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Year in Review: Top 12 of 2012
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The news landscape of 2012 was dominated by elections, which brought significant changes to the host of Rockdale County’s elected officials and brought several significant referendums. A new superintendent, new fire chief, and expansions and renovations to Rockdale County Public School facilities also marked the year. Here are a few of the top stories from 2012 (in no particular order).


1) Referendums

Three important referendums appeared on the ballots this year with Sunday alcohol sales and charter schools receiving support and a transportation tax suffering a massive defeat. 


Sunday alcohol sales passes: Rockdale and Conyers residents were able to buy a bottle of wine at the grocery store or a six-pack of beer at the gas station on Sundays after voters approved the Sunday sales referendum in March.  

T-SPLOST dead in the water: There was a resounding defeat of the regional transportation sales tax, T-SPLOST, in Rockdale and the Atlanta region in the July Primary, leaving local and regional leaders reassessing what to do next. In Rockdale, 70 percent of voters said ‘No’ to the sales tax and joined the rest of the 10-county Atlanta region, which voted overall 73 percent ‘No’ in defeating the referendum. 

Charter School Amendment passes: Rockdale followed most other counties in Georgia with a majority to pass a referendum to amend the state Constitution to allow bypassing local school boards for approval of public charter schools. Despite strong local opposition from educators and business leaders, the referendum passed with 58.57 percent of the vote in November.


2) Rockdale goes blue 

Rockdale County signaled its transformation to a blue county as Democrats swept all the local seats and ousted four long-standing county officials in November. 

Five-term Republican incumbent Sheriff Jeff Wigington lost his position to Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Levett by 32 votes following an exhaustive recount that determined Levett the winner with 50 percent of the vote to Wigington’s 49.91 percent. 

Tax Commissioner Dan Ray, Probate Judge Lillis Brown and Magistrate Judge Rudy Horne were also unseated by their Democratic challengers RJ Hadley, Charles Mays, and Phinea Aten. Clerk of Superior Court Ruth Wilson kept her position following a contentious race with Republican challenger Holly Bowie and Commission Chairman Richard Oden and Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt won reelection against challengers Jason Hill and Tom Harrison.


3) Child murder trials kept Rockdale Courts busy

Heart breaking and horrific cases of child abuse killings dominated the headlines this year, and Rockdale was no exception. Three cases involving crimes against children — two where infants were murdered by their parental figures and one in which a step-father shot a young girl and her mother outside a daycare — were disposed of in Rockdale County Superior Court this year. 

•In September, Matea and Grant Stewart were both found guilty for the 2010 murder of their five-month-old son James, who died in July 2010 from a six-inch skull fracture received at the couple's Morris Drive home. Both parents were sentenced to life in prison without parole. An autopsy revealed the infant had 25 bone fractures at the time of his death. 

•In October, Conyers resident James Sims, 24, was found guilty of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, cruelty to children and aggravated battery for the 2011 murder of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son. Sims was sentenced to life in prison plus 10 years for murdering Cayden Allen at the family’s Arbor Creek apartments, where the child had lived for 11 days before he died.

•Terrence Sherrod Roberson, 37, pled guilty in November to attempting to murder his estranged wife and step-daughter outside a Rockdale County daycare in September  2011. Roberson received 65 years, to serve 50 years, for the crime.


4) Water wars erupt with questions of authority

A five-month escalating battle erupted by summer with Rockdale’s Water and Sewerage Authority board recommending 6-1 county commissioners not renew the contract of Rockdale Water Resources director Dwight Wicks at the end of the year. The WSA also formally accepted two human resources complaints from RWR Deputy Director Terrell Gibbs about the conduct of Authority member Garvin Haynes. Dissension had been brewing in earnest since December 2011, when disagreements came up over the conversion from touch or manual read water meters to radio read water meters and which companies and technologies to use. However many of the issues boiled down to the authority of the Authority, which was created by the General Assembly, and the county and RWR.
A four-person governance task force was assigned by Chairman Richard Oden with Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon, Wicks, Authority members Bill Murrain and Phyllis Turner, to look at the role of the Authority and relationship of RWR, the Authority and the county. The task force submitted its recommendations by April. The Water Authority rejected a few items on the Chairman’s version of the task force report. However by August, the Authority had rescinded its recommendation against Wicks’ contract renewal and Authority Chairman Elaine Nash said communication issues and performance issues were being worked out


5) Rockdale welcomes expansions, new business

In April, global medical manufacturer Baxter International announced plans to build a $1 billion manufacturing center in Newton and Walton counties and hire around 1,500 full-time workers by 2018. The manufacturing plant will be the first to be built in the pre-planned, 1,620-acre Stanton Springs industrial park, located just west of Interstate 20, exit 101 at the intersection of Newton, Walton and Morgan counties.

Conyers-based Hillphoenix announced plans in November to consolidate three or four locations into a 500,000 square foot expansion off Gees Mill. The project is expected to bring 100 to 150 additional jobs at the company, which currently has over 800 employees. 

While both Conyers and Covington were being considered for the project, the city of Conyers offered $4.1 million in abatement of ad valorem taxes more than 10 years for the industry and waived permitting and inspection fees for the expansion/consolidation, which will potentially represent about $120,000 in savings

Pratt Industries, one of the largest industries in Rockdale, was selected for the trash collection and recycling contract with the city of Conyers in February. Pratt’s new recycling facility represents an investment of about $13 million in new facilities and about 50 new local jobs.


