Tuesday, November 25, 2008

PHOTO GALLERY: Christmas at Forsyth's Central Park

Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Event to help AIDGwinnett

As AIDS continues its devastating trek, students at the Georgia Campus-Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Gwinnett are making an impact. The Student Government Association sponsored a performance-based benefit, An Evening of Awareness and Art, as well as a silent auction to raise both awareness of the continuing AIDS dilemma and funds to enhance the work of AIDGwinnett. The Nov. 21 event was held at the Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center. The guest list includes people from all over Metro Atlanta as well as Senator Renee Unterman, who will also be giving a special address. In addition, a fund has been created at The Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia for those who wish to receive the maximum tax advantages. Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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Milton weighs CPI frozen tax exemption

At its work session Nov. 10, Milton's City Council weighed its options in regards to possibly greenlighting a tax exemption previously only offered through Fulton County.

Called CPI frozen, it is part of a 2004 state Senate bill that says a residential property reassessment cannot go up more than the Consumer Price Index (CPI) - the main gauge of inflation - or 3 percent. The law applies only to Fulton County property taxes, so when the city incorporated in 2006, the exemption went away for Milton residents. No other city in Fulton offers the exemption.

Crooked Creek resident Mark Hanley was the main proponent of getting the issue before council after bringing it up at an Oct. 16 citizens meeting at City Hall. He said he feels it is a secret tax increase.

"I feel pretty strongly on this," he said. "I believe one of the main principles when founding the city was transparency in this type of thing. I feel that tax increases should be voted on by you and me."

He said instituting the exemption "would send a strong message to the citizens."

Finance Director Stacey Inglis said if Milton had offered the exemption to homeowners in 2008, its revenues would have decreased some $200,000. Plus, she said, she's not even sure Fulton County could provide Milton the information it needs to extend the exemption to city homeowners.

"It might be so complicated that we would have to ask Fulton County to bill our taxes for us," she said.

Mayor Joe Lockwood said this issue was one that "fell between the cracks" and was not anticipated.

"It's sort of a double edged sword," said Mayor Joe Lockwood. "We certainly don't want to raise taxes on our citizens, and we understand that everyone's having to tighten their belts, and the same thing goes for the city."

Councilwoman Tina D'Aversa said when the issue came before council early in the city's life, the view was that it did not constitute a tax increase. At the time, she said, it was clear no other cities – including recent start ups Sandy Springs and Johns Creek - gave the exemption.

"We were not looking to go against what we had professed to the community as 'no tax increases,'" she said.

Councilwoman Karen Thurman said before she even thought about the issue, she wanted to know if Fulton County could provide the needed information to pass the exemption on to residents.

"I need to know the exact total impact this will have on us and all the residents of Milton," she said.

Inglis said the city has until February to make a decision. Staff was instructed to do more research and report their findings in January.
- www.northfulton.com

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Forsyth deputies investigating possible homicide

Forsyth County Sheriff's deputies are investigating what they are deeming a homicide after the body of a 49-year-old man was found in a home on Atlanta Highway in south Forsyth County.

Investigators are being tight lipped about the case, but Capt. Frank Huggins, a spokesman for the Sheriff's office, said the body of the victim, Guillermo Lira, was found by his friends and family members shortly before 1 p.m. at 5180 Atlanta Highway in Alpharetta. He lived in the home, which is near Midway.

"The manner of death was suspicious," said Huggins. "All indications at the scene are that it is a homicide, and we are treating it as such."

Huggins would not elaborate on what that evidence could be or whether Lira had reason to be targeted for the crime.

Lira's body has been sent to the GBI's crime lab for an autopsy. Huggins said deputies currently have no suspects and are interviewing Lira's friends and family to establish their investigation.
- www.northfulton.com

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Fulton call center blasted in firm’s report

Heads have rolled at Fulton County's 911 Call Center in the wake of an Aug. 2 tragedy that left one woman dead - and the county has pledged to rebuild.

Fulton County 911 Emergency Services Director Rocky Moore has been asked to leave after the release of Oregon-based Emergency Services Consulting Inc.'s report last week that points to the county's operation being understaffed, unresponsive and poorly managed.

Moore's removal is just part of County Manager Zachary Williams six-month action plan, which calls for a responsive and well-trained workforce, re-vising service areas and workflow, reducing employee turnover by boosting morale and lessening mandatory overtime, and seeking the Accredited Center of Excellence certification.

"As we go through this process, our single-minded focus is on solutions that best serve our customers - the people who rely on the 911 system to access emergency response," Williams said during a press conference Nov. 13. "We are going into this process with open minds and a commitment to allocate the necessary resources to provide excellent service."

Moore has been serving only as Director of the Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency since Aug. 12, when he stepped down following the Aug. 2 death of Johns Creek Resident Darlene Dukes. Dukes died of a pulmonary embolism after waiting nearly an hour for an ambulance that veteran 911 operator Gina Conteh misrouted to downtown Atlanta.

Conteh was fired soon after and has appealed the decision, but the shocking blunder stirred up questions about whether there was a pattern of negligence at the Fulton County 911 dispatch center. An independent investigation was called for just days after the incident.

As outlined in the independent report, Conteh violated policy by failing to verify the caller's address, incorrectly coding the incident, never entering the apartment community's name into the automated system and failing to advise a supervisor of the "at-risk" situation in a timely manner.

But those problems were symptomatic, found Emergency Services Consulting.

Overall, it was found the 911 Call Center lacked in staff, was not consistent in its training and did not impress upon staff the correct terminology of the fire department or emergency medical services. Additionally, morale at the center is incredibly low due to shift holdovers - required overtime - and inconsistent management.

Dispatchers relayed to the consulting firm that communication in the department was slow, and they often felt inadequately prepared at the end of their training. All of these problems lessened the quality of work within the communications center, found the firm.

Fulton County Councilwoman Lynne Riley represents the North Fulton area, and has seen 911 and public safety services shrink as the cities of Sandy Springs, Johns Creek and Milton established themselves.

Milton recently partnered with Alpharetta for its own dispatch service while Johns Creek is looking to team with Sandy Springs.

Riley said while a glowing report would have been surprising given the tragedy and fallout that prompted the inquiry, she was shocked at the consultant's findings.

"We knew there were problems there, but I personally wasn't ready for the depth and breadth of issues we'll be dealing with," she said.

Most disconcerting were the lack of comprehensive training, low staffing numbers and very low morale reported by employees. Riley said those problems must be fixed immediately, and she supports William's six-month action plan to get the 911 call center on track.

"We don't want to have a non-productive work environment," Riley said. "We want to have a positive work environment so our people can do a good job."

But, she said, the realities of a shrinking Fulton County might call for more drastic action.

"We see less service area, which means less revenue," she said. "We have to look at the sustainability of the center and the possibility of outsourcing or merging with another call center in operating in Fulton County."

The question could entail "whether Fulton County will continue to be in the 911 business in the future," she said.

Like Milton and Alpharetta, Johns Creek decided months before the Aug. 2 incident to move its 911 operations away from Fulton County. The city is moving forward with a joint call center with Sandy Springs and in October agreed to establish a 911 authority, which will contract with a company to organize the start-up of the center. The city expects to have the 911 center up and running by July 2009. Until then, Fulton County will still service the city's 911 calls.

"We're confident that the (Emergency Services Consulting Inc.) report will lead to improvements," said Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker. "And I know that they're watching the operations closer and hopefully we won't have any more serious events."

Williams said the county will launch a national search for a new Emergency Services Director to replace Moore. Additionally, the emergency services training program will also undergo a major reshaping to benefit employees.

"We recognize that the emergency communications staff are people, not machines, and that we must take a progressive human resources approach to meeting their needs so that they can effectively perform their extremely important jobs," said Williams.

The county's new goal is to reduce employee loss from 27 percent to less than 15 percent, implement better measures of accountability for leadership and staff and improve customer service marks.

"911 emergency response is a collaborative process requiring strong relationships with public safety agencies throughout the county. These agencies are key customers. Their success depends on our success and vice versa," Williams said.
- www.northfulton.com

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PHOTO GALLERY: Buck Jones Toy Run in Forsyth

The 17th Annual Buck Jones Toy Run was held Nov. 23 at South Forsyth High School. There were three stops along the way including Cumming, Dawsonville, and Lumpkin County. Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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Gwinnett Gladiators Blanked by Checkers 1-0

The Charlotte Checkers scored the only goal of the game late in the first period on the power play and held on for a 1-0 win over the Gwinnett Gladiators on Sunday aftenoon at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, NC. With the loss, the Gladiators fall to 6-5-3 on the season.

