City’s Financial Woes Among Top Stories of 2018

A city battling financial difficulties and highly successful high school sports programs were two of the many highlights of the news during 2018. Here’s a look back at some of the news that made the Ledger during the past year:
January 3
Jeff Davis High School sports programs lost one of its most faithful volunteers when ticket booth operator Sylvia Earnest Barge died at the age of 77.
Hazlehurst City Clerk Vernice Lopez swore in city commissioners Dywane Johnson and John Ramay to begin their 4-year terms.
January 10
An estimated 2-3 inches of snow blanketed Jeff Davis County.
The Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Office arrested two murder suspects wanted in Gaston County, N.C. Arrested were Doris Maribel Alvarado-Pedraza and Maynor Hernan Ortega.
A feature story by Mary Ann Anderson told the story of 1960s JDHS basketball player Diane Kirkland Warren who barnstormed across America as a professional basketball player with the Southern Belles.
J.M. Newman and Nathan McKever were Grand Marshalls of the Snipesville New Year’s Day Parade.
January 17
Dr. Angela Battle of Hazlehurst was the featured speaker for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.
The Jeff Davis County Commission agreed to purchase a $3,000 corporate membership at the City of Hazlehurst’s Twisted Pine Golf Course.
Joint Development Authority Executive Director Andrea Taylor was elected to serve on the Board of Directors of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
January 24
Dorothy Pope and Jimmie Nell Tate, representing the Jeff Davis Retired Educators Association, addressed the city council about the proposed roundabout at Pat Dixon Road and Collins Street and expressed their concerns about how the JDREA monument near the site would be affected by the roundabout.
Named to the District 8 Honor Band were JDHS students Shelly Brantley, Dakar Clingon, Shelby Kerns, John Kirby, Abby Toler, Riley Atkinson and Shelby Kertz.
Barry Bloom, MBA, was named Executive Director for Planning and Development at Jeff Davis Hospital.
Jeff Davis Middle School’s wrestling team took second place in the District.
January 31
A broken air hose forced an emergency shutdown of a Southern Railway train, for almost an hour crossings were blocked to vehicle traffic at Larry Contos Blvd., Walnut Street, Cromartie Street, Tallahassee Street, Williams Street and Miller Street, effectively cutting the city in half.
Jeff Davis Middle School’s boys basketball team won the conference championship and the swim team placed second in the conference.
The Georgia Department of Transportation announced that construction on the overpass on Larry Contos Blvd. would begin in the spring of 2019 and possibly be open to traffic some time in 2021.
February 7
Five JDHS wrestlers qualified for the state finals in Macon. Bradley Owens won the section title in 132-lb. class, becoming the first ever JDHS sectional winner. Others qualifying for state were Jerry Hampton, Humberto Lopez, Jordan Bavarro and Francisco DeLamora.
The Jeff Davis Sheriff’s Department arrested two men connected with the theft of ATVs and four people charged with a home invasion.
February 14
Four Jacket football players signed scholarships to play on the collegiate level. Jaylene Kirby signed with University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kay., Alex Sanders signed with University of Pikeville in Pikeville, Ky., Harrison Sheeler signed with Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn., and Will Moseley signed with Maryville College in Maryville, Tenn.
Jeff Davis Hospital was set to break grown on a 10-bed inpatient adult psychiatric facility.
Joni Maybin was named middle school and system-wide Teacher of the Year. Other honorees were Frank Morris, JD Pre-K; Christina Chavis, primary school; Tommilynn Page, elementary school, and Susan Thompson, high school.
Jeff Davis High School won the Region 2-AA boys region basketball championship, the first region boys basketball championship in 60 years.
February 21
Hazlehurst City Clerk Vernice Lopez was elected to serve as District Director for the Georgia Municipal Clerks and Finance Officers Association.
The City Council voted to block off portions of Coffee Street and East First Avenue on Sundays and Wednesdays to accommodate parishioner and visitors of First Baptist Church.
David L. Moore was named the City of Hazlehurst Police Department’s first black investigator.
