A new year for news

The dubious achievements — and a chance for redemption — of 2004's newsmakers

A wise man once said that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. With that in mind, and with a new year dawning, we found this the perfect time to look back at 2004 — specifically at those headline makers whose antics never ceased to amuse us. After taking inventory of various follies, we're suggesting to each of these luminaries a New Year's resolution for a better 2005. Or at least a less turbulent one.

Jackie Barrett

On the bright side, she didn't plot the murder of her political opponent (unlike DeKalb Sheriff Sidney Dorsey did a few years back). But for sheer, eye-popping incompetence, few can compete with outgoing Fulton County Sheriff Jackie Barrett. She lost $2 million in public money in bungled investments and banked campaign contributions from the very people who stood to benefit from those investments. But her main job was running the jail, which during her tenure devolved into such squalor that it could have been the set for Midnight Express. As it turns out, the jail actually was the set for a rap video, starring real guards and inmates — those who weren't busy escaping out the back door. In July, Gov. Sonny Perdue finally suspended her. With pay, natch.

RESOLUTION FOR 2005: to write her memoirs. Working title: My Life as a Cautionary Example.

Kathy Cox

Memo to Ms. Cox: We're sorry you took so much flak for striking the word "evolution" from the state educational curriculum earlier this year. But we thought that perhaps, as state superintendent of schools, you would have known that evolution is as accepted within the science community as gravity. Silly us. By the way, you know how the secretary of state has the same name as you, except that "Kathy" is spelled with a "C"? When two words sound the same but are spelled differently, that's called a "homophone." Yes, it's a fancy word, but it's not gay. Go ahead, use it at parties.

RESOLUTION FOR 2005: to remove all references to "grades" from student testing.

Charles Walker

This summer, the Augusta pol racked up an impressive 142-count federal indictment accusing him of siphoning off donations to a charity event for underprivileged kids, strong-arming Grady Memorial Hospital into hiring his business, mail fraud, income tax evasion and probably jaywalking. The former Senate majority leader, who lost his seat in 2002, would seem to have met his Waterloo. But wait. Walker remained in the Democratic primary and handily won back a Senate seat. Now there's talk that some of those pesky indictments could be tossed out as the work of an overly partisan prosecutor, even though many Walker-watchers have long believed him to be as crooked as a dog's hind leg.

RESOLUTION FOR 2005: Quit while you're ahead. We mean it: Quit. Then go away.

Sadie Fields

For Georgia Christian Coalition leader Sadie Fields, the good news in 2004 was that her ferocious campaign to write bigotry into the state constitution with a ban of gay marriage passed with 76 percent of the vote. The bad news was that she further alienated her lesbian daughter, Tess, who was married to a woman in Oregon in March and bore a child. Tess slammed her mother in a column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before the election, saying, "For all the struggles my family experienced while I was growing up, none has been more damaging to its foundation than my mother's religious extremism."

RESOLUTION FOR 2005: to star in Mel Gibson's The Passion of Mommy Dearest.

Zell Miller

Miller became the angriest man in America with his snarling performance at the Republican National Convention. He followed up by challenging MSNBC talking head Chris Matthews to a duel. While it's tempting to say he's gone insane, we suspect it's just another shrewd move from the ever-opportunistic Miller, who betrayed the party that elevated him from Hooterville to the halls of Congress. After all, sales of his book, A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat, have skyrocketed, and he just signed on as a right-wing screamer on Fox News. Crazy pays.

RESOLUTION FOR 2005: to star in a reality-based version of Deliverance, so he can teach Fox co-star Sean Hannity to squeal like a pig.

Vernon Jones

At the end of 2003, the storied DeKalb County CEO was recovering from a grand jury investigation into his three-man security detail — and from the fallout of his overzealous reaction to the investigation. One would think a re-election year would have been time for reconciliation. Uh, hardly. Jones won in 2004, but not before he caught heat for receiving $3,500 from the county for a secret trip to the Olympics. One of his top aides was arrested for imprisoning a 19-year-old in a Buckhead hotel room. He also was accused of forcing out popular DeKalb police Chief Eddie Moody. And a lawsuit claims the county discriminated against white employees to fulfill Jones' wish for a "darker administration." Obviously, any 2004 New Year's resolution Jones made was a total bust. Let's try this again.

RESOLUTION FOR 2005: Hire a seasoned yogi to conduct daily meditation sessions for Jones and his staff. Hey, we all need to unwind.

Linda Schrenko

The former Georgia school superintendent accused of stealing more than $500,000 in taxpayer money and spending more than $9,000 on a face-lift will, if convicted, become the hottest blonde to enter the prison system since Martha Stewart. Part of the loot was earmarked for computer services for deaf children. She also was accused of funneling the money into her unsuccessful campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2002.

RESOLUTION FOR 2005: to get a subscription to Martha Stewart's Prison Living to prepare for cohabitation with that special cellmate.

Michael Adams

This was the year the shit really hit the fan for Adams. Sure, the UGA president had stirred up controversy before with his lavish perks and borderline nepotism, his disastrous hiring of ethically challenged hoops coach Jim Harrick and, above all, his sacking of beloved Athletic Director Vince Dooley. But this year he tussled with a group with real muscle: the UGA Foundation pays nearly half of Adams' $637,966 salary. Oops. In the end, the foundation backed down and made nice with the school's trustees, allowing Adams to remain at least until 2007.

RESOLUTION FOR 2005: Keep your nose clean. You're on a shorter leash than Uga.

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