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Virginia Hepner, Woodruff Arts Center CEO, stepping down

Virginia Hepner, CEO and president of the Woodruff Arts Center, and a leader who guided the arts organization through a successful $110 million “transformation” campaign, announced Friday she will be leaving the Woodruff next spring.

That day, May 31, 2017, will mark five years since Hepner took the reigns at the Woodruff, an organization that includes the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Alliance Theatre and the High Museum of Art.


The summer of 2012, when Hepner arrived, was a contentious time, marked by bitter labor disputes with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and a Woodruff management thunderstruck to discover that an employee had embezzled $1 million.

Hepner came on board after a 25-year career in the banking industry, and began straightening those numbers out. She also presided over the appointment of new leadership at the arts center, as Rand Suffolk became the new director of the High Museum and Jennifer Barlament the new executive director of the symphony.

Under Hepner’s guidance the Woodruff negotiated contracts with the symphony that ended a lockout, and promised an endowment campaign to stop the orchestra from shrinking.

That $25 million endowment drive was part of the $100 million Transformation Campaign, an ambitious bid to completely renovate the Alliance Theatre, rebuild the symphony, underwrite educational and outreach programs at the High and create a steady flow of dividends that would take pressure off operating expenses.

The completion of that campaign — with $10 million to spare — was announced early this month.

“Virginia Hepner has done a tremendous job of leading the Arts Center over the last four-plus years,” said Doug Hertz, chairman of the Governing Board of the Woodruff Arts Center, in a statement. “The arts center is in a much stronger position today as a result of her commitment to our art, her willingness to take on some of the difficult issues the arts center has been facing and her incredible energy.”

With a budget close to $100 million a year, the Woodruff Arts Center is the largest arts organization in the Southeast and one of the three largest in the country. In an interview Friday Hepner said she has no plans beyond working from now until May 31 to get the center’s ducks in a row. After that she’s looking forward to a vacation in an unnamed part of the world.

“I can’t imagine I’ll ever retire,” said the 59-year-old, who imagines she’ll be part of the arts in one way or another for the rest of her life. “At the end of the day I’m a business person who believes in arts and culture.”

 Virginia Hepner, Woodruff Arts Center CEO, stepping down

College student becomes youngest elected to Florida House of Representatives

Amber Mariano cut her four classes on Tuesday, but the third-year political science major at the University of Central Florida more than likely won’t be penalized by her professors. In fact, she might get extra credit.

>> Read more trending stories

Not only was she studying the political process, she was winning at it.

Mariano, a Republican candidate who turned 21 on Oct. 18, became the youngest person ever elected to the Florida House of Representatives, winning District 36 by 719 votes over incumbent Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy. Before Mariano, the youngest person elected to the Florida House was Adam Putnam, who was 22 when he won in 1996 and is now Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture.

“It was honestly the best night of my life,” Mariano told WFTS.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that the margin was 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent out of 66,939 ballots cast in Pasco County, located north of the Tampa Bay area — according to final but unofficial results.

Mariano the youngest of any gender since 1996, when Adam Putnam, then 22, won his first statehouse race.

According to her website, Mariano gained experience on the issues of education and health care during her time working for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in Washington, D.C. During the 2016 Florida legislative session, she worked for state representatives Rene “Coach P” Plasencia and Scott Plakon. She received endorsements from Rubio and Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

Mariano, who plans to attend law school after graduation, is no stranger to politics. Her father, Jack Mariano, won re-election to a fourth term as a Pasco County commissioner.

“We didn’t expect this opportunity to present itself so quickly in her life,” Jack Mariano told WFTS. “But I will tell you at 6 years old she said she wanted to be the first woman president.

“So it’s been in her blood from way back when.”

“He says I’m leapfrogging him. He just wanted me to follow my dream,” Amber Mariano told WFTS.  “And this is my dream.” 

Crews battle vehicle fire on I-85 in Gwinnett

Fire units from Gwinnett County and the Georgia Forestry Commission were fighting a vehicle fire on I-85 southbound Saturday, officials said.

The fire, north of Hamilton Mill Road, involved a car carrier and the vehicles on the trailer, Gwinnett fire spokesman Tommy Rutledge said. It also sparked several woods and grass fires in the median and the wooded area of the interstate.

No injuries were reported, Rutledge said. It’s too soon into into the incident to know the cause of the fire.

Traffic was reported delayed in the area.

Fire units from Gwinnett County and the Georgia Forestry Commission were fighting a vehicle fire on I-85 southbound Saturday, officials said.

The fire, north of Hamilton Mill Road, involved a car carrier and the vehicles on the trailer, Gwinnett fire spokesman Tommy Rutledge said. It also sparked several woods and grass fires in the median and the wooded area of the interstate.

No injuries were reported, Rutledge said. It’s too soon into into the incident to know the cause of the fire.

