Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Duluth Violin shop is 'destination business'

Roland and Dixie Huthmaker didn't know what they were getting into.

Their love of violins and passion for music has stretched a lifetime, from teaching to performing. But the owners of Huthmaker Violins in downtown Duluth never knew this endeavour would grow into a destination business serving customers across the southeast.

The Huthmaker story begins with a friend and a viola. At the time, both Huthmakers had been professional musicians and taught at different high schools.

"A friend asked us if we could sell this viola," Dixie said. "We both tried with our high school orchestras, but the students did not want it because they thought it was too old."

Dixie bought the instrument, had it appraised and discovered it was "very valuable." And the rest is history.

The interest in restoring violins has grown to the largest violin shop in the Southeast.

"Be careful what you wish for," she said with a grin.

Part of the business includes regular trips to Vichy, France to purchase high quality instruments. It sounds great, but Dixie said the trip is truly a business trip.

"It's really hard work," she said. "There are more than a thousand instruments and bows and we have to look at each two or three times. We want to be sure because once we take it home, we can't give it back."

Operating the business is truly a family affair. The Huthmakers employed their daughter, Anna, to manage the store and she also restores bows, earning her the moniker of "bow queen."

"The three of us fit together like a puzzle," Dixie said. "We all bring different stuff to the table."

Their son, Charles Huthmaker, does not work in Duluth full time, but he does travel to France because he speaks the language and helps during the auctions.

"Of course," Dixie said, "he helps us whenever he's in town and helps customers."

The Huthmakers may be a puzzle, but it's a puzzle that equals up to a great love of the instruments.

"The instruments are so beautiful," she said. "They are a work tool, but they are really a piece of art."

Why did the Huthmakers choose Duluth for their business? Its character.

"In metro Atlanta," Dixie said, "it's becoming difficult if not impossible to find original downtowns. We went all over Atlanta and we decided to come here 15 years ago. There's history here. There's older buildings. We felt we needed to be in a place that was unique."

Huthmaker Violins boasts instruments and accessories at a variety of prices. They repair, restore and appraisal, also.

"If you brought in your grandpa's violin," she said, "we could tell you what it is worth."

There are also four acoustically designed studios where about seven to eight teachers work with students. Huthmaker Violins sponsors the "Main Street Symphony," an adult amateur orchestra that performs at events such as the Duluth Fall Festival.

"The conductor calls it a 'love fest,'" Dixie said. "That's because they all love what they are doing. It's not really a symphony, it's an orchestra. But maybe someday."

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Johns Creek's Hope Kemp-Hanson effort lifts spirits

Hope Kemp-Hanson, a 5th grader in Melissa Greene's class at State Bridge Elementary School, gathered more than 1,100 student-made get-well cards for children at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Computer fraud ring in Atlanta

Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Gregory Jones, FBI Atlanta, is requesting the public's assistance in identifying two members of a suspected computer fraud ring. The FBI believes these men, along with their associates, used stolen and cloned payroll debit cards and open-loop (reloadable) gift cards to make numerous unauthorized withdrawals from Atlanta-area automatic teller machines (ATMs).

Approximately 100 of these cards, issued by Royal (RBS) WorldPay, were compromised. In order to perpetrate the fraud, members of the criminal organization accessed RBS WorldPay's computer system, working in concert with "cashers" who took the actual cards to ATMs and withdrew money in timed, coordinated attacks. Once the intrusion was detected, appropriate steps were taken by RBS WorldPay to secure their system and prevent a recurrence of the situation.

At least two of the "cashers" made ATM withdrawals in the Atlanta area, and in so doing, their images were recorded either on ATM security cameras or the security cameras in use at the businesses which contained the ATMs in question. The public is asked to carefully review the attached photographs, and report any information to the FBI at (404) 679-9000. Tips can also be made via email, at

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Bring tree to chipper in Milton

City of Milton residents are urged to recycle their Christmas trees through a program brought to the city by the Milton Grows Green committee.

"Bring One for the Chipper," is a statewide program sponsored by the Georgia Forestry Commission. This program has existed across Georgia for several years, but is being brought to Milton for the first time by MGG with the support of Freeman's Tree Care. The mulch will be used in public beautification projects, helping to reduce costs for the City.

Recycling will be available on Saturday, Jan. 3 from 9 am to 4 p.m. at the Birmingham Fire Station, 750 Hickory Flat Road. All trees should be carefully checked to be sure that lights, ornaments, etc., have been removed. Seedlings, including dogwood, green ash and red cedar, will be given away on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last.

Volunteers aged 12 to 96 are needed to help unload trees. No machinery contact is involved. Contact to volunteer, or to request more information.

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Fulton County business hours

Fulton County Government will be open Christmas Eve and closed the day after Christmas, which is a Friday.

All offices and facilities will provide services during regular hours, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., on Wednesday, Dec. 24 – a day the government is normally closed as part of a two-day county holiday with Christmas Day.

Offices will be closed Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and Friday, Dec. 26.

The switch lets citizens transact county business before the holiday instead of having to come in the day after and interrupt what otherwise would be an extended weekend.

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Johns Creek student makes cards for kids

When Hope Kemp-Hanson had her tonsils removed last year, she thought the toy she received from hospital staff was a nice way to cheer her up after undergoing surgery.

But the State Bridge Elementary School fifth-grader thought there might be something else that could help lift kids' spirits after medical procedures.

Kemp-Hanson decided that she was going to enlist the help of her classmates at State Bridge Elementary to make cards proclaiming motivational mottos like "get well soon" and "turn that frown upside down," and deliver them to local hospitals.

"I just thought it would make the kids feel better," said Kemp-Hanson. "From the time I was little my mom made cards for me and put them in my lunch box, under my pillow, in my shoe and still puts them in my backpack. I love getting her cards and I love making her cards, too. Cards make people feel good."

Her goal was 800 cards. But Kemp-Hanson and State Bridge Elementary School went above and beyond, making more than 1,100 cards that will be distributed to children at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and North Fulton Regional Hospital.

According to Hope's mother, April, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta performs about 50 surgeries per day, therefore there will be enough cards for kids through the end of the year.

"I see Hope as a leader," said Trey Martin, State Bridge Elementary principal. "She has a big heart and loves to help people."

