Editor’s Note: Douglas County saw a local student win “Chopped Junior,” the county landed a $2.5 billion investment from tech company Switch and the year ended with a historic snowfall of 10 inches. The editorial staff at the Sentinel compiled a list of what we believe were the top stories from last year. The list is in approximate chronological order.
CITIZEN ACTIVISM — QUARRY, BUSES: In early January 2017, signs started popping up all over Douglasville in yards and in business windows. The signs read “No Rock Quarry!” The signs were protesting a request in front of the Douglasville City Council to change zoning to allow a rock quarry along West Strickland Street near downtown. The movement worked. The council voted unanimously to deny the rezoning that would have allowed the quarry, and a court case filed by the developer to overturn the council’s decision was dismissed in November. However, the case can be refiled within six months of the dismissal or the plaintiffs can petition the council to rezone at any time. Later in the year, “No Buses” signs could be seen around the county as opposition grew to expanding bus service in the county, and there was an online petition. The county already has a small-scale bus system to help seniors and those with disabilities get around the county using a voucher system. However, the voucher program is in high demand and can only accommodate 80 participants with a waiting list of equal size. The proposed expansion of the bus service would include routes traversing major thoroughfares in the county and one route would connect with MARTA at the H.E. Holmes station. The county has applied for a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant through the Atlanta Regional Commission that would pay operation costs for the first three years, but the grant will not be available until later in 2018.
DOUGLASVILLE’S GENTER WINS CHOPPED JUNIOR: An 11-year-old from Douglasville won the grand prize of $10,000 on Food Network’s "Chopped Junior" in an episode that aired Feb. 14. Rose Genter, a student at Factory Shoals Middle School, was judged the best out of four contestants on the episode titled “Rise and Cook!" Students at her school welcomed their newfound celebrity schoolmate the day after the episode aired with rounds of applause at she walked down the hall to her classroom. “It was very cool being on TV,” Rose told the Sentinel. “It was a great experience. We met great families and great kids.” She and her mother, Crystal Genter, had to “sneak away quietly” to New York City in October 2016 when the episode was being taped and they had to keep the secret that Rose had won the competition until the episode aired and the winner was revealed.
CORONER ASKS FOR 81 PERCENT RAISE, GOES OVER BUDGET: Newly elected Douglas County Coroner Renee Godwin asked the Board of Commissioners for an 81 percent raise in March, just two months after taking office. Specifically, Godwin, whose job is classified as part-time, asked the BOC to increase her annual pay from $32,000 to $58,000. The BOC ultimately tabled the request after extensive discussion. District 4 Commissioner Ann Jones Guider said she had no knowledge of having an elected official ever wanting to nearly double her salary after two months in office. "I have a problem with her coming to see us at the courthouse and wanting to ask for a raise two months into the job," Guider said. "A new employee does not come in and ask to double their salary. We have to look at the big picture and have the hard job of telling department heads and constitutional officers that we can't give them all the things they ask for." Godwin drew further criticism from Guider and members of the public after going over her 2017 budget by nearly 60 percent at the end of the year. But in December, the BOC voted to increase the coroner’s budget to $191,000 in 2018, up from the $145,565 she was originally given in draft budgets for 2018 and up from the $123,954 her 2017 budget was set at; Guider and fellow Republican Mike Mulcare voted against the increase in the coroner’s 2018 budget.
SWITCH TO INVEST $2.5 BILLION IN DOUGLAS DATA CENTER: Switch, a global technology solutions corporation, will create 65 jobs, and along with its clients, invest $2.5 billion in a Switch PRIME data center in Douglas County, Gov. Nathan Deal announced May 25. The new metro Atlanta location will be the highest-rated data center in the Southeast. The Douglas County campus, named “The Keep,” will become the fourth Switch PRIME campus located in the U.S. The Keep campus will offer clients the ability to operate in multiple Tier IV Gold data center environments across the east coast while remaining outside of natural disaster zones. The current PRIME campus locations are Las Vegas and Tahoe Reno, Nev., and Grand Rapids, Mich. The Switch PRIME data center in Douglas County is projected to be several million square feet with two campus locations as the ecosystem grows, serving as a hub for Miami, Ashburn, Va., and the entire Southeastern U.S.
NORTH NAMED NEW SUPERINTENDENT: The Douglas County Board of Education named former Carrollton Middle School Principal Trent T. North as its new school superintendent by a unanimous vote during a called meeting May 30. North replaced Gordon Pritz, who retired after seven years as superintendent. North spent 26 years in education with the Carrollton City School System, and as the principal of Carrollton Middle School, served as administrator of a school with a student enrollment of 1,109 and staff of 100. During his first six months in Douglas County, North made progress in establishing more transparency at Board of Education meetings with dedicated work sessions to address the issue of a lack of discussion and dialogue at meetings. “The school board is tasked with developing policy, a strategic plan for the district and charting direction for the school system," North said in July. "To do so effectively there is a need for dialog among cabinet members, teachers and directors. Work sessions are for questions and answers — probing back and forth."