Charlotte took a 1-0 lead on the Gladiators in the first period on the power play. With just four seconds left on a power play, Mike Taylor was able to rip a slapshot from the left wing point over the shoulder of Gladaitors netminder Josh Johnson for the goal. Jared Nightingale and Peter Tsimikalis had the assist on the only goal of the contest for the Checkers at 16:17 of the first period.

In the second, the Gladiators and the Checkers exchanged chances but the period ended as it began with Charlotte clinging to a 1-0 lead.

Charlotte clamped down defensively in the third period as Gwinnett mustered just 6 shots to the Checkers 3 helping preserve the 1-0 lead and win. Gwinnett finished 0-for-7 on the power play while the only goal in the contest came on the man advantage by the Checkers as Charlotte went 1-for-6 on the power play.

Dirk Southern and Pat Bateman both had their point-scoring streaks snapped at five consecutive games in the loss as Bateman did not post a goal for the first time in five games while Southern was held without an assist for the first time in five games as well.

Johnson notched 22 saves for the Gladiators in the loss as the Gladiators have now gone 7 consecutive periods on the road without a goal.

The Gladiators are back in action on Tuesday, November 25th when they host the Florida Everblades at the Arena at Gwinnett Center at 7:05 p.m.
- www.gwinnettherald.com

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Economy, Milton County on Johns Creek’s mind

2008 may be coming to an end in a few weeks and Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker has 2009 on his mind.

In his final town hall meeting of the year, the mayor discussed several issues and goals that the city is working on and what residents can look forward to in 2009.

City businesses
Bodker discussed how the economy is affecting the city: restaurants and businesses closing their doors. But he suggested that residents do their part in helping the city prosper.

"Please try to use a restaurant in Johns Creek or try to use a local business in Johns Creek," said Bodker. "If you do that, then I think we'll have a better shot at keeping these businesses. We really do need to choose to use Johns Creek."

Referring to initiatives he set as goals for the city early in the year, Bodker said "Choose to Use Johns Creek" is as simple as residents changing their addresses to read Johns Creek, Ga. on mail or calling credit card companies to change their home address to read the city's name.

"We have to build this identity," he said. "It comes one household at a time, one person at a time."

Postal Service

Bodker told attendees that after being denied by the U.S. Postal Service for the city's own zip code and post office, he is working with Rep. Tom Price in meeting with the Post Master General in Washington , D.C. to inquire about the possibilities for both.

Milton County
One resident asked about the status of a future Milton County. Bodker said Rep. Jan Jones and Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter are introducing a bill in the next legislative session in January regarding Milton County.

"They think they can get (the bill) to the House floor," said Bodker, who added that the bill would require a super majority vote. Georgia has a law restricting the number of counties to 159 and the new bill would support the re-creation of counties in the state.

Public Safety

One resident asked if the city has the technology for traffic lights to automatically turn red at intersections if an ambulance or fire truck is approaching the intersection. Bodker said the city is not equipped with that technology.

He added that the fire department has received more than 200 calls for service since its start-up a month ago. Bodker told attendees that a 911 system is underway – partnering with Sandy Springs – and could be up and running by July 2009.

"We feel good about the decision to move forward with the center and it is a very difficult task to do it right," he said. "I feel like we're going to have a great 911 system."

Love Shack
Like at every town hall meeting, a resident asked the status of the Love Shack, the adult-oriented business that closed its location on State Bridge Road in October.

Bodker said there are two lawsuits pending and the next hearing is scheduled for February.

Road Projects

Some residents praised the recent resurfacing projects such as Medlock Bridge Road during the town hall meeting. Another resident asked about the amount of street lights at various intersections in the city.

Bodker said any concerns and/or comments about what residents would like to see be taken care of regarding city streets can be addressed by the city's Public Works Department at 678-512-3200.
- www.northfulton.com

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

PHOTO GALLERY: Ocee Elementary constructs Critter Corner

Students and staff dedicate the opening of the Critter Corner in the Ocee Elementary School Media Center to Ashley Anderson, who passed away after a battle with AML leukemia. Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Community Leadership Summit in Forsyth

Forsyth County officials met Nov. 18 for the Community Leadership Summit as part of the Envision 2030 process. Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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Forsyth deputies arrest five for gang graffiti

Forsyth County Sheriff's deputies have arrested five teens for allegedly tagging Latino gang symbols throughout the county.

The teens — two 16-year-olds and three 17-year-olds – are all Cumming residents. Two attend Forsyth County schools, said Capt. Frank Huggins, a Sheriff's Office spokesman. The identities and photos of the three 17-year-olds have been released, but it is Appen Newspapers Inc.'s policy to not release the name of any under 18 accused of a crime.

All were arrested Nov. 17 and have been charged with numerous gang-related crimes, including participation in a criminal street gang, a felony.

According to Capt. Ron Freeman, Commander of the Sheriff's Office South Precinct, the arrests are the culmination of an investigation into more than a dozen incidents of vandalism, many of which involved gang-related graffiti.

Huggins said the vandalism occurred in South Forsyth County and in the city of Cumming over a week-long period in late October and early November. Some of the vandalized locations included Forsyth Central High School, several shopping centers and a local skating rink.

Freeman said the break in the case came when deputies from the Sheriff's Office North Precinct made contact with a car containing suspected gang related paraphernalia at a safety checkpoint. Members of the Precinct's Sheriff's Office Aggressive Response (S.O.A.R.) team were able to identify the occupants and subsequently matched those suspects to the vandalism, said Huggins.

Four of the five arrested have confirmed ties to known gangs, Freeman said.

Freeman called the arrests a significant step in making preemptive strikes on gang activity in Forsyth County and said he hopes they send a clear message interested in gangs.

Freeman added the Sheriff's Office was significantly assisted by the city of Cumming Police Department and the Forsyth County Board of Education.

Two of the 17-year-olds and both 16-year olds are charged with one count of participation in a criminal street gang and 11 counts of second degree criminal damage to property, all of which are felonies. All four are also charged with one count of criminal trespass, a misdemeanor.

The other 17-year-old is also charged with six counts of second degree criminal damage to property and one count of criminal trespass.

No bond has been set for the three 17-year-olds, who are being held in the Forsyth County Adult Detention Center. The 16-year-olds were released to their parents.
- www.northfulton.com

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Gwinnett Gladiators Beat Bombers in OT 4-3

A third period rally and an overtime goal by Jordan Fox led the Gladiators to a 4-3 OT victory over the visiting Dayton Bombers Wednesday night at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. Dayton took the early lead, 2:44 into the first, when Jarret Lukin took a pass from Nino Musitelli in the high slot and put it past Kevin Nastiuk.

Jordan Fox answered for the Gladiators three minutes later while shorthanded. The game was 4 on 4, but Bomber Forward Ben Geelan came out of the box to give Dayton the man advantage. Pat Bateman brought the puck down the right wing side, and threw a pass across to a slashing Fox who scored the equalizer.

The Bombers took the lead midway through the second period. Nino Musitelli got on the scoresheet again, picking up a loose puck at center ice and dancing through a few Gladiator defensemen before putting it into the back of the net. The goal was only the fifth shot for Dayton in the game.

With just over a minute left in the stanza, Danny Lapointe carried the puck up the right wing wall, and put a slapshot past Kevin Nastiuk high on his glove side making the score 3-1. The goal came with Gwinnett on the power play, and tied the team for the league lead in shorthanded goals allowed on the season with five.

Gwinnett got a goal back just over two minutes into the third period. Pat Bateman grabbed a long rebound in the defensive zone and sprung Bryan Esner, who carried it in all alone and put it past Dayton netminder Paul Drew.

Just two minutes later, Gwinnett completed the comeback. Matt Siddall got the puck to Bateman behind the net, who curled it around and tucked it in on the left side. The score remained tied through the final fifteen minutes, and the game went to the extra frame.

With one minute left in the overtime, Scott Marchesi fed Dirk Southern in the neutral zone, who forwarded up to Jordan Fox at the left wing wall. He fired it in front of the net towards a streaking Jim Jorgensen, but the puck went off the Bomber defensemen and went past Drew for the game winning goal.

The win is the first overtime victory of the season for Gwinnett, who improves to 4-4-0-3.

The Gladiators return to action Friday night at 7:30 p.m. as the Bombers and Gladiators face off again for the second consecutive game.
- www.gwinnettherald.com

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Tunneling for the underpass begins in Suwanee

Festival and concert goers who have ever had to park at Suwanee's Old Town and stagger across the train tracks that run along Buford Highway in the city of Suwanee in fear of an impending train won't have to worry about crossing the tracks again.

