December 26, 2018

Flagpole's 15 Most-Read Stories of 2018

Photo Credit: Savannah Cole

It seems like a million years ago that Dapper Don Jr. was on the Classic Center stage.

The internet is a fickle beast, and so are readers in today’s fractured and undermanned media environment, where a random Macedonian guy posting misspelled bald eagle macros on Facebook can make more money than any intrepid investigative reporter. Commendably, Flagpole readers mainly engaged in serious issues over frivolities and fakes this year—even online. It’s a Festivus miracle!

In lieu of a traditional year-in-review, here are the 15 most-clicked-on stories from in 2018, not including food-related stories, which are perennially among our most popular. The sundry restaurant comings and goings that made our digital readers press F to pay respects will be covered by food critic Hillary Brown in her year-end wrap-up in the Jan. 9 issue.

"Avid Pulls Out of Athens Academy Book Fair After Being Told to Remove Book With Gay Characters," Mar. 9

Avid Bookshop shut down its annual book fair at Oconee County private school Athens Academy after an administrator told booksellers to hide copies of The Best Man by award-winning author Richard Peck because it features gay characters. “Our staff is uncomfortable working in an environment that condones this kind of censorship,” Avid owner Janet Geddis said. Head of School John Thorsen later apologized.

“Get Your ACC Election Results Right Here” and “Kelly Girtz Elected Mayor in a Landslide,” May 22

A progressive wave in May’s local elections swept out two incumbents—Sharyn Dickerson and Jared Bailey—and installed five new commissioners: Patrick Davenport in District 1, Mariah Parker in District 2, Tim Denson in District 5, Russell Edwards in District 7 and Ovita Thornton in District 9. Commissioner Kelly Girtz, widely considered the most progressive candidate for mayor, easily defeated former commissioner Harry Sims and business owner Richie Knight with 60 percent of the vote. And public defender Lisa Lott ousted Superior Court Judge Regina Quick, a former Republican legislator appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal.

“Big Mixed Use Development Planned for Former Athens Clock Factory,” Apr. 13

Two Atlanta developers announced plans to redevelop the former Westclox plant off Newton Bridge Road into a mixed-use complex featuring apartments, restaurants, “maker space” and a 3,000-seat amphitheater. The first phase of the development, dubbed General Time—a new warehouse for Terrapin Beer Co.—broke ground earlier this month.

“Republicans Retake Athens House Seats; Abrams Vows to Fight On,” Nov. 7

The blue wave continued in Athens as Democrat Stacey Abrams won 70 percent of the vote locally—a modern-day record. But it wasn’t enough, as Republican Brian Kemp, an Athens native, racked up huge margins in rural areas and clung to a 90,000-vote lead as election night wound down. Abrams would go on to file several lawsuits over issues of ballot access and voter suppression, but eventually acknowledged that she couldn’t catch up with Kemp two weeks later.

While turnout in Clarke County was high, it was even higher in red Oconee County, and Republicans Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower took back two GOP-leaning state House seats that Democrats Deborah Gonzalez and Jonathan Wallace had won in a 2017 special election.

“Donald Trump Jr. Is Coming to Athens,” Sept. 27

The right-wing campus group Turning Point USA announced plans to bring in President Creamsicle’s large adult son to speak at the Classic Center in October. Let’s all agree to scrub this from our collective memories.

“RIP Peter Appel, Barry Hollander and Rich Rusk,” Jan. 31, and “Driver Kills UGA Professor and Cyclist Karen Tinsley,” Apr. 4

Athens lost three prominent citizens within a few days of each other in late January: UGA law professor Appel, journalism professor Hollander and Rusk, a climate-change and social justice activist, writer and son of former Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

Tinsley, a popular and accomplished faculty member in the University of Georgia’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences, was killed when she was hit by a pickup truck while riding her bike near Bishop. The driver, Richard Poulnott, was later charged with second-degree vehicular homicide, following too closely and other traffic violations.

“Ex-Employees Urge Boycott of Ciné and Daily Over Charges of Discrimination,” Mar. 14

Several former employees of the downtown arthouse cinema and food co-op and their supporters held a protest on the sidewalk outside to draw attention to what they called an unwelcoming atmosphere for minorities. (The theater’s board of directors responded by bringing in the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement to conduct workshops and committing to more diverse programming.) Daily Groceries was also accused of similar conduct and reaffirmed its commitment to inclusiveness.

“Teachers Flee CCSD: Departures Doubled Over 2016–17,” Aug. 8

Documents obtained by Flagpole through an open-records request found that 16 percent of the Clarke County School District’s staff resigned or retired during the 2017–18 school year—double the number the previous year, and triple the number from 2010–11. Superintendent Demond Means said he would make teacher retention a priority.

“Scott Freeman Is Out as Athens Police Chief,” Sept. 13

In a move that caught many by surprise, Athens-Clarke County Manager Blaine Williams asked for and received the resignation of Police Chief Scott Freeman, who had won plaudits for bringing a renewed emphasis on community-oriented policing to ACCPD. A subsequent Flagpole investigation found that Freeman had lost the support of many of his officers, in large part because they believed he acted hastily in firing Taylor Saulters, a rookie officer who used his patrol car to run down a black suspect wanted on a probation violation. Longtime ACCPD veteran Mike Hunsinger was named interim chief, and the search for a permanent chief remains ongoing.

“UGA Is Confiscating Those Newfangled Scooters,” Aug. 23

When the e-scooter company Bird dropped hundreds of its motorized children’s toys downtown and on the UGA campus, university administrators quickly got fed up with students leaving them just kinda wherever and started to confiscate them. At last count, UGA had impounded 1,100 scooters, and Bird owed more than half a million dollars in fines. Four months later, Athens-Clarke County would follow suit by temporarily banning e-scooters while they figured out how to deal with people illegally riding without helmets, riding on the sidewalk and blocking the sidewalk when they parked.

“Mayoral Candidate Richie Knight’s Business Record Called Into Question,” Mar. 21

Knight, the young proprietor of H.W. Creative Marketing, was always a long shot to become mayor, but he wasn’t helped by past employees’ allegations that he had not paid them or written them bad checks. Not a good look for a guy who ran as someone who could use his skills as an entrepreneur to solve the city’s problems.

“Teachers are Not the Problem With Clarke County Schools,” Aug. 29

Bertis Downs is R.E.M.’s lawyer, but he’s perhaps best known these days as an advocate for public education, and he took issue with an op-ed Means wrote that Downs felt unfairly blamed teachers for the achievement gap between white and black students.

“Classic City Deep Cuts: 15 Athens Albums to Know,” Aug. 15

For our back-to-school issue, Music Editor Gabe Vodicka and his staff of crack (or cracked-out) music critics tried to educate the youth on the Athens music scene, beyond R.E.M., The B-52s, Widespread Panic and other bands everybody knows. The results, as one might expect, were hotly debated on social media.