Year in Review: Recapping the big stories of 2012

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By Alice Du Pont

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series of stories reviewing the most significant Gadsden County stories in 2012. Look for the conclusion in the Jan. 3 edition.

Despite opposition from some in the community, Gadsden County voters, almost by a 2-1 margin. voted yes in two referendums that could change the face of the county forever.

The most hotly contested referendum was whether or not slot machines should be allowed at Creek Entertainment Gretna. With 33 percent of all registered voters casting their ballot. 6,042 voted yes for slots and 3,558 voted no. That total included absentee ballots with 707 for and 474 against the issue. In early voting, 1734 citizens voted for slot machines and 917 voted against.

Gretna’s city manager, Antonio Jefferson, called election results a great day for Gadsden County.

Voters also approved a referendum that would allow Gadsden County commissioners to grant tax exemptions for new businesses and expansion of existing businesses that are expected to create new, full-time jobs in the county.
The year 2012 dawned bright with expectations. There were high hopes for our two high schools but again hopes for higher grades from the Department of Education were dashed when the report cards came in and West Gadsden received a “C” grade and East Gadsden coming in with a letter grade of F.

The bright spot was that 2011 was the most successful year, and the district recorded five A schools, with fourth-graders ranking No. 1 in the Big Bend in writing; third-graders ranked eighth-highest in the state in math and record number of students graduated.

“I am pleased with the product of the district, and I commend all of the stakeholders for helping to move the district to new heights,” said Superintendent Reginald James.

Schools ranked A were: Gadsden Elementary Magnet School, Stewart Street Elementary School, Greensboro Elementary School, Crossroad Academy Charter School and Gretna Elementary School. Chattahoochee Elementary School, C; George W. Munroe School, C; St. John Elementary School, C; Havana Elementary School, C; Havana Middle School, D; James A. Shanks Middle School, B; East Gadsden High School, F; and West Gadsden High School, C.

Miracle Presha, an eighth-grader at James A. Shanks Middle School was the district’s spelling bee champion in the junior division.

Those for and against bringing casino gambling to Gretna were going door-to-door and the media buys were heating up as some saw the casino as a way to provide more jobs and others saw it as a break in the moral fiber of the community.
In less than a year, the former cotton field off Interstate 10 became a pari-mutuel horse-racing venue and then a poker room with amenities. The Gadsden County Ministerial Alliance organized in opposition to the casino and even the attorney general, Pam Bondi, weighed in, saying that in her opinion the state is not authorized to issue a license to the county for slot machines.

“Jobs” became the buzzword and it became even more important after the Florida Prison System announced Jan. 12 it would close seven corrections institutions and four work camps before spring. Those closures included River Junction Work Camp at Chattahoochee where 77 people were employed.

Crime continued to rear its ugly head when a retired couple returned home to find two Chattahoochee men attempting to burglarize their home. The victims said they were counting their blessings and were thankful no one was injured after one of the men fired several shots at the homeowner as they were attempting to escape.

Not too far away another young man, Antwann Dilworth of Gretna, allegedly attacked his mother and sister with a screwdriver.