington Posts database, the top five pharmacies to distribute in pain pills in Morgan County between 2006-2012 were all located in Madison: Moore Health, with 1,010,240 pills, Walmart Pharmacy with 1,008,220 pills, Thrifty Mac Discount Drug with 810,660 pills, Madison Drug Company with 560,160, and the Eckerd Corporation with 480,590. 

The annual two-day Firefly Festival was held in Madison’s Town Park, featuring a variety of family-friendly fun, activities, and food. 

The ambulance controversy continued as Paula Sellers took up the cause. Paula is the wife of Scott Sellers who survived a serious seizure earlier in the year and could not get a local ambulance to respond to his medical emergency. Paula grew impatient with the county’s delays in taking action to enhance ambulance service. “Even the dogs get to eat the crumbs from the master’s table and you all aren’t even giving us crumbs.” County officials promised to continue exploring all available options to improve ambulance service. 

Morgan County approved at $3.2 million energy project to update energy infrastructure, enhance efficiency and lower costs in the long-term. 

The 2019 High School football season kicked off with a scrimmage against Jeff Davis Yellow Jackets. The Bulldogs prevailed 14-13. 

Y’allywood returned with the second-longest movie shoot in Madison’s history, a film entitled Charming the Hearts of Men, starring Kelsey Grammer. 

The Georgia Department of Transportation announced plans to move forward wth installing an RCUT turning lane near the controversial Bethany Road Intersection on the Madison 441 Bypass. The project is estimated to cost less than $200,00. However, locals are not thrilled with the project after years of advocating for a traffic light to be constructed at the dangerous intersection. 

City of Madison announced a new committee tasked with researching strategies to improve pedestrian safety when crossing city streets. A number of “close calls” prompted officials to take action to ensure a tragedy does not occur in the future. 

Local and state leaders gathered for the State of Morgan forum to tout progress made in education, healthcare and industry in addition to rising property values, falling unemployment rates, lower taxes, safer streets, and improved quality of life. 

Three City Madison officials, Madison Mayor Fred Perriman, Madison Councilwoman Chris Hodges, and Madison Councilman Eric Joyce signed a petition asking state leaders to reexamine Georgia’s new $100,000 voting system. 

A new air test conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) near a plant in South DeKalb concerned local officials over ethylene oxide emissions here in Madison. The EPA found ethylene oxide emissions at 15 times higher than the allowable amount. The BD Bard plant in Madison also uses ethylene oxide and the company has been under scrutiny for elevated levels of ethylene oxide detected in Covington. The investigation is ongoing. 

SEPTEMBER

A bizarre Kangaroo sighting in Morgan County led to other locals coming forward with their own kangaroo sightings in the area. The mystery has yet to be solved of the alleged kangaroo on the loose in Morgan County. 

Morgan County System Teacher of the Year Jeannie Rice, a middle school teacher, shared her teaching philosophy with the Board of Education. 

The City of Madison approved a utility extension project to make the first phase of construction for the long awaited Georgia Safari and Conservation Park possible. 

Morgan County election officials prepare to implement new voting system adopted by the state to replace the old Direct Recording Electronic voting machines, despite ongoing legal challenges from voting rights activists. The new system is sort of hybrid compromise between electronic touchscreens and paper ballots.voters will still select candidates via touchscreen, but after choosing, instead of casting the ballot electronically, voter will press a “print your ballot” button. A printer attached to the machine will print the ballot on a full sheet of paper which voters can review before inserting it into a scanner for tabulation. The paper ballots will be locked away in a ballot box incase they are needed for audits or recounts.

Morgan County Bulldogs continue winning streak by defeating Walnut Grove 35-14.

The Historic Madison Coalition called for a halt on all new development in the City of Madison, over fears traffic congestion and the deterioration of Madison’s “small town character.” But the Madison City Council brushed off the idea as unfeasible for the overall wellbeing of the city. 

The Hollis House, a historic home, on Fairplay Street in Rutledge caught fire and sustained serious damage. Owners John Pisello and Keith Rex vowed to restore the house. 

OCTOBER

A local woman Stacy Malcom was killed in a tragic house fire on Hardeman Mill Road. Malcom was beloved in the Bostwick community as locals greived her passing. 

A new Homecoming Queen was crowned at the annual Homecoming Game. Scarlett Alcarez, escorted by her father Rick Alcarez, beamed as she was crowned on the Morgan County High School football field in front of a cheering crowd. 

The Morgan County High School team defeated Monroe Area, achieving a key Region win on Homecoming night. 