Jeff Davis High’s boys team defeated Brooks County 71-61 in the first round of the state basketball tournament.
Jeff Davis High opened the 2018 baseball season with a 2-0 win over Statesboro.
February 28
Workers hoisted the huge steeple atop the new Hazlehurst First Baptist Church.
Sheila Locke signed to play softball with the East Georgia State Bobcats.
School Superintendent Dr. Stan Rentz quelled a rumor that a threat of a school shooting had been called into a local school. Rentz said no such call was received.
Hospital Authority CEO Tammy Mims asked for the county commission’s and city council’s help in dealing with the out-migration of Jeff Davis County citizens who were choosing other hospitals for their health needs.
Jeff Davis High’s basketball team was eliminated from the state tournament by Glenn Hills 72-56.
March 7
Honorees at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner were Citizen of the Year Juanita Branch, Entrepreneur of the Year Darrell Beasley, STAR Student Forrest Clark, Small Business of the Year Bobby and Amy Sears and Jimmy Washam, Lifetime Achievement Award B.H. Clayton and Industry of the Year McPherson Manufacturing.
Kim Smith was named chairman of the Chamber of Commerce for 2018-19.
Shelby Kerns and Abby Toler were named to the Georgia All-State Honor Band.
March 14
All schools implemented a “buzzing in” procedure to screen people entering the schools.
There were four contested races once qualifying closed in the county commission and board of education elections. Incumbent Board member Greg Brantley was opposed by Walt Swain and incumbent Board member Randy Smith had a challenge from Steven Revell. On the county commission, incumbent Jerry Wooten was to face Vann Wooten, and incumbent Brad Crews was opposed by Joe Toler.
March 21
Work began on the City of Hazlehurst’s splash pad.
The county commission approved an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Hazlehurst to do extensive improvements to the Baxley Highway recreation site.
The City Council expressed its desire to meet with the board of education, the county commission, the police department and the sheriff’s department to discuss improvements to school safety.
March 28
The board of education voted down a recommendation by Superintendent Dr. Stan Rentz to implement a childcare program for employees for the 2018-19 school year.
The Georgia Department of Transportation began running a legal notice in the Ledger informing the public that drawings or maps or plans of the proposed Hazlehurst railroad overpass project are available for public inspection.
April 4
Daniel Hancock produced a film on the historic Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah.
The sheriff’s department made 24 drug related arrests.
Jeff Davis High’s baseball team was ranked No. 6 in the state by Max Preps and No. 7 by Score Atlanta.
April 11
According to the Georgia Hospital Association, Jeff Davis Hospital generated almost $28 million to the local economy last year.
Jacket Ja’Queze Kirby was named to the First Team Class AA All-State Basketball Team.
April 18
Jeff Davis Hospital held ribbon-cutting ceremonies for its newly refurbished emergency room.
Jeff Davis High’s girls tennis team won its fourth straight Region 2-AA championship.
The City of Hazlehurst received its new ladder truck for the fire department.
The county commission agreed to review a list of county-owned properties to determine if there are properties no longer of use to the county that can be sold.
Alex Sanders was leading the JDHS baseball team’s hitting with a .398 average. On the mound, Ross Rush was 6-2 with one save and a 2.30 earned run overage.
April 25
Jeff Davis High’s girls track team won their fifth straight Region 2-AA title.
The City of Hazlehurst was preparing to open its new splash pad.
Pam Anderson and John Girtman expressed their concerns to the city council about plans to build roundabouts at two intersections near the schools and asked that the plans, two-years in the making, be abandoned.
Walt Swain withdrew his candidacy for a seat on the board of education.
Jeff Davis High’s baseball team, No. 2 seed from Region 2-AA, was to host Fitzgerald for the best-of-3 series in the opening round of the state baseball tournament.
John Graham and Dakaree Clinton attended region Honor Band at Valdosta State University.
May 2
The JDHS girls tennis team advanced to the Final Four of the state tournament by defeating Early County 5-0, Davidson Fine Ars 3-2 and Elbert County 3-0.
Jeff Davis Hospital announced its new chaplaincy program.
