In the second of a four-part retrospective, the Courier recalls the top headlines from April through June of 2011.
April through June
• April 13: In an official letter to Army Secretary John McHugh, U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., as well as Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, officially urged leaders to consider sending Fort Stewart a heavy brigade combat team that has been slated by the Department of Defense to return to the United States from Germany in 2015. Many local leaders also supported this measure, pointing out that bringing the brigade to Fort Stewart would compensate for the 5th brigade, which was promised but never came.
• April 15: The Georgia Department of Education scrapped high school graduation tests, opting to use individual end-of-course tests instead. The move will affect students who began high school in 2011 and means that tests offered throughout high school hold more weight toward graduation. Students are at an advantage, however, because they are able to retake classes that they did not pass and will be tested on material covered the same semester, rather than in years prior.
• April 17: Fort Stewart and community officials bid farewell to former 3rd ID Commander Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, who took command July 14, 2008. In a change-of-command ceremony, Cucolo passed the division command to Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams, who was promoted from brigadier general to major general about two hours before the ceremony. During his farewell speech, Cucolo became choked up as he expressed pride in the white and blue Marne patch and said his father also was a Dogface soldier who fought in the Korean War.
• April 20: After taking command of the 3rd ID, Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams spoke about the changes the installation would see and his style of leadership during a luncheon. The division, which had worked on a rapid deployment cycle for years, would move to ongoing preparation for unknown contingencies, he said. He also vowed to take 45 days to get to know the troops and the community, rather than make his decisions from a desk.
• April 22: In his annual state-of-the-city address, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said the city was in good — not great — shape. He said he was not pleased about the U.S. Census discrepancy that did not account for deployed soldiers and that the issue could result in the city losing $168 million-$200 million over 10 years. He also said tax revenues have risen since the return of the troops and spoke about HB 277, now more widely known as the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act, which will add a 1-cent sales tax for transportation and infrastructure to the 2012 summer primary ballot.
• May 8: The Hinesville City Council voted to redraw its voting districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which calls for populations to be equitably divided. Though redistricting is a standard task every 10 years, the city’s district boundaries had yet to be approved by the United States Department of Justice only days before early voting for the Nov. 8 municipal election began Oct. 17.
• May 11: For the second time in 15 years, Liberty County’s team won the 19th annual Kiss-a-Pig campaign, which benefits the American Diabetes Association. Team Liberty candidate Joel Osteen and his team raised $82,676. “I think I enjoyed the kiss more than the pig did,” Osteen said after he kissed the pig. “He was trying to get away from me.”
• May 13: A heated debate over costs and the nature of renovations to Bradwell Institute’s Olvey Field culminated in a board of education vote to move ahead with an estimated $7.2 million in work, including rotating the football field, constructing a new field house and raising and replacing existing restrooms and concession stands.
• May 13: Fort Stewart announced that the 3rd ID’s Headquarters Headquarters Battalion would deploy in the fall in support of Operation New Dawn in Iraq. The release did not specify the mission or location, but Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams later would reveal that the estimated 700 troops would have commanded training of the Iraqi army if the United States and Iraq had agreed on terms for a continued occupation. However, with President Barack Obama’s Oct. 24 announcement that the war was over came news from Fort Stewart that the deployment had been called off.
• May 14: The Liberty County Justice Center opened its offices. The 92,000-square-foot, $20 million facility was completed in two years and contains six courtrooms, a grand jury room, a jury assembly room, sheriff’s offices, a law library and offices for the clerk and judges.
• May 18: Hundreds of bones and animal carcasses were uncovered at the Loonie Farms Rescue Shelter in Long County. Long County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Tom Sollosi said officials were investigating the incident and property tenants Christiane and James Judd. Later, the Long County Sheriff’s Office filed eight charges against Christiane Judd, including the felonies cruelty to animals and making false statements and a misdemeanor charge of giving a false name.
On May 29, Judd was arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Field Operations while trying to enter Canada under another name, Christiane Babic. Judd’s son, Vincent, created a Facebook group called “Let’s Help Christiane Judd/Babic,” where he claimed that Judd fled Long County on May 15 after she and her son had a gun held to their heads the previous day.
• May 18: Seven Snelson-Golden Middle School students were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after a bus driver carrying 34 students pulled the bus over twice, reportedly because the students were acting unruly. Some students involved in the incident and their parents alleged that the incident was handled improperly by the bus driver, school system administrators and the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, but no one was able to review the incident on video because the bus recording system was malfunctioning. They took their complaints to the Liberty County Branch of the NAACP, which launched its own investigation of the incident. In August, the NAACP asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to launch an outside investigation into how the incident was handled.
• May 22: The Liberty County School System enacted a new hiring policy after the Courier discovered the LCSS had hired job candidates with criminal records. Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said immediate supervisors make hiring decisions from applicants screened through the district personnel office. Human resources Director Delilah Norris insisted she had followed protocol when approving individuals for hire with previous legal run-ins. Scherer, who called the decisions “an error in judgment,” mandated that she would review background checks firsthand.
• May 22: The Liberty County Development Authority board discussed restructuring three SunTrust bank notes that
totaled $25,177,965.38. The total debt included a $14,517,431.85 note for Tradeport East, a $1,695,800 note for Tradeport West and an $8,964,733.53 note for the water reclamation facility. The LCDA was in negotiations with the bank for about a year to determine how to handle the issue. In a May 23 meeting, the board approved the decision to restructure and make monthly payments to the bank. Board members also requested to see monthly financial statements in the future.
• May 27: Seventeen marijuana plants were found growing in Bradwell Institute’s greenhouse after a female student reported the plants to a teacher. A male senior, whose name was withheld, was suspected of planting and tending to the plants but did not face criminal charges. He went before a district tribunal and was placed on strict probation through the end of the school year.
• June 3: Mary LeCounte Baggs, a Riceboro native and pillar of the community, died at 100 years of age. Her husband, the late Earl M. Baggs, was the first black elected official in Liberty County since the post-Civil War reconstruction era. She had earned a master’s degree from New York University and taught at several Liberty County schools. She also was active in the civil rights movement and a number of civic organizations.
• June 8: The Long County Sheriff’s Office charged Briarwood Stables owner Jason Ashley and trainer Curtis Aswell with animal cruelty and being party to the crime of animal cruelty after discovering a number of horses suffering from severe neglect at the stable. Following the charges, most owners whose horses were boarded at the stable elected to move them elsewhere.
• June 10: After more than 40 years of service with the Army and the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, Lt. Danny “Cuz” Pittman retired. Sgt. James Caines, who since has been promoted to lieutenant, took over Pittman’s role. LCSO Chief Keith Moran thanked Pittman for his service and said, “You won’t find a better police officer, friend or someone so dedicated to helping the community.”