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Topside's year that was 

Tales of bribery, Buckhead and bumper-to-bumper traffic caught Topside's attention in 2000

Of all the goofy predictions people made for the year 2000 -- the Y2K glitch, alien invasion, the end of the world -- few actually came true. But plenty of strange events unfolded in Atlanta's Topside, where the year was full of political surprises -- and not just shockers of the U.S. Supreme Court, pregnant chad variety.

Fulton County received a mid-year jolt when longtime south Fulton Commissioner Michael Hightower admitted in June to taking $25,000 in bribes from a county contractor after federal investigators came knocking. He reported to a Florida prison camp in December to begin a six-month prison sentence. The feds also collared Josh Kenyon, chief of staff for both Chairman Mike Kenn and his predecessor, Mitch Skandalakis, for accepting a $14,000 payoff.

Skandalakis, who had stayed in the public eye since losing the lieutenant governor's race via a weekly radio talk show and leading the Milton County secessionist movement, vanished from the local scene in early summer when he became an acknowledged subject of the ongoing federal corruption probe. He hasn't been spotted in his home county since.

Politics rarely get more outrageous than in Forsyth County, where voters cleaned house after weathering an embarrassing four years of name-calling, illegal investigations, conviction-less indictments, accusations and lawsuits between county commissioners and Sheriff Denny Hendrix. When the dust settled in the primaries, the embattled commision incumbents had been tossed out, including Chairman Bill Jenkins and commissioners Andy Anderson and Julian Bowen, who lost a state Senate bid. The once-popular Hendrix was trounced in a runoff and his office remains under a GBI investigation for suspected payroll fraud.

But even lame-duck pols can still provide a great sideshow. Hendrix announced in November his intent to sue Bowen for slander for referring to him a "damn nut" during a public meeting.

Several races in the Topside had all the trappings of a political soap opera.

It was a year when the Republican dominance of the area was tested in several ways. Former State Rep. Randy Sauder of Smyrna stunned the GOP establishment with his last-minute party switch, while U.S. Rep. Bob Barr faced a tough fight to hold onto his seat in Washington.

Sauder, the incumbent for the District 29 House seat, switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democratic minutes before the end of the qualifying period. Political observers speculated that Sauder made the move to appeal to the district's increasing numbers of Latinos and African-Americans. But he lost the House seat to Ginger Collins, a Republican-backed conservative who ran as an independent and won 73 percent of the votes.

Republican Bob Barr, congressman for Georgia's Seventh District, made headlines early in the year as he pushed for the impeachment of President Clinton. In his race for re-election, Barr narrowly squeaked by well-heeled Democratic challenger Roger Kahn after a campaign full of mudslinging TV commercials. When all the ballots were counted, Barr won 54 percent of the votes to Kahn's 46 percent.

While Florida bickered over butterfly ballots and recounts, Cobb County held its own, less publicized recount. The race for the District 32 House seat came out in the too-close-to-call column, with Republican incumbent Judy Manning of Marietta garnering just 12 more votes than Democrat Pat Dooley. Manning picked up more votes in the recount to win by a margin of 19 votes.

As he stays busy updating his vanity website, www.newt.org, and hitting the talking-head circuit, Newt Gingrich may still have some influence on Georgia politics. Marietta Republican George Grindley lost his District 35 House seat to Democrat Terry Johnson by a mere 217 votes, a defeat some pundits ascribed to the incumbent's avid support for the fallen Speaker of the House. In any case, Grindley proved to be a sore loser. He promptly filed a lawsuit challenging the election results, claiming that people who had moved out of the district were allowed to vote in the election. He dropped his case less than a month later.

With all the confusion this political season, it's no wonder Secretary of State Cathy Cox is pushing for new and improved voting machines. Fulton County, the most populous county in the state, plans to adopt a new system with optical scanners already in use in Cherokee, Douglas, Gwinnett and Cobb counties.

GROWING PAINS
The striking political changes in the Topside come as the area undergoes rapid residential and commercial growth. In Alpharetta, business boosters cheered the ongoing emergence of Windward Parkway as a high-tech corridor. The office parks lining the thoroughfare house workers for E*Trade, IBM, Nortel Networks and others, leading one techie to dub the area "Silicon Valley in the heart of Dixie."