The Eighth Annual Three Rivers Festival at Towns Bluff was set for May 5 at Towns Bluff Park and Heritage Center along the Altamaha River.
Jeff Davis High’s soccer team defeated Fitzgerald 6-4 at advance to the Sweet 16 of the GHSA State Playoffs.
Jeff Davis High’s baseball team defeated Fitzgerald 3-2, 5-0 to advance to the second round of the state tournament.
May 9
The JDHS soccer team topped Dodge County in overtime to advance to the Elite 8 of the state tournament. But the Jackets fell to Model to end their title hopes.
Chief Judge Stephen G. Scarlett Sr. of the Superior Court of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit was designated to serve in place of Justice Nels S.D. Peterson in the appeal of Patterson et al. v. Kevon, LLC d/b/a Big Kev’s Barbecue (S17G1957).
The JDHS girls tennis team was eliminated in the Final Four of the state tournament by Berrien County.
The JDHS baseball team swept Westside, Augusta 6-0, 8-6, to advance to the third of the state tournament.
May 16
Jeff Davis High senior Harrison Sheeler set a personal record and a school record in the shot put at the Class AA State Track Meet in Albany. And then, he broke those records on his next throw, heaving the shot 52 ft., 3 in. That was good enough to make him the 2018 Class AA Shot Put Champion.
The Jeff Davis County Commission received a mountain of information at its May meeting as representatives of the recreation department, roads department, tourism, the fairgrounds and the Joint Development Authority updated the commissioners on the activities of those departments.
A large group of paddlers put their crafts into the Ocmulgee River to begin the Paddle The Forks excursion along the Ocmulgee and Altamaha rivers, with a brief journey up the Oconee River.
The Southeastern Regional Drug Enforcement Office, along with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Douglas Coffee Drug Unit, the Douglas Police Department, the Coffee County Sheriff’s Office, the Appling County Sheriff’s Office, and the Jeff Davis Sheriff’s Office executed seven search warrants and four arrest warrants in Coffee and Jeff Davis counties.
The defending State Champion Jeff Davis baseball team swept Elbert County 3-2, 12-3 to extend its playoff win streak to 16 games.
The defending State Champion Jeff Davis High girls track team finished fourth in the state meet.
May 23
The $2.8 million improvement project for the Hazlehurst Municipal Airport became operational. The project included upgrading the lighting for the almost 60-year-old airport, which has grown substantially over the last several years.
Work got underway on the construction of Hazlehurst’s roundabouts.
Vann Wooten defeated incumbent Jerry Wooten for the Ocmulgee District seat on the Jeff Davis County Commission.
In a 6-1 vote, the Jeff Davis County Board of Education approved a recommendation from Superintendent Dr. Stan Rentz to implement an after-school childcare program for school system employees next school year.
Jeff Davis High’s baseball team’s season came to an end as they lost a best-of-3 series against Berrien County, 2-6, 9-3, 1-4. The Jackets finished with a 24-14 record, the sixth straight year Jeff Davis finished with over 20 wins.
May 30
At the 2018 Memorial Day Ceremony in Hazlehurst, members of the Jeff Davis County Veterans Association Honor Guard took turns laying stems of bright red poppies at the base of the monument saluting each of the 32 Jeff Davis County men who had lost their lives fighting as members of the U.S. Military.
Members of the JDHS Class of 2018 received their diplomas.
June 6
Georgia’s new hands free driving rules were close to going into effect.
The city’s new splash pad was almost complete and preliminary work was continuing on the city’s new roundabouts.
Jeff Davis High athletes were preparing for the 2018-19 seasons with off-season workouts during the summer.
June 13
Contractor Joey Hiers of Baxley attended the Hazlehurst City Council meeting as was struggling with unpaid invoices amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars he did constructing the taxiway at the City of Hazlehurst Airport. The Rev. Scott Brenton was appointed as pastor of Hazlehurst First United Methodist Church by Bishop R. Lawson Bryan, said Jim Peterson, chairman of the Staff Parish Relations committee.
