Elections captured a lot of attention, as voters decided on a long slate of local races and hotly debated issues and candidates debated the issues and slugged it out to see who could win.
Following is a recap of some of the top 10 news stories on the year in Cherokee County.
* Confessed killer commits suicide
The confessed killer of 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera, Ryan McCabe Brunn, hanged himself with his own sweater Jan. 19 in the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.
The 20-year-old’s death closed a chapter on one of the most gruesome crimes ever seen in Cherokee County.
Just two days earlier, Brunn pleaded guilty to the Canton Elementary School first-grader’s murder, whose body was found Dec. 5, 2011, in the trash compactor of the River Ridge apartment complex in Canton where she lived.
An autopsy revealed she had been severely beaten, stabbed and sexually assaulted.
Brunn, a maintenance worker at the complex, was arrested Dec. 7, 2011 and charged with murder and making false statements to police.
After Brunn’s sentencing, GBI Director Vernon Keenan said investigators could have interviewed Brunn and used the information to solve future crimes.
The local legislative delegation turned the election process upside down this year after changing the way both Cherokee County’s school board and board of commission members are elected.
While Cherokee County Board of Commission post representative members are now elected by post only instead of by district, the Cherokee County Board of Education saw all new district lines and a new countywide-elected chairman.
After each 10-year federal Census, legislators are required to redistrict school board posts. However, they are not required to change the structure of the board but are within their power to do so without calling for an election.
The move effectively drew board chairman and Post 2 board member Mike Chapman and vice chairwoman and Post 4 board member Janet Read into posts with other seated board members.
Read sought the newly created chairman seat and won against challenger Danny Dukes, a Canton accountant.
At the time, legislators stood by the move, going against the wishes of both local bodies that had previously sent letters requesting the districts and election process remain the same.
However, since neither body voted unanimously, the delegation “took further action to ensure the citizens of Cherokee County have fair and equal representation on the county commission and the local school board,” according to a statement released in February.
The delegation also said it commissioned a “third party” poll that showed 61 percent of people supported having both school board and county commission posts coincide with each other. The poll also said 65 percent of respondents favored changing how voters elect candidates for both entities.
Chapman did not choose to challenge Read in the July Republican primary, but at his final school board meeting Dec. 6 passed the gavel on to Read, who he said will make “an awesome leader.”
* Andrew Messina’s death
The May 1 shooting of a Towne Lake teenager rocked the local community after the boy barricaded himself in his home during an hour-long standoff with members of the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office.
Andrew Messina, a 16-year-old Etowah High School student, refused to engage investigators in the standoff after his mother Lisa called 911 and said her son was threatening to shoot himself and her.
After brandishing a .357 Magnum gun, pouring alcohol all over the curtains and recording videos of his final minutes, Andrew died from a single shot fired by Deputy Jason Yarbrough, according to police reports.
A 700-page GBI report released in June cleared Yarbrough of any wrongdoing, with District Attorney Garry Moss ruling he found no reason arrest or prosecute him.
The shooting occurred just months before the election for county sheriff and spurred local residents to create a Facebook page called “Justice for Andrew Messina” which advocates for policy and procedural change to protect juveniles from deadly force by law officers and encourages officers to use non-lethal means to subdue children.
A Change.org petition begun by the group has received over 1,031 signatures.
* Ball Ground Recycling goes belly-up
The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners spent a lot of time this year dealing with Ball Ground Recycling, a business owned by Jimmy Bobo and financed through Cherokee County’s Resource Recovery Development Authority.
In February, the board of commissioners voted to use $1.8 million in county money to cover debt payments Bobo had missed on the business.
Bobo stopped making lease payments to cover the business’s debt in 2011. The county had created the Resource Recovery Development Authority in 2006 to guarantee the debt on Ball Ground Recycling’s site on Highway 5.
Ball Ground Recycling filed for bankruptcy in May.
Two county grand juries have investigated the county’s dealings with Bobo in 2012, handing down recommendations of how to handle the situation.
Commissioners approved hiring McClendon & Associates to perform a forensic audit of the deal earlier this month.
The county filed a lawsuit against Jimmy Bobo, his brother David Bobo and their affiliated companies in November.
The county is searching for a new operator of Ball Ground Recycling, but one has not yet been found.
* Chip Rogers leaves office
After making plenty of headlines for choosing not to put his name in the ring for re-election as Senate Majority Leader and holding a seminar at the Capitol on Agenda 21, state Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) abruptly resigned from office less than a month after he was re-elected.
Rogers decided to instead take a job with Georgia Public Broadcasting, a position he has yet to reveal his salary for but has said he will work directly under Director Teya Ryan.
A special election will be Jan. 8 and will pit state Rep. Sean Jerguson (R-Holly Springs), who has resigned his seat to run, against Georgia Department of Transportation Board Member Brandon Beach, who challenged Rogers in a hotly-contested primary race in July for the seat.
* Ladners injured in train accident
A dream trip took a devastating turn for the worse for Holly Springs Police Officer Shane and Meg Ladner when they were both injured in a Midland, Texas, train accident while riding in a parade to salute wounded veterans.
The crash killed 16 and injured four. Meg’s left leg required amputation and Shane is set to get back surgery, as he now walks with a cane.
