The year that was - briefly

From Staff Reports

Law and order

Topping a list of notable stories and headlines in Henry County for 2007 was the tragic and untimely deaths of two Henry County teenagers.

The case stemmed from the deaths of two teenage girls at a high school graduation party in June. Sixteen-year-olds Molly Cohran and Yahshika Frye suffered fatal gunshot wounds at a party June 2, at the clubhouse at St. Ives Crossing Apartments in Stockbridge.

Later that month, Henry County Police arrested two men in connection with the deaths. Police say 18-year-old Labaron Devon Curry, of Stockbridge, shot the two girls with a gun handed to him by Dewayne Ivory, 18, of Locust Grove, as a fight was breaking out in the clubhouse.

Ivory was released from the Henry County Jail in August, on $50,00 bond. Curry is being held without bond in the Henry County Jail.

A McDonough man is now serving eight years in prison for arson, as a result of an attempt to avoid being caught for a probation violation. In February, McDonough Police arrested Anthony Jahvon Harris, 20, for setting fire to a temporary probation office in October 2006. At the time of Harris' arrest, McDonough Police Chief Preston Dorsey said Harris had been on probation for drug-related charges, and set the fire because he was trying to avoid a probation violation after taking a drug test.

Harris pleaded guilty in November to arson in the first degree and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with eight to serve in the state penal system.

Charges are still pending against 18-year-old John Devin Dobson, of McDonough, the man police say drove Harris to the probation office the night of the fire.

In July, a former Henry County Police officer was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with four to serve, for child molestation and statutory rape. Randolph Christman Cobian ,Jr., 30, pleaded guilty to the charges. In 2005, the father of a teenage girl found the officer with the girl at her home. According to Henry County Assistant District Attorney Jim Wright, sexual activity was "evident" between Cobian and the girl.

Maintaining Cobian's innocence at sentencing was attorney Lee Sexton. He said Cobian's actions were "wrong, but not illegal," because the former officer did not have sexual relations with the girl before she turned 16.

Several child abuse cases garnered attention in Henry in 2007, as well.

In April, Henry County Police arrested 43-year-old Sandra Lewis, of Ellenwood, and charged her with burning her two adopted sons with a hot cooking pot. In June, defense attorney Rodney Zell said Lewis, a medical technician, did not seek medical attention for the boys' injuries because she thought she could take care of the injuries herself.

Less than a month later, police arrested a Hampton father for burning his children as an act of discipline. Bruce Edward Ennis was arrested May 15 and charged with aggravated battery. According to Henry Police Capt. Jason Bolton, Ennis burned the hands of his children, 11 and 14, as punishment for an alleged shoplifting incident.

Both Lewis and Ennis have pleaded not guilty to their respective charges.

Charges are also pending against a McDonough couple suspected of committing acts of child cruelty against their two adopted children. Earl Thomas Dinkler, 42, and Deborah Williamson Dinkler, 41, were arrested in August. McDonough Police say the couple caused "excessive" pain to their children, ages 13 and 11, over a four-year period by forcing them to do strenuous exercises, and beating them when they refused. The Dinklers, who waived arraignment Dec. 12, are currently free on $100,00 bond each.

Henry also experienced its share of tragic, accidental deaths.

In April, a 15-year-old from Stockbridge was killed in an accident just days before he was set to perform in a production with the Henry Players. Christian Benitez died in Conyers April 1, when the car he was a passenger in, veered off Ga. Highway 212, hit a tree and a utility pole, and caught fire. Two others also died in the accident.

In May, the law enforcement community in Henry lost one of its own. Henry Sheriff's Deputy Marvin Scarlett, 42, died May 20, in an accident on Interstate 75. Since Scarlett's death, numerous fund-raisers and related events have been conducted by the sheriff's office and the police department in his memory.

In government.

Some of McDonough's city officials voted in favor of a video taping resolution to prohibit video recording equipment at City Council, Board of Zoning Appeals, Planning Commission and Historic Preservation Commission meetings, unless the equipment is authorized by the city.

