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Our Views: Goodbyes and hellos for a new year
We bid good riddance to a shaky 2009, but 2010 brings new hope
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The Times Editorial Board

Publisher: Dennis L. Stockton
General Manager: Norman Baggs
Executive Editor: Mitch Clarke
Managing Editor: Keith Albertson
Senior Content Editor: Edie Rogers

The end of the year, the flip of a calendar, and all things change, right? The problems of 2009 are forgotten because we have a fresh new year before us to right all the wrongs of the old one.

We wish.

We already knew this, but the truth is that flipping over to 2010 didn’t change much. Yet for most of us, the end of 2009 brought a response of "good riddance." To say that it was not a good year in many ways is an understatement.

Yes, the economy seems to be rebounding slowly after a year of bank and business failures, home foreclosures and job losses, yet those still suffering won’t be comforted by a new date to mark their misery. The H1N1 "swine" flu, though not the pandemic first feared, is still out there. So are al-Qaida terrorists plotting in a handful of unstable countries, Iranian and North Korea wackos with nukes and a world that gets more dangerous by the day.

Yet we have survived, and there are silver linings peeping through the dark clouds. The conflict in Iraq shows signs of stabilizing; a surge in Afghanistan may have the same result. Our nation may have lost some of its international clout, but it remains the world power other countries dream of being.

In North Georgia, a year of rain washed away two years of drought and immediate concerns over availability of water, refilling Lake Lanier to full pool just two years after it fell to its lowest point. And though a judge’s ruling has threatened use of the lake as a future water source, the recent governors’ talks offer hope that a long-term solution is within reach in the year ahead.

So it’s the old good-news, bad-news mixed bag, same as most years. And there are few tangible changes we can acknowledge as we move to January. For them, we offer a few goodbyes and hellos.

We start with a fond goodbye to Frank Hooper, who retired after 32 years with the Gainesville Police Department, the last 12 as chief. Hooper followed his father, Roy Franklin Hooper Sr., into law enforcement. In fact, it’s been more than 50 years since the GPD didn’t have a Hooper on its force.

Hooper has embodied the best attributes of a public servant: Humility, integrity, honesty and dedication to the people he serves. Gainesville is a safer, better town because of his efforts and that of his father. We wish the chief well in retirement — and he’ll always still be "chief" to most of the folks in this town.

And in turn, we say hello to Jane Nichols, who will fill Hooper’s shoes as interim chief. A 29-year veteran of the force and a longtime Hooper ally, she likely will manage the department just as her mentor has while a search for a full-time chief is conducted. We trust her experience will serve her and Gainesville well during this time.

In 2009, Gainesville said goodbye to some community giants, including two, Ray McRae and James Mathis Sr., whose vision, philanthropy and wisdom helped build our community’s heart and wealth simultaneously. They both defied the bogus, Potter-esque Hollywood stereotype of the banker as a greedy villain out to squeeze the populace, and instead used their business acumen to reach out to those in need in so many ways. Their rising tide indeed lifted all boats, and they should continue to serve as an example to those to come afterward, proving that success on the bottom line and in the human spirit do not have to be mutually exclusive.

In state politics, the theme for 2010 will be, thankfully, change across the board.

We recently said goodbye to Glenn Richardson, the bombastic Georgia House speaker whose short tenure imploded this past year. We won’t pile on during a difficult time in the man’s life, but it’s clear that all are relieved to see his term as speaker cut short.

We say hello to David Ralston, the speaker-apparent chosen by the majority Republicans. They couldn’t have chosen a more different leader than Richardson. Where one was bare-knuckled, the other is soft-spoken. Where one wielded power driven by ego, the other seeks consensus and peace. That’s just what our legislature needs, and we hope the new speaker can turn his chamber’s attention back to getting the people’s business done effectively starting Jan. 11.

This year, we will say goodbye to Nathan Deal as our U.S. representative after 18 years, yet we could see him again at the state Capitol and the big house on West Paces Ferry Road if he wins his bid for governor. A handful of capable candidates are lined up to claim his seat in Congress, giving voters an array of choices and a spirited campaign for the first time in two decades.

We’ll say goodbye to Sonny Perdue a year from how, but who will we greet to replace him? The list is long and the race is too early out of the gates for even the wisest of political tea-leaf examiners to hazard a guess. But as with Deal’s seat, the choices are varied, allowing voters elect a fresh face and a new approach to state leadership. The domino effect also cracks the entrenched, business-as-usual state of incumbency and could bring changes to several state offices and legislative seats.

The year behind was a bear at times, and the year ahead a mystery. We can only offer our hopes and prayers that by this time next year, the goodbyes and hellos will gladden our hearts, keep a roof over our heads and groceries on the table.

In the meantime, flip that calendar and get a fresh start, whether real or imagined. We’ve earned it.

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