However, the couple continues to receive overflowing support from the community, as several benefit breakfasts and golf tournaments have been scheduled to help with Meg’s medical bills and to provide the Ladners with a new wheelchair-accessible van and eventually a new home to accommodate the couple’s needs.
“This isn’t a community standing up and helping us, this is family,” Ladner told the Tribune at a Dec. 8 pancake breakfast at Longhorn Steakhouse in Kennesaw.
Meg, who also suffered a broken pelvis and broken right leg, is in stable condition and recovering at Atlanta Medical Center.
Family friends provide constant updates on a Facebook page dedicated to helping the two, “Prayers for Meg and Shane Ladner.”
The next couple of benefits include a March 29 golf tournament at Bradshaw Farms and a Texas Hold ’Em poker fundraiser at Stars and Strikes in Cumming on Jan. 12 at 4 p.m. First place prize wins $1,000.
* School District makes SAT grade
For the first time in the school system’s history, Cherokee County School District posted the highest average SAT score among all Georgia school system.
“What is important about this distinction is that it shows our school district offers consistent academic quality throughout the county,” Superintendent Dr. Petruzielo said when the news was announced in September. “Among our high schools, the difference from the highest to lowest SAT average this year is less than 50 points, which assures parents that no matter which high school their child attends, they are assured of having access to challenging coursework and academic rigor that will prepare them for the future.”
All five CCSD high schools under consideration ranked in the top 8 percent of the 450 high schools in the state of Georgia. River Ridge did not have a graduating class for 2012 so it was not considered.
Etowah High School topped the district’s list at 16th in the state, followed by Cherokee High School at 23, Creekview High School at 25, Woodstock High School at 32 and Sequoyah High School at 35.
State Superintendent Dr. John Barge visited three Cherokee schools in November after learning the district produced such high SAT scores and gave the schools much praise for their efforts in engaging students and providing new learning opportunities.
The school district also saw several other notable achievements this year, including three schools — Boston Elementary School, R.M. Moore Elementary School and Woodstock Elementary School —named as Title I Distinguished Schools. Additionally, Cherokee, Creekview, Etowah, Sequoyah and Woodstock high schools were all named Advanced Placement STEM Schools and AP Stem Achievement Schools for their success last school year on AP course tests.
* New faces elected to office
Several newcomers were elected to public office in Cherokee County this year.
In the race for state House District 20, challenger Michael Caldwell defeated Rep. Charlice Byrd in the Republican primary in July, and then beat Democrat Lillian Burnaman in November’s general election to capture the seat.
Canton resident and Republican Mandi Ballinger will represent the new state House District 23 come January. She took more than 50 percent of the vote in a four-way primary race this summer with no incumbent.
Sheriff Roger Garrison kept his seat in a hard-fought race against challenger David Waters in July’s Republican primary.
In the race for Post 3 on the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners, Brain Poole took the seat after defeating Chris Hampton in the Republican primary. Incumbent Karen Bosch did not seek a third term.
In the only race that went to an August runoff, retired county fire chief Ray Gunnin defeated incumbent commissioner Jim Hubbard for the Post 2 seat on the board of commissioners.
Longtime school board member Janet Read was elected as chairperson of the Cherokee County Board of Education, beating out Danny Dukes in the county’s first countywide election for school board chair. Mike Chapman, who had been a school board member and was selected by the board as chairperson for 2012, did not seek election.
Elections for the BOE’s District 1 and District 2 seats were both hotly contested, with less than 1 percentage point separating candidates in each race.
Kelly Marlow was elected to the board’s new District 1 post, defeating Kyla Cromer.
Patsy Jordan edged out incumbent Kim Cochran in the election for the District 2 seat.
Chip Rogers was re-elected to the state Senate District 21 seat but resigned in early December. Sean Jerguson was re-elected to the state House District 21 seat but resigned to run for the vacant Senate seat.
These races are set to be decided in a Jan. 8 special election.
* HOST fails in county
A proposed Homestead Option Sales Tax didn’t pass with Cherokee County voters in November.
Voters rejected both parts of the two-part vote on HOST.
The 1 percent sales tax was proposed as a way to increase homestead exemptions for qualified properties in unincorporated Cherokee County and all municipalities within the county. The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners had voted to place the HOST question on the ballot.
State law requires that HOST votes include two questions.
The first question failed with 63.6 percent of voters voting against and 36.4 percent voting in favor. A total of 88,378 Cherokee County voters cast votes on the question.
The second question was rejected by a closer margin of 53.7 percent against versus 46.3 percent in favor. A total of 87,208 voters cast votes on this question.
* Canton talks fire services
After much back-and-forth about how to fund fire service improvement in the city, the Canton City Council decided last week to call for a March referendum on issuing bonds to pay for the construction of three new fire stations.
In July, the council voted to implement a fire district and charge an ad valorem tax to property owners in the district.
Mayor Gene Hobgood used his veto power for the first time to give the thumbs down to the plan for 30 days.
The city was then forced to find an alternative way to fund the fire district plan following a decision by the Georgia Attorney General Office that interpreted a proposed district millage rate as a tax rather than a fee, which means the city’s senior homestead exemption would apply.
The City Council had previously discussed consolidating fire services with Cherokee County, a move the majority of the council opposed.
The city’s plans, should voters vote to issue bonds in March, call for $6 million in bonds to construct three new fire stations and provide necessary equipment.