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Best of Savannah 2012: Politics & Public Affairs

Best Cop

Ann Sosbe

Throughout history a person on horseback has held enormous power, both literally and psychologically.

In the case of horse–mounted police officers like this year’s Best Cop winner Ann Sosbe, they not only hold power but perform an important public relations role.

“We talk to a lot of people. Everyone wants to come up and see the horses and ask us questions about them,” she says.

“Plus we tend to patrol a lot downtown and in the neighborhoods, where you have really high visibility and you see a lot of people. They tend to call us in where we can be big and visible. That’s how they base where we patrol.”

Does Officer Sosbe, a 23–year veteran of the local police department, take part in a lot of dramatic horse chases like in the movies?

“Well, we don’t get that many felony drug arrests or things like that. We actually write a lot of traffic tickets, seat belt violations, car seats,” she says.

“You’d be surprised how much you can see in a car from the saddle of a horse. We’ll be like, ‘Lady, you’ve got 12 kids in the front seat and four in your lap.’”

As for the horses themselves, much like police who work with K-9 officers, the riders tend to form a special bond.

“We’re the crazy ones who work out in the heat and cold and smell poo all day,” says Sosbe, who in her off-duty time is an accomplished rock ‘n’ roll photographer. “It’s a specialized unit — you have to apply for it.”

Joking lovingly that police horses are “kinda big and stupid,” she points out that their mounts tend to be larger, more work–oriented breeds rather than quicker, more temperamental types.

“They’re basically bred to work on farms, so they’re very sturdy. But you do have to consider they have 1500–2000 pounds basically sitting on four little points. I’d get tired too.”

However, she says, the horses sometimes display more resiliency than the humans who ride them.

“It’s funny. We’ll be dying in the heat in our polyester suits and tight helmets and vests, with a gun and all kinds of things hanging on our belt, and people are like, ‘oh the poor horse is sweaty.’”

Sosbe’s own partner is Red, who displays a love for the camera and literally posed for the shot above.

One of the occupational hazards of a horse cop is what Sosbe calls the “butt smackers.” Indeed, just this past St. Patrick’s Day a man was chased down and arrested after coming up behind a horse cop and whacking the horse’s butt.

“Usually we can kind of see it coming,” Sosbe says. “Some drunk guy will point to us and start talking to his friends like, ‘Hey y’all watch this.’ We’re usually ready for it when it happens.” ­— JM

Runner–up: Harry Trawick

Best City Employee

Fonda Mason

This year’s Best City Employee, Commercial Recycling and Litter Services Administrator Fonda Mason, is a little surprised by the voting this year.

“I’m such a laidback person,” she laughs. “I’m still trying to figure out who would vote for me!”

She has a long title, she admits, but  “I try to give all credit to the guys and girls out front, picking up recycling and litter.

They work hard and do such a good job — I really just want to make it easier for them to do their jobs.”

As the main point person for the City’s developing curbside recycling program, Mason says “We’re always trying to improve areas that are weak. There’s always room for improvement since the program is on the new side.”

Mason says since curbside recycling isn’t mandatory, “we weren’t sure in the beginning what the participation rate would be. Right now a goal is to expand staff and streamline more efficiencies. Some of our routes are huge!”

Indeed, Mason describes a rather crushing work week for a total staff of about 32 people — not very many when you consider the scope of the City’s program.

On recycling pickup days, City workers “start at 7 p.m. and they’re out working late til 7 or 7:30 at night,” she says.

Basically, that’s a minimum ten–hour day four days a week. Usually on Thursdays the recycling crew is busy picking up litter.

“We want to keep the city beautiful both for visitors as well as residents,” Mason says.

With a bachelors degree and a Masters in Public Administration from Georgia Southern University, Mason spearheaded the City’s internal recycling program — which is about big enough to qualify as a small town in and of itself.