The City of Hazlehurst’s Twisted Pine Golf Course was the site of a district recreation golf tournament and more than 60 boys and girls participated in the event. So large was the crowd of adults who came to watch the children play, that the course rented out its entire fleet of golf carts.
June 20
Some 250 people gathered at the Jeff Davis Fairgrounds for the Jeff Davis Football Legends Gala where six former Yellow Jacket football players were inducted into the Jeff Davis Football Hall of Fame. Inductees were Calvin Harrison, Mike Stewart, Barry Jones, DeShay McKever, Nate Hybl and James Earl Cray. The finale of the night was the induction of former Yellow Jacket Coach Tom Hybl.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to officially open the Hazlehurst splash pad.
The Jeff Davis County Commission was having the same problems with personnel as many local businesses have: finding people who want to work and keeping people who are working. June 27
The Hazlehurst City Council kicked off the previous week with an emotionally charged workshop Monday, followed by a sometimes contentious regular monthly meeting Thursday. The hot topics for both meetings were the roundabouts being built in the school district , the city’s insurance, and an airport condemnation.
Two century plants were blooming in Jeff Davis County. One was at the home of Nina Lewis and the other at the home of Roy and Betty Baucom, 288 Broxton Hwy. A Century plant, Agave americana, is monocarpic, meaning it will bloom once in its lifetime.
Mariah Gibbs signed a scholarship to participate on the Brenau University basketball and track teams.
Hunter Foster signed a scholarship to play baseball at Georgia Southwestern University.
July 3
In a called meeting, the Hazlehurst City Council voted to accept the insurance proposal presented by Brenda Reynolds of McLendon Reynolds Insurance Agency to cover the city. At the city’s regular meeting earlier, Reynolds presented her proposal but Mayor Bayne Stone would not allow a vote on it despite the looming deadline for renewal.
The Jeff Davis County Veterans Association voted for officers for two years. Elected were Chaplain Carroll Walker, Treasurer Dale Bradley, President Roy Anderson, Vice-President Tracy Page vice-President, and Secretary David Miller. Appointed by the president were Historian and Publicist Diana H. Daugherty, Sergeant-At-Arms Mike Hand, Flag Committee Chair Carroll Walker and Beautification Committee Chair Jack Floyd.
July 11
The Jeff Davis County Commission received some long awaited good news. In an email from the Rural Development arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the county was notified they were approved for a $99,730 grant to build a farmers market.
Dr. David L. Turfler announced his retirement effective at the end of July.
July 18
The 12 and under Jeff Davis Recreation Department Girls Softball team won its fifth straight state championship.
The 12 and under baseball team and the 14 and under softball team also won state championships.
And the 10 and under softball team finished second in the state.
Andrea Taylor, IOM, CEO, of the Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis Chamber of Commerce, graduated from the Institute for Organization Management, the professional development program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
July 25
At a short, 18-minute regular monthly meeting of the Hazlehurst City Council, Mayor R. Bayne Stone briefly outlined a proposal by Southern Fire Ant and Mosquito Control of Unadilla that would help combat mosquitoes.
First Alliance Church on Old Graham Rd. had its share of water issues. Lightning struck the air conditioning unit at the church and water caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage upstairs. And there was a water break later and two inches of water covered the floor of the sanctuary, ruining the carpet, floor molding and sheetrock.
Longtime Hazlehurst physician Dr. David Turfler was retiring and his practice was to be taken over by Dr. Jason Laney and Nurse Practitioner Eric Carelock under the business name of Laney Internal Medicine Group.
Jeff Davis Recreation Department’s Morgan McEachin and Peter Tran won the 18 and under state tennis championship in singles and joined forces to finish as runner-ups in mixed doubles.
Jackie Campbell and Colby Beach won the 12 and under girls and boys singles state championships and combined to win the title in mixed doubles.
August 1
Jeff Davis County voters overwhelmingly favored Brian Kemp in the Republican Gubernatorial runoff 622-240 over Casey Cagle. In May, Cagle out-polled Kemp 359-282.
Heavy rain caused flooding and damage throughout the county.