Earlier this week crews started the much anticipated construction on the pedestrian tunnel that will link historic Old Town Suwanee with the Town Center Park area.

According to Steve Williams, a Norfolk Southern representative and railroad flagman for the project said his responsibility is to ensure the safety of the trains and to protect the crew.

"First of all, we coordinate the construction with the companies that are involved," said Williams. "Then secondly, I coordinate the train schedules in relation to what they (the workers) are doing."

Williams explained there are certain things the crew will do to secure the railroad. Then the train will run once the railroad is completely secure. Once the train passes, the crew will resume their work.

"The tunnel itself is complete as it progresses," he said. "In other words, there's never a point to where there's just an open hole."

The crew plans to work around the clock to get the tunnel constructed, and they hope to complete the 62-foot tunnel portion of the project in about two weeks. Workers expect to do most of digging using pneumatic tools and a small excavator.

City officials estimate the project in its entirety should be completed in early 2009.

Bradshaw Construction Corporation of Ellicott City, Md., is the company working on the construction of the tunnel, and JJE Constructors, Inc. of Norcross is the general contractor overseeing the construction of the project.

The project is funded in part by a Livable Cities Grant of almost $1 million that the city received from the Atlanta Regional Commission.
- www.gwinnettherald.com

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2nd place for West Forsyth HS swim team

Dedication to a demanding practice schedule has paid off for the West Forsyth Wolverine's Swim Team. The Wolverines placed 2'nd out of six teams at the Habersham invitational in Clarkesville on November 14. The Wolverines train in the water at the YMCA for an hour and a half 4 nights a week. They also run 3 days a week including Saturdays. Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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Alpharetta honors Old Soldiers Day Parade, Legion Post work

Mayor Arthur Letchas declared this Tom Delorme Recognition Week for his long-time service as Old Soldiers Day Parade chairman and other community endeavors.

Delorme, who turns 80 this week, shared that public recognition at Monday night's council meeting of his accomplishments with many of his American Legion Post 201 buddies and all the former chairmen of the parade, starting with the Post's founder.

Post 201 Commander Jack Harrison opened the recognition, saying he was there to honor a very good friend. Harrison detailed Delorme's participation in Post projects that include the Boys State scholarship program.

"He's been a pillar in this community as far as I'm concerned," Harrison said.

The parade would not be the success it is today without Delorme's efforts, he said.

More than 10,000 area residents spend hours watching the 3,000-plus parade participants march down Main Street and over to the Legion Post each August despite it without fail being the absolute hottest day of the year.

Old Soldiers Day has its roots in post-Civil War veterans taking the hottest week of the year off from farming to bivouac in Alpharetta.

"At the end of the week, they marched down Main Street and said goodbye to the citizens," Delorme said.

As the veterans got older and their numbers dwindled, they invited the young World War I veterans to join them in the tradition. As the years went on, those soldiers died and the tradition seemed to end with them.

"In 1952, a gentleman by the name of Mel Coalson, who started American Legion Post 201, said it's a wonderful tradition, let's start it again," Delorme said.

Based on the warm welcome he got at the meeting, and what all those honoring him were saying, Delorme is not worried about the parade's future.

"Old Soldiers Day, wherever I go, will have a safe future and be in your hands for as long as it needs to be," he said.

After receiving a plaque from his Post Commander, it was Mayor Arthur Letchas's turn to make his proclamation, which noted Delorme's service in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, his Post 201 work and being a former Legionnaire of the Year.
- www.northfulton.com

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Was there an attempted abduction in Johns Creek?

Johns Creek police are dealing with a mystery surrounding an e-mail circulating throughout North Fulton that relays the tale of a young girl nearly being kidnapped on Haynes Bridge Road. The problem, say investigators, is they can't find any evidence it was ever reported.

According to the e-mail, a young girl was involved in an attempted abduction Nov. 17 at the corner of Haynes Bridge and Old Alabama Road. The girl was getting off of the school bus in front of her house with a girlfriend when a black SUV with dark-tinted windows pulled up beside the two young girls, said the message.

Two assailants got out of the SUV and tried to abduct the two girls. The young girl was able to run and hide behind a nearby tree, while her classmate tried to bite her abductor, causing them to flee. The message concludes by saying the girls know the suspects, and the suspects know where the girls live.

However, Sgt. Debra Kalish of John's Creek Police Department said there's no record of it. She's been sending out e-mails of her own trying to calm down Johns Creek residents and get to the bottom of the situation.

"I have been receiving e-mails and phone calls about the matter, and I do not want people to panic when there is no proof this attempted kidnapping even occurred," she said.

Her e-mail reads: Johns Creek Police believe that an alleged Nov. 17 attempted child abduction — as reported in an anonymous e-mail circulating throughout the city — is unfounded.

The JCPD has not been able to confirm any information contained in the e-mail regarding the alleged incident Monday near Haynes Bridge and Old Alabama roads. The incident was not reported to the Johns Creek Police Department nor any other area police department.

Please share this update with your family and neighbors and ask that they not further any misconceptions by forwarding this e-mail should they receive it.

At the same time, if you have any substantive information about any possible crime, please do not hesitate to contact us.
- www.northfulton.com

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TECHNO BOB: Video Share brings conferencing to the grocery store

Video Share allows you to share live video with whomever you call – as long as their phone also is Video Share capable and they are paying for the service. You both also need to be in 3G service areas.

I could imagine families might make good use of this, showing off a newborn or other child's antics to the grandparents, for instance. On a more mundane level, perhaps if one family member was at the store trying to figure out what was really on that shopping list, a quick live video of all the possibilities might result in the correct item being selected.

I was told that only the caller can initiate the video, but that turned out not to be true. I was slow on the draw setting up on my end during a call, and I suddenly was seeing video from the person whom I called. The sharing is one way, so we couldn't see each other.

AT&T sells this as a business tool, too, boasting it will help figure out repairs, purchasing decisions and other business tasks.

AT&T has a bunch of Video Share capable phones. The cost is $4.99 a month for 25 minutes of video, or $9.99 for 60 minutes. Extra minutes costs 30 cents a minute for the cheaper plan, and 25 cents per minute for the more expensive plan. You'll be paying $60 to $120 a year just for the base pricewithout any extra minutes. The good news is only the person sending video gets billed for that share.

While I wouldn't recommend VideoShare to just anybody, I would suggest anybody who tends to drop their phone, knock it off their desk, leave it on top of their car and driving off ought to seriously consider the Rugby. It is priced at $179.99 with a two-year commitment, or $279.99 with no commitment. AT&T currently has a $50 mail-in rebate that will soften the blow of that cost. Just don't forget to mail it in.

I learned more about AT&T service through this test than perhaps I did about the Rugby. AT&T has taken a lot of heat for its service, with many people telling me they won't even consider the extremely popular iPhone because it only comes with AT&T as a carrier.

However, I've been told any service offered by one carrier in a 3G service area ought to work just as well for any other carrier. So if AT&T's service seems lacking, there's just one thing to do – call customer support. I initialy had big problems getting VideoShare to work with the Rugby. But when tech support instructed the AT&T network to automatically reload the software and drivers onto my phone, it instantly worked perfectly. Should you have to call customer support? In theory, no. But you are paying for the wireless service. So use it.
- www.northfulton.com

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TECHNO BOB: Rugby phone put to the 'crash' test

Why would anyone want a heavy phone that's almost twice the size of today's smallest wireless devices?


Did you hear that? It was my test Samsung Rugby falling to the floor. Or maybe it was that time I dropped it onto the concrete walk. Or perhaps it was

one of those many times when I got out of my car, dropping it onto the pavement. I'm certain that it wasn't the time I told one of my fellow editors to run it over with his truck.

It also wasn't the time -- OK, three times -- a friend threw it against a stone fireplace. Nor was it any of the times I "accidentally on purpose" tossed it far out of reach toward someone who wanted to see it, only for the Rugby to crash to the floor.

By now you might be thinking I'd better hope I was paying for the insurance on this cell phone. But this is one wireless device in which forking over a few bucks a month for insurance is a waste, no matter how much the phone costs. The Rugby is built to a set of military specs, making it near impervious to destruction in normal, every day catastrophes.

The first time I took it out for a spin, someone called it a "Hummer" phone after hearing me describe the pounding it can take, and its appearance in this sample with a yellow and black case. That's an apt description.

Battery life was pretty good, not surprising when the phone is big enough to take a bigger battery. The speaker phone function on this phone is excellent, with plenty of volume, so I'm not sure why AT&T is pushing a car speaker accessory for the Rugby on its Web site.

