STARKVILLE — 2The year 2011 was marked by defeats, departures, dogs and Bulldogs in Starkville and Oktibbeha County.
Oktibbeha County Sheriff Dolph Bryan was defeated in the primary runoff after 36 years in office while Starkville School District Superintendent Judy Couey shockingly resigned and still hasn’t made a public comment about the decision.
Oktibbeha County also enacted a vicious dog ordinance after two young boys were mauled by five pit bulls in the summer.
There was good news, too, as Mississippi State University topped the 20,000-mark for enrollment, which has had a positive effect on commerce in the city.
Bryan defeated in runoff
After 36 years as sheriff of Oktibbeha County, Dolph Bryan was defeated by first-time challenger Steve Gladney in the August primary runoff.
Bryan fell short of the needed 50 percent in the primary, while Gladney awaited absentee and affidavit ballot counts the following day to clinch a spot in the runoff. Bryan lost the runoff by 431 votes.
The defeat marked the second straight runoff Bryan had faced and his third in 10 elections.
“I don’t have any hard feelings,” Bryan said. “Mr. Gladney was a good opponent.”
Starkville schools’ superintendent abruptly resigns
Starkville School District board members spent 2 1/2 hours behind closed doors April 27 before voting unanimously to accept the resignation of superintendent Judy Couey.
Couey cited “a need and desire” to focus on her health, saying the superintendent post “is a demanding job requiring total focus on the position.”
Couey had served as superintendent since July 2008 and was an assistant superintendent before her promotion.
Couey hasn’t commented publicly since the resignation. The Starkville School District board of trustees never revealed what sent them into executive session and why the meeting took as long as it did.
The board expects to hire a new superintendent shortly after the new year.
County enacts vicious dog ordinance
After two reported incidents of dog attacks and one that sent two children to the hospital, the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors crafted a vicious dog ordinance.
The board adopted the ordinance in November after hearing stories that ranged from being threatened by roaming dogs on private property to having livestock killed.
The board’s ordinance allows for easier prosecution and sets a fine structure for the owners of vicious dogs.
Man attacks Shipley employees
Two Shipley Do-Nuts employees were preparing dough and brewing coffee when George Johnson walked into the store May 31.
At 6:30 a.m., Johnson, of 3020 Pisgah Road in Weir, entered the store. He is accused of cutting the throat of a 65-year-old woman working the cash register. A male employee from the back of the store separated Johnson and the cashier and was stabbed several times before Johnson fled on foot.
Both victims were hospitalized.
Johnson, 21 at the time, is charged with two counts of aggravated assault. He pleaded not guilty in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court in October and has a Jan. 30 trial date.
Municipal complex bond referendum fails again
For the fourth time in 12 years, the city of Starkville’s attempt to finance a new police station was dismissed by voters.
In September, residents shot down the $8.45 million bond issue; 55.46 percent of residents voted against the bond issue. To pass, the referendum needed a 60-percent yes vote.
Residents argued the price tag for the proposed building at North Montgomery Street and Highway 182 was too high. Others were opposed to the 3.49-mill increase on property taxes.
The last attempt to finance the municipal building failed in 2006 by less than 1 percentage point; 59.14 percent of voters voted in favor of the bond issue.
Next to City Hall on Lampkin Street, the Starkville police station is prone to water and sewage leaks. The force has outgrown the building, which opened in 1969, and doesn’t have sufficient areas to store evidence. Additionally, the SPD doesn’t have separate rooms to book suspects and record witness statements.
Mayor Parker Wiseman has since explored public-private partnership opportunities to help make the project as tax neutral as possible.
Jan Morgan recovers from cycling accident
When cyclist Jan Morgan was hit by a car on May 22 in Clay County, the collision set off a firestorm between cyclists who feel they should have equal rights to public roads and everyday vehicle drivers who feel cyclists clutter the roads.
Morgan, a Starkville resident and co-owner of Boardtown Bikes, doesn’t remember the wreck or much of the nationwide attention it garnered as she lay in a coma for four months. Morgan underwent rehabilitation and multiple surgeries in Atlanta and Jackson before returning to Starkville in August.
Ruth Norton, of Cedar Bluff, was driving the vehicle that hit Morgan. According to interviews with people at the scene, including a passenger, Norton was using her cellphone during the crash.
The district attorney’s office was unable to pursue felony charges, but Morgan filed a misdemeanor charge of assault with a deadly weapon in Clay County Justice Court. A judge found Norton guilty of negligence and imposed a $50 fine.
Leslie Sharp acquitted
It took two trials this year, but Leslie Sharp was found not guilty of the murder of Christopher Cole in 2008.
Sharp said she acted in self-defense, and on Sept. 30 a jury took 3 1/2 hours to find Sharp not guilty. The jury had the option to convict her of manslaughter.
Sharp was initially tried in May, but a juror got sick during deliberation and needed to be hospitalized, prompting 16th Circuit Court Judge Lee Howard to declare a mistrial.
Three witnesses testified Sharp shot Cole in the back after he yelled a violent, expletive-laced tirade at the women for catching him in an affair.
Sharp fired 10 shots and hit Cole seven times.
Mississippi State tops 20,000 students
In August, Mississippi State University became the first college in the state to reach the 20,000-mark for enrollment.
MSU is the state’s largest university, both by enrollment and square miles. MSU’s enrollment increased by 3,000 students in the 2 1/2 years since Dr. Mark Keenum has been president of the university.
The campus infrastructure is growing, too; South Hall was recently completed, and a pair of new residence halls that will provide 800 more beds on campus are under construction and will be completed by fall 2013.
The growth also presents challenges for MSU, as it’s almost at capacity in classroom space, Keenum said.
The university’s enrollment in 1996 was 14,000.
MSU spanks Michigan in Gator Bowl
Going to bowl games isn’t the norm in Starkville, but the Mississippi State football program is on its way to making it an annual tradition.
The Bulldogs returned to postseason play with a 52-14 defeat of Michigan in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day. The victory was the highest scoring margin in a bowl game for the Bulldogs and their first New Year’s Day bowl game since 1999.
The Bulldogs finished the season ranked in the top 25.
Though the Bulldogs didn’t quite live up to their pre-season ranking this season, they clinched a spot in the Music City Bowl in Nashville, marking the first time MSU clinched back-to-back bowl berths since the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
The rise in play, excitement and exposure has resulted in numerous sellouts, prompting the athletics department to make plans to expand Davis Wade Stadium in 2014.