Traffic was reported delayed in the area.


The Power of Pink

Jennifer Hernandez has been through a lot since late June, when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. She’s now halfway through eight rounds of chemotherapy. All of her hair has fallen out. She’s talked through the possibilities with her husband and children, ages 6 and 8. But on Oct. 1, the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Hernandez strutted onto the Power of Pink runway at Baylor Scott and White Lakeway in a patterned headscarf and struck a pose.

Hernandez is one of 14 survivors of breast cancer who walked the runway during the Power of Pink event presented by Austin Cancer Centers and benefitting Susan G. Komen Austin.

Susan G. Komen Austin Executive Director Suzanne Stone, formerly the executive director of the Lake Travis Education Foundation, said Susan G. Komen Austin raised $11 million since 1985 to go back into the community and another $5 million for global research. This year, 40,000 women will die of breast cancer, she said.

The women featured in the fashion show were treated during the day to massages, hair and makeup. They also got to pick out their own outfits for the show with the fashion advice of sponsor boutiques. As each survivor walked the runway, Cassie LaMere with Lexus of Lakeway told the audience about the women’s battles with cancer, their families and the personal inspirations that kept them going.

For Hernandez, who works at Lakeway Baylor Scott and White as a nurse, her work prepared her mentally, she said.

“I don’t feel exempt – bad things happen to good people all the time,” Hernandez said. “I knew I had to be feeling good to get through this, get it together. I don’t know, I had a calmness come over me. Things happened the way they did for a reason … I have a ton of support and a lot of family and friends, and a Facebook support group. People I don’t know send me stuff every week: lotion for dry skin, tons of coloring books and hats — lots of stuff from people that have been through it and know what you’ll need.”

The event featured booths, food trucks, a play place for kids and shopping from sponsor boutiques. After the fashion show, Baylor Scott and White Lakeway CEO Philippe Bochaton helped unveil a sculpture of a guitar painted with the breast cancer pink ribbon, flowers and a sword. After the unveiling, LaMere announced it was Hernandez’s birthday, and a cake was brought onstage where the models were gathered.

“My main concern is my family and my kids. I have an 8-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son, and they’re at a good age where you can tell them things,” Hernandez said. “I’ve been honest from the very beginning when getting the biopsy. I told them ‘It’s cancer,’ and they asked ‘Are you going to die,’ and I said ‘I hope not but this is what we’re going to go through.’ They shaved my head and they say ‘You look so weird,’ and we just laugh about it. It made it seem like it’s just one more step … we joke about it, because I do look a little weird. I think having a sense of humor helped, and they handled it beautifully.”

Alec Baldwin to play Donald Trump on season opener of Saturday Night Live

When Saturday Night Live returns for its new season this coming weekend, Alec Baldwin is going to take over the role of Donald Trump, with CNNMoney reporting that he'll be playing Trump at least until the election. 

SNL released a brief promo video yesterday (September 28th) showing Baldwin in his Trump get-up, going up against Hillary Clinton, who will continue to be played by show regular Kate McKinnon. Trump has previously been played by Darrell Hammond, who's also the SNL announcer, and by Taran Killam, who's no longer with the show. Baldwin has hosted SNL a record 16 times, and has also done occasional cameos. (CNNMoney)

(app users can see video here)

Woman sues after washing machine explodes in her face

Washing clothes seems like a simple enough task, but for one mother it could’ve injured her and her child.

Melissa Thaxton was in her Paulding County home when her top-loading Samsung washing machine exploded in her face, Channel 2 Action News reported.

“It was the loudest sound,” she said. “It sounded like a bomb went off in my ear. There were wires, nuts (and) the actual top was laying on the floor.”

Thaxton’s 4-year-old son was near the explosion.

“I just remember covering my head and leaning over towards my son,” she said, “and just screaming this scream that I didn’t even know I could scream.”

Now the mother is suing Samsung, Channel 2 reported. According to her lawyer, a support rod became unfastened during the spin cycle.

Samsung said the affected top-loading washing machines were made between March 2011 and April 2016, according to a news release. According to a report from ABC News, 21 people have reported having Samsung washing machine explosions since last year.

In response, Samsung said it is working with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to address safety issues. The company also recommends using washers on lower speed cycles.

“In rare cases, affected units may experience abnormal vibrations that could pose a risk of personal injury or property damage when washing bedding, bulky or water-resistant items,” the company said in a release.

Samsung said many of its customers have completed loads without any problems since 2011.

Customers are urged to visit or call 1-844-483-3881 if they have questions.

Thaxton told Channel 2 she hopes the lawsuit raises concerns for other parents.

“If that would have hit my child, it would have been catastrophic,” she said. “That’s why I’m speaking out.”

