It was a year of change in Polk County, with the winds of political fortune having blown in various directions for officials in the cities and county governments. A year that started with new school board members and a new superintendent ended that way as well as 2017 will long be remembered as a year of shake-up in positions.
But that wasn’t all: Polk County residents went back to the polls this year to decide who should fill local positions and to approve an extension of the extension of Education-only, Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax fund through 2026.
All of these were highlights from some of the big stories to come out of Polk County in 2017.
Here’s a review of some of the more memorable stories over the year:
New superintendents take on leadership of schools
As the year started, the Polk School District got a new man in charge as Dr. Darrell Wetherington took over for Dr. William Hunter, who retired at the end of 2016 after only three years in the job.
Wetherington’s tenure didn’t last long as Polk School District’s leader.
In February, Wetherington was suspended with pay in a unanimous vote by the Board of Education after an investigation into allegations of improper conduct and an incident at Westside Elementary School on Friday, Feb. 17 where he entered his estranged wife’s classroom and began an argument in front of students on the pretense he was at the school by her request to deliver a Diet Coke.
Wetherington’s resignation was announced at the beginning of March.
Later, Greg Teems was named interim superintendent until the school board chose after a search that stretched into the summer with the help of Educational Planners and two different sessions allowing the public to comment and plea for the hire of a local candidate.
The board chose Assistant Superintendent Laurie Atkins to take over the job, and Teems returned to his role as assistant superintendent. Atkins was announced as the new leader of Polk School District in early September, and so far has made strides to realign the system’s priorities, and re-engage with the public in several community meetings to encourage participation of the public in helping out in the classroom.
Aragon’s revolving door
The City of Aragon installed new council members following last year’s election, and of all those only Debbie Pittman remains in her seat as this new year starts.
In January, Aragon City Council member Duel Mitchell decided that it was time for him to step down as age and health issues had hindered his ability to serve in the seat any further.
After Kelsey Collum was the only one to step up to run in a special election for the seat, he was later sworn into the position in late March 2017.
Then in May, the council lost Tammy Mulkey to resignation after an eviction process had begun in April, and she was unable to find somewhere else to move within the city limits on short notice. She had served on the board following her appointment in January 2016, since she ran with no opposition in the 2015 election.
Her position was left open until the November election.
In August as candidates were stepping up to run for the Aragon City Council, Kelsey Collum after only serving five months in office, resigned without notice and no explanation from the council, and withdrew from the race to retain his seat.
Also giving up his seat in 2017 after only serving a year is Hunter Spinks, who decided that he didn’t want to continue on after jumping in to help fill a vacant spot in late 2016 after giving up his spot earlier in the year.
His last meeting on the council was this past week on Dec. 21.
The new year starts with Amy Causey, Candace Seiz and Judson Fee as new council members joining Mayor Garry Baldwin and Pittman.
Longtime commissioner gives up seat in Cedartown
Commissioner Larry Odom decided it was time to retire after a decade of service on the Cedartown city board, and already a replacement is ready to take over his spot.
Odom, an 28-year U.S. Air Force veteran and former 911 director, wrapped up a decade of service as a Cedartown City Commissioner during the Dec. 11 regular session, the last of the year.
He previously served as chair from 2008 to 2010, and in 2016 as the commission’s chair.
The 2017 municipal elections in Cedartown gave political newcomer Jessica Brewster Payton a chance to serve after she and incumbents Matt Foster and Jordan Hubbard retained their seats as well.
The trio ran against outsider candidate Patrick McNally in a third try for office in the past years.
Payton, who lives in Cedartown but works in Rome as neuromuscular therapist and owner of Balanced Movement, expects to work hard in the first years to do her best to live up to the voter’s wishes for Cedartown.
“I’ve been excited about the direction Cedartown has been headed the last few years, and I’m grateful that the people of Cedartown have elected me to be a part of the positive progress I already see happening,” Payton said.