In this version of the Rugby, provided by AT&T, I was able to do anything you could expect with a wireless device. The flip phone may not have a touch screen, but it did have Internet access, instant messaging, music capabilities and even Video Share.
- www.northfulton.com

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Suwanee holds second Master Plan meeting

The city of Suwanee held a second community meeting Nov. 11 at Suwanee United Methodist Church to collect community input from residents in an effort to update the 2002 Old Town Master Plan.

Josh Campbell, planning director for the city of Suwanee, said the process is the same one used in planning for Town Center.

"This is a planning process we take seriously here in Suwanee," said Campbell. "We really look to you for guidance when we're making decisions about what projects we want to implement through the city…This is a very important process that will shape the future of our downtown and our Old Town area."

Shannon Kettering of Ecos Environmental Design, Inc., lead consultants on the project, summarized the information collected so far through resident participation and survey information that revealed opportunities and challenges in the area.

The Old Town Master Planning effort is focused on land use, circulation and infrastructure, and open space along with other issues. Kettering stressed the importance of a balance of the three.

"When one gets out of whack you clearly start to understand how important it is to have balance of the three," she said.

At the previous meeting, residents participated in a community dot voting exercise where they placed a dot was on one map to locate an asset to the downtown area and a dot on another map to locate a challenge for the downtown area, and then the assets and challenges were discussed.

Some of the assets included Town Center, the greenway and appropriate businesses and churches in the area.

Some of the challenges included pedestrian crossings at Buford Highway and the railroad tracks, event parking and infill development.

"It was really great feedback and incredibly instrumental to us in moving forward," said Kettering.

Feedback also indicated a sidewalk network and streetscaping were important elements to address in the plan.

"You all want to be connected from your home literally to all the places that are so wonderful here in the downtown area," said Kettering. "You really want to feel safe in how you're connecting."

Another area of importance was quality design

Kettering pointed out that components of placemaking such as balanced elements, appropriate scale and quality design all link together to make the area intrinsic and unique to Suwanee. She said quality design does matter and survey results show it is something near and dear to the hearts of Suwanee residents.
- www.gwinnettherald.com

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PHOTO GALLERY: Warrick Dunn donates homes in Atlanta

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PHOTO GALLERY: Milton vs. East Paulding

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Alpharetta, Roswell PD investigate fatal crash

Alpharetta and Roswell police are currently investigating a single car crash on Ga. 400 that has left one person dead.

Alpharetta police spokesman George Gordon said a few minutes after 1:30 p.m. a city officer clocked a maroon Hyundai Santa Fe going more than 120 mph on Ga. 400 southbound near Haynes Bridge Road.

"Due to the excessive speed the officer lost visual contact," said Gordon.

The driver apparently only made two more exits before losing control of the vehicle, slamming into the bridge abutment at the Holcomb Bridge Road exit, said Gordon.

"The crash resulted in the fatality of the driver," he said.

Alpharetta and Roswell police are on scene, and Roswell will fully investigate, said Gordon.
- www.northfulton.com

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North Fulton movie makers shoot 'Last Bullet'

An Alpharetta screenwriter and a director who graduated from Milton High teamed up to create a short film emphasizing the courage and valor of soldiers in the Vietnam War. A showing of that film, "Last Bullet," will benefit veterans groups around the South.

Director Jason Winn (a 1994 Milton High graduate), worked on the film with Michael Buchanan, an Alpharetta resident and the writer for the film. What began as a conversation between Winn and his friend, Savi Lorestani, last spring became a finished screenplay this summer.

"I was on the set of a film that Savi was directing, and we were brainstorming," Winn said. "We came up with a simple idea about two guys caught in foxhole and surrounded by the enemy. I called Mike and he finished the first draft in a week."

Last Bullet is set on the Vietnamese-Cambodian border and tells the story of Matt (Matt Perello) and Shane (J. Todd Smith), two soldiers caught in a life-or-death situation.

With the help of military advisor Andy Rice, the story went through several revisions to enhance historical accuracy. After Buchanan and Winn found the crew and cast, and with the assistance of Scott Tigchelaar, president of Riverwood Studios, the dates for shooting were finalized.

Recently filmed on the back lot of Riverwood Studios south of Fayetteville, the short film Last Bullet emphasizes the courage and valor of soldiers who fought during the Vietnam War. The movie, a project of Tin Roof Films, will be shown in select theatres and local venues.

A crew of 20 worked two long nights on the making of this film. Transformed by bamboo stalks, the Georgia forest became the dark Cambodian jungle.

Once editing and post-production is completed, Last Bullet will be released in selected independent theatres with proceeds designated to help veterans of present and past wars. Groups who would like to be involved in this project should write mike@tinrooffilms.com or jason@tinrooffilms.com for details. The first showing will be at Reynolds Plantation Dec. 5. Cast and the creators of Last Bullet will be on hand to answer questions about the movie.
Winn and Buchanan also teach film classes in North Fulton; for info, visit www.tinrooffilms.com.

During an intense nighttime skirmish between U.S. and Viet Cong forces, buddies Shane and Matt tumble into a bomb crater moments after a barrage of bullets assail them. Shane escapes serious injury but Matt is hit and rapidly losing blood from a gunshot to the leg. Unable to pull Matt to safety, Shane makes a decision — to save his friend, he must leave him alone and run for help. Now by himself, Matt confronts his own mortality. When an explosion leaves him deaf, he cannot hear the radio blaring Shane's return with reinforcements. As enemies and friends approach Matt's position, who will Matt kill with his last bullet?
- www.northfulton.com

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Johns Creek Comprehensive Plan approved

After nearly 14 months of brainstorming and holding meetings to discuss the city's future, the Comprehensive Plan was unanimously approved by City Council Nov. 10.

The document, which includes a future land-use policy, transportation master plan and greenspace plan, will be used as a guide by the city's Planning Commission and City Council when making decisions.

The process included more than 20 committee meetings, two open houses, public hearings, a community assessment and extensive citizen input. An 11-member Citizens Advisory Committee and transportation and green plan subcommittees as well as city staff contributed to the development of the plan.

"The community put an awful lot into this process...all of us recognize the lengths that everyone went to to get here," said Councilwoman Liz Hausmann. "This really is a Johns Creek story and we really appreciate all of the hard work."

Mayor Mike Bodker thanked staff, consultant and all of those involved throughout the Comp Plan process.

"What we pass today is a huge accomplishment and a major milestone," said Bodker. "This is a living, breathing document. And as our community continues to evolve, so will this document. I think it's a fantastic start. It is the will of this council...and I think it puts our Planning Commission in a much better place then they have been up until now because now they have a guidepost with which to make future decisions as we have asked that they enforce our Comprehensive Plan in the future."

In June, City Council approved the transmittal of the document to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the Atlanta Regional Commission, who have since approved the plan.

The Nov. 10 City Council meeting was the final public hearing, in which no one spoke during the public comment period.

"I have found often times that it is almost anti-climatic when you get to the end of a long process," said Bodker.

The Comp Plan is available for viewing online at www.johnscreekga.gov and at Northeast Spruill Oaks and Ocee libraries.
- www.northfulton.com

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Monday, November 17, 2008

PHOTO GALLERY: On the set of "The Joneses" in Alpharetta

Demi Moore and David Duchovny are in Alpharetta filming their latest movie entitled The Joneses. Photos by Bob Pepalis. Click here to view the entire gallery.

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PHOTO GALLERY: The Villas at Canterfield groundbreaking in Cumming

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Cumming child fights cancer with 'Beads of Courage'

Lukas Martin of Cumming will turn 2 in December and he already has three prize possessions - three beaded necklaces he made himself.

Each necklace has about 60 beads, but they aren't just any beads found at a craft shop or a jewelry store. Each bead tells a story about a personal journey of overcoming challenge, perseverance, but most of all, courage.

So far Lukas has earned 180 beads as part of a program at the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta called "Beads of Courage."

In March, Lukas was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a disease the American Cancer Society Web site describes as an aggressive form of leukemia that starts in the bone marrow and quickly spreads to the blood. It is extremely rare for a child to be diagnosed with the disease. In fact, it is a disease rarely diagnosed in patients younger than 40.

After visits to different health care facilities for an unexplained fever, Lukas' parents, Dexter McBrayer and Ashley Martin, took him to the Northeast Georgia Medical Center where a blood test indicated an exceptionally high white blood count. Shortly after that McBrayer and Martin received the bad news. Martin said they were devastated.

"You never really expect it," she said. "We never would have thought that that's what they were going to come back and tell us."

Lukas went through five months of chemotherapy, and in July, he received a core blood transplant.

According to Martin, Lukas is doing better now with no sign of cancer, but he continues to go for blood tests once a week.