Kemp-Hanson contacted Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and North Fulton Regional to make sure her efforts abided by HIPAA laws. She also secured a sponsorship with Vic's Pizza in Duluth, who supplied pizza parties for participating classrooms and a lunch for teachers.

Kemp-Hanson is involved in student government and Junior Girl Scouts. She's also a U11 Gold Select soccer player for Norcross Soccer Association.

She says her involvement in activities, friends and family only make her heart sweeter everyday.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Senior luncheon at Tam's Backstage in Cumming

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Former Mayor's Photographs Donated to the City of Duluth

Local artist Beth Moody, photographer Wallace Reid of Wallace Reid Portraiture and Judy Wilson of the Duluth Historical Society presented a donation of photographs of four former Mayors, which were obtained through a recent photo contest and from families and friends of the Historical Society, to Mayor Nancy Harris. The photos are of Mayor Alice Strickland who served as Mayor from 1922 to 1923 and was the first woman Mayor in Georgia, Mayor H.G. Herron who served from 1930 to 1931, Mayor Mack Pittard who served from 1911-1914, and Marlon Corley who served from the late 60s to early 70s. The prints will be hung on the "Wall of Mayors" in the community/elections room of City Hall.

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Johns Creek Rotary sponsors Leadership Program

As part of its ongoing investment in the community, the Rotary Club of Johns Creek is offering a leadership seminar on Tuesday, Jan. 27. Targeting local business and community leaders and small business owners, the program is an opportunity for attendees to refresh their leadership skills and address changes in corporate culture and changing demographics.

GiANT Impact, a leadership development company, will be facilitating the program and providing content. The half day program incorporates three key aspects of leadership – personal growth, relationship development, and expanding leadership effectiveness.

GiANT Impact will present relevant and applicable leadership concepts from best-selling author and leadership expert Dr. John C. Maxwell. People who attend this leadership experience will gain new insights and learn the difference between dynamic leadership and mediocre management. Case studies will be reviewed and key strategies disclosed regarding ways to empower your team. The GiANT facilitator will help all attendees chart their leadership course with a personalized MAP (Maximum Action Plan).

Other topics reviewed include surveying the Five Levels of Leadership and finding your position in the "climb" through an interactive assessment. The course will also help leaders investigate the production level to expect from their personal leadership effectiveness. Lastly, GiANT will explore methods for influence expansion and techniques for leadership multiplication. Maxwell said, "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way."

The half day program will be held at Johns Creek Baptist Church on McGinnis Ferry Road on Jan. 27 between 8 a.m. and noon.

This program, which is usually offered at $400/per person, is being offered at $75/person for attendees registering before Dec. 31. After Dec. 31, the seminar price will be $95 per person. The price includes seminar materials and a continental breakfast. Interested individuals or companies may register at . Visa and MasterCard are accepted.

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Alpharetta PD arrests three for alleged ID theft ring

Alpharetta police cracked the largest identity theft ring in the city's history, they announced Dec. 22.

Arrested were three Russian immigrants who moved to Alpharetta from Los Angeles, said George Gordon, a spokesman for the department.

A fourth suspect is still at large. None of their identities have been released. A press conference is set for 11 a.m. Dec. 23.

Gordon said the arrests were the culmination of a two-month investigation focusing on the suspects. Investigators raided the men's Alara apartment Dec. 10 and seized nearly $11,000 of heroin, more than $50,000 in cash and the implements to allegedly mastermind an identity theft ring valued near $200,000.

The source of all the information was an employee of a BP gas station, said Gordon. He'd set up a fake card reader to scam patrons.

It was one of the many devices seized by investigators, including hundreds of fake credit and debit cards, skimmer reading devices, remote cameras and card reader clones.

Additionally, hundreds of documents from illegal purchases including "coded" books containing victim's card numbers with attached PIN numbers were confiscated. Alpharetta authorities also seized $51,000 in cash, high grade heroin with a street value of $10,500, bank statements indicating deposits into the tens of thousands of dollars, recorded video images of the suspects committing fraud as well as identifying clothing seen on surveillance video of targeted businesses.

The three suspects were booked into the Fulton County Jail. Indictments are being obtained by detectives and numerous felony and misdemeanor charges are pending.

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Atlanta Jewish Film Festival stops by Johns Creek

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (AJFF) today announced its film selections and schedule for the ninth annual celebration of Jewish life and culture through film. The festival, running from Jan. 14-25, features 48 visually-stunning and evocative Jewish films that would otherwise not be available on the big screen in Atlanta. The films represent 20 nations and deliver the broad human relations mission of the American Jewish Committee, presenter of the AJFF.

This year's featured films include "Hello Goodbye," a French romantic comedy co-starring Fanny Ardant and GĂ©rard Depardieu about a married Jewish couple living in Paris who flee to Israel during a midlife crisis, screening on opening night. And, "Strangers," the Young Professionals Night film selection, a narrative feature that traces the unlikely romance between an Israeli kibbutznik and a Palestinian woman who meet serendipitously on their way to the World Cup finals in Berlin.

"This year's lineup touches on a wide array of subject matter, from thought-provoking to heart-wrenching to just plain funny," said Executive Director Kenny Blank. "The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival features something for every kind of movie-lover, Jewish or non-Jewish."

Tickets and a full film schedule for the 2009 festival are available on Films in the 2009 festival will be screened at Lefont Sandy Springs, Regal Cinemas Atlantic Station Stadium 16 and at the Regal Medlock Crossing Stadium 18, the festival's North Metro venue in Johns Creek.

Founded in 2000, the AJFF has quickly grown in size and reputation, with an estimated attendance in 2009 expected to top 18,000 moviegoers. Screenings are supplemented by guest speakers, providing a dynamic forum for audience dialogue with actors, filmmakers, academics, authors and other expert panelists.

The Ninth Annual Atlanta Jewish Film Festival will be held Jan. 14-25. Tickets are currently on sale. For more information, go to or call 404-806-9913.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

PHOTO GALLERY: Event at the Wknd. store in Suwanee

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Duluth's Festival of Trees a success

If you missed the Hometown Holiday Activities in Downtown Duluth last weekend, you missed out on some wonderful family fun.

The second annual Festival of Trees was a success once again, with the help of Wallace Reid Portraiture host of the event this year.