Buckhead businesswoman shot inside car near Piedmont Park

After a bullet struck a woman inside a car on Piedmont Avenue near Piedmont Park early Monday morning, the people with her drove her about 17 minutes away to Emory Hospital in DeKalb County, police said.


Update: Authorities say Atlanta businesswoman was shot in the back


Local business executive Diane McIver, the wife of well-known labor and employment attorney C.L. “Tex” McIver, died in surgery at 12:49 a.m. Monday.


“What we know is that Ms. McIver was riding in a car with people she knew near 1073 Piedmont Ave.,” Atlanta police spokeswoman Kim Jones said Tuesday. “A firearm was discharged inside the vehicle.”


Detectives are investigating the circumstances of the shooting and have not named the other people in the car.


Diane McIver was president of Corey Airport Services, a marketing company based in Atlanta known for its 300-foot billboard near the Downtown Connector and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.


Tex McIver, a partner at Atlanta-based Fisher Phillips, previously served on the State Board of Elections. He is the only family the 63-year-old marketing executive had in the area, one of her employees said.


US Enterprises, Inc. General Counsel Ken Rickert said Diane McIver worked with Corey Airport Services for 43 years. The job was likely the only one she held after graduating from Georgia State University.


Rickert said McIver lived with her husband in Buckhead, near Lenox Square.


Rickert said he met McIver 25 years ago, when she hired him.


“She was a dynamic individual,” Rickert said. “A great, successful executive who is going to be missed by everybody over here.”


Police have not said if charges are expected.

Atlanta police call Friday march ‘peaceful’

It may have been an “escalation.” But by all accounts, it was a peaceful one.

Atlanta police say they made only one arrest during Friday night’s march through downtown to protest the recent officer-involved fatal shootings of two black men in North Carolina and Oklahoma. An unidentified person was cited for the offense of being in a roadway as a pedestrian during the four-hour-plus event, in which about 450 people marched from the National Center for Civil and Human Rights to Atlanta Police Department headquarters.

In between, they made a stop at The King Center on Auburn Avenue, where Ebenezer Baptist Church Senior Pastor Rev. Raphael Warnock told the group, “Police brutality is just a deadly consequence of mass incarceration.”

“The protests were peaceful,” police spokesman Lukasz Sajdak said in an email Saturday.

Indeed, the department had already said as much on social media.

“Peaceful protests,” read a tweet sent out late Friday by Atlanta police. “We must continue to work to bridge the gap so our nation is a better place.”

The march was organized to call attention to the deaths of Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott – and to send a pointed message that people are fed up with such tragedies, according to organizers.

“Black people have witnessed people do violence to them and (the offender) be protected by law enforcement,” NAACP Chapter President Francys Johnson said at a news conference Friday before the protest.

“It is in fact an escalation,” he said. “We aren’t asking anymore. We’re demanding.”

Tulsa officer Betty Shelby was charged with manslaughter Thursday in the shooting death of Crutcher, who was unarmed. She turned herself in to authorities Friday.

Scott’s widow released cellphone footage of the Charlotte incident Friday. The video does not indicate if Scott had a gun at the time.

More protests reportedly will take place in Atlanta this weekend, including one Saturday that will use silence to speak volumes. An “Atl Silent Protest” will start at 2 p.m at the Lenox MARTA station, then move on to the Peachtree Center Station at 7 p.m.

In social media posts, organizers say they will wear black and substitute silence for shouts and chants in order to draw attention to the shootings of black men by police.

Photos: Activists in Atlanta protest police shootings:

Jacksonville attorney arrested for sexual contact with inmate

A Jacksonville attorney has been arrested for battery on a female inmate, who is his client.

The affidavit for arrest warrant obtained by WOKV claims 45-year-old Anthony Blackburn was alone with his client in an interview room at the Pre-Trial Detention facility with the lights off and door closed for 16 minutes. During that time, Blackburn allegedly showed his female client pornographic images while “he attempted to arouse himself”.

Blackburn is then accused of starting a sexual conversation with the inmate, grabbing her hand to put on his penis and placing his hand on her vagina, outside of their clothing. He stopped after seeing a Corrections Officer approach the room, according to the affidavit. The CO then opened the door and told Blackburn to turn on the lights.

The affidavit says the inmate did not want to allow Blackburn to touch her, but “felt obligated to do so because the defendant led her to believe he would help her get her jail sentence reduced”.

Blackburn is also accused in court records of giving the tablet with pornographic images to another female inmate he was representing. That inmate confirmed to investigators that she had had “inappropriate sexual conduct” with Blackburn while at the jail.

Court records show Blackburn has posted bond on the misdemeanor charge of simple battery. His arraignment has been set for October 17th.

WOKV has reached out to the Sheriff’s Office for comment on the alleged activity within the Jail facility. We will update as more information becomes available.

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