Lukas is one of many children undergoing treatment for cancer or other conditions and participating in the Beads of Courage program. Each bead represents a milestone reached during a patient's course of treatment.

Martin said Lukas has received beads for treatments such as chemotherapy and for undergoing procedures and blood tests. Ultimately, the strings of beads will be a keepsake symbolizing his journey and courage as he endured treatment for the disease.

Nancy Campbell, a registered nurse and certified pediatric oncology nurse said Jean Baruch, a registered nurse, founded the program as she was researching coping mechanisms while earning her doctorate.

Campbell said about 1,000 children are currently participating in the program at the center. She said it helps them cope better because they can see the beads and know they actually made it through a difficult time such as surgery or treatment.

"It is so worthwhile and means so much to the kids that this program is going to go all over the nation," said Campbell.

She said programs are already established in about 50 medical facilities throughout the nation. The program was introduced at the Aflac Center at Egleston in September, and Scottish Rite began the program in early October.

Under the age of 2, it's difficult for Lukas to verbalize what the beads mean to him, but as he gets older, the necklaces will not only be a reminder of the courage he had to fight the disease but an inspiration to others as well.

For more information about the "Beads of Courage" program, visit the Web site at www.beadsofcourage.net.
- www.northfulton.com

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Gwinnett Gladiators drop 3-2 Shootout Decision to Stingrays

In the second home game in as many nights, the Gwinnett Gladiators dropped a 3-2 decision, losing in a shootout to the South Carolina Stingrays in front of a season high 11,072 fans at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. The game was Josh Johnson's first in goal for Gwinnett, taking on his former team in his debut. Johnson made 22 saves in the losing effort.

Gladiator defensemen Scott Marchesi opened the scoring just 2:02 into the first period. After Jordan Fox broke up a Stingray possession at center ice, Marchesi picked up the loose puck, skated in alone, and put it past goaltender Michal Neuvirth on a nifty move for his second goal of the season.

Chris Cava excited the home crowd later in the first, fighting Stingray Sasha Pokulok. The two exchanged blows before Cava knocked his opponent to the ice. Both received five for fighting.

With just over 5 minutes left in the period, Gwinnett went on the power play after a hooking call. They could not take advantage however, and the Stingrays tied the game on a 2 on 1 shorthanded breakaway goal. Maxime Lacroix scored the equalizing tally, and Sasha Pokulok and Travis Morin picked up the assists.

The score stayed tied until 10:33 of the second. The Gladiators had the man advantage and converted for the first power play goal of the game. After a long offensive possession, Dirk Southern held the puck behind the net, and found an open Pat Bateman in the slot who put it home for his fourth of the year. Josh Engel was also credited with an assist.

South Carolina again tied the game with 5:44 left in the middle stanza. After a battle at the right wing boards, Stingray forward Steve Pinizzotto grabbed the puck and fired a shot from the faceoff circle. Netminder Josh Johnson got a piece of the puck, but it squirted past to make the score 2-2.

Less than a minute into the third period, South Carolina had a penalty shot after Jeff Mason hooked Michael Dubuc who had a clear path to net. With everyone in the building on their feet, Dubuc tried to put the shot in on Josh Johnson's stick side, but the Gwinnett goalie blocked it away to keep the score tied.

With about 7 minutes left in the game, Gwinnett had a 46 second 5-on-3 chance, but was not able to score. Stingray goalie Michal Neuvirth kept the score tied with a few highlight reel saves, including batting away a puck out of the air from the goal line.

Neither team was able to score in the extra frame, and the two teams went to the shootout. Jordan Fox became the first Gladiator to score a shootout goal this season, but South Carolina won with a 2-1 advantage.

The Gladiators have outshot their opponents every game this season, and did so again tonight, with 48 shots compared to 25 for the Stingrays.

The loss drops Gwinnett to 3-4-0-3 on the season, while South Carolina improves to 8-2-0-0.

The Gladiators continue the 2008-09 season on Wednesday, November 19th as they host the Dayton Bombers at the Arena at Gwinnett Center at 7:05 p.m.
- www.gwinnettherald.com

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Gwinnett Gladiators Beat Checkers, 4-2

The Gwinnett Gladiators snapped a three game losing streak with a 4-2 win over the Charlotte Checkers on Saturday night in front of 9,614 fans at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. Pat Bateman and Jordan Fox each finished with a goal and an assist in the win for the Gladiators as Gwinnett improves to 3-4-2 on the season.

Bateman put the Gladiators on the board first at 5:38 of the first period taking a centering pass from Fox as they both skated towards Charlotte's net. The puck just barely found its way in, hitting the inside post on Maxime Daigneault's left side.

Matt Siddall notched his first goal of the season at 17:54 of the first with helpers from Bruce Graham and Josh Engel. Graham was unable to hold onto the puck as he skated through the neutral zone, but it was picked up by Engel who then passed it in front of the net to a waiting Siddall. The even-strength goal put the Gladiators up 2-0 to end the first. Siddall was assigned this week to the Gladiators from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League and tonight's goal also marks the first of his professional career.

It was all Gwinnett during the second stanza as Jordan Fox and Chris Cava both scored for the Gladiators to push Gwinnett's lead to 4-0. At 4:51, Fox took a pass from Dirk Southern and Bateman to give the Gladiators a 3-0 lead and Defenseman Chris Cava tallied his first goal of the season at 10:22 on a power play. Brad Schell and Graham were both on hand to assist on the Cava goal.

David Rutherford finally got the Checkers on the board in the third period, with a pass from Mike Taylor stopping Kevin Nastiuk's shutout at 40 minutes and 11 seconds. Dan Sullivan also tallied nineteen penalty minutes onto his career total in a fight with ten minutes to go in the third. Sullivan and Charlotte's Jared Nightingale both removed their helmets and gloves before beginning their fight, instead of just simply starting with punches. Sullivan currently has 59 penalty minutes on the year.

Later, as Sullivan and Nightingale were still in the box, the Gladiators went on the power play and surrendered another goal to the Checkers. Joe Zappala cut the Gladiators' lead in half when he skated in, unassisted, and flipped the puck backwards into the Gwinnett net at 13:08 of the third.

The fighting continued in the Checkers' zone with five minutes remaining in the contest and Gwinnett's Phil Youngclaus and Dirk Southern and Charlotte's Peter-James Corsi were all sent to their respective locker rooms. Nastiuk and the Gladiators held the Charlotte Checkers for the rest of the game for a final of 4-2.
- www.gwinnettherald.com

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PHOTO GALLERY: Alpharetta Rotary at Stars & Strikes

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Teens honored for lifesaving efforts in Forsyth

Saturday, Aug. 30 was a strange day for 22-year-old Suwanee resident Angelo Santiago.
It was his brother's birthday, and their friends were having a party at Sawnee Campground on Lake Lanier. Santiago had been stressed recently, so he hadn't been eating or sleeping. He'd also recently sprained his ankle, and that certainly wasn't helping things.

So when a friend, Max Soubannarath, asked if he wanted to go swimming, Santiago thought it might be a good way to get some fresh air and relieve stress.

Unfortunately, his body didn't agree.

"Once I got into the water, my body just wouldn't function," he said. "I was paralyzed."

Luckily for them both, a pontoon boat full of local teens happened by and through team work and quick, clear-headed thinking, the youths pulled everyone to safety.

Those four teens - brothers Mitchell, 17, and Dylan Hall, 14, Joey Hinkle and Amanda Addington, both 17 - were honored Nov. 5 by Sheriff Ted Paxton.

He said if it weren't for the decisiveness of the youths, police likely would have added two more names to the deadly tally of six drownings in the drought ravaged lake.

"We're honoring their heroic efforts," he said. "It's good you knew that when somebody needs help, you step up, no hesitation."

For their efforts, the teens received plaques and the congratulations of the Sheriff's Office.

Hinkle, a senior at Creekview High School in Cherokee County, said the teens were out on the lake looking for someplace fun to swim and hang out before meeting with Laurie Hall, Mitchell and Dylan's mother, at a nearby cove. As Addington drove by, they could hear some cries for help — Santiago had slipped below the water, so Soubannarath pulled him onto his shoulders and was struggling to keep them both afloat.

"I was thinking, 'Just get over there,'" said Addington, a Woodstock resident who attends Polaris Night School.

Hinkle said it all happened so fast.

"We just happened to be right there. Mitchell said to grab the life preserver and toss it to [Max and Angelo]," he said. "I swam out and helped pull them to shore."

Mitchell Hall and Hinkle both swam out, while Dylan went on the shore, helped dock the boat and pulled everyone to land.

