BRICKS AND MORTAR

The State Road and Tollway Authority and the Georgia Department of Transportation opened the I-75 South Metro Express Lanes, Georgia’s first reversible toll thoroughfare, providing a 12-mile expedited passageway between Stockbridge and McDonough.

Henry County increased fire protection and recreation, opening the new Village at North Henry Park in the Ellenwood community, Fire Station 14 in Locust Grove and the uniquely dual-purpose Bear Creek Senior Activity and Recreation Center in Hampton.

Health care took a stride with a Piedmont Henry Hospital emergency room expansion.

Answering the county’s population growth and popularity of a college and career academy, the Henry County Schools district broke ground on new McDonough middle and high schools, slated to open in 2019.

A new McDonough shopping center opened in time for holiday purchases; its anchor store Burlington donated $10,000 to a nearby school as part of its company grand opening traditions.

The city of Stockbridge struck a blow for improvement by demolishing a decaying arts center to make way for a new one.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Henry County Police Chief Keith Nichols retired after seven years as the top cop. An escaped circus tiger shot by police made national news. The foster child homicide case against Jennifer and Joseph Rosenbaum took a new twist as the county relinquished jurisdiction due to a conflict of interest. The district attorney’s office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took steps to improve investigations into baby deaths, including those by abusive head trauma. The announcement came after authorities arrested a Stockbridge man for his infant’s deadly brain injury. In Locust Grove, a train crashed into a stranded tractor-trailer on the railroad tracks; the driver escaped injury but not traffic charges. The driver of a stolen car faces vehicular homicide charges in an express lanes crash that killed a toddler whose family was returning to Florida after Hurricane Irma.

LEADERSHIP LEAPS

Stockbridge’s first female mayor Judy Neal and first African-American county chair, June Wood, and district attorney, Darius Pattillo, took their oaths of office.

In Stockbridge, ethics charges against City Councilman Elton Alexander were dropped following an investigation finding no merit in the claims.

Henry County Schools took two tries to hire a new top administrator following Superintendent Rodney Bowler’s retirement. Controversy accompanied the first finalist, Timothy Gadson III, Ph.D., whose salary demands were said to be excessive. Mary Elizabeth Davis, Ph.D., landed the job. Both contenders split the school board in 3-2 votes.

CELEBRITY SIZZLE

December brought Shaq-A-Claus from the North Pole. Santa’s helper, aka Shaquille O’Neal from McDonough, delighted nearly 700 children at Fairview Elementary School with a gift-giving surprise. Meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House was Eagle’s Landing High School graduate and Texas A&M track star Devin Dixon along with fellow collegiate champion Aggies. Nicole Silva of Locust Grove bakery Crumbles by Nicole won the $10,000 top prize on the Food Network’s “Christmas Cookie Challenge.”

DIVISION AND UNITY

Stockbridge had its hands full fighting off a challenge from a proposed city of Eagle’s Landing. Arguments against the new municipality stated it was a land grab that will require city property taxes to be imposed. Proponents said it will enhance the quality of life and increase economic development. Legislation leading to a possible general election vote is pending in the Georgia General Assembly.

School board meeting attendees demanded increased transparency through live video streaming. The district recently debuted a plan for on-demand videos to be available early in 2018.

The county’s Nash Farm Park and Battlefield in Hampton lived up to its name as residents clashed verbally over displaying Confederate symbols, reflecting a national movement. The on-site museum closed June 1 but speakers at county commission meetings continued to air their views on the topic. The discord spread to the McDonough Square as opponents debated the merits of a Confederate war dead memorial at its center.

Another statue united populations as Gov. Nathan Deal and others at the state Capitol unveiled the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s image in bronze. Its original sculptor was the late Andy Davis of McDonough.

MOTHER NATURE

The Aug. 21 solar eclipse, a celestial event predicted to darken the roads during school bus rides home, had the district adjust dismissal times as a precaution.

Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton opened its gates to Hurricane Irma evacuees; Floridians made new friends as local dignitaries and organizations visited their campsite and provided necessary items.

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