6) Autry named new superintendent of RCPS

In June, the Rockdale County Board of Education unanimously selected Rich Autry, who had been Rockdale County Public Schools’ Chief Academic Officer since 2008, as the new superintendent for Rockdale County Public Schools. Autry had formerly served as principal at Hightower Elementary School for six years before moving to RCPS central office positions. Former Superintendent Samuel King, who served six years as Rockdale superintendent, was selected in May for a position as Superintendent at Norfolk Public Schools in Virginia.


7)  New Fire Chief named

Interim Fire Chief Dan Morgan was named new official fire chief of the Rockdale County Fire and Rescue division in October. Morgan has been with the division for nearly 13 years and served previously as interim deputy chief. Morgan, of no relation to former fire chief Tommy Morgan, started his fire career as a volunteer firefighter in Newton County in the city of Oxford. Prior to his firefighting career, he was in management and research with a concrete company in Atlanta. Morgan said the division was trying to finish the ISO study and working on personnel vacancies and initiatives. 


8)  Passport fees 

Passport fees collected by the Clerk of Courts office were the center of controversy in spring as citizens questioned the clerk's use of funds generated through passport applications. Clerk of Court Ruth Wilson, who was later re-elected to a second term in November, devised a plan to post monthly information on its website of how many passports are processed, the amount of revenue gathered in passport fees, and the total balance. She also initially proposed keeping half the fees as personal income, a practice allowed by a loophole in Georgia law, having a quarter go to the county’s general fund and a quarter go to the Clerk’s Office for expenses. However, in April, she proposed a new split that would give a third to charitable non-profits, a third to the county, and a third to the Clerk of Courts Office but eliminate the amount taken as income by the Clerk. The first charity to receive the funds would be Rockdale Emergency Relief, which was taking over operations of the Clothes Closet. The issue was at the center of several heated debates between Wilson and her opponent Republican Holly Bowie, who said she would give all the passport fees to the county if elected. 


9) Clothes Closet saved

After operating for more than three decades, the non-profit Clothes Closet, founded and operated by Judy Smith, was closed in June after they were evicted from the county-owned facility on Oakland Avenue. A letter from the county cited the facility's lack of soundness. The community rallied to save institution, and in September, the new Clothes Closet opened on 1018 Green Street under the umbrella of Rockdale Emergency Relief, with Growing Discoveries Ministries providing volunteer and program support for the new Clothes Closet. To donate or volunteer, contact RER Executive Director Ashley Roesler at 770-922-0165 or or go to For opportunities to volunteer or to complete community service activities, contact Tracy Lewis at 770-927-5197.


10) CPD achieves CALEA accreditation 

Countless hours and ceaseless determination paid off in November when the Conyers Police Department received CALEA International Accreditation, the most prestigious law enforcement distinction, following a year-long application process. CALEA stands for Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, and achieving the CALEA distinction is the “gold standard” in law enforcement and the flagship of certification internationally.

“I am very proud of all the people, not only in the police department, but in the city who helped us with the entire accreditation process,” CPD Chief Gene Wilson said when the department announced it had achieved CALEA status. “It really took about every area of the city because of all the different policies. It took effort from everybody and I have been very proud of that. It meant a great deal to me that both the ciy manager and the mayor were there when the award was presented.”


11) RCA expansion, new RCHS gym

After 50 years, Rockdale County High School opened the doors to a new gymnasium in November named in honor of former Rockdale basketball coach Cleveland Stroud. RCPS Superintendent Rich Autry said of the legendary coach and city councilman that no one better epitomized the traits of character, integrity, honesty. As part of the $10 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funded project, Rockdale also has a new field house for its football team, which shares the building with the JROTC. The old gym is being converted to a ninth-grade academy with two science areas and an administrative space.

Also in 2012, Rockdale Career Academy celebrated the ribbon cutting of its new state-of-the-art $4.1 million, 38,000 square foot public safety wing with a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by officials including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle

The expansion was funded by a $2.7 million grant from Georgia Piedmont Technical College (formerly known as DeKalb Technical College) and the Technical College System of Georgia awarded in 2009 and in part by remaining Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax III funding. The wing is due to be ready for students in January.

The two-story expansion added five science laboratories, including a special forensics laboratory, a training 911 call center, a target simulator, 10 classrooms, office space for local colleges and a conference room. 


12) Springfield Baptist purchases former Church in the Now mega property

Springfield Baptist Church purchased the former 43-acre Church in the Now property on Iris Drive in March and held the first service under new ownership on Easter Sunday.

The 43-acre former Church in the Now property, which includes the main sanctuary and Kids in the Now sanctuary, was initially posted in 2011 at a sale price of $18.8 million but had no bidders then. Springfield Baptist raised about $2.3 million in pledges during its "G.L.O.R.Y" capital campaign over the last several years and purchased the property from the mortgage company that had foreclosed on the loan held by Church in the Now.

Springfield Baptist, which started out in western Newton County on the banks of the Yellow River by former slaves, has grown to over 4,500 members.

Church in the Now relocated to a former industrial building on Harland Drive in Covington and began holding services there in September.