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2017 Year in review part 2

POSTED: January 3, 2018 10:35 a.m.

This is the second installment in the Courier’s ongoing look back at 2017.

March 1: The Liberty County Board of Education voted 7-0 to not renew Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee’s contract, following an agreement with her, which included the board paying her $190,000 salary for the next year. Lee had been on the job three years. Re- cent months had been marred by squabbles between board members and within her staff. Her last day was to be June 30. A single-vehicle wreck on Rye Patch Road in Long County killed Jeffrey Doolittle, 49, a custodian at Liberty County High School.

March 5: Nicholas Bacon was accused of shooting and killing his mother, Montez Bacon, as they were driving back from Savannah. She was driving and pulled into a gas station. He jumped out of the car and started walking after it hit a structure near the gas pumps. No motives have been announced. Several hundred veterans of the 24th Infantry Division are estimated to have attended a re- union of Gulf War veterans over the weekend. Long County STAR student Breana Harmon and her selected teacher, Sabrina Caines, were honored by the Long County Chamber of Commerce and re- tired educators during a ceremony. Hinesville City Council delayed a rezoning request for a 195- home development that area residents said would make their roads unsafe and change the nature of their golf-course neighborhood. Dryden Enterprises had asked for the 158 acre rezoning. In sports, Liberty County Panthers and FPCA Highlanders were knocked out of their respective state basketball tournaments. Both local teams had made it into the Final 4s.

March 8: Two Fort Stewart soldiers were found shot to death in a downtown Hinesville townhome. Officials did not initially release much information about the deaths of Malika Jackson, 21, of Montgomery, Ala., and MarQuez Brown, 21, of Macon. Two people, Ramiek Young and Whitney Wil- son, were arrested in connection with a string of church burglaries, at least four, around the county in recent months. Investigators alleged some of the items stolen were found with the suspects. Scott Carrier, who had been principal at Bradwell Institute for seven years and an educator with Liberty County schools for 33, announced he was retiring at the end of the school year. The committee planning the merger of Georgia Southern and Arm- strong State universities announced the Hinesville campus associated with Armstrong would be named the Liberty Cam- pus of Georgia Southern after the merger on Jan. 1, 2018.

March 12: Shaquilla D. Craig, 24, a sergeant on Fort Stewart, was charged with murder for the gunshot deaths of two soldiers found in a Hinesville townhome earlier in the week. Investigators said interviews with people who attended a party at the townhome led them to Craig and that a personal dispute between him and one of the victims likely led to the shootings. A week later, Spc. Phillip E. Thompson, also of Fort Stewart, was arrested and charged with being a par- ty to murder for allegedly helping Craig during the shootings. Oglethorpe Square officially opened for business with nearly 15 businesses open or near opening. Local, regional and state officials attended the grand opening, some saying the retail space would change the city. With a mere quorum present, Liberty County commissioners approved funding a proposed professional, full-time fire department with a fee imposed on properties, similar to one now in place to fund garbage disposal. The fee schedule was not approved.

March 15: The Liberty County Public Works Authority approved a $1 million bond issue to pay for construction of Midway’s proposed city hall, it was announced at a Midway meeting. The city’s share of the special purpose local option sales tax would be used to pay the bonds. Long County and Ludowici law enforcement officials reported on a disturbing number of property crimes targeting elderly residents. One recent crime ended up injuring an elderly woman when someone entered her home apparently to rob it. A reward fund was being mounted. March 19: Three people were arrested in connection with a shootout that killed U.S. Marshal Patrick Carothers in a Long County mobile home in November 2016. Ashley Roberts, 24, Levy Jenkins, 34, and Jeremy Lewis, 32, were allegedly with federal fugitive Dontrell Montese in the home when Carothers and a team of officers attempted to serve an arrest warrant on Montese, who also died in the shootout. The Liberty County Chamber of Commerce recently bought the historic Bacon-Fraser House on Court Street for offices for the chamber and county Convention and Visitors Bureau. Court records imply the 2.5 acres and home, first erected in 1839, the price was $380,000. Pali, the “hardest working” dog ever in the Hinesville Police Department K9 Unit, according to Maj. Bill Kirkendall, was being retired early after 3½ years because his handler left the department and the dog was too aggressive to be trained to work with another officer. Council member bemoaned the loss, but authorized finding a home for Pali.

March 22: Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl teams from Bradwell Institute, Midway Middle and Lyman Hall Elementary schools won state championships in the quiz-bowl style competition of knowledge of approved books. It was the fourth time BI captured the honor. Tom Wahl, who had headed the Liberty County 911 system since 2003 and who was credited with bringing it into the digital age, was found dead at his home from an apparent heart attack. He was 59. Derrick Harvey, who was found guilty of murder in January for the October 2014 killing of Macon rapper Markese “Pain City” Mahone, was sentenced to life in prison. Testimony during the trial said Mahone was shot during a robbery at a local motel. Long County High School Assistant Principal Sherry Lester was tapped to take the place of Principal David Edwards as he moves to the central office as financial officer in the summer.