"My mom used to be a lifeguard, said the older Hall, a senior at Sequoyah High School, also in Cherokee County. "I just immediately knew what to do."

When it was said and done, it was a scary, but "pretty great" experience for the friends, who have known each other since middle school, said Addington.

Santiago was humbled by the whole experience, and seemed to have a tough time taking it all in surrounded by the teens, their families, a room full of deputies and with media cameras snapping and rolling.

It makes sense, since Santiago said a difference of three or four seconds could have meant the death of himself and his heroic friend who struggled to keep them both alive long enough for help to arrive.

"Without you guys, I wouldn't be here today," he said. "I'm so happy we saw you guys. I really thought I was gone - you guys are real heroes."
- www.northfulton.com

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Fulton Science Academy tops ITBS

Fulton Science Academy posted the highest average ITBS scores this year than any other Fulton County middle school.

In addition, the charter school had the highest score in all subject areas when compared with other Fulton middle schools. The school also posted gains in all subject areas.

The standardized test scores for FSA students were: Reading, 84, a 4-point increase; math, 86, a 3-point increase; language arts, 84, 8-point increase; social studies, 84, 5-point increase and science, 85, a 4-point increase.
- www.northfulton.com

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Tour de Georgia cancelled in '09, returns in '10

Following the conclusion of a very successful 2008 Tour de Georgia presented by AT&T, the Board of Directors of the Tour de Georgia Foundation, Inc., announced today their plans for the future of the Tour.

Speaking on behalf of the Foundation's Board of Directors, long time member Tom Saddlemire announced that the Tour de Georgia will not be held in 2009 but will return in 2010. Mr. Saddlemire, newly retired CFO of GE Energy, explained that "with the help of the Lt. Governor, the Tour had its most successful year yet, raising close to $3.2 million in operating expenses and commitments for more than $500,000 in support of cancer research through the Aflac Cancer Center at Children's Healthcare and the Georgia Cancer Coalition. We believe that this unique and exciting event will endure. We have decided to use 2009 as a time to plan ahead and properly position the Tour de Georgia to make the best use of the new partnerships we forged during the 2008 Tour de Georgia Presented by AT&T, such as our relationships with Blue Cross Blue Shield and Road Atlanta. The planning process for the Tour de Georgia requires a tremendous amount of time and effort and we wanted to give all of our partners enough time to plan and allocate their resources to take full advantage of the event. Therefore, we will skip 2009 and the Board will petition USAC and the UCI for the Tour de Georgia's return to the world calendar in 2010."

Craig Lesser, former Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development said that "The Tour de Georgia was initiated by the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade & Tourism (now Georgia Department of Economic Development) in 2003 with a focus on creating a world-class cycling event which fostered significant economic development, tourism and world-wide exposure. We achieved that goal. The Tour de Georgia quickly developed stature, gaining international ranking (by UCI and USA Cycling, Inc.) as a spring tradition in the professional sport of cycling. The Tour de Georgia attracted the best teams in the world and previous champions included such stars as Lance Armstrong, Tom Danielson and Chris Horner. Over the course of six years, the Tour de Georgia has attracted 3.2 million spectators, many of whom traveled to Georgia from out of state, and generated a direct economic impact totaling over $186 million. The 2008 Tour de Georgia, our most successful Tour yet, yielded over $38.6 million in direct economic impact for the State. We have come a long way since 2003."

Chairman of the Board, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle added, "The support we received from our Georgia sponsor corporations, our host cities and the citizens of Georgia was amazing in 2008. Since April, we have had an enormous response from our partners on ways we can strengthen the Tour for the future, and we have been listening. Our host cities want to have time to prepare tourism packages and our health providers are enthusiastic about developing plans to use the Health and Wellness expos to spread their message across the state. Our cycling friends from across the state want to partner with us to create participant activities which are inclusive of the whole family. We have listened to their advice and have decided to skip one year so that the Tour de Georgia can once and for all be ahead of the game in the planning process. This is a decision I feel is wise and one that will strengthen the Tour de Georgia for years to come. I commend our Board for its thoughtfulness in arriving at this decision. We look forward to using 2009 to plan the 2010 Tour and I am committed to playing an active role in that process."

Steve Johnson, CEO of USA Cycling, said that he "was obviously disappointed to learn that the 2009 Tour de Georgia has been cancelled for 2009. However, I am very pleased that the race will return in 2010. Since its inception in 2003, the Tour de Georgia has been an important international stage race featuring some of the top riders in the world. Equally important, it provided the impetus for major stage races in California and Missouri. We look forward to the Tour de Georgia returning in 2010."

The Tour de Georgia Presented by AT&T is North America 's premier professional cycling race. First held in 2003, the Tour de Georgia Presented by AT&T is an international professional sporting event that brings thousands of spectators and cycling enthusiasts to the State of Georgia each Spring . The 2008 Tour de Georgia Presented by AT&T was a six stage race, covering more than 600 miles across the State of Georgia , from the shores of Tybee Island to the mountains of North Georgia, with an exciting circuit finish in the state capitol, Atlanta. Traditionally, professional teams use the Tour de Georgia to prepare their riders for the most challenging tours held in Europe , including the Tour de France. Several teams which rode in the 2008 Tour de Georgia Presented by AT&T also participated in the 2008 Tour de France. Riders such as Christian van de Velde and George Hincapie, who were fierce competitors in the 2008 Tour de Georgia Presented by AT&T, also rode extremely well in the 2008 Tour de France. The climb up Brasstown Bald in the mountains of North Georgia, a favorite of cycling fans and a legendary stage in the professional racing circuit, is considered by professional cyclists to be the most challenging and grueling stage of any race held in North America.
- www.northfulton.com

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PHOTO GALLERY: End of season party at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre

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Election proves 'we the people' include African Americans

"For the first time in my adult lifetime I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change." -- Michelle Obama, Feb. 18, 2008

I always thought I understood what Michelle Obama was trying to say.

You are familiar, of course, with what she actually did say, which is quoted above. It provided weeks of red meat for her husband's opponents, who took to making ostentatious proclamations of their own unwavering pride in country.

But again, I think I know what the lady meant to say. Namely, that with her husband, this brown-skinned guy with the funny name making a credible run for the highest office in the land, she could believe, for the first time, that "we the people" included her.

It is, for African Americans, an intoxicating thought almost too wonderful for thinking. Yet, there it is. And here we are, waking up this morning to find Barack Obama president-elect of these United States.

In a sense, it is unfair -- to him, to us -- to make last night's election about race.

Whatever appeal Obama may have had to African Americans and white liberals eager to vote for a black candidate, is, I believe, dwarfed by his appeal to Americans of all stripes who have simply had enough of the politics of addition by division as practiced by Karl Rove and his disciples, enough of the free-floating anger, the holiday from accountability, the nastiness masquerading as righteousness, the sheer intellectual dishonesty, that have characterized the era of American politics that ends here.

But in the end, after all that, there still is race.

And it would be a sin against our history, a sin against John Lewis and Viola Liuzzo, against James Reeb and Lyndon Johnson, against Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin Luther King, against all those everyday heroes who marched, bled and died 40 years ago to secure black people's right to vote, not to pause on this pinnacle and savor what it means. It would be a sin against our generations, against slaves and freedmen, against housemen and washerwomen, against porters and domestics, against charred bodies hanging in Southern trees, not to be still and acknowledge that something has happened here and it is sacred and profound.

For most of the years of the American experiment, "we the people" did not include African Americans. We were not included in "we." We were not even included in "people."

What made it galling was all the flowery words to the contrary, all the perfumed lies about equality and opportunity. This was, people kept saying, a nation where any boy might grow up and become president. Which was only true, we knew, as long as it was indeed a boy and as long as the boy was white.

But as of today, we don't know that anymore. What this election tells us is that the nation has changed in ways that would have been unthinkable, unimaginable, flat out preposterous, just 40 years ago. And that we, black, white and otherwise, better recalibrate our sense of the possible.

There was something bittersweet in watching Michelle Obama lectured on American pride this year, in seeing African Americans asked to prove their Americanness when our ancestors were in this country before this country was. There was something in it that was hard to take, knowing that we have loved America when America did not love us, defended America when it would not defend us, believed in American ideals that were larger than skies, yet never large enough to include us.

We did this. For years unto centuries, we did this. Because our love for this country is deep and profound. And complicated and contradictory. And cynical and hard.

Now it has delivered us to this singular moment. Barack Obama is president-elect of the United States.