Congratulations to the winners. The Most Original prize went to Miss Cindy's Dance Studio and the Best in Show Prize, for the second year, went to the Payne Corley House.

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Gwinnett Gladiators lose to Elmira Jackals

The Gwinnett Gladiators fell to the Elmira Jackals for the second time in a week by a score of 3-2 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. The Jackals improve to 3-1-0 against the Gladiators all-time with the win while the Gladiators fall below .500 with a 11-12-4 record on the season.

Jordan Fox opened up the scoring at 1:48 of the first period on Gwinnett's first penalty kill of the evening. Fox looked as if he was ready to pass the puck, but decided to hold onto it and stuck it in past goalie David Shantz instead. The unassisted marker is Fox's 12th of the season.

The Jackals evened up the score on a power play at 5:43 of the same period when Josh Aspenlind took a pass from Pierre-Luc Faubert straight off the faceoff and shot the puck past goalie Kevin Nastiuk. Almost 10 minutes later, the Jackals then took the lead with a goal from defenceman Joe Grimaldi, his first of the season.

Bruce Graham took the rebound shot away from Shantz and lifted the puck up and over the goalie's left shoulder to tie up the game at 11:33 in the second. Brad Schell and Matt Siddall both tallied an assist on Graham's tenth of the season. It is the first assist for Siddall after being re-assigned to Gwinnett on December 20th from the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves.

After going scoreless for over a period, the Elmira Jackals once again took the lead in the final period. Brian Ihnacak gave the Jackals the go-ahead at 12:05 with assists from Chris Korchinski and Ben Geelan.

The Gladiators next take on the South Carolina Stingrays on Friday, December 26th at 7:35 p.m. at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

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Job seekers finding success in Roswell church

As the economic downturn translates into more and more layoffs, many newly unemployed are finding their prayers for a new job answered in church.

That is because several area churches have job networking ministries designed to polish resume-writing and interview skills, provide networking opportunities and offer job postings. One of the longest-running such programs is at Roswell United Methodist Church on Mimosa Boulevard.

On the second and fourth Mondays of the month, RUMC Job Networking Ministry starts at 6 p.m. with a free dinner program and speaker. From there more than 65 volunteers offer various job skills seminars on resume writing and giving a good interview.

A lot of time is given over to networking. Experts give information on starting a business or going into a franchise. The evening finishes with a guest speaker speaking on topics to motivate and train the job seeker. By 8:30 p.m., everybody is on their way home.

Jay Litton has been the lead coordinator for the RUMC program for 11 years. This is the third economic downturn he has witnessed during this time, and he has never seen the need for this kind of program dry up.

Along with fellow leaders Katherine Simon and Nancy Schrempp, Litton sees as many as 120 to 130 people come for dinner these days. Another 50 or 60 people show up later.

"Our Web site is RUMC's most visited site other than the home page. We always had 40 to 50 people come out even in good times," Litton said.

Ken Grimme is one job seeker who has embraced the opportunities offered at RUMC. He is an insurance executive looking for a position in his field and wants to do everything he can to help the process.

"You have to have an edge over the others in a job search. I went to a job fair in downtown [Atlanta]. But that was just a cattle call," said Grimme.

One of the things Grimme likes best is the networking done by job seekers themselves. Part of the evening is spent in what is called "speed networking." Similar to speed dating of the 1990s, the members spend 15 minutes telling each other about themselves.

The idea is to find someone who knows somebody in your field that could lead to a job opportunity.

"You never know who might know somebody who could help you. And if you can help someone else, they are likely to try to return the favor," Grimme said.

Perhaps the first thing to do after losing a job is to get over the shock. In today's world, it is a fact of life that few careers flow smoothly with one company.

"The tendency is to think you lost your job because of some inadequacy in you. You have to get positive and realize it can happen to anybody," Grimme said. "When I came to my first meeting [at RUMC] I expected to see a bunch of losers. I was blown away with the caliber of people I met."

Litton says networking is a big part of the job search. Too many people sit back and use the want ads and Internet searches for jobs, when what they need to do is get out of the house and meet people who can help them.

At RUMC, some people may be looking to be their own boss and start a business. For those folks there are Bill Williams and Don Schuster. Williams is an expert on franchising, while Schuster is a volunteer with SCORE, the Small Business Administration's program using retired business people to counsel entrepreneurs just starting out.

"We give people the knowledge how to start a business or a franchise, but we don't steer people to a particular franchise," Williams said.

Schuster says they see many middle management people who make ideal candidates for running their own businesses.

"You can start a business out of your home to keep costs down. But don't turn down a job just because it only pays 75 percent of your old job. You may have to pick up the other 25 percent with a second job," Schuster cautioned.

As for job seeking, Williams and Schuster recommend networking as much as possible.

"It's the Six Degrees of Separation thing. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody. You have to just find the right somebody. Networking could lead you to a career you didn't even know existed," said Williams.

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Some unhappy about proposed budget in Forsyth

Several speakers and a few officials have made it clear they want changes in the proposed 2009 county budget. The first public hearing on the proposed budget, which includes potentially cutting 23 from the county's workforce, sparked interest and a packed meeting room at the Forsyth County Administration Building Dec. 4. The second public hearing is scheduled to be held Dec. 18 when the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners will potentially vote on the $86.7 million budget.

Interim County Manager Doug Derrer said the $103 million revenue expected in 2008 had fallen to an expectation of $86.7 million (a decrease of 16.4 percent). He said staff worked hard to present the board a balanced proposed budget.

Several representatives from the county departments and the general public came before commissioners to express their opinions on the proposed budget.

Some said they wanted to dip into the county's reserve to provide at least a cost of living raise to all county employees. Others questioned whether the budget had been cut lean enough.

Sheriff Ted Paxton said he was concerned over the issue of the county's reserve amounting to 25 percent of the county's total budget.

"With a proposed budget of $87 million in 2009," he said, "you have $32 million in reserve. That's far in excess. As a taxpayer, if you don't need my money except to let it sit in an account, I'd appreciate you adjusting my tax payment."

If commissioners cannot find the money to provide at least the cost of living raise or merit increase to all county employees, Paxton said he would "challenge" all departments to cut their budgets to provide this raise.

"I would be willing to do that to give at least the cost of living increase or merit increase if you will not do it yourself," he said.

