A look back throughout the last 366 days finds many important stories throughout Newton County that were spread throughout the pages of this newspaper. The Covington News examined the year that was and came up with a list of the top 16 stories of our community in 2016.
Newton County was in the national spotlight in 2016 as the Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) learned that 165 acres of land on Highway 162 and County Line road was sold by a private land owner, Neely Family Farms, to Al Maad Al Islami, Inc., owners of a mosque in Doraville. The property was sold with the planned use of a place of worship approved by Newton County Development Services.
2016 brought a lot of firsts for Newton County; however, on Nov. 15 the Newton County Sheriff's Office (NCSO) had a first it never wanted. One of Newton County's own became the first sheriff's deputy to lose his life in the line of duty. NCSO Deputy Justin White was on his way to an emergency call Oct. 30 when he was involved in a single-vehicle car crash. After the crash, he was transported to Atlanta Medical Center where he remained in intensive car and later succumbed to his injuries.
Newton County, as a governmental entity, will see a change in leadership, both politically and administratively in 2017 with the election of the first-ever black chairman – Marcello Banes – to the BOC and the change of the Newton County Charter.
The Square is like the "remember when" of Covington, with changes to stores and restaurants as well as mobility. This year downtown Covington has received a facelift that has allowed for more shopping, celebrating and eating.
Local law enforcement saw an increase in violent crime in 2016. Newton County saw more murders in 2016 than the seven in 2015. The Covington News ran a multi-part series on crime in the county in July.
Newton County's finances were under scrutiny for much of the year with Fire Services Chief Kevin O'Brien indicted on four counts of theft by taking by a government employee in January and a forensic audit rounding out the end of the year.
For the first time Newton County residents were charged for using the county's Neighborhood Recycling Centers. The centers, which have been in use by residents to dispose their waste for free for 20 years, went to a pay service in October.
The Georgia State University (GSU) family extended into Newton County Jan. 13 as the former Georgia Perimeter College Newton Campus celebrated a merger a year in the making. The merger, which became official Jan. 6, was first announced in January 2015 by Chancellor Hank Huckaby to expand GSU beyond Metro Atlanta.
Sheldon Rankins made history April 19 as he became the first player from Eastside High School to be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft and the second from Covington overall. Rankins was chosen by the New Orleans Saints with the No. 12 pick in the draft, making him the first first-rounder since Dale Carter in 1992.
The Newton County Office of Economic Development announced a production studio that is set to break ground in Covington in June of 2016. The studio, dubbed Project Three Ring, has an estimated completion date of December 2017 and is expected to bring around 1,000 jobs and $1.8 million local tax revenues each year.
The Newton County Theme School (NCTS) was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School in October. NCTS was one of only 10 schools in Georgia and 329 schools nationally to receive the recognition in the "Exemplary High-Performing Schools" category.
For more than 60 years Henderson's Restaurant has served the people of Newton County and 2016 marked the beginning of the end of that legacy. In August it was announced that the restaurant would close pending Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) road work on Highway 36.