August 8
Sustained, heavy rains over several months were playing havoc with the farming industry in Jeff Davis County.
Heavy winds damaged property and toppled trees throughout the county.
Jeff Davis High School senior Seth Graham signed a scholarship to play baseball for the Brewton-Parker College Barons.
August 15
The weather wasn’t the only problem local farmers were facing. The trade war between the United States and China threatened to severely curtail the amount of U.S. agricultural products sold to China. Hardest hit would be the soybean and cotton sales.
The Yellow Jacket football team was preparing for its season opener at Glenn Hills.
The Lady Jacket softball team opened with a pair of losses, 5-4 to Bacon County and 4-3 in eight innings to Pierce County.
August 22
Mayor Bayne Stone opened a presentation to the county commission by saying the council was “thrilled to death” that most of the commissioners had told them that Stone’s plans to build a State Patrol post in Hazlehurst was “a done deal.” But by the end of his presentation it was clear the deal was far from done.
Jeff Davis County Roads Department Supervisor Robert Lewis was earning a reputation as a team player who did everything he could for the betterment of Jeff Davis County.
Jeff Davis High got its football season off on the right foot in Augusta as the Yellow Jackets took a 35-6 victory over Glenn Hills.
After an 0-2 start, the Lady Jacket softball team won two of three games.
August 29
“We are spending too much, and we have to live within our means.” That’s the directive City of Hazlehurst accountant Tammy Metts Dyal issued to the Hazlehurst City Council during a called meeting.
Hazlehurst Fire Chief Charles Wasdin was installed as the State President of the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs.
At the GMC Small School Showcase cross country meet, the high school girls and middle school boys took 1st place while the varsity boys and middle school girls finish 2nd.
The JDHS football team defeated Windsor Forest 41-40 in overtime and the Lady Jacket softball team was on a 4-game win streak.
September 5
Matthew King opened a private trash pickup system for county residents.
Labor Commissioner Mark Butler spoke to a special meeting of the Hazlehurst Rotary Club.
The defense dominated as JDHS defeated East Laurens 20-14. The Lady Jacket softball team was 6-1 in Region 2-AA.
September 12
Student demographics reveals a heavy increase in hispanic students in the Jeff Davis County School System.
The Jackets defeated Brantley County 34-22 to improve to 4-0.
September 19
A called meeting of the Hazlehurst City Council began as what Ward One Councilman Dywane Johnson termed a “fireside chat” to discuss finances, but it evolved into one not quite of contentiousness but more of frustration about the city’s overall fiscal health.
The City of Hazlehurst voted to privatize its garbage collection system.
Jeff Davis Sheriff Preston Bohannon announced 12 suspects had been arrested in Jeff Davis County on drug related charges.
The Lady Jacket softball team moved into second place in the region with a 10-2 record. They were 15-7 overall.
September 26
The city’s financial situation was improving and the council made the decision to go it alone on building a state patrol post.
A Captain D’s was announced to be coming to Hazlehurst.
Jeff Davis Hospital held a ribbon cutting to open its new adult psychiatric facility.
Jeff Davis lost its first football game of the season, falling to Bacon County 24-17 in Alma.
The JD softball team defeated Vidalia 5-4 to move into first place in the region standings.
October 3
The Yellow Jacket football team rolled over Bryan County 54-21.
Karli Williams was crowned the 2018 JDHS Homecoming Queen.
Hazlehurst City Clerk Vernice Thompson Lopez became a Certified City Clerk.
October 10
Jeff Davis High, the No. 1 team from Region 2-AA in the Georgia High School Association State Championship Tournament, played Washington County in the opening round of a best-of-3 series.
The Hazlehurst Music Festival was held in downtown Hazlehurst.
The undefeated Vidalia Indians used big plays and a flurry of flags against Jeff Davis to take a 43-15 victory.
Jeff Davis Middle School’s softball team ended its regular season with an 11-3 win over East Laurens and won the 2018 Conference Championship.
October 17
A private disagreement turned public at the October meeting of the Jeff Davis County Commission as Commission Chairman Jerry Wooten openly discussed his problems with the Jeff Davis County Tax Commissioner’s office and Tax Commissioner Susie Kersey defended her office.