Commissioner David Richard said the county should be careful of dipping into the reserves.

"2009 is just the beginning of the storm," he said. "In 2010, our tax digest is going to go down for the first time in decades. [The reserves are] not for this rainy day. It's for the rainy day and perfect storm that could come in 2010."

Some speakers questioned items in the budget related to dues, training and travel. Richard said there were "some assumptions that were not correct."

"The board decided that certain people needed certification to do their jobs," he said. "They needed to maintain these certifications to continue to be as valuable as possible to this county. That means keeping the folks as well-trained as possible."

Regarding complaints of the potential loss of 23 county employees, Richard said the county cannot keep workers if there "is no work."

"I'd like to keep everyone employed," he said. "The cold, hard fact is that we are not a jobs program. If we do not have the work, we can't keep people on the payroll. We can't raise rates like a private program. We can raise taxes, but that's not a good idea in this economy."

However, Commissioner Linda Ledbetter said she is not happy with the prospect of losing county employees.

"I don't like it at all," she said. "In 2010, maybe I could see it, but let's wait until 2010. I don't like firing 23 people and I don't like not having a cost of living raise."

Ledbetter said it's crucial to take care of law enforcement, fire personnel and teachers by providing a cost of living increase.

"I want to see major changes in this budget," she said. "I think we can find a job for 23 people. I don't want to fire people at Christmas time. Maybe next year we'll have to do it, but at least they'll see it coming. Nobody saw this coming."

But Richard said more jobs could be cut from the budget.

"I'm not satisfied with the budget," he said. "There are other positions that are not addressed here that I don't think we should be keeping. I think there are enough tweaks we could make in this budget that we could find enough for the 3 percent merit increase. It'll be hard work, but it's possible."

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Friday, December 19, 2008

New Alpharetta City Hall could open in 2011

A new city hall with parking garage and town green may be built and open in Alpharetta by 2011 in a project expected to cost $21 million.

City Council on Monday night approved another $30,000 for Pieper O'Brien Herr, architects for the project, as it moves the project forward slowly in small phases.

Richard Kramer of Pieper O'Brien Herr submitted a letter outlining what his company would do. First, they will meet with Solomon Holdings, the commercial developers for the mixed-use center. Three-dimensional models of the conceptual plan will be presented, along with a cost estimate.

Christopher Jones, economic development director for the city, said the City Center has been evolving since June 2004.

Originally, City Council and staff planned for a mixed-use retail/office/residential phase to be built as phase one, with a new city hall as part of a second phase. But problems delayed any work beyond designs being completed.

A successful lawsuit challenging the use of property tax funds designated for schools eliminated at least half of the potential money for the project.

Additional delays came as the first project developer, Barry Real Estate, failed to acquire control of several properties included in its design. A second round of design bids brought The Solomon Group to the table, which also failed to reach terms with those property owners on the south side of city property.

"By utilizing property that is already owned by the city, or under contract by the city, we are able to move forward with a realistic and achievable time frame for completion," said Jones.

The city will save around $150,000 per year on leases for departments that can't fit in City Hall. The Finance department is in the Met Life Building near Haynes Bridge Road and Westside Parkway. Community Development employees are in offices leased from a South Main Street shopping center.

"We've already spent over a million dollars in these leases," Jones said.

He said the City Hall project will serve as a catalyst for new investment in the city.

But the question must be posed: In tough economic times, why build a new City Hall?

Jones said in addition to the lease savings, the current building has been outdated and inefficient for the day-to-day operations for many years. It is more cost effective and efficient for residents of Alpharetta to utilize the services at one location.

Alpharetta could fund the approximately $21 million project with a bond referendum that might be presented in 2009 or with a Certificate of Participation with the Georgia Municipal Association.

Much more than just City Hall is planned for this project, phase one of the overall City Center project. A parking deck with 750 spaces, plus another 100 parking spaces, will be part of this first phase. The top of the parking deck will be green space designed to be like a park.

"Because of the topography sloping so much, that park will feel like a natural component of the land, just natural green space when you walk out of City Hall," Jones said.

Road work and property acquisition also will be completed, which is necessary for the second phase expected to include retail, office and residential property. The parking will support City Hall plus downtown business.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Cumming's Sawnee Elementary gives back

Led by the 155 Horizon students, all grades at Sawnee Elementary donated 21 parcels full of toys, snacks and other goodies Dec. 18 to the Bald Ridge Lodge. School officials said the idea originated with the students. Click here to view the entire gallery.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Johns Creek police arrest suspected bank robber

A 52-year-old Dalton man was been arrested Dec. 15 and accused of the two daring bank robberies in early December in Alpharetta and Johns Creek.

Capt. Brian Weaver, head of Johns Creek's Criminal Investigations Division, said Jeffrey Caldwell was quickly a suspect in the case because he'd been convicted for robbing the Suntrust Bank on Haynes Bridge Road in what was then Alpharetta in 2001.

It sits directly in front of the Keyworth Bank in Johns Creek, which Caldwell is accused of robbing Dec. 9.

"It was almost the same bank," said Weaver. "He was back up to his old tricks."

Weaver said Caldwell had just gotten out of jail in February, and Johns Creek police are unsure why.

"I just don't know how this guy got out of jail," he said.

Rosemary Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Johns Creek Police Department, said Caldwell was arrested in Atlanta by that's city's police department. Weaver said Caldwell was picked up in an area known to be rife with drug users.

"He was arrested on Ponce De Leon Avenue," said Weaver. "We knew he was in the area because of his drug habit."

Weaver said Caldwell had also been arrested in 2003 for a domestic violence charge. He added it seemed little had changed in Caldwell's M.O. during his latest alleged crimes.

"He writes out a note to get the money," said Weaver. "In 2001 he said his kids were being held for ransom."

In both crimes in December, Caldwell allegedly used a note to say he had a bomb. In the Alpharetta robbery, investigators reported the suspect spoke with the bank manager about opening an account before taking nearly $3,000 from a teller by saying he had explosives and an outside accomplice.

"He always goes into the bank twice and shows his face a lot," said Weaver. "They're not rocket scientists, they're criminals."

Caldwell is in Fulton County Jail without bond charged with armed robbery and theft by receiving stolen property.

