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A look back at stories for 2011

The winter storm was great  for the lucky ones able to take advantage of the snow. Here, Madison McCurdy, a Clements Middle School student, takes a fast trip down a hill near her home on Browns Bridge Road.

The winter storm was great for the lucky ones able to take advantage of the snow. Here, Madison McCurdy, a Clements Middle School student, takes a fast trip down a hill near her home on Browns Bridge Road.

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Covington mayoral candidate Bobby Sigman was arrested by local police and charged with pulling up the campaign signs of his opponent.

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Marijuana is shown here stacked high after officers found a home and three outbuildings filled with the weed. More than a thousand plants were discovered at the house in various stages of growth. Deputies said they could smell it when they turned into the driveway at the King Bostwick Road home.

Covington and Newton County begin the new year with the legacy left by newsmakers in 2011. The economy played a large part in the lives of Newton Countians in 2011 as many were faced with unemployment, foreclosure and furlough days. Government and business leaders did what they could to keep the county moving forward, which made for differing opinions on how best to accomplish that goal. Law enforcement agencies were kept busy when residents were tempted to take shortcuts to prosperity.

New leaders were elected in 2011 while some familiar faces remain as the community moves ahead into 2012.Covington mayoral candidate Bobby Sigman was arrested in a sting operation by local police for allegedly stealing signs of his opponent, Ronnie Johnston. Police released an undercover video as evidence. Sigman announced his withdrawal, but days later, said he was back in the race. Later, he erected campaign signs promising to lower utility bills, but refused to publicly reveal his plan. Johnston was ultimately elected mayor.With much debate, Covington officials voted three times not to pursue the purchase of the Norfolk Southern rail line. Then, at year's end, the majority of the council reversed course and approved the formation of a fact-finding committee to obtain more information, at the request of outgoing Mayor Kim Carter. Newton County commissioners agreed they won't pursue the purchase of the rail line and agreed never to bring the matter up again. A federal earmark of more than $1 million is available to purchase the rail line and convert it into a trail system. Carter said the earmark, previously assigned to the county, is now in the city's name. Signs have sprung up all over Newton as citizens on both sides of the issue proclaim either "I love Trails" or "No Rails to Trails."Three county commissioners agreed to appoint former Administrative Officer John Middleton as county manager to oversee day-to-day operations, a duty previously assigned to the chairman of the Board of Commissioners. Chairman Kathy Morgan protested, saying the move was a change in the county form of government requiring a change to the charter and needing voter input. Two commissioners, Lanier Sims and Nancy Schulz, agreed. But Mort Ewing, Tim Fleming and J.C. Henderson formed a majority in favor of the change, requiring the position report solely to the board and not the chairman.The Newton County Sheriff's Office discovered a "grow house" containing more than 1,000 marijuana plants of all sizes at a remote location in south Newton County during the summer.

NCSO deputies, agents with the Covington/Newton County Special Investigations Unit and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency converged on the frame home at 531 King Bostwick Road where the strong, pungent odor of green marijuana permeated the area. Officers discovered the location following a traffic stop that yielded 4 pounds of raw marijuana.

Two men, Alberto Mejia, a Mexican national, and Felix Meregildo-Oxlaj, a Guatemalan were charged in connection with the operation.The Newton County School System as a whole failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress in 2011 for the second year in a row. The good news, however, was that 15 of the district's 23 schools did meet the benchmark, which was better-than-expected performance.

When preliminary AYP results were announced in July, the school system as a whole, as well as 10 schools, failed to meet AYP standards. The number of schools meeting the mark was increased to 15 in November when final results were announced. The school system had anticipated that as many as 19 schools would not make AYP due to required increases in student performance.

AYP is the formula used to determine if schools are meeting expectations under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Georgia uses the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and Georgia High School Graduation Tests to measure student performance.