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These were the biggest stories in Forsyth County in 2018
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Republican lieutenant governor Geoff Duncan waves to supporters after voting on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at the Windermere precinct. - photo by Bradley Wiseman

Sharon Springs fails – just barely
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Forsyth County residents cast their vote at Sharon Springs Park on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. The location saw plenty of traffic with the proposed cityhood of Sharon Springs on the ballot. - photo by Jim Dean

In 2015, legislation was first introduced to create a new city in Forsyth County. At the time, proponents of the new city contended that the area in south Forsyth County had been misrepresented, particularly in regards to the county’s rapid development. Creating a new city would give them greater control, they said. Opponents were concerned adding a second city in Forsyth County would raise taxes.

The years-long debate came to a head in May’s primary election, and it failed, but just barely: 54 percent voted in favor of cityhood, which missed the threshold of 57.5 percent needed to pass.

Still, that a majority voted in favor of cityhood prompted some soul-searching from elected officials about how to best move forward.

“There is a message in that, I think, to all of the leaders that we need to be better in that, and we need to figure out a better representation model than what we have today,” said Greg Dolezal, now the District 25 state senator-elect.

Geoff Duncan elected lieutenant governor
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Republican lieutenant governor Geoff Duncan waves to supporters after voting on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at the Windermere precinct. - photo by Bradley Wiseman

The Forsyth County resident and former state representative for the county from 2013 to 2017 cast himself as an underdog from the start of his campaign for Georgia’s second-highest elected office, and indeed he pulled off something of a stunner by surviving the May primary to force a runoff with longtime state Representative David Shafer and then narrowly defeated him to secure the Republican nomination.

Duncan then went on defeat Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico in the November general election with 52.2 percent of the vote to become the first Forsyth County resident to become lieutenant governor. He’ll preside over his first legislative session on Jan. 14.

 

Meko gets justice
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Michelle Louise Root testifies in the Superior Court of Forsyth County on Wednesday. - photo by Jim Dean

The story of Michelle Louise Root allegedly kicking and choking a dog named Meko at her dog-grooming business on Oct. 7, 2017 drew outrage from the community. The incident spawned some local activists to band together under the slogan of “Justice for Meko.”

Meko got some measure of justice on Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, when Root was convicted of aggravated cruelty to animals, sentenced to five years in prison and prohibited from ever caring for or grooming any animal not owned by her.

New high schools
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Principal Heather Gordy is surrounded by school and county education leaders during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Denmark High School on Saturday, July 28, 2018. - photo by Alexander Popp

It had been almost 10 years since the Forsyth County Schools system opened a new high school. In 2018, it opened two, and they couldn’t have been more different.

There was the traditional one in Denmark High School, which opened in southwest Forsyth County with 1,300 students as the largest high school campus in Georgia, mostly thanks to its Veterinary Science Program that includes stables, a lab and equestrian center.

Then there was the unconventional one in Alliance Academy for Innovation. The school opened in central Forsyth County and gives students the ability to choose what they want to study with five career, interest-themed academies in aerospace and logistics, health care and first responders, hospitality and design, criminal justice and law and mechatronics and energy.

End of staple businesses
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Forsyth County saw some of its most successful and most beloved businesses undergo surprising changes in 2018.

First, it was American Proteins, which had grown into the nation’s largest poultry renderer, be bought by subsidiaries of Tyson Foods Inc., for about $850 million.

Then it was Rucker Pet, the small but beloved pet retail company, which ended a 12-year run as one of the county’s most recognizable businesses by selling all four of its locations to Hollywood Feed, a Memphis-based company.

Finally, Parson Gifts announced on Dec. 11 that it would close after 142 years in business in north Georgia, citing the “brutal and impersonal world of global commerce” and rise of e-commerce businesses.

City Center announced
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An architectural rendering for the planned Cumming city center.

In his first year in office, Mayor Troy Brumbalow made a major announcement planned for the city.

In November, Brumbalow debuted plans for a new city center project off Canton Highway (Hwy. 20 west) and abutting Forsyth Central High School. The center is expected to open within two years and will feature an amphitheater, miniature golf, walking trails, park, veterans’ memorial, space for businesses and a lake with a fountain.

The city center will sit on about 60 acres of a 75-foot plot of land. The remaining 15 acres will possibly be developed to 85 townhomes not owned by the city and walking trails.

Though the center will largely be green space and businesses, the Cumming Police Department and the city’s municipal court will also move to the development.

Longtime fire chief retires
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Retiring Forsyth County Fire Chief Danny Bowman waves to onlookers as he leaves a retirement part Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. - photo by Lily McGregor Photography

Forsyth County said goodbye to one of its top civil servants this year with the retirement of Fire Chief Danny Bowman.