The city had to pull the resolution about a week later, after the former city attorney, Scott Bennett, admitted that he provided the council with the wrong advice. The city is currently researching different avenues to record their meetings by hiring an outside party or partnering with the county ...

The Henry County Board of Commissioners debated for over an hour in a regular public meeting about whether to impose a one-year residential rezoning for Henry County.

Commissioners Johnny Basler, Reid Bowman and Warren Holder voted against the moratorium. Commissioners Elizabeth "BJ" Mathis, Randy Stamey and Chairman Jason Harper voted in favor of the moratorium. The tie vote sunk the proposal. Mathis hopes that an economic impact study of the county will encourage commissioners, who were against the resolution, to change their minds ...

The Henry County Communications department launched Henry TV 14, the county's very own cable channel in April. The channel airs county news events, information channels and county commission meetings. Only Charter subscribers can view the channel. In the future, the department hopes to expand the communications department and add more people to the staff ...

Henry County voters passed their third round of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales tax program. The county SPLOST is a 1-cent sales tax that will continue the county's previous program. The tax allows the county to collect money for improvement projects. County officials estimate that SPLOST III will generate $300 million in revenue. Chairman Jason Harper said if SPLOST III did not pass the county would lose $50 million each year that it is not place ...

Henry County is the fastest growing county of the decade according to the Atlanta Regional Commission. In 2006, the county had the highest growth in the state: five percent. It had an 8,800 population increase from 2006 to 2007.

Atlanta's 10-county region is also expanding. The region includes Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Rockdale and the city of Atlanta. The 10-county region had a 104,000 population increase between April 2006 and 2007.

In schools

For the Henry County School System, the year was marked by financial rewards and restraint, school growth, and the announcement that its chief officer would be retiring with the school year.

In January, officials were surprised to learn the school system would receive a $500,000 check from the Henry County Board of Commissioners as reimbursement for tax collection fees that were unequally imposed.

"It was just an issue of fairness," said Board of Commissioners Chairman Jason Harper.

The reimbursement came after an audit of the county's tax collection fees to determine how much the school system owed the county for collecting its share of property taxes.

The school system had received about 61 percent of the county's property and ad valorem tax revenue. But paid more than the equivalent in fees.

The news came as a positive twist to the Henry County Board of Education's more cynical outlook on its budget for the 2008 fiscal year.

Earlier in 2007, the board projected it would receive more than $3 million in state funding cuts for education before dipping some $2 million into deficit for the fiscal year of 2008.

Several months into the 2008, $301 million budget, those projections are apace, said Jeff Allie, system finance director.

"In our current ... budget, expenditures [will eventually] exceed revenue by $2 million," Allie said. "In the coming months, we must continue to adhere to our very conservative budget to ensure that expenditures do not exceed budgeted amounts."

What has helped the board's finances in recent years has been the inclusion of the county's 1-cent sales tax for education.

In March, Henry County voters supported the continuation of the sales tax, also known as SPLOST III.

The SPLOST III referendum received about 72 percent of the favorable vote, before provisional ballets, with less than 5 percent of the county's more than 100,000 registered voters turning out.

The referendum extended the county's five-year tax for education through 2012 to raise an estimated $300 million in collections.

School officials said the money would be used to help construct new classrooms to address overcrowding in the county's schools.

In 2007, the school system opened five new schools to relieve crowding at various area schools.

The school system grew by more than a thousand students in 2007, but came up about a thousand short of its previous projection of 40,145.

Rounding out the year for the school system was the resignation of its chief officer. In October, Superintendent Jack Parish announced his retirement from the Henry County School System.

Parish said he believes his successor will have to be able to demonstrate an ability to effectively work in a fast-growing, diverse school system.

"I believe the next superintendent of schools must have varied experiences as a professional educator with knowledge and understanding in the areas of curriculum and instruction, administration, and finance," he said. "The person should have excellent leadership qualities, with a vision for the future of the school system."

Parish, who was a finalist for Georgia's 2008 Superintendent of the Year, has served 30 years in education. His retirement officially begins on July 1, 2008, after which he says he may consider teaching in higher education.

Contributing to this article were staff writers: Johnny Jackson, Jason Smith, and Jaya Franklin.