The Auburn-Opelika area saw much change in 2018, but some of it is unfinished business.
Here are a few of the headlines yet to be written, but will be in some form or fashion during 2019:
Mike Hubbard Boulevard
And, Mike Hubbard himself.
The former Alabama Speaker of the House and local state representative still is waiting to see if he will have to serve prison time.
A Lee County jury in June 2016 found Hubbard guilty on 12 of the 23 felony ethics charges he faced. The following month, Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob A. Walker III sentenced him to four years in state prison and eight years of probation, along with about $210,000 in fines.
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in September denied a request from Hubbard for a rehearing, and that left Hubbard and his legal team exploring an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court.
Unless something major changes, Hubbard remains a convicted felon, but debate continues on whether he will ever see prison time; on whether he deserves it or simply was caught in a political power swing; and look for debate to come in 2019 on the renaming of Mike Hubbard Boulevard in Auburn near the airport.
There are members of the newly elected Auburn City Council interested in a name change for the road, and suggestions already quietly are being gathered before the issue officially makes it to the agenda.
Shoot it or ride it?
The Gus Bus, that is.
Auburn football isn’t just a sport in Auburn, Alabama. It is the king of the fiscal mountain when it comes to the local economy and entertainment attraction/distraction needs.
Auburn University President Steven Leath and Athletics Director Allen Greene, both working as newcomers at Auburn during 2018, found out in hard fashion just how quickly things can change when going from winning to losing your top rivalry games in football, especially when high expectations fall off a cliff.
Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn is a nice guy with a nice family and does a nice job with recruits and otherwise when serving as an ambassador for the university and for the town. He’s also lived through plenty enough ups and downs as a coach to recognize the business side of things when the number of wins doesn’t match well with the number of dollars.
Leath and Greene, however, have a different line to toe.
Their measure of success can’t simply be judged on a single won-loss record. Nor should it be.
Leath has made great hires to put university programs and research, i.e. cybersecurity, on the national radar in ways it hasn’t been before.
Greene has other coaches, i.e. superstar Bruce Pearl, and programs, i.e. the rise in baseball, to which he must help succeed and ensure solid administration to continue positive growth and protection.
So back to Gus: Ride that horse or...?
Gus seems to love coaching and he seems to love his kids on the team. Look for him to have fun in 2019, and he sure set the stage in fine fashion with Saturday's big bowl win.
If he doesn’t, business will be business.
The Christmas parade getting canceled caused a lot of ruckus for the Opelika Chamber of Commerce this year after having been canceled twice; once in May for perceived lack of interest and again in November for poor weather.
Fear not, says Chamber President Pam Powers-Smith on the Chamber’s Facebook page.
“There’s going to be a parade in 2019,” she reported.
OPS ONE, the city’s internet service, was sold to West Point, Ga.-based telecommunications company Point Broadband in a more than $14 million deal.
Critics remain focused on the lost revenue they see the city as having squandered away, while the glass-half-full observers hope that the mission of providing better service was well-served in leading to this new operator in town.
The big-boy lobbying powerhouses, i.e. AT&T, fought hard to prevent municipalities from going into the broadband business, whether the cities might do it for profit or simply better service in a day and age where sufficient internet access is crucial to economic development.
The new company, Point Broadband, faces far fewer restrictions than did the city of Opelika, meaning not only can it grow around its current locale, but in places like neighboring Auburn as well.
It will be interesting to see how that develops in 2019 for the many customers in need.
For real topsy-turvy action, however, go find Opelika’s latest roundabout.
Long used in other regions, such as Europe and in states such as Colorado, roundabouts have become the latest fad locally for low-cost, driver-efficient intersections, as they are cheaper, continue traffic flow better, and supposedly are safer when not mistaken for a mini-NASCAR track or too confusing for the driver still lost in a roundabout way.
The cost to install a signal light, for example, can range from $250,000 to half-a-million dollars, according to a transportation report in Washington, and another $8,000 per year to maintain and operate.
A bigger test, however, looms ahead in Auburn, where one is being considered for the dangerous and busy intersection of North College/Highway 147 and Farmville Road.
What gets decided there in coming months will be an indicator of whether more roundabouts will come.
Much more ahead
These are but a handful of the issues likely to see action in the year ahead. No doubt, it will be another busy year full of interesting headlines.
Troy Turner is editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @troyturnernews.