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PHOTO GALLERY: West Forsyth place 2nd at Norcross tournament

The West Forsyth Wolverine varsity wrestlers ran their dual meet record to 11-1 with dual meet wins recently over Salem, Shiloh & Meadowcreek. On Saturday the team took second place in the individual tournament at Norcross. Place winners for the West team were - 1st Place – Matt Hatcher, Dane Magnussen 2nd Place – Scott Laney, Jeff Sayer & Evan Burchette 3rd Place – Robbie Kudela, Tyler Lott & Connor Allen 4th Place – Tyler Everton & Jacob Aguon. Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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Cumming considers driver's license office

In a slight shake-up, the Cumming City Council heard a request by Georgia State Senator Jack Murphy to build a new driver's license and state patrol office within city limits at the Dec. 16 meeting.

"I've spent four years working very hard to bring a new driver's license facility to this county," Murphy said.

According to Murphy, the current facility is not adequately equipped or sized to handle the county's growth in recent years.

"This is very much needed," he said. "We've got to provide a better facility for our residents."

The state's proposal would require the city to build a new 8,500 square foot building on a site that could also encompass a driver's license testing area, which could include a motorcycle test area and perhaps even a CDL test area.

The building itself would be geared toward customers, with only 20-25 percent of the area set aside for offices and bathrooms. Initial estimates postulate the facility could be constructed for less than $1 million, according to the state.

The state budget currently has $150,000 set aside to lease the building from the city, according to Murphy.

"It's been hard to keep it in there," he said.

The senator had originally approached Forsyth County to build the facility.

"I thought we had it, but then it didn't occur," he said.

The agreement was halted when the county learned the state could negate their lease contract in the future if there were no funds. The council approved moving forward with looking over the agreement between the city and state.

-The council also approved a measure to allow Mayor Ford Gravitt to negotiate a property lease between the city and the National Guard for space to recruit and train soldiers.

"We want the National Guard to be here [in the city] and stay here," Gravitt said.

Any agreement would have to come back before the council for final approval.

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Dreams come true with 'Shop With a Cop' in Milton

Alpharetta's Police Athletic League (PAL) held the 10th annual Shop With a Cop Dec. 10 at the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Windward Parkway.

According to PAL CEO Jim Little, 76 children participated in the yearly event, which pairs kids with more than 100 police, firefighter and citizen volunteers to help bring holiday wishes to life.

The holiday program is for children whose families are unable to spend much, if anything, on holiday gifts, said Alpharetta police officer Jennifer Howard.

"The program was initially started as a way for police officers and firefighters to give back to the children in our community. It is exciting to see all the smiles and spend some time with these very special kids," said Little.

Many of the parents whose children participate in the program are single or have been forced to deal with major health issues or lost their jobs, said Howard.

"These are people who, due to life events, are having trouble financially," she said. "The parents I spoke with were so grateful for this program. I saw some of them literally moved to tears."

For the second year in a row, Milton's Public Safety Department pitched in as well.

"I invited them because tonight is about the kids," said Little.

Each child - chosen by police working with school counselors and social workers - was given $100 to buy anything he or she wanted.

PAL spent almost $8,000 to help make this year's holiday dreams come true. The Wal-Mart Foundation donated $2,500 and the Alpharetta Rotary Club donated $2,000. Generous, individual donors from the North Fulton Community made up the rest, said Howard.

All the money raised for event was spent by those children, said Little. And the coolest part, he said, is that most of the children buy gifts for others with their funds.

"A lot of times they're not even thinking about themselves," he said.

Alpharetta firefighter Brad Pryor concurred. He was deeply moved by the children's wishes.

"The first child we had wanted to get something for his brother. He was more concerned about that than himself," said Pryor. "When you see that unselfishness, it's nice. It's just good to see, especially in young kids."

Pryor and several other firefighters helped Christopher Strong, a student who attends Northwood Middle School, pick out a bicycle.

"We asked him, 'If you could have anything in here, what would it be?'" said Alpharetta Fire Captain Wes McCall. "He said, 'I'd like to have a bike to ride with my friends.'"

The bicycle was more than the allotted $100 per child, so several firefighters reached into their pockets and made up the difference.

His mom, a single mother of six, was stunned when she saw her son walk up with a new bicycle, said Howard.

"We are very fortunate," the mother said. "I thank all of you so much."

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Forsyth County hears nonprofit budget pleas

It is Grinch economy, but Forsyth County's human services organizations were asking the County Commission Dec. 9 to play Santa in light of pending budget cuts in state funding.

At workshop session, the commissioners heard from Jessie's House, Family Haven, Bald Ridge Lodge Boys Shelter, the Child Advocacy Center and the Forsyth Department of Family and Children's Services (DFACS) as they made their case for funding.

State funding cutbacks and the falling economy have created a perfect storm of need among these six agencies, all of which deal with the welfare of children either exclusively or in large measure.

In the case of Jessie's House, a shelter for girls 7 to 17, volunteers must be ready any time of day or night to receive clients.

"Children can be pulled from an abusive situation any time of the day or night," said Jason Dudley, Jessie's House board president. "They can stay up to 90 days, more in special cases."

It costs $135 a day to house, clothe and feed a child, but the state only pays $101.82. That shortfall will be around $100,000 in fiscal year 2009.

Jessie's House has a capacity of 12 beds, and it averages 10 girls every night. Although 66 percent of the girls are from Forsyth, other counties – Hall, White and Floyd – make up the rest but provide no funding for the group.

Commissioner Linda Ledbetter noted this was the only shelter for girls in the county.

"If we are going to help girls in Forsyth, then this is it," Ledbetter said.

The other nonprofits told a similar story. Plenty of clients and a shortage of funding.

Bald Ridge Lodge for Boys is a similar place for males, but it only opened this year. Already it expects a deficit of $161,000.

Mary G. Lamond, executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Forsyth County Inc., and her 60 volunteers represent children's interest in the courtroom. While parents and state officials wrangle over where the best place for the child may be, it is the CASA volunteer who is solely representing the child's best interests.

"The state is moving away from foster care. It wants to return the child to a parent or relative. That is certainly the cheaper way for the state - it pays nothing for the child's care then. But is it the best place for the child?" Lamond asked. "That is what CASA is for."

Meanwhile, the state is cutting CASA's budget by half.

As the tales of shortfalls and budget cuts went on, Commissioner David Richard said the county may have no choice but to support these agencies.

