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Abigail Sugg earns prestigious Tift Scholarship
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COVINGTON — The future looks bright — and debt-free — for Abigail Sugg, a student at Eastside High School and the Newton College & Career Academy STEM Institute. The high school senior was awarded the Bessie Willingham Tift Scholarship from Mercer University — a full ride scholarship that includes not only tuition but also room and board.

According to Christina Huseman, coordinator of the Tift Program at Mercer University, that equates to approximately $250,000 over the course of four years. She added that Sugg was chosen the sole winner of the Bessie Willingham Tift Scholarship out of 198 applications for the prestigious award.

“I’m so happy to receive this honor, said Sugg. “Mercer University has been a goal for me since eighth grade. It has always been my number one college that I wanted to attend. It has always been my end goal.”

She explained that she fell in love with the school after a stroll on the campus.

“Walking on that campus I always felt like it could be a home, and I liked the fact that it was smaller and that they really value education there,” said Sugg.

She added that her plans are to double major in graphic design and business at the university.

In addition to her free ride, Sugg will also hold several college credits when she arrives on campus as she has participated in dual enrollment since junior year and has also earned AP course credits.

“Abigail is an outstanding student and has truly excelled at Eastside, the STEM Institute and in Dual Enrollment,” said Eastside High School Principal Jeff Cher. “She is a remarkable young lady and so deserving of this scholarship. We say that Eastside graduates excellence, and she definitely exemplifies that.”

Cher also noted how the scholarship presentation was extra special as Ms. Huseman, the coordinator of the Tift Programs at Mercer and the one who awarded the scholarship to Sugg, is also a graduate of Eastside High School.

“It’s very exciting to be back to present this scholarship to an Eastside High School student,” said Huseman, who explained that Mercer University bought Tift College in 1986 and in the merger they created the Tift Legacy and the Tift Scholars program as a way to continue that legacy.

“Every year admissions presents the Tift program with a list of scholars that meet certain academic criteria,” Huseman said. “Of those, they are interviewed by Tift alum, Tift Scholar alum, and some are interviewed based on a board recommendation.”

Sugg entered the scholarship program through a board recommendation by Tift Scholar alum Julia Chatfield, a 2006 graduate of Mercer University and current science teacher at Eastside High School.

“We always want someone who not just wants to go to Mercer but whose passion is to go to Mercer,” explained Chatfield. “We also look for students who are strong academic students and students who are very well-rounded who will be involved in the Mercer community. Abigail meets all of those requirements, and I believe she hits all of those marks. She will be an outstanding representative of what Tift means. As a result of this scholarship, she will be one of the faces of the Tift program for the next four years.”

“I am so very thankful to be blessed with this opportunity because it is an expensive school to attend,” said Sugg, who admitted to being extremely nervous during the interview process. “I didn’t know at the time that the scholarship covered everything, including room and board. This is just so surreal. When I learned I got the scholarship I was in total shock and just so excited to tell my parents. It’s just a fantastic opportunity.”

During her high school career, Sugg has immersed herself not just in academics but also numerous organizations including the FBLA, TSA, the swim team, color guard and concert band. She’s looking forward to being involved in the Mercer University community as well when she reports in the fall.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Abigail,” said Chad Walker, principal of the Newton College & Career Academy. “We are so proud of her for this outstanding accomplishment and wish her the very best at Mercer University.”

Skatepark planned for Denny Dobbs Park
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COVINGTON — Newton County skateboarding enthusiasts could have a new destination come mid-summer following approval of a contract with Grindline Concrete Skatepark.

The Board of Commissioners approved a design/build contract totaling $189,875 for a skatepark at Denny Dobbs Park on Ga. Highway 212 in western Newton County. The contract with Grindline allocates $29,875 for pre-construction and design and $160,000 for construction.

The park, which is currently in the design phase, is expected to be completed in July.

Funding for the facility will come from 2017 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenues earmarked for parks in District 2.