“The internal recycling program involves gathering recyclables within city facilities, picked up on a weekly basis,” she says. “It takes all day on Fridays to pick all of it up.” — JM

Runner–up: Sean Brandon, Mobility and Parking Services Director

Craziest Local Crime Story

Hammer Attack Over Country Music

Michael Allen Parrish, 55, was arrested for assaulting several people after an argument over which singer is better — Loretta Lynn or Reba McEntire.

About 10 a.m. March 20, Parrish went to the house where he once lived with his girlfriend Cheryl Walters. Two friends, Elizabeth Morrell and Jimmy Collins, went outside to see what was happening after they heard her cry out. Parrish attacked Morrell with a hammer. Collins engaged Parrish and was also struck.

That’s not even the craziest part: At that point another friend of Cheryl’s, the wonderfully named Vondra Yopp, came out with her own hammer and went after Parrish, who then left. Parrish finally turned himself into police.

The irony of course is that Parrish was absolutely right: Loretta Lynn is way better than Reba McEntire. — JM

Runner–up: Dude stealing fire truck

Most Ridiculous Local Politics Scandal

Search for New City Manager

Apparently this one never gets old, as our readers continue to be incensed at the process by which Rochelle Small–Toney became Savannah City Manager. Maybe we should all try and move on a little?

Runner–up: Ruel Joyner’s residency controversy during the election

Best Local Activist

Tom Kohler

It's fitting that this award is given to Kohler days after the annual Citizen Advocacy covered dish dinner, one of Savannah's most beloved events, centering on the activity of the organization Kohler heads to give the voiceless a voice.

Runner-up: Travis Cole

Best Local Nonprofit

Humane Society

Maybe it's just the Facebook talking, but it sure seems like pet adoption and pet rescue are really trending topics, with the local Humane Society of Greater Savannah leading the way.

Runner-up: Second Harvest Food Bank

Best County Employee

Gene Harley

The spokesman for the Counter Narcotics Team goes public so the officers don't have to.

Runner-up: Cynthia Knight

Best State Representative

Best Conservative

Jack Kingston

The representational merry-go-round continues, as the Republican once again finds himself representing most of Savannah. Some call it redistricting, some call it gerrymandering, but in any case Kingston's popularity will serve him well in the expanded local role.

(We actually intended for this category to mean actual state reps, as in runner-up Buddy Carter, but the will of the people spoke otherwise. Perhaps we'll tweak the category title next year.)

Runner-up, Rep: Buddy Carter

Runner-up, Conservative: Bill Edwards

Best City Council Member

Tony Thomas

This popular Southside alderman made news first for his "Anybody But Edna" stance during the election, followed by a rapprochement with the new mayor. Thomas is now working hard to bring cruise ships to River Street.

Runner-up: Edna Branch Jackson

Best County Commissioner

Pete Liakakis

The commission chairman didn't get his way when a referendum disallowed him a potential third term. But Pete remains one of Savannah's most popular politicians in memory.

Runner-up: Dean Kicklighter

Best School Board Member

Joe Buck

This longtime Armstrong administrator does a great job presiding over board meetings in his role as school board president.

Runner-up: Lori Brady

Best Liberal

John Barrow

Many liberals don't actually think this Savannah Democratic congressman is really that liberal. But everything is relative, we guess. Barrow has been redistricted out of representing Savannah and has actually moved out of town to be in his new Augusta-centric district.

Runner-up: Travis Cole

Best Judge

Judge Louisa Abbott

This Chatham County Superior Court Judge clerked with both Avant Edenfield and Perry Brannen Jr. and has worked closely with Chatham Savannah Citizen Advocacy for two decades.

Runner-up: Judge Mary Katherine Moss

Best Firefighter

Nathan Gaskill

Our readers aren't alone - this 11-year veteran of Savannah Fire and Emergency Services was voted Fire Officer of the

Year by that organization also.

Best Paramedic

Mark Bednarz

This Southside Fire Department first responder also has an extensive law enforcement background.

Runner-up: Coleen Harwood