County officials hit roadblock over ambulance service reform. County officials were considering new ambulance providers to possibly replace National EMS, but discovered that National EMS is the  designated official and sole ambulance provider for Morgan County’s zone. County officials hands are tied, only able to negotiate service with National EMS, but cannot replace EMS with another ambulance provider unless the Region 10 Council were to deem them unfit for the job. 

A chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, known as the International Keystone Knights, held a small gathering a Morgan County resident’s private property off Aqua Road. A cross covered in Christmas lights could be seen from the road. The gathering prompted local law enforcement to step up presence in case of any incidence. In the wake of the event, local groups and citizens spoke out against the IKK’s visit to Morgan County. 

Christine Lambert, a beloved community members known for her community service and generosity, celebrated her 90th birthday. 

The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office hosted the annual Anti-bullying rally to educate children on the dangers of bullying and encouraging them to embrace kindness and compassion. 

The Annual Spin for Kids, a cycling fundraiser for Rutledge’s Camp Twin Lakes, rode through Morgan County to benefit the nonprofit camp designed for children with special needs. 

Rutledge held its annual Spooky Fall Fest, inviting families to dress up in costumes as they gather candy from the traditional Trunk-or-Treat. 

NOVEMBER

A local male juvenile was arrested and charged after allegedly making a social media threat to shoot up Morgan County High School. He was apprehended by the FBI after confessing to making the threats. 

A Madison street was transformed to accommodate filming for Amazon’s new series, “The Underground Railroad.” An entire block of East Washington Street was made over to look like a town at the turn of the century. The entire street was covered with dirt and storefront were turned into old-timey businesses. 

After the Georgia Environmental Protection Division declined to mandate air testing at the Madison BD Bard plant, local Madison officials are advocating for air testing. The plant’s use of ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing gas, has officials worried about public health in light of the BD Bard plant in Covington’s air testing results revealing higher than originally reported rates of the gas in the air. 

The Morgan County High School Bulldogs defeated East Jackson in a wild game. The team emerged victorious, beating East Jackson 7-2. 

About 6,000 people descended upon Bostwick for the annual Cotton Gin Festival. This year’s Cotton King, Marvin Ruark, led the annual parade of tractors. 

Morgan County High School hosted the annual Veteran’s Day ceremony, honoring local veterans and their families. 

Dr. James Woodard, superintendent of Morgan County Schools, announced his retirement. Woodard came aboard in 2015 and spearheaded the new consolidated school campus project. 

State Representative Dave Belton promised Madison officials to keep them in the loop regarding the BD Bard investigation and the company’s use of ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing gas. Belton assured local leaders that the Madison plant would implement the same safety enhancements mandated for the Covington plant, which was forced to close for a week after the Georgia Environmental Protection Division found elevated levels of ethylene oxide through air testing. 

The Nolan Crossroad, a historic intersection in Bostwick, was placed on The Georgia Trust’s “2020 Places in Peril” list. The designation is meant to highlight deteriorating historic structures in danger of disappearing in order to spur on efforts to rehabilitate and save these historic sites. 

A murder on the eve of Thanksgiving rocked a local Madison neighborhood. Dontearious Burke, a 17-year-old from Union Point, has been charged with the murder of Kentrell Jones, 23, of Madison. Jones was standing on the street in Morgan Circle when Burke allegedly attempted to rob him for $50 and ended up shooting and killing Burke. 

The community mustered all of its holiday spirit to care for Lenita Franklin who lost her Bostwick home of 33 years to a fire. Long-time friend Rufus Hope Jr. organized a benefit concert for Franklin at the James Madison Inn Conference Center. 

DECEMBER

Santa was busy this year in Morgan County, making appearances all over to get people into the Christmas Spirit. Santa showed up at the cultural center, the Madison Fire Department, at Hard Labor Creek and in Downtown Rutledge, among other sightings. 

City councilman Joe Diletto bid farewell to the city council at his last meeting as a councilman after 8 years of dedicated service. 

The City of Madison accepted 40 acres of land potentially worth more than $400,000 from an anonymous donor. The parcel is located off Bass Road and the city hopes it will serve as an opportunity for economic development in the future. 

Morgan Medical Center, the new $35 million replacement hospital, celebrated its one-year anniversary this month. The new hospital has allowed healthcare services to grow and expand in Morgan County. 

The Morgan County High School Mat Dogs finished third in the annual Christmas Classic Wrestling Tournament. 

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