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Schools' accreditation loss, elections top year's events

School accreditation and elections, which could dramatically alter life locally and across the nation were the big stories of 2008 in Clayton County.

Shortly after the year began, a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) review team visited the school system to investigate allegations of a dysfunctional and micromanaging school board. The investigation resulted in SACS announcing in February the district had six months to show improvement, or it would lose its accreditation.

On Aug. 28, SACS President Mark Elgart announced the accreditation was revoked because the district met only one out of the agency's nine mandates for improvement. It was the first time in nearly 40 years that a school system had lost its accreditation.

But accreditation was only one of the major news items of 2008. Barack Obama made national headlines in November, when he was elected as the nation's first black president. And Clayton County citizens decided to make a few more changes on the local level. In August, Kem Kimbrough rose from the ranks of four people seeking to unseat Sheriff Victor Hill in the Democratic Party Primary to win the run-off election.

Kimbrough went on to defeat Republican Jack Rainwater in the November general election. The voters also decided a string of high profile, mishandled cases meant it was time for a change in the district attorney's office. In August, Juvenile Court Judge Tracy Graham-Lawson defeated District Attorney Jewel Scott in the Democratic Party run-off election.

The year also brought heartache and celebration to the community. From a Mother's Day tornado, to the death of Donnie Hood, to Jonesboro High School's second national mock trial championship, to the election of a new district attorney and sheriff, 2008 was filled with ups and downs for the community.

As 2009 begins, the Clayton News Daily looks back at the major events of the last year.

Education

January: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) visited the district to look into allegations of a dysfunctional school board.

February: SACS announced the district had six months to turn things around or it would lose accreditation.

March: Hundreds of parents and students held a protest march down Lake Harbin Road in Morrow on March 1. Also, the board removed one of its members, Norreese Haynes, from office after a Clayton County police investigation revealed he lived in Marietta. However, a Secretary of State investigation later determined Haynes lived in Morrow.

April: Board Chairperson Ericka Davis, and her successor, Eddie White, resigned from office. Later in the month, the school board's response to this threat was to hire John Thompson as a corrective superintendent.

May: Jonesboro High School's mock trial team won its second national mock trial championship.

June: Thompson ordered the shredding of 2,600 diplomas for graduating seniors because his name was not on them.

July: Board member David Ashe resigned.

August: Board member Road Johnson resigned on first day of a state administrative hearing. The hearing resulted in Gov. Sonny Perdue removing board members, Michelle Strong, Sandra Scott, Lois Baines-Hunter and Yolanda Everett on Aug. 28. On that same day, SACS officials announced that Clayton County had become the first school system in nearly 40 years to lose its accreditation. Outside of the school system, Clayton State University opened Laker Hall, its first on-campus student housing facility.

September: SACS and school system officials present a lengthy plan to regain accreditation to the school board. The board stripped Thompson of the "unusual powers" in his contract. The word "corrective" was also removed from his title.

October: The school system gained recognition from the Georgia Accrediting council in October so students could continue to be eligible for the HOPE scholarships.

November: The Zodiax dance team, made up of several Clayton County students, won a nationally televised competition on Black Entertainment Television (BET).

December: Anna Cox became the first recipient of a master's degree from Clayton State University. CSU President Thomas K. Harden announced he has accepted an offer to become the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in June of this year. The move is pending approval by UW-Green Bay's Board of Regents.

Politics/Government:

February: Sixty percent of Clayton voters approved a six-year, $305 million Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), which will focus on public safety improvements, including a new Juvenile Justice Center, three new police precincts and a multi-purpose fire training facility.

April: The Riverdale City Council relocated a mixed-use development project, called Riverdale Town Center, from a site behind The Home Depot on Lamar Hutcheson Parkway, to Travon Wilson Park. In turn, the city purchased land on Wilson Road in Riverdale, with the intention of building a replacement park.

July: The Archway Partnership Project (APP) was established in Clayton County so the University System of Georgia's resources could be used to address issues facing the county.

October: The Clayton County Board of Commissioners and the county's finance department, hire Ed Wall, a controversial ex-MARTA board chairman, as the county's investment banker and financial advisor.

November: Reports surface that the county commission was denied state grant funding by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts months earlier, due to a 2007 audit report that was not properly submitted to the agency. The action blocked the county's access to potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding for nearly six months, but the matter was resolved by the end of the year.

December: In a controversial decision, the county commission gave developer John D. Stephens approval to remove the Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church Cemetery, which contains the graves of as many as 311 people, including some slaves, so Stephens could expand his surrounding landfill. The commission also shot down a proposal to refinance a $40.2 million bond for Southern Regional Medical Center using the county's bond rating. Both The finances and bond ratings of the county and the hospital remain in question. The commission ended the year with the approval of two new tax allocation districts, one along the Tara Boulevard commercial corridor and the other in the northwest portion of the county.

Crime/Public Safety:

February: The district attorney's office accused Donnie Hood, the former director of the county's maintenance department, of stealing a flag from a police officer's memorial. Pressures stemming from the accusation, including the possible loss of his pension, led Hood to commit suicide on Feb. 29. As a result, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was asked to investigate the office of former District Attorney Jewel Scott, as well as her husband, Lee Scott.

May: A F-2 tornado tore through the Katherine Village, Rex Mill Terrace and Stagecoach subdivisions in Ellenwood at 5 a.m., on May 11 --Mother's Day -- at 5 a.m., damaging 188 homes. The county provided aid to 23 families displaced by the tornado.

August: Former Clayton County Police Officer Matthew Whitton, and Rick Dyer, a former corrections officer, attracted international media attention when they claimed to posses the body of a dead Bigfoot. Teaming up with Tom Biscardi, a California man with a history of Bigfoot hoaxes, Whitton and Dyer held a press conference to "reveal the evidence." Whitton was fired from the police department after the hoax unraveled.

September: A federal jury awarded $475,000 in damages to George Mark Tuggle, the brother of former Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle, because Sheriff Victor Hill had him arrested in 2005 for allegedly making harassing phone calls on Hill's second day in office. Later, Hill was ordered to post a $664,539.25 bond with the U.S. District Court to keep his appeal of the verdict from being dropped.

November: The Clayton County Fire Department swept the men's and women's relay races at the World Firefighter Combat Challenge, with an unprecedented triple win. The department's teams went on to win the over-40 race, the open, and the women's relay race at the firefighters' rodeo in Las Vegas, Nev.