Grindline Concrete Skatepark, based in Seattle, specializes in planning, design and construction of cast in place concrete skateparks. The company has built skateparks throughout the country, including at least two in Georgia — one in Hapeville and another in Atlanta.

Sen. Brian Strickland introduces probation reform bill
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ATLANTA — State Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, has introduced legislation that could help reduce the amount of time people spend on probation. Strickland represents the 17th District, which includes parts of Rockdale, Newton and Henry counties.

Senate Bill 105 provides a unified process by which individuals who have served at least three years on probation and have successfully met a list of eligibility criteria can seek early termination of their probation sentence.

According to the Georgia Justice Project, Georgia has more individuals on probation or parole than any other state in the country: 1 in 18 Georgians. The average probation sentence in Georgia is slightly more than six years versus the nationwide average of two years. Forty percent of all probation sentences in Georgia exceed 10 years.

SB 105 is designed to give thousands of Georgians who have proven their rehabilitation through good behavior the ability to access early termination. In order to be eligible for early termination, the offender must have had no prior felony convictions and have been sentenced to no more than two years in confinement. These offenders could have their probation terminated if they have served three years on probation, have paid all restitution owed, have not had their probation revoked in the immediately preceding 24 months and have not been arrested for anything other than a non-serious traffic offense.

“I am proud to author this bipartisan legislation that helps ensure that those that have served their time and paid their restitution are able to transition back into society and gain meaningful employment instead of getting stuck in what can become a never-ending cycle in our criminal justice system,” said Strickland.

GJP Executive Director Doug Ammar applauded introduction of the bill.

“We appreciate Sen. Strickland’s interest and leadership in helping provide a pathway for rehabilitated Georgians to re-enter their communities as productive members of society,” he said. “We look forward to working together to achieve passage of the legislation this spring.”

Georgia Justice Project and the REFORM Community Supervision coalition, which includes Faith and Freedom Coalition, REFORM Alliance, RestoreHer and the American Conservative Union Foundation, have joined together in advocating for passage of this legislation.

Rockdale County abandons right of way for portion of Dogwood Industrial Circle
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CONYERS — With Rockdale County Commission Chair Oz Nesbitt Sr. calling it a “public health and a public safety nightmare” in the past, the Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the abandonment and decommissioning of a portion of Dogwood Industrial Circle, located off Dogwood Drive SE. The property owner is planning to change the U-shaped road into two cul-de-sacs, closing off the back portion of the roadway, which has been used as a dumping ground in the past.

The vote came at the BOC meeting on Feb. 9.

BDM Development LLLP and David Miles, the owner of seven parcels adjoining Dogwood Industrial Circle, requested the abandonment and said in a letter to the BOC that they would pay for a redesign that would change the road into two cul-de-sacs, in order to make the remaining land more usable for Miles and the other landowners — Randy’s Carpet, Fabrics and Furnishings, Action Tire, Atlanta Gas Light, and K&D Shoes.

Both the Planning Commission and planning and zoning staff had recommended approval of the abandonment.

Chief of Staff Jamie Cabe advised the BOC that if they moved forward on the abandonment, it would be reviewed by the county attorney, and then the land would be put up for auction.

Planning and Zoning Director Kalanos Johnson added Miles is aware of the auction process.

“He has done similar projects in other counties throughout the region,” said Johnson, “so he is aware that the next step is a public auction, and he’ll have to bid on it.”

Post 2 Commissioner Dr. Doreen Williams made a motion to approve the abandonment and decommissioning. Post 1 Commissioner Sherry Washington seconded the motion, and it was approved 3-0.

Following the vote, Nesbitt praised the plan and said the road had been a code enforcement nightmare.

“It has been a dumping ground in the community for a number of years,” said Nesbitt. “It has really been a public health and a public safety nightmare, so I am so glad to see someone is interested in acquiring this property, and I’m looking forward to a new development. I’m also glad that the new potential owner will be communicating and in concert with the existing businesses that are already in that area. That is so important. But I think this is a huge step in the right direction simply because it had become a major eyesore and a danger zone in terms of code enforcement in Rockdale County.”