The Best of Savannah

Best of Savannah 2007: Politics and Public Affairs

Best Local Scandal

Ross Trial

The guilty verdict for the killers was as it should have been, but Court TV’s sensationalized coverage went out of its way to portray Savannah in the worst possible light.

Editors’ Pick: Chief Berkow and allegations of harrassment in LA

Best Philanthropist

Helen Downing

She’s has been or is currently active with the Ronald McDonald House, MedBank, Hospice Savannah, Parent and Child Development Services, and Historic Savannah Foundation.

Editors’ Pick: Charles H. and Rosalie Morris

Best Local Activist

Joe Driggers

Partial resume: Chair of the City of Savannah Cultural Affairs Commission...Board of Directors of The First City Club, The R.O.C.K (Raising Our Children Kindly) Group, Crime Stoppers, Greenbriar Children’s Center and Wesley Community Center... Community Advisory Council for the Junior League of Savannah. Recently named to the United Way of Savannah Campaign Cabinet... Member of the Leadership Savannah 2006-2008 class, The First City Club, The Savannah Advertising Federation, LifeLine for Children, Community Cardiovascular Council, Postal Customer Council and The William Jay Society... Joe served a two-year term as Council Chair of the Chamber Ambassador Program for the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce and has served for a number of years as a Vice Chair of the Total Resource Campaign for The Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce... Named in 2001 as one of the “40 Business Leaders Under 40” by The Savannah Business Report and Journal. Named a Southern Hero by Southern Linc for his involvement in the community.

Joe, besides your day gig as marketing manager with Savannah Mall, you have a wide range of activist interests. What ties them all together?

I’m an advocate for Savannah. I love Savannah and I love building relationships to make it a better place. I am fortunate that I have an interest and passion for basically everything from child abuse prevention to arts and culture to business development & growth to poverty to crime reduction to building on my own personal development skills.

How do you find time to be involved in so many things? Your time management skills must be amazing.

E-mail reminders are a plus! When you have the passion to build relationships & help others, it comes natural. It’s also a big plus when you work for a company that appreciates the importance of our community and being involved in it.

Is there a downside to being so involved in so many things?

My problem is I can’t say no. I look at my committee calendar and my plate runneth over. It usually happens because something about an organization has attracted them to me, and something about me has attracted me to them. -- (JM)

Editors’ Pick: Patty McIntosh, Georgia Conservancy

Best Local Charitable Organization


Sarah Copeland set out on a mission when she established LibLines, a not-for-profit organization that develops and sells greeting cards designed for breast cancer patients. Just a few years later, LibLines has resulted in thousands of dollars in donations for the fight against breast cancer, monthly support groups for breast cancer patients and survivors, and some annual fundraisers -- the Chocaholic Frolic, Bowling for Boobs and the lastest, Walking in My Shoes.

Copeland started LibLines in memory of her aunt, Libby Burns, who died of breast cancer in June 2001. During her aunt’s illness, Copeland realized how hard it was to find the right words to say. “Often when someone goes through an illness, people don’t know how to react, so they don’t say anything at all,” she says.

For her efforts, Copeland was given a national honor in 2006. She was chosen one of 25 Yoplait champions, honored for their commitment to the breast cancer cause.

Copeland appeared in a full-page ad that appeared in the Condé Nast publications Allure, Bon Appetit, Glamour, Self and Vogue. Although the other 24 winners had only their head shots published, Copeland -- who dyes her hair pink to promote awareness of breast cancer -- was chosen to be featured in a full-page ad.

When LibLines teamed with Habitat for Humanity to provide an all-women crew to build a house, cancer survivors and caretakers stepped forward to answer the call. A crew of 20 was needed to build the house, which will be dedicated June 2.

“We had over 120 apply to help,” Copeland says. “We had so many people who wanted to help, it was exciting.” -- (LS)

Editors’ Pick: Savannah/Chatham County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate)

Best City Council Member

Van Johnson

The First District alderman, repeat winner in this category, is up for re-election this year.

Editors’ Pick: Mayor Otis Johnson

Best County Commission Member

Pete Liakakis

Any politician who can dance like this deserves your support: check out the video of Pete busting a move at

Editors’ Pick: Pete Liakakis

Best Local Conservative

Best Local Legislator

Jack Kingston

1st District Republican congressman re-elected last year with almost 70 percent of the vote.

Editors’ Pick, conservative: Charles Ellis Montessori Academy principal Charles R. Wooten (aka “crwoo10” at, “Savannah Red” at, and also with a blog at

Editors’ Pick, legislator: Sen. Regina Thomas

Best Local Liberal

(see Best Private School, Best Headmaster previously)

Best School Board Member

Joe Buck

The board president’s been in office less than six months, but has broad support.

Editors’ Pick: Tie: Tom Parrish/ “Cornbread”

Best CAT Driver

Greg Delaney

They say he’s quiet and reserved, but those are desirable qualities in any kind of driver!

Editors’ Pick: Tie: Tom Parrish/ “Cornbread”

Best Lawyer

Mike Hostilo

Area attorney perhaps best known for being held hostage in Statesboro by a former client for whom he’d served as public defender. (The convicted client told the court he was innocent of beating a man to death with a hammer, but asked for his hammer back.)

Editors’ Pick: Assistant D.A. Christy Barker, lead prosecutor in Jennifer Ross trial

Best Judge

Penny Haas Freesemann

This judge presided over the trial of Jennifer Ross’s killers.

Editors’ Pick: Penny Haas Freesemann

Best Cop

Star Cpl. Tracy Walden

Bio: Nearly 14 years of service with the Savannah/Chatham Metro Police. Official liaison to the gay/lesbian community. Eight-year U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

Cpl. Walden, did the idea of a gay/lesbian police liaison originate with Chief Berkow?

Well, it was something unofficial that Chief Berkow decided to make official. Anytime an officer wanted to know something about the local gay and lesbian community, they would ask me. I know so many people in that community because I’m part of it. Former chiefs would come and ask me questions if something came up. So it sort of evolved from that. The gay/lesbian liaison is actually a collateral duty. My main job is director of the Crime-free Housing program. We work with rental communities to reduce instances of crime in those communities.

I also am involved in crime prevention through environmental design. I sit in with design specialists and look at threat assessments for new buildings and changes to old buildings. I look at the orientation of the building to the parking lot, where lights are, what the landscaping is, what kind of business it is, things like that.

I’m also one of the department’s hostage negotiators. There’s probably about 15 of us on three separate teams. My team is coming on in June. We rotate every three months.

What skills are most important in hostage negotiation?

Keeping your mouth shut. Humans are prone to wanting to tell their story. A negotiatior has to be able to shut up and listen to what the other person is saying. It’s interesting -- one of the things we learn in training is that most people don’t really listen, they just wait to speak.

What the heck is a “Star Corporal” anyway? It sounds vaguely sci-fi.

That came about when the city and county departments were merged. In the county a corporal was a supervisory position, while in the city corporals were just a pay grade. So when the departments merged, well, they couldn’t demote anybody, so they made all corporals on the county side Star Corporals and some city corporals were promoted to Star Corporals. We’re sort of baby supervisors (laughs). -- (JM)

Editors’ Pick: The one who gave me a warning for not coming to a complete stop

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