And we the people should be proud.
- Leonard Pitts
- www.northfulton.com

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Gwinnett Gladiators Acquire Johnson from Stingrays

The Gwinnett Gladiators announced today that they have acquired goaltender Josh Johnson from the South Carolina Stingrays in exchange for future considerations. Johnson comes to the Gladiators after appearing in four games this season with a 2-2-0 record and a 3.20 goals against average and a .894 save percentage with South Carolina.

The Esko, MN native was 23-13-1 with a 2.80 goals-against average, and a .908 save percentage last season with South Carolina. He also recorded two shut-outs in his 37 games, and was named the Rbk Hockey Goalie of the Week for November 5-11 and December 24-30 and was the RBC Financial Group ECHL Saver of the Month for December.

Prior to turning professional, the 6-foot, 195-pound net minder spent four years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth posting a 22-20-4 record with three shutouts and a 2.71 goals-against average in 51 career collegiate games.

Johnson should be available for the Gladiators for Friday's 7:35 p.m. start at The Arena at Gwinnett Center against the Charlotte Checkers. The Gladiators continue the 2008-09 season on Friday, Nov. 14 at The Arena at Gwinnett Center as they host the Charlotte Checkers at 7:35 p.m.
- www.gwinnettherald.com

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PHOTO GALLERY: Northview High's International Night

Northview High School’s International Night in Johns Creek brought students and their families together for a night of celebrating cultures from around the world. Dozens of students performed dance and music acts. After the performances, attendees sampled food from several cultures. Click here to view the entire gallery.

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Local resident reflects on Obama's historic win

Local resident Bettye Maye, who grew up in Phenix City, Ala., Barack Obama being elected as the nation's first African-American president has special meaning, but she thinks it has that importance for the entire country and the world.

Maye, who works for Habitat for Humanity North Central Georgia, reflected on the election as she watched returns with her husband and daughter, who had come to visit on election night.

"The very first thing I went to think about was my mom and dad. This is something they tried to instill in my brothers and me - you can achieve anything you want. Did we believe that a black man would achieve the presidency in my lifetime?"

No, she said.

"Of course, we would have loved to have had our parents to see that," she said.

She also remembered some of the things that occurred to her family growing up in Alabama and the racism they endured.

"I truly hope what we can do behind his presidency, realize that if you put God first, all other things will be added. I truly believe that," she said.

"I hope we don't place unrealistic expectations on this presidency. But I also know we as a people have to do our share and then we can hold each other accountable.

I just feel like our country can only go forward," she said.

Maye said she knows it sounds naive, but she hopes politics doesn't get in the way.

Isakson says Americaa work in progress

The election of the first African-American to the presidency is a testament to the strength of the country and its Constitution, said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

"You know, America has been a work in progress since the Revolutionary War," he said.

The Constitution written by the Founding Fathers had many problems, including race and the right to vote.

"Over time, we fought a civil war, we amended our Constitution a number of times," Isakson said. "We righted the ship and America continues to be a country of opportunity."

Because of the U.S. Constitution, he said the nation has a chance to move forward.
- www.northfulton.com

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Veterans Memorial Park dedicated in Alpharetta

The grove of trees standing between the tank and the helicopter could easily accommodate a path, a Walk of Remembrance, Wages said at the time. So he started to work on it. Then the idea of memorial bricks came up.

Now among the some 25,000 bricks that comprise The Walk, 7,000 of them mark Georgians who have died. Another 1,500 bricks have been memorialized in some way.

Wages said the idea behind his vision was simply to give veterans and their families a quiet place that honored veterans and also gave them a place for quiet reflection and thought. This goal has been accomplished.

At the dedication ceremony Gov. Sonny Perdue's representative, Roger Wise Jr., gave Wages his due.

"J.R. is just one of those guys who has a way of making things happen. In the military, every company has a go-to guy who knew everybody, who to talk to and where to go find what was needed.

"Well, that certainly has been J.R. at Post 201. He is the go-to guy for Veterans Memorial Park," said Wise.

In presenting Wages with a gubernatorial Certificate of Appreciation, it ended in the governor's own words, "Job well done."

Wages had enlisted in the Navy in 1943 somewhat deceptively at the age of 16. He served until war's end and was discharged. But he decided he liked the military life, but decided to go for the Army this time.

He eventually served tours in Korea and Vietnam, 23 years in all with the Army. Despite holding many responsible positions including command of Nike and Hercules missile batteries, getting the Memorial Park done may be the biggest job Wages has undertaken. Donations and in-kind donations for the park are estimated at $250,000. And now Wages can sit back and admire it - maybe.

"It surprises me how good it looks now," Wages said after the dedication. "But what we need now is a World War II memorial . . ."
- www.northfulton.com

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Police, fire, military run to raise awareness in Duluth

With T-shirts that read "Run 2 Remember, Run 2 Support," a group of police officers, firefighters and military members gathered at the Gwinnett Center Nov. 7 ready to embark on a long journey. Amid the cool morning air, they stretched their muscles and warmed up with the sun shining in the backdrop.

About 20 police officers, firefighters and military members set out on a 625-mile run from Duluth to Tampa, Fla. during the fourth annual Special Operations Forces Run. The group is honoring special operations forces and veterans as well as raising awareness for families of fallen and wounded special operations soldiers.

"We're doing this to honor the children and families," said Duluth Police Lt. Bill Stevens. "And, to create an awareness."

Gwinnett County Commissioner-elect Shirley Lassiter thanked the runners for participating.

"It's wonderful for the children of special operation forces members," said Lassiter, who helped kick off the run.

The Nov. 7-10 run is dedicated to the memory of Michael Monsoor, a Navy Seal that became a recipient of the Medal of Honor.
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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Alpharetta cops smash alleged counterfeiting scam

Alpharetta police announced Nov. 12 they had arrested two men accused of scamming potential counterfeiters with the help of the Secret Service.

According to police, James Martin, 39, and Nelson Achonduh, 35, allegedly ran a scam wherein they would promise to counterfeit money for others, show them a fake process and then rob the duped "victims" when the money materialized for copying. They were arrested at the Citgo gas station on North Main Street in Alpharetta Nov. 6 after a sting operation involving undercover Alpharetta police.

George Gordon, a spokesman for the Alpharetta Department of Public Safety, said the city was contacted by the Secret Service about the scheme and worked together to catch the pair. They had an undercover Alpharetta Crime Suppression Unit officer meet with the pair, who allegedly showed him their process, said Gordon.

"[Martin and Achonduh] would meet with a source to show how they 'washed' currency," he said.

Gordon said the suspects would take a real bill and dip it into chemicals. They would then place the bill against a piece of paper, telling the source the image would transfer.

"In reality they would distract the source, place another real bill in place of the paper and tell the source it's a perfect imprint," said Gordon.

The co-conspirator was then asked to bring a large amount of money to a new location. When the money arrived, the two would rob the co-conspirator.

In this case, "our operative was promised $300,000 fake currency for $100,000 legitimate currencies," said Gordon.

A search of Martin and Achonduh's vehicle revealed a loaded handgun, said Gordon. Both suspects are facing two felony charges of criminal solicitation, and Martin is also charged with theft by taking.

They were released from Fulton County Jail Nov. 7 - Martin on a $75,000 bail, and Achonduh on a $25,000 bail.
- www.northfulton.com

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Duluth Lady Cats signing

Three senior Duluth Lady Cats signed off to play at Division I schools Nov. 13. Mykala Walker signed to play at Wake Forest, Daphne Adebayo at Virginia Commonwealth and Alex Phillips at Mercer. The Duluth Wildcats begin their regular season at home against Parkview on Nov. 18 at 6 p.m.
- www.gwinnettherald.com

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State Superintendent visits Johns Creek Elementary

State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox visited Johns Creek Elementary Nov. 3, touring classrooms and reading a book to students. But the fun came when Cox participated in a version of the TV gameshow, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader." Cox won $1 million when she appeared on the show earlier this fall, answering questions about history and geography.

Cox donated the money to the Georgia Academy for the Blind, the Atlanta-Area School for the Deaf and the Georgia School for the Deaf.

Students, Cox, Johns Creek Elementary School Principal Debbie Smith and Forsyth County Schools Superintendent LC "Buster" Evans all played a similar version of the game, which included questions about grammar, spelling and geography.

Quinn Webb, a fifth-grader in Donna Gunyon's class, said he thought Cox's visit was "pretty cool."

"Winning $1 million is pretty unusual," said Webb. He added that his favorite part of her visit was when she read "The Giving Tree" to the class.

Cox, who earlier in the day taught a lesson at Woodstock High School, said she most enjoys visiting the schools to be around the teachers and students.