"We may have to look at reallocating money from people and programs that are used to our support, because we need to allocate first to those who need our protection the most."

Forsyth County has advertised a public hearing Dec. 18 on the adoption of the budget and could vote on it that night.

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Alpharetta man pleads guilty in construction fraud scheme

Edgar J. Beaudreault, 60, of Alpharetta, pleaded guilty today in federal district court to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his part in a scheme to defraud a California construction firm of nearly $13 million.

According to Acting U.S. Attorney Sally QuillianYates and the information presented in court, the scheme ran from August 2003 through January 2004. Beaudreault and his co-defendants had been indicted for conspiring to defraud Cornell Corrections of California Inc., a private company that operates corrections facilities for various governmental units.

In June of 2003, Cornell Corrections contracted to have a corrections facility built in Canon City, Colo., for $13 million. The $13 million purchase price was to be held in an escrow account until the facility was completed. Two months later, Beaudreault and his codefendants induced Cornell Corrections to transfer its $13 million into an account in Atlanta controlled by Beaudreault. They falsely represented to Cornell that the account was an escrow account administered by a reputable bank.

Upon receipt of Cornell Corrections' $13 million, Beaudreault and his co-defendants wire transferred the majority of Cornell's $13 million to other accounts, to be used for their own purposes.

Beaudreault was indicted in August 2008 on charges of conspiracy and wire fraud. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He could receive a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. In determining the actual sentence, the court will consider the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which are not binding but provide appropriate sentencing ranges for most offenders.

Sentencing is scheduled for March 18, 2009, before U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper.

This case is being investigated by Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bernita Malloy and David McClernan are prosecuting the case.

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Forsyth might cut 26 jobs

County staff has been in the midst of crunching numbers for the 2009 budget. And the results show county jobs might be cut.

Forsyth County Interim County Manager Doug Derrer said staff has been working to bring a balanced budget proposal before Dec. 18 when commissioners are expected to approve it at the 5 p.m. meeting. Due to increasingly grim economic forecasts, the revised proposed FY 2009 budget is $84.1 million compared to the previously proposed $86.7 million budget.

The proposed budget now calls for the loss of 26 county positions (instead of the previously proposed 23) as well as an additional five percent reduction across the board for all departments. The affected departments including planning, engineering and code enforcement.

However, Derrer said other county positions will be studied before any additional decisions are made in reference to the county staff.

Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse said the staff has done a great job the past few weeks "and should be commended."

Forsyth County and the rest of Georgia as well as the entire nation is coping with a different economy this year compared to last. Taking November 2007 and 2008 as a comparative example, Forsyth County Chief Financial Officer Bill Thomas said sales tax was down 14 percent, motor fuel taxes down 7.4 percent and corporate taxes down 38.4 percent throughout the state.

"Retail sales has shown the biggest drop in 39 years," he said.

In addition to the elimination of jobs, the proposed budget also includes no cost of living or merit increases for current employees and no funding for currently vacant positions.

Commissioner David Richard described this as a "good news, bad news" situation.

"The good news is that we haven't adopted a budget, yet," he said. "The retail projections we are getting right now are a little less rosy. All are showing decreases more than what we thought. I think this budget is more realistic than before and it reflects the best numbers we have."

Laughinghouse said there has been a large downturn in retail.

"The fall off in retail is greater than anyone expected," he said.

The decreasing revenue has resulted in a proposed budget that has changed several times. Commissioner Linda Ledbetter said she has a problem with the continuing changes.

"Since we met the last time," she said, "we have had an increase in lost jobs. We keep dragging this out and the budget will be $50 million."

If the budget is adopted Thursday, the county will be keeping an eye on the local fiscal situation. Laughinghouse said the commissioners will receive monthly budget updates in 2009.

Richard said this was "not a good time for Forsyth County."

"We are in the middle of a terrible economic time," he said. "The reality is that we can't ignore it. We can't stick our head in the sand and hope it goes away."

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

PHOTO GALLERY: Duluth's Trail Dames

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PHOTO GALLERY: Second Wind Dreams helps Cumming woman

100 year old Emma Farquar, a resident of Cumming Nursing Center was given a fashionable new outfit. O'Charley's restaurant provided gift certificates for when she gets the chance to head out for a meal. Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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Duluth woman's hiking group growing

It all started on the Appalachian Trail. Anna Huthmaker became truly hooked on the outdoors when she hiked 700 miles of the trail a couple years ago, something she believes everyone should try. The Duluth resident then started taking more similar trips where she kept noticing something that got her thinking.

"There was no one like me out there," she said. "More than that, I saw no women hiking by themselves."

Inspiration struck one night she decided to "create something." A couple hours later, Trail Dames was born.

"I sent it to some of my friends and they liked it," she said. "I took some flyers to a local Curves to invite people to the first meeting."

The first meeting took place in the Spring of 2007. Huthmaker's goal was three strangers.

"I didn't just want it to be my friends showing up," she said, "so I had this goal of three strangers. When nine showed up, I thought it was so cool."

And the numbers kept growing. Within three months of the first hike in April 2007 up Springer Mountain, 50 women had joined the group.

Today, there are 350 in the Atlanta Chapter with other chapters started in Tennessee, Texas and New Hampshire.

The group has grown faster than Huthmaker ever believed possible.

"It's wonderful," she said. "It's my passion. I started this because I knew there were women like me out there that had never considered doing this. It doesn't even occur to them to hike up a mountain. They need to know it's OK to sweat while they get to the top."

Trail Dames invites women of all different shapes and fitness levels, Huthmaker said. That has included everyone from great-grandmothers to marathon runners.

"Everyone is invited," she said. "What's important is that we create a safe place where women can do something physical and feel comfortable, especially if they are overweight."

Huthmaker's one rule: She's always last.

"I will also be last on a hike," she said. "I don't want anyone to feel they are slowest one. I want everyone to feel comfortable and enjoy what they are doing. If they thought they could never do it, I love to see the look on their face when they see what they have accomplished. I like to look at them and say, 'you climbed a mountain.' It creates are part of themselves they never knew existed."

Huthmaker hopes Trail Dames spreads across the United States. But despite its growing popularity, she said it will remain free of charge.

