DeKalb’s biggest, most important and most-read stories of 2018

The now-closed Macy's North DeKalb Mall store on January 7, 2015.

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The now-closed Macy's North DeKalb Mall store on January 7, 2015.

It’s been a long year for DeKalb County.

Since January, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s coverage of the area has included heinous crime, nixed development plans and questionable teacher behavior.

So let’s take a look back at five of the biggest, most important and most-read stories in DeKalb this year. There are definitely others, so feel free to comment with your own picks.

DeKalb commissioners quietly approved 60 percent raises for themselves

In February, the DeKalb Board of Commissioners voted to increase their raises by nearly 60 percent, putting their salary on par with what county superior court judges make.

But there was one problem: the proposed increase was quickly introduced then passed without going through the normal committee review process or even being included on the agenda.

The pay hike was heavily criticized before the vote, with several arguing the money would be put to better use recruiting police officers and improving public safety.

Georgia's attorney general Chris Carr later told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the vote violated the state's open meeting law, but it was too late to undo it because the 90-day window to contest the vote had passed and cannot be reversed by the courts.

The raise will go in to effect Jan. 1, 2019.

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Michael De'Sean White (Photo courtesy Clayton County Police Department)

Michael De'Sean White (Photo courtesy Clayton County Police Department)

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Michael De'Sean White (Photo courtesy Clayton County Police Department)

Teacher’s arrested in murder-for-hire plot; DeKalb schools hiring process questioned 

Michael De'Sean White had been teaching at Toney Elementary School for about six months before he was arrested and charged in a gang retaliation that killed two Clayton County students.

White, 26, along with 10 others, was arrested in March, two years after Daveon Coates, 15, and sister Tatiyana, 11, were found dead in their Jonesboro home. White's arrest reignited concerns about the hiring process in the DeKalb County School District.

An AJC investigation revealed White was the third teacher hired in 2017 under questionable circumstances. White was not certified to teach and there were discrepancies on his 2016 job application.

DeKalb County School District officials have said they turned to hiring uncertified teachers to help with the recruitment shortfall and Superintendent Steve Green admitted last fall that the district had erred in some hiring, and that efforts would begin immediately to modernize the hiring and backgrounding processes.

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DeKalb public safety officials saw a 4 percent raise this year. 

DeKalb public safety officials saw a 4 percent raise this year. 

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DeKalb public safety officials saw a 4 percent raise this year. 

DeKalb public safety officials get 4 percent pay raise  

Nearly eight months after Board of Commissioners raised their salaries, they voted unanimously to increase the pay of public safety officials by four percent.

The public safety pay raise — estimated to cost $7.1 million — took effect last month for 2,100 employees, including law enforcement and 911 operators. The raise followed a 3 percent raise granted earlier this year to DeKalb employees whose salaries had not been adjusted since 2016.

The raises made the county more competitive when recruiting police officers and put their salaries in line with other metro Atlanta areas. Before the raise, the base salary for a DeKalb police officer without a college degree was $39,296 and $41,261 for officers with a degree. Now, officers without a degree receive $40,868; for officers with college degrees, the 4 percent bump means a new base pay of about $42,911.


RELATED| DeKalb teacher accused of sex with student was hired, then certified


North DeKalb Mall demolition plans fall through 

For a year, North DeKalb Mall sat virtually empty. The slow bleeding of tenants was a musical chairs act only masked by the giant retailers still there: Burlington and Marshalls, along with  AMC Theaters.

And just when it seemed possible the mall would finally get the much-needed makeover, plans fell through.

Attorney Kathyrn Zickert for the Sterling Organization, who owns the mall, confirmed the company withdrew its zoning application with DeKalb County earlier this month.

The company announced in April plans to demolish the mall and rebuild the site with a new Costco, more retail and restaurants and 50 multi-family housing units and 50 townhomes.

But after several communications with county officials, plans fell through in December.

“They wanted us to do a number of off-site improvements not warranted by our project,” she said.

DeKalb Commissioner Jeff Rader told The AJC he still wants to work with Sterling in developing a “plan that would be attractive and leaned in to future opportunity.”

"We pointed out areas that we felt were weaknesses in their plan and were working to correct weaknesses," he said.

The county and the company are planning to meet in January.

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Zachary Meadors  (Credit: Gwinnett Police Department)

Credit: Gwinnett Police Department

Zachary Meadors  (Credit: Gwinnett Police Department)

Credit: Gwinnett Police Department

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Zachary Meadors  (Credit: Gwinnett Police Department)

Credit: Gwinnett Police Department

Credit: Gwinnett Police Department

ExploreDeKalb teacher accused of sex abuse found dead; district in spotlight

By the time, DeKalb officials issued arrest warrants for Zachary Meadors on child molestation charges, the sixth grade English teacher had already gone missing. On Oct. 17, he was found dead in his car in Lawrenceville from what police believe was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Friday before he was found, DeKalb schools interviewed Meadors, 28, after allegations surfaced he molested a 12-year-old boy at Freedom Middle School in Stone Mountain, The AJC previously reported. The DeKalb school district placed Meadors on paid leave and DeKalb schools police released him from custody despite evidence suggesting alleged abuse occurred.

During the interview, Meadors told investigators he had spent time with the boy outside of the school, at his home and public parks. Officials also discovered explicit text messages and photos in a text string on Meadors’ and the boy’s cell phones, sent from Meadors to the boy.

Investigators said the 28-year-old spent the weekend prior to his death creating a video and crafting notes to several people, including his parents, apologizing for “all the chaos he caused,” the AJC reported.


RELATED| DeKalb teacher accused of sex with student was hired, then certified

MORE| DeKalb teacher released from custody despite texts, photos evidence

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The fire happened just before midnight.