FORSH COMPLETES 45TH YEAR AT DCHS: When Chet Forsh signed his first teacher’s contract in 1972, he never thought about how long he would remain in Douglas County as a coach and educator. After falling in love with Douglas County High School and the community, Forsh has remained a part of the school for past 4 ½ decades. Forsh completed his 45th year at DCHS when school ended in May and began his 46th year as a teacher at the county’s oldest high school when school started back in August. “When I first started teaching I never really thought about the length of time I would do it,” Forsh said. “It is kind of hard to believe that it has been 45 years. I care about all kids. I enjoy teaching and coaching.” And he has been successful at it. Forsh picked up his 600th win as the school’s girls basketball coach in 2016-17 where he has led the program the last 38 years. In that time, Forsh has only missed one game on the sidelines.
CITY UNVEILS REVAMPED O’NEAL PLAZA, MILITARY HONOR GARDEN: Douglasville celebrated the renovated O’Neal Plaza with a grand opening ceremony on Oct. 19. The ceremony came right at a year after a groundbreaking ceremony was held to revamp the plaza, which had drainage issues and other problems. Some of the renovated features include leveling the area’s surface, fixing the drainage problems, and the construction of a new working light-up fountain that is now on the Church Street side. The Military Honor Garden at Hunter Park opened with a ceremony on Nov. 11, which appropriately was Veterans Day. The garden opened almost 17 months after its groundbreaking in the summer of 2016. The honor garden was inspired by the tree it’s built in front of. The tree honors Staff Sgt. Joshua Bowden, a fallen soldier from Douglas County who died serving his country in Afghanistan in 2013.The honor garden gives Douglas County residents a place to remember the sacrifices made by Bowden and all from the county who have served their country. Keep Douglasville Beautiful Board Chairman Paul Laseter, who played a key role in getting the honor garden built, wrapped up the ceremony talking about what he hopes the garden will mean to veterans. “Our non-negotiable message to the service men and women in the past and present, and their families is clear,” Laseter said in his final statement. “We acknowledge your service and sacrifices, although we may truly know what your sacrifices were. We honor your contributions to our nation and community. We respect your willingness and courage to give of yourselves for the benefit of people whom you may never meet.”
AEROSMITH’S TYLER OPENS JANIE’S HOUSE: Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler opened his first-ever home for abused and battered girls, Janie’s House, Dec. 6 at the Youth Villages Inner Harbour Campus on Dorsett Shoals Road in Douglasville.The home is also affiliated with Tyler’s charity, Janie’s Fund, which he started in 2015. He said that being in rehab in the 1980s really exposed him to the issue. Tyler wrote the song “Janie’s Got A Gun” in 1989 about a girl being abused by her father. Youth Villages first partnered with the Inner Harbour campus in 2009. The campus is 1,200 acres and is one of Georgia’s largest psychiatric residential treatment programs for children and youth with serious emotional disturbances. The campus includes a lake, a sports field with a running track, hiking trails, canoeing activities, a ropes course, and playgrounds for recreational activities. After visiting Inner Harbour, Tyler knew Douglasville was the first city where he wanted to open a Janie’s House.
HISTORIC SNOWFALL: Douglas County got hit with an unusual and historic early December snowstorm Dec. 8-9 that left thousands without power, delayed school children getting home and created hazardous conditions on many local roads. Jason Milhollin, the county’s emergency management agency director, said as much as 10 inches of snow fell on parts of the county. National Weather Service Meteorologist Ryan Willis said the NWS’ closest tracking station to Douglasville is in Dallas in Paulding County. The NWS has data at the Dallas station going back 70 years to 1947.The storm that hit Dec. 8-9 ranks as the second highest snow total in that 70 years, with the 17.5 inches from the Blizzard of 1993 the only storm to dump more snow on the area. Even still, lovebirds Shannon and Gary Hammond got married at Gary’s parents’ home near Lithia Springs with the power out Dec. 9. “It was exciting,” Gary said. “We really enjoyed having pictures that a lot of people don’t get to have with the snow. It definitely was a surprise for both of us to have a white wedding.”
COUNTY LOSES PROMINENT CITIZENS: Douglas County lost three prominent citizens in 2017 with the deaths of James D. Simpson, Dr. Clark Robinson and James Bell. Simpson, a Douglasville community activist and business owner who helped end segregation in the county, died Jan. 12, 2017 at the age of 95. Simpson founded Simpson and Daughters Mortuary in March 1964 on Colquitt Street. Simpson was honored at a street renaming ceremony in 2016 for his 52 years of service in Douglasville. W. Forrest Avenue was changed to James D. Simpson Avenue by the city council. Robinson, who dedicated his life to taking care of generations of Douglas County residents, died June 30, 2017 at age 92. Robinson practiced medicine in downtown Douglasville for 44 years. He moved to Douglasville in 1963 and served as a solo family practice doctor until his daughter, Tammy, joined him in the practice in 1993. He continued to practice medicine until he was 82 years old. Bell, a longtime citizen activist who championed government transparency and many other causes, died suddenly Sept. 15, 2017 at the age of 58. For years, Bell was often the only citizen in attendance at government meetings in Douglas County. He spoke out about issues he cared about and could often be spotted with a video camera, taping government retreats and other meetings to post online so more citizens could see what their elected officials were doing.