March 26: The annual countywide planning retreat brought more than 100 county, school and municipal officials to St. Simons Island to review what had been accomplished in recent years and set goals of what they’d like to accomplish, ranging from increased internet access to recruiting jobs to proposing a sales tax earmarked for transportation projects. The Eleven Black Men of Liberty County presented its President’s Award to Andrew Williams during the mentoring organization’s annual awards banquet.

March 29: Emails obtained by the Courier revealed that members of the Liberty County Board of Education had started talking about whether they could get rid of Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee as far back as early February, and whether they would have to pay her any severance. Teenager Bunny Braun recently won the American Saddlebred Associate 17-under saddle seat equitation. Liberty County school board members were trying to figure out how they would pass on a 2 percent raise authorized by the state. The choices were as a one-time payment or as part of the system’s pay scale, which would have to be maintained into the future. Hinesville attorney Jeffrey Osteen was named Liberty County State Court judge by Gov. Na- than Deal to replace Leon Braun, who resigned.

April 2: Following complaints about how the Liberty County Board of Education had been conducting itself and its business, AdvancED announced it would move up its next planned onsite investigation. The agency decides school systems’ accreditation. The next visit had been scheduled for spring 2018, but was moved up to the fall. Eleven people were arrested on drug and gambling charges at various locations around the county. Hinesville, Walthourville and county officers made the arrests after a nine month investigation. In sports: Riceboro native and Olympic gold medalist DeLisha Milton-Jones was named head women’s basketball coach at Pepperdine University. Also, Hinesville Mel Ford was the Georgia State Bowling Association’s annual Super Senior Bowling Tournament in Valdosta.

April 5: In a twist in the ongoing controversy in the Liberty County school board, officials alleged former CFO Roger Reese increased his own salary, something that Reese’ denied through his attorney. During a series of meetings to discuss creation of a professional county fire department, officials said while the number of emergency calls have been increasing, the number of volunteers to answer them has been dropping. Mike Hodges, head of LC Emergency Management Agency and the county’s Fire Services, said the number of volunteers had dropped from 120 four years ago to around 50. Liberty Regional Medical Center announced plans to open two clinics as soon as possible. One will be at the center’s Coastal Manor nursing home in Ludowici and the other is to be built near Tradeport East Business Park, just east of Midway.

April 9: While the ad- ministration of Liberty County Schools was embroiled in controversy, educators reported that academics in the schools easily passed the most re- cent accreditation evaluation. Liberty County com- missioners ratified a $24,000 raise for County Administrator Joey Brown that had been granted late the year before without a vote. It brought his salary to $155,000 a year. In sports, the Long County Blue Tide won its first Region 2-AAA soccer championship. The Liberty County Board of Education hired the Georgia School Board Association to search for a replacement for Superintendent of Schools Dr. Valya Lee. “American Grit,” a physical challenge reality show filmed much of its second season at Hampton Island near Riceboro. The Association of Film Commissioners International estimated the production pumped $4.5 million into the local economy.

April 16: On top of all the woes facing the Liberty County Board of Education, an auditor and board administrator said the system’s financial records were in shambles. The problem was laid at the feet of former CFO Roger Reese, who was placed on leave earlier in the year. Meanwhile, Reese sued the board, the system and former Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee, saying he was wrongfully terminated.

April 19: Kenneth Howard, assistant Hinesville manager and executive director of the Hinesville Development Authority, revealed the HDA had worked nearly two years developing the new Oglethorpe Square shopping area, and financed purchase of its nearly 25 acres with approximately $25 million in bonds.

April 23: The Hinesville City Council rezoned part of a proposed 50 acre development that could eventually add 500-600 homes to the city and Flemington. Developer Josh Wheeler sought the action for a planned united development that would run into both cities. In its continuing attempt to modernize its administration Long County hired Ludowici native Bernice Johnson, who has 30 years banking experience as its finance director.

April 26: Midway officials learned that plans to build a new city hall hit a snag when estimates for the construction were deemed too low. So a $1 million bond issuance was called off. Problems recently found in Liberty County Schools record keeping prompted the school board to delay adoption of its fiscal year 2018 budget. The proposed budget is for $102 million. April 30: The Army announced that 200 members of the 3rd Infantry Division’s Headquarters, including then Commander Maj. Gen. James Rainey, would deploy from Fort Stewart to Afghanistan in the summer. They were to support Operation Freedom Sentinel for nine months to a year. At its most recent meeting, the Liberty County Board of Education fired Roger Reese, the system’s former financial officer. He was the subject of an earlier tribunal and did not make an appearance to state his position. In sports, the Miami Dolphins picked former Liberty County High School football standout Raekwon McMillan in the second round of the NFL draft. The linebacker had starred at Ohio State three season after high school and was the 54th overall pick in the draft.

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