But, as always, rapid growth comes with a down side. So many Atlanta commuters now drive to work in far north Fulton that traffic jams have become common in both directions on Ga. 400.

To ease the rush-hour crunch, MARTA opened new north Fulton stations in Sandy Springs and North Springs in mid-December. An estimated 36,000 people a day will use the new stations, which run parallel to the often jam-packed Ga. 400. Meanwhile, some neighborhoods have used any means possible to fight off new construction.

The city of Roswell made a pre-emptive strike against construction when voters approved a $30 million bond referendum to buy and develop parkland. In August, the city spent $19 million to buy 159 acres from a developer to save as a park.

While preserving green space has become a hot topic in Roswell, the measure benefited from being on the ballot the same day Georgians made their picks in the presidential primary.

Sprawl-weary residents opposed twin shopping centers in the far north Fulton community of Birmingham, and in May, Fulton commissioners put the kibosh on the developers' plans. The developments would have added two strip shopping centers with competing supermarkets. But, according to the county's Comprehensive Land Use Plan, the Birmingham intersection was named a "neighborhood node," meaning developments on the site should be limited to services needed by immediate residents.

At the beginning of the year, Fulton announced an 18-month moratorium on new sewer hookups for a 35-square-mile area in the northern part of the county served by the Johns Creek Water Pollution Control Plant. The effective ban on new construction gave the government time to cope with the strained sewer system, but business leaders feared the measure would bring the area's economic development to a screeching halt.

The environmental impact of the area's growth could be seen (and smelled) as sewer spills dirtied the Chattahoochee River and its tributaries. A Cobb County spill in August killed hundreds of fish in Poplar Creek, which flows into the Chattahoochee. The city of Atlanta received more fines from the state Environmental Protection Division for its sewer troubles, and officials pledged to pay $1.2 billion to repair its sewage system.

Owners of the "McMansions" springing up along the shores of Lake Lanier had their own sewage problems with which to deal. Residents raised a stink about Gwinnett County's plan to dump about 40 million gallons of treated wastewater a day into the lake. Home sales in the area slowed as lake levels fell, depriving some lakeside homes of their waterfront views. However, realtors predicted sales will rise with the water levels when the drought comes to an end.

CULTURE CLASH
In other news, the former president of the arch-conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation received the wrong kind of publicity after being busted in a gay cruising sting at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in May. Matthew J. Glavin, who had led a successful attack on Atlanta's affirmative action program and was heading the charge to have President Clinton disbarred in Arkansas, was charged with masturbating in the presence of an undercover federal officer, then fondling the officer's groin.

It was revealed that he pleaded no contest to a similar charge four years earlier. Glavin resigned from the right-wing think tank, and in December was given one year of probation, fined $1,000, and banned from federal parks during his probation.

Buckhead became the land of shootings and bootings in 2000 as high-profile gunplay and a post-Super Bowl double homicide helped focus attention on a bar zone run amok with weekend cruising tie-ups, blaring music and a burgeoning booting industry that had critics and many local business owners calling for regulation.

While Fulton prosecutors bungled the murder case against Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis and two friends, the Atlanta City Council considered earlier closing times for bars, but instead opted to enforce the 4 a.m. weeknight closing time already on the books and require bars to shut their doors at midnight on Sunday. Booters' fees were capped at $50 by the council in November.

In Marietta, the head of the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art learned another lesson this year: the importance of living within one's means. Museum director Alexander Gaudieri staged an ambitious exhibit of American realist Winslow Homer, which cost the museum more than $300,000 in repairs and improvements. The February-to-April show did not draw enough crowds to offset the cost. Midway through the show, the museum was bleeding red ink and Gaudieri resigned. Aaron Berger took over as director of MCMA with the task of resurrecting the troubled institution.

Even though the Homer exhibit went bust, you can't say the metro area doesn't have enough culture. In an odd twist of events, dancers at DeKalb County strip clubs began performing Broadway show tunes in the buff to comply with the county's nude-dancing ordinance. The rule prevented nudity in establishments that received most of their revenues from alcohol sales, but allowed nudity in theatrical performances. While a number of clubs challenged the rule in the Georgia Court of Appeals, a Doraville club offered nude renditions of songs from "South Pacific."

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