"People say I'm crazy but I don't every want anyone to feel like they can't do it," she said. "That's really important to me. I just want to show people that it's easier than they think to accomplish this."

And men are not always excluded.

"We have "Bring your man" hikes twice a year," Huthmaker said.

Huthmaker said she encourages anyone interested to visit

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AFL suspends 2009 season for Georgia Force

The Georgia Arena won't be quite as lively as expected next year, as the Georgia Force and the entire Arena Football League's 2009 season has been suspended.

The league's board of directors will suspend the 2009 season subject to agreement and cooperation with the Arena Football League Players Association while the League works on developing a long-term plan to improve its economic model.

"Every owner in the AFL is strongly committed to the League, the game, and, most importantly, the fans," said Acting Commis-sioner Ed Policy. "Owners, however, recognize that, especially in light of the current unprecedented economic climate, the AFL, as a business enterprise, needs to be restructured if it is to continue to provide its unique brand of this affordable, fan-friendly sport."

Georgia Force officials began meeting with coaches players and staff Monday after the announcement. Ticket refunds already were being mailed to fans.

"We are disappointed that we will not be playing in the 2009 season, but we agree with and support the need for the Arena Foot-ball League to take this time to strengthen its financial foundation to ensure long-term success," Georgia Force President Dick Sulli-van said. "We are very proud of the achievements of the Georgia Force over the last four seasons of ownership, and we hope to field another strong team in 2010."

Full refund checks will be mailed immediately to Georgia Force fans who have already purchased tickets for the 2009 season. Fans with any other questions may leave a message at 1-888-55-FORCE, and a Force representative will return their calls within two busi-ness days.

"We have a very talented group of associates, and we are sorry to see them go," Sullivan said. "We hope to have the opportunity to work with many of them again in the future."

The Georgia Force finished the 2008 season with a 10-6 record and the club's first back-to-back winning seasons. The Force won three Southern Division Championships in the last four years.

The league's board met via conference call Sunday night and voted in favor of a motion to suspend the 2009 season. Columbus Destroyers co-owner and vice chairman of the AFL Executive Committee Jim Renacci was asked to spearhead the restructuring proc-ess.

"We, the owners of the Arena Football League, realize we have the most fan-friendly, affordable and accessible sport anywhere," said Jon Bon Jovi, co-owner of the ArenaBowl champion Philadelphia Soul. "These are trying economic times. The revamping will ensure that the AFL continues to provide value to its fans and not only survives but thrives in the years to come."

"Our involvement with the Arena Football League was always geared toward promoting football on a year-round basis," said Dal-las Desperados owner Jerry Jones. "Our experience with the Desperados has accomplished those goals and has been very positive. As we move forward we will explore all of the options that are available in regard to the future of the AFL and the Desperados."

After 22 seasons, the second-longest tenure of any U.S. pro football league, the decision to suspend the 2009 season was not made lightly. AFL ownership has conducted multiple meetings over the past several weeks, discussed numerous options and concluded that this decision is in the best interests of the 16-team AFL and its fans.

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Dave Matthews Band coming to Alpharetta

The Dave Matthews Band announced on its Web site that Alpharetta and the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre will be one of the stops on its 17-city tour this spring. According to, the band will perform here on Tuesday, April 28 and Wednesday, April 29.

The Avett Brothers ( are scheduled as the opening act for the concerts, which begin at 7:30 p.m.

Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre has not confirmed 2009 concert dates yet.

Tickets can be ordered beginning Jan. 17 at 10 a.m. through and public ticket venues such as Ticketmaster. As of today, members of The Warehouse, a fan membership site operated for the band, can buy tickets already. Visit the band's Web site for information.

One complimentary regular parking ticket will be distributed per order. See for parking details.

On April 14th, Dave Matthews Band returns with its first studio album in four years – and they'll celebrate with a show at New York City's Madison Square Garden that evening. The MSG show will be followed by 16 additional US spring dates, including a stop at the 40th Annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on April 26, 2008. Along the way, Dave Matthews Band fans will be treated to the group's first-ever live performances of songs from the new yet-to-be titled album. Joining the group on the road this spring will be Tim Reynolds on guitar, Rashawn Ross on trumpet and Jeff Coffin on saxophone.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

PHOTO GALLERY: Alpharetta Arboretum at Cogburn Road Park

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Gwinnett Gladiators post Comeback, Beat Sea Wolves 3-2

The Gwinnett Gladiators knocked off the Mississippi Sea Wolves 3-2 on a late goal by Jeff Mason on Sunday night at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. Gwinnett improves to 11-9-4 on the season and moves back into sole possession of fourth place in the ECHL's South Division as Charlotte lost in regulation on Sunday afternoon as well.

Mason notched the game winner with just three minutes left in the third period as he slid across the blue line and fluttered the puck to the front of the net where it eluded Mississippi netminder Riku Helenius for the goal. Brandon Kalenicki had an assist on the goal as he rolled the puck back to Mason at the point to set up the tally.

For the second consecutive game, Mississippi jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead on the Gladiators. Just 1:11 into the first period Mathieu Melanson crashed the Gladiators net and jammed the puck past Gwinnett goaltender Josh Johnson for the goal. Kyle McAllister and Travis Lisabeth notched the assists on the marker for the Sea Wolves.

Mississippi pushed their lead to 2-0 at 5:52 of the first period. Jeremy Hall slipped past the Gladiators defensemen and walked down the right wing wall before ripping a snapshot that eluded Johnson for the goal. Jason Tejchma and Ryan Menei hooked up to set up Hall on the goal for Mississippi.

Gwinnett answered with a pair of goals in the second period to send the game tied 2-2 into the third. Dan Sullivan got the Gladiators first goal of the game when he squeezed the puck through the legs of Helenius to cut the Mississippi lead back to a goal. Sullivan took a rink wide pass from Bruce Graham and slipped down the right wing before beating Helenius at 4:34 of the second period.

Kaleniecki's sixth goal of the season on a 5-on-3 power play tied the contest at two. Graham added his second assist of the game as he was able to find Kalenickei hanging out all alone on the far post to set up the goal. Jordan Fox also had an assist on the power power play goal for Gwinnett at 13:24 of the second period. Kaleniecki's marker set the stage for Mason's game winner late in the third period for Gwinnett.