Hurricane Michael severely damaged Jeff Davis County’s cotton acreage.
While the Jeff Davis High-Washington County High first round playoff series was delayed by tropical storm Michael, the Lady Jackets finished their sweep of the Lady Hawks with a 7-1 victory in Hazlehurst to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
October 24
After years of delays, the installation of a traffic light at the intersection of North Miller Street and U.S. Highway 341 was again given the green light, long after having been approved by the Hazlehurst City Council in October of 2010.
Jeff Davis High’s softball team swept Berrien County, 10-3, 6-1, to earn a position in the 8-team State Tournament Finals in Columbus.
The Jeff Davis football team took a 35-14 win over Toombs County to improve to 6-2.
The JD cross country teams continued to have good showings in meets against higher classification teams.
October 31
Gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp made a campaign stop in Hazlehurst.
The JDHS softball team finished fourth in the Class AA State Tournament in Columbus.
The boys and girls cross country teams both won Region 2-AA titles.
The JD football team fell 14-0 to Swainsboro.
November 7
Republican Brian Kemp out-polled Democrat Stacey Abrams in Jeff Davis County 3,979-814, or 82.6% to 16.9%.
A huge crowd attended the Halloween festival on the courthouse square.
The football team defeated Metter 43-23 to earn a spot in the state football playoffs.
The Lady Jacket cross conference team finished second in the state meet.
November 14
Dr. Sidney Johnson announced his retirement after 53 years serving the public.
Beasley Forest Products marked its 20th anniversary.
Jeff Davis Hospital opened its Wound Care Center.
Jeff Davis fell to Dodge County in the first round of the state playoffs to end the season.
November 21
After months of working with government funding officials, the Jeff Davis County Commission finally received the go-ahead to solicit bids for the new Jeff Davis County Farmers Market to be located at the Baxley Highway recreation complex.
The finances took center stage for most of the City of Hazlehurst’s work session and regular meeting.
November 28
Fifteen Yellow Jacket football players were named to the All-Region team including first team picks James Wood, Jaylen Grady, Cody Ewing and Emanuel Rumph.
The Yellow Jacket duals attracted 38 wrestling teams to Hazlehurst.
Fifteen-year-old JDHS sophomore Jessica Jasmin Andrade was killed in an auto accident in Laurens County.
Shelby Kerns was selected to participate in WinterFest at Armstrong State University in Savannah. She was 1st chair flute and also played piccolo.
December 5
After 7-8 inches of rain fell in the three rivers area, schools were closed in most if not all surrounding counties because buses couldn’t take their normal routes because of flooded and muddy roads. But schools were open in Hazlehurst thanks to the efficient work of the Jeff Davis County Road Department.
A truck-train collision on Farmers Street derailed the train’s engine and several cars, closing traffic for the remainder of the day.
Rory and Joel Chaney were working to try to improve downtown Hazlehurst.
Evelyn Simmons was chosen Grand Marshall of the Christmas Parade.
December 12
Members of the Jeff Davis County Board of Education agreed for student participation in the USA High School Clay Target League.
Karli Williams signed to play softball at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.
JD wrestlers finished 2nd in a 16-team meet in Lumpkin County.
The JDHS boys basketball team defeated Metter and Toombs County for a pair of region wins.
December 19
Long-simmering conflicts between the Jeff Davis County Commission and the Jeff Davis County Board of Assessors continued at the commission’s December meeting. The Hazlehurst City Council was forced to rescind action taken at a called meeting that was not announced as required by law.
December 26
The Hazlehurst City Council passed flurries of motions in the final regularly scheduled workshop and meeting of the year. At the workshop, Blan Williams, who worked for the city for more than 31 years, most recently as supervisor of the water and sewer department, made an impassioned plea to the council to help him get issues resolved regarding a January, 2018, accident when he fell at work, hitting his head and breaking several ribs and his back. Almost a year later, no workman’s comp claim had been filed, he had no insurance, and his salary was ended, forcing him to retire.

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