"I love being around great schools," she said. "We've got some of the best schools right here in our state."
- www.northfulton.com

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Alpharetta actor among Hollywood's busiest

The son of veteran TV and film actor John Beasley ("Everwood," "CSI") is starting to make a name for himself by accomplishing things that even veteran actors in Los Angeles and New York are not.

Michael Beasley - a resident of Alpharetta - is known as the "hardest working actor" in Georgia. The key words are "working actor."

In June alone, Beasley worked on three feature films and a hit television show. He appeared in "Mississippi Damned" starring D.B. Woodside, "I Love You Philip Morris" starring Jim Carrey and Ewen McGregor, "Mardi Gras" starring Carmen Electra, and the Lifetime Channel's hit television show, "Army Wives."

Beasley has a recurring role on the CW's hit television show, "One Tree Hill," where his character is Mike Wilson. He also has Kingsford Charcoal and Coke Zero national commercials that are airing on the major networks now. He is also casted as "Lester," in the feature film, "Road Trip 2," which begins production in Atlanta this month.

The Beasley's are from Omaha, Neb., where they own The John Beasley Theatre. Michael was a professional basketball player, having played professionally in Argentina, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Chile.
- www.northfulton.com

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Alpharetta mulls appointment of judges

Alpharetta voters will have one less decision to make on city ballots if two council members get their way.

The City Council will consider whether to make Alpharetta's municipal judge an appointed position rather than elected.

Councilmen D.C. Aiken and David Belle Isle introduced the proposal at Monday night's council workshop a plan where city residents and council would hold hearings for potential candidates and then have council select the judge to serve a four-year term.

Aiken reminded council in Georgia, only Roswell and Alpharetta elect their municipal judges. Part-time judges used by the city to handle a large case load already are appointed.

The reason Alpharetta can even consider switching the post from an elected one to an appointment is the result of a referendum in the 1980s allowing council to make that choice by ordinance. If City Council decides to make the switch, it will require an ordinance that also requires a public hearing, said City Attorney Sam Thomas.

In pushing for a change, Aiken said candidates for judicial posts are not allowed to run on issues, proclaiming themselves as "the DUI attorney, the family judge," Aiken said. As judicial candidates they only can list their credentials and qualifications.

"We could elect a real estate attorney who's never been in a courtroom before just because they had nicer signs and did a better mailing job," Aiken said.

"It's very hard [for judges] to run on an actual platform on what you believe in," Belle Isle said.

Aiken also said municipal campaigns these days cost approximately $20,000 to run, which will discourage candidates who are only interested in serving and not in the electoral process.

"Most attorneys who are interested serving in this very fundamental, very needed level are not necessarily excited about running a campaign," Belle Isle said.

What he and Aiken propose is a vetting process not much different than how U.S. Supreme Court justices are chosen. They suggested candidates for municipal judge submit their qualifications to the city.

Each would be allowed to state those qualifications in a public hearing held by council. At a later hearing, council and the public would be given the chance to ask the candidates any questions they had. After that hearing, council would vote on a candidate to fill a four-year term.

Municipal Judge Jim Matoney, who would be up for re-election next year, said he prefers leaving the deicsion to the voters.

"At this point in time, the Alpharetta Police Department and the Alpharetta court system enjoy a very good reputation in the legal community. My personal preference is that I would like to run for re-election to the post and let the voters decide whether or not I should serve another term," Matoney said.

Mayor Arthur Letchas voiced similar concerns with removing the municipal judge from the ballot, warning their could be push-back from the voters.

How the post has been filled in the past has, for the most part, been beneficial, he said.

"It's a separation of legislative, administrative and judicial powers," Letchas said. "I don't want to say there's a problem - there could be a problem."

Aiken said the purpose was not to take anything away from the voters but to allow a more informed decision to be made in sorting out the candidates. He said the process could end in an election, he just wants candidates chosen by an informed electorate.

Council agreed to have City Administrator Bob Regus and staff prepare several different processes to include a vetting process for the municipal judge, which will be presented as soon as December's council workshop.
- www.northfulton.com

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Johns Creek Comprehensive Plan approved

After nearly 14 months of brainstorming and holding meetings to discuss the city's future, the Comprehensive Plan was unanimously approved by City Council Nov. 10.

The document, which includes a future land-use policy, transportation master plan and greenspace plan, will be used as a guide by the city's Planning Commission and City Council when making decisions.

The process included more than 20 committee meetings, two open houses, public hearings, a community assessment and extensive citizen input. An 11-member Citizens Advisory Committee and transportation and green plan subcommittees as well as city staff contributed to the development of the plan.

"The community put an awful lot into this process...all of us recognize the lengths that everyone went to to get here," said Councilwoman Liz Hausmann. "This really is a Johns Creek story and we really appreciate all of the hard work."

Mayor Mike Bodker thanked staff, consultant and all of those involved throughout the Comp Plan process.

"What we pass today is a huge accomplishment and a major milestone," said Bodker. "This is a living, breathing document. And as our community continues to evolve, so will this document. I think it's a fantastic start. It is the will of this council...and I think it puts our Planning Commission in a much better place then they have been up until now because now they have a guidepost with which to make future decisions as we have asked that they enforce our Comprehensive Plan in the future."

In June, City Council approved the transmittal of the document to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the Atlanta Regional Commission, who have since approved the plan.

The Nov. 10 City Council meeting was the final public hearing, in which no one spoke during the public comment period.

"I have found often times that it is almost anti-climatic when you get to the end of a long process," said Bodker.

The Comp Plan is available for viewing online at www.johnscreekga.gov and at Northeast Spruill Oaks and Ocee libraries.
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More living space for seniors in Johns Creek?

If approved, a senior living community could be built on the east end of the city.

Roswell-based Principal Senior Living Group, who specializes in independent and assisted living communities, spoke to the Johns Creek Community Assocation during a community zoning information meeting Nov. 6.

The group is requesting a change in zoning from R-5 Conditional to O-I (Office-Institutional) Conditional for a 38,000 square-foot, one story, personal care facility off Fox Road, near Kimball Bridge Road.

The facility would house 59 units for seniors as well as a section of the building for residents who have memory loss. The unit sizes range from studio to one bedroom living areas.

The proposed facility would include a common dining area, living room, various common areas, a courtyard, hair salon and laundry services.

"We try to make it residential and upscale for the people who live there," said Kyle Diekmann, partner of Principal Senior Living Group, and added that the exterior of the building would have a brick and stone facade.

The average age of residents in Principal Senior Living Group's communities is 84 and the majority are women, according to Diekmann.

He said the community would have a low imapct on traffic around the area since many residents do not drive; the community provides a service that drives them to such places as doctor's appointments.

Diekmann said they would like to compete with similar senior communities in the area and because of high occupancy rates at competitors' communities there is a need for it in Johns Creek.

"The growth and quality of life in Johns Creek is the kind of community we want to be in," said Diekmann.

The property of the proposed community is adjacent to Alpharetta's Webb Bridge Park. A portion of the proposed senior community property was originally intended for a children's day care facility, but Principal Senior Living Group scratched that off the plans.

Diekmann and his partner, David Winters, said the space could be used for independent senior villas at a later date. They are not including the villas in this zoning request as the group wants to make sure there's a market for it first, according to Diekmann.

Principal Senior Living Group has developed 16 similar properties in the last 10 years throughout the Southeast.

The zoning request will be heard by the Johns Creek Planning Commission in a few weeks.

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Victim shot in Roswell home invasion

Roswell police are investigating an early morning home invasion on Foe Creek Drive Nov. 12 in which three people were tied up and one of them might have used one of the suspects' guns against the attackers.

Roswell Police Department spokesman Sgt. B.C. Brackett said police got a call at 4:30 a.m. from the city's fire department about the home invasion. The fire rescue team had been called to a nearby address in the neighborhood off Upper Hembree Road on an unrelated call, and the suspects fled the home when they heard the commotion.

"Apparently when they saw the flashing red lights and heard the sirens, they took off," said Brackett.

He said the victims had worked free of their bindings and ran to get help from the firefighters. The victims — two brothers and a sister - told investigators two men came into their home demanding drugs and money earlier in the morning. They tied the three up, and one of the victims began struggling with his attacker.

"One of the victims was shot in the finger when struggling with the perpetrator," said Brackett. "But he was able to turn the gun around on him and get a couple of shots off.

"He possibly shot the perpetrator twice."

All three victim shave been taken to North Fulton Regional Hospital. Brackett said searches for the suspects in the area have been unsuccessful.

"It appears the suspects fled the scene in a vehicle parked at the rear of the residence," he said.

Police had just executed a search warrant for the home that afternoon, and the case is ongoing, said Brackett.

"We are still in the process of completing our preliminary investigation," he said.
- www.northfulton.com

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