Josh Joshnson finshed with 16 saves for the Gladiators in win. Gwinnett went 1-for-6 on the power play while holding the Sea Wolves off the board on six chances onthe man advantage in the contest.

The Gladiators return to action on Tuesday, December 16th as they host the Elmira Jackals at the Arena at Gwinnett Center at 7:05 p.m.

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Entrepreneur magazine named Haven Trust Bank to its 'Hot 100' list

Earlier this year, Entrepreneur magazine named Duluth-based Haven Trust Bank to its annual list of the "Hot 100" fastest-growing businesses in America, achieving a rank of No. 44, based on it 2007 finances and growth.

The bank, which opened in January of 2000 with one location and eight employees, had four branches and almost 80 employees by July 2008, with assets approaching $525 million.

"We started our community bank as a way of helping entrepreneurs – especially in Atlanta's thriving Asian-American community – who were not being properly served by big banks and other traditional lending sources, so it's a particular honor to be recognized by a magazine that celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit," said Mukesh "Mike" Patel in that article earlier this year.

Patel was among the founders of Haven Trust Bank and had served as chairman since the bank's inception.

The bank focused on entrepreneurs and had customers throughout the country. It touted its simplified application process, innovative financing, and fast local loan approval – often as quick as 24 hours.

Among the founders of Haven Trust Bank were numerous prominent local Indian-American business leaders, including Balvant "Bill" Patel, Dhiru "Danny" Patel, Mukund "Bobby" Patel, Narendra "Tony" Patel, R.C. Patel, Brij Kapoor, and the late Dr. Sumant Patel.

Entrepreneur magazine's "Hot 100" list is in its 14th year, with criteria for consideration this year including a business founded between 1999 and 2003 which had annual sales of more than $100,000 in 2003 and no more than $1 billion in 2007.

Haven Trust Bank was the highest-ranked of four Georgia companies in the listing, all of which are located in metro Atlanta. Only two banks were on the list, with Haven Trust Bank being the highest ranked.

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Duluth's Haven Trust Bank closes

Haven Trust Bank of Duluth was the fifth bank to be closed in Georgia this year, one of 24 in the country.

Depositors kept access to their money, as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) entered into an agreement with BB&T of Winston-Salem, N.C., to assume all of Haven Trust's deposits, including those that exceeded the insurance limit.

Over the weekend, depositors of Haven Trust can access all their money by writing checks or using ATMs or debit cards. Checks drawn on the bank will continue to be processed. Loan customers should continue to make their payments as usual.

The fourth Haven Trust branches -- the Duluth headquarters on Sugarloaf Parkway next to The Gwinnett Center, the Johns Creek brank on McGinnis Ferry Road east of Medlock Bridge Road, the Decatur branch on Lawrenceville Highway at North Druid Hills Road in DeKalb County and the Snellville branch on Scenic Highway North -- will reopen Monday as branches of BB&T.

Haven Trust opened its Johns Creek branch in summer 2006 as it built the current two-story, 12,000 square foot facility.

All the depositors of Haven Trust will automatically become depositors of BB&T. Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC, so there is no need for customers to change their existing banking relationship to retain their deposit insurance coverage. Customers of the failed bank should continue to use their existing branches until they receive further information from BB&T.

Don't reply to e-mail
It is important to note that neither the FDIC as receiver nor BB&T as the acquiring institution will e-mail customers of Haven Trust asking them to validate their deposits or to request personal, confidential information, such as account numbers, social security numbers or driver's license numbers. Customers will not be asked to revalidate passwords, deposit accounts or deposit insurance.
If customers receive e-mails asking for such personal information, they should consider the e-mails fraudulent and should not respond.

Haven Trust Bank was closed by the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance, and the FDIC was named receiver. To protect the depositors, the FDIC entered into a purchase and assumption agreement with BB&T, to assume all of Haven Trust's deposits. BB&T agreed to assume all of the deposits for $112,000. In addition, BB&T will purchase approximately $55 million of the failed bank's assets. The FDIC will retain the remaining assets for later disposition.

As of Dec. 8, Haven Trust had total assets of $572 million and total deposits of $515 million.

The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund will be $200 million. The BB&T's acquisition of all deposits was the "least costly" resolution for the FDIC's Deposit Insurance Fund compared to alternatives. The last bank to be closed in the state was First Georgia Community Bank, Jackson, on Dec. 5.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Alpha Arts Guild work on display at Milton City Hall

Alpha Arts Guild (AAG) board member Ellen Winsor, herself a landscape painter, is thinking long term in regards to the guild's show at Milton City Hall, which runs through Jan. 5, 2009.

"The only thing we know about Egypt and Rome is from their art," said Winsor to City Council Dec. 1, when the show opened. "So now you guys are on your way."

They all had a good laugh.

The 2-year-old guild, which features artists from Alpharetta, Milton and other surrounding communities, has a number of paintings, drawings, quilts and photographs from its 15 members on display and for sale throughout Milton's City Hall on Deerfield Parkway.

The show is a collaboration between the guild and Milton's own Arts Committee, which has featured local artists in the building before.

Volunteer Patti Silva is the chairwoman of Milton's Arts Committee. She said she was thrilled that the second exhibition - the first featured Milton artist Isabelle Gautier, who donated a painting of the red barn on Redd Road - could feature AAG artists.

She said the idea is to promote "sustainability through art." Thus when AAG contacted her about showing pieces at Milton's City Hall, she jumped at the chance to put on a gallery show with Winsor.

The results are varied and inspiring.

"These artists come from a variety of backgrounds," said Winsor. "It's an interesting mix of people. Some make their living doing this, while for others it's a deep, deep hobby."

AAG president Diana Smeal said that mix is what keeps the group alive. In addition to artists, the group also welcomes supporters who wish to help.

"I think it's very important to support the arts," she said. "We have such an enormous amount of talent [in North Fulton]."

At the opening reception Dec. 1, each of the artists was on hand. They included Floyd Dickens Jr, and his wife, Jacqueline. In addition to having solo pieces - Floyd is a shutterbug, his wife a mixed-media artist - the Dickens collaborate.

The result is Floyd's vibrant nature photography paired with Jacqueline's spiritual poetry.

White Column residents for three years, this is the first time they've been involved in the arts in their community.

"Our son-in-law got a job at Coca-Cola, so we followed him [From Charlotte, N.C.