Bowman retired in October after a 50-year career in the fire service, including 15 years as fire chief.

An Atlanta native and Air Force veteran, Bowman came to Forsyth County as a division chief in 2001 and became the county’s director of emergency management in 2002.

At an event in October, Bowman was honored by family, other members of public safety and current and former elected officials.

“I’m not leaving the fire department in a perfect situation, I'm leaving the fire department in a manner that is a foundation. It's the foundation of a house: it’s firm, it's ready to build upon over the next 15 years,” Bowman said. “Give [the next chief] 15 years out from now, and you will have a fire department that is second to none in the state of Georgia.”

 

Pushback to government uses
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Signs along Hyde Road in west Forsyth County signal some residents’ disapproval of plans for a new middle school to be built in the area. - photo by Brian Paglia

Both the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners and Forsyth County Schools faced difficulties this year as nearby residents pushed back against a pair of plans for large uses.

For the commissioners, residents raised issues including health, home values and the proposed East Forsyth High School to voice their opposition to a proposed wastewater plant on 99.9 acres at the end of Millwood Road in north Forsyth.

A week after a fiery meeting between neighbors and officials, commissioners voted to back off the proposed site, for now, to look at that site and others as a site for the plant moving forward.

Commissioners approved the $3 million purchase in September before moving to terminate the contract in December.

County officials said they have been looking at a site to return water to Lake Lanier since 2002. The proposed site would have returned reclaimed water to Chestatee Bay.

Similarly, residents in west Forsyth raised concerns with Middle School 11, proposed on the west side of Hyde Road, off of Post and Drew Campground roads. Documents show the school system purchased about 45.5 acres of land from five sellers for a total of $3,826,675, approximately $84,165 per acre.

Residents in the area cited cost, safety concerns and environmental issues as reasons they opposed the location of the new school.

In both cases, residents criticized what they saw as less-than-transparent decision making by governing entities.

Moving along
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Rob Woodall, center, applauds as GDOT Chairman Russell McMurry shakes hands with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, left, who visited Forsyth County on Friday. - photo by Jim Dean

It was a big year for road projects in 2018, as one major roadway received significant federal funds and another completed a year’s long project.

In June, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao came by Forsyth County to celebrate $184 million in Infrastructure for Rebuilding America, or INFRA, grant funding to add two express lanes on each side of Ga. 400 from the North Springs Marta Station in Sandy Springs to McGinnis Ferry Road and one express lane in each direction from McGinnis Ferry to McFarland Parkway.

Express lanes are optional toll lanes along existing lanes aimed at allowing drivers to bypass congestion. The lanes are not planned to reduce the number of normal lanes on the road, including new lanes funded through a $200 million transportation bond approved by voters in 2014.

In May, construction of two new lanes of Buford Highway (Hwy. 20 east) opened to the public. The opening marked the last of three parts of a years-long plan to widen Hwy. 20 about 7.5 miles from Samples Road in Cumming across the river to Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Gwinnett.

The other projects included work in Gwinnett and the construction of two bridges over the Chattahoochee River.

Outgoing officials
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Outgoing Forsyth County Schools board of education member Ann Crow poses for a photo in the Forsyth County board of education building meeting room on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. Crow served as representative for District 1 on the board for the last 16 years. - photo by Alexander Popp

Commissioners and the Forsyth County Board of Education both saw longtime members leave their post this year after deciding not to seek re-election.

Forsyth County Board of Education Chairwoman Ann Crow, who represented District 1, announced in 2017 she would not be seeking re-election to the seat she had held since 2002 and attended her final meeting in December. She will be replaced by Wes McCall, a political newcomer and deputy director of the Alpharetta Department of Public Safety.

In the space of her 16 years on the board, Crow was involved in the implementation of a wide variety of programs within the system, including the use of technology in the classroom, a focus on Social Emotional Learning, and the learner profile, programs which she states are now engrained in the fabric of Forsyth County Schools.

For the board of commissioners, District 1 Commissioner Pete Amos decided not to run for a third term for the seat he was first elected to in 2010. Commissioner-elect Molly Cooper will take over the post in January.

Amos served as commission chairman from 2011-13 and was a former member of the county’s planning commission from July 2000 until December 2006 and served as that board’s chairman for six years. He was re-elected as county commissioner in 2014 without facing a challenger.

He said at his final meeting that some of his most proud accomplishments as a commissioner were the passing of the 1-cent sales tax SPLOST VII, the construction of the new Forsyth County Courthouse and Forsyth County jail and a $200 million transportation bond approved by voters in 2014.