School board race comes down to 1 vote in runoff
The Polk County Board of Education’s new members began the year with a mandate for change, and that eventually included their own ranks before 2017 was finished.
In August and after only getting to serve 8 months in office, new District 6 board member Hal Floyd announced that due to rules to prevent being tangled up in a nepotism rule that would have prevented his daughter-in-law from being promoted into an administrative role. Floyd ended up as the new District 3 Commissioner for Polk County in October.
Floyd’s resignation gave way to the appointment of interim member Judy Wiggins. Wiggins ran to retain the seat and keep it for the final three years of the term for District 6, but challengers entered the race.
Local businessman Chris Culver and retired educator Carolyn Williams both sought the seat as well, with Culver and Wiggins put into a run-off after none of the trio secured a majority during the November vote in Rockmart.
Only 381 people turned out to take part in the Dec. 5 run-off, and it came down to a 191-190 split in favor of Culver. A Dec. 12 recount confirmed the results of Culver’s win, which came down to just the single vote.
Culver was expected to be sworn in before 2017’s end, and take on his first night on the school board to on Jan. 2.
Polk County Commission gets 2 new members
County government wasn’t without change either.
Two new Polk County Commissioners have taken late in the year as board members in District 1 and District 3 were replaced after resignations.
Commissioners Jason Ward and Stefanie Drake Burford both left their posts after making decisions to move out of Polk County, with Ward announcing his move to Florida in late May, and took a job with Jacksonville-area appraisal firm Florida Valuation. He officially gave up the seat on July 31, which started a 60-day clock for the commission to choose a new member.
After eight candidates came forward to seek the position, the Commission chose Cedartown’s Jose Iglesias to take over the remainder of Ward’s term, which comes up at the end of 2018.
Iglesias was born in El Salvador and moved to the United States when he was 10. He became a naturalized citizen in 2005, and three years later moved to Cedartown with his wife, Giovanna, and their two children, Efrain and Isaac.
Iglesias and his family run Taxes de America, where he provides tax preparation services to the local community utilizing his degree from Suffolk College in New York.
Burford’s resignation followed just a month after when she announced she was leaving to move to Cobb County to allow her family to be closer to jobs and schools. She remains a practicing attorney in Polk County, but due to the move also had to give up her job as solicitor for the Cedartown Municipal Court at the end of this year, since she no longer resides in the county.
Her District 3 seat ended up going to former School Board member Hal Floyd, who celebrated his birthday with his swearing into the seat after Commissioners unanimously chose him to join the ranks. He was chosen among 3 candidates for the seat, and will serve out the rest of Burford’s term through 2020.
The county also saw a few ranking officials leave their jobs during the year. That included Airport Manager Sam Branch, who announced his exit from the county at the beginning of November.
Assistant County Manager Barry Akinson also suddenly announced his resignation in November, and left his job without notice for family reasons.
Both positions had yet been filled by the end of the year.
2018 is an election year for many local and state officials, with primaries to come up in March and a general election in November.
Included in the upcoming election is the State House District 16 race for the seat held by third-term incumbent Trey Kelley, the State Senate District 32 seat held by Sen. Bill Heath, a Tallapoosa circuit Superior Court Judge race for the seat held by incumbent Meng Lim, who already announced he will seek a second term on the bench.
Statewide and regional seats include a slate of legislative and executive positions in Georgia. Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Secretary of Agriculture and many more will be on the ballot in November.
Additionally, Congressman Tom Graves will also face election this year as well for the 14th district.
Locally, the county commission and the school board will also have elections for candidates this year.
Iglesias will have to defend his District 1 seat if he decides to run, along with incumbents Jennifer Hulsey out of District 2, and Marshelle Thaxton out of District 3.
For the school board, incumbents Jane Hamlett, Bernard Morgan, Grady McCrickard and Tommy Sanders will also have their seats on the ballot this coming year as well.
Editor's note: in the print version of this story, we had the name of a school board member wrong. That has been corrected.