Most times, there is some debate about the top story of the year.
Last year, there was some discussion: the ongoing parks and recreation controversy, or the decision by the city to cut off utilities to a blighted trailer park, essentially leaving dozens homeless.
Or, maybe, controversy over the attempt by county commissioners to give themselves a right to buy insurance after leaving office.
Admittedly, I had to go back into the archives to remind myself what even the top story of 2019 was, much less No. 2 or No. 3.
For probably a decade now, I’ve looked back through the year’s papers to see what the big headlines are and made a ballot for the staff.
This year’s vote was more shouting across the office, “Hey, it’s the coronavirus, right?”
No one disagreed.
And consider what otherwise would have been huge stories, all on the backburner:
• The presidential election has been a tremendous topic of conversation, with the chosen candidate of nearly 3 in 4 Walton County voters, President Donald Trump, narrowly losing Georgia. He lost the Electoral College vote by a wider margin to Democrat Joe Biden.
Congress will collect the votes Jan. 6, and Walton’s congressman, Rep. Jody Hice, said he will object to the Georgia votes.
• Sheriff Joe Chapman won a fifth term with a landslide win in the GOP primary and no general election opposition. He begins the new four-year term Friday.
• Kevin Little decided not to seek a sixth term as chairman of the Board of Commissioners and David Thompson was unopposed in the race to follow him. He also begins his term Friday.
• The nation is watching Senate races carefully and Georgia has been in the spotlight. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue were in the county last week to campaign.
Yet all of that pales to the pandemic, which left nothing unscathed.
Schools were forced to go digital for the last two months of the spring semester, and graduation exercises were upended. Noon each Friday brings the latest tally of COVID-19 cases in the local schools.
Government offices opened and closed in fits and starts to try and keep employees and citizens safe. Deep cleanings became the norm after exposures to the illness.
Gov. Brian Kemp stopped short of imposing the mask mandates seen in other states, even neighbors like Alabama. Still, people were urged to stay home for the first uncertain weeks.
The worst part is, this isn’t over yet, not by a long shot. And that’s even with vaccines starting to hit the hospitals.
Georgia had more than 543,700 cases between the first reported ones in March and Sunday afternoon. (Full disclosure: I’m one, or will be soon, depending on reporting lags.) There were more than 9,700 deaths. (Hopefully I won’t be added to this toll.)
Here in Walton County, we’ve had 84 deaths — a worse rate than Gwinnett, Barrow, Rockdale and Morgan counties.
But we’ve persevered. We’ll come out the other side, and hopefully stronger. Still, the costs have been unbearably high. We mourn those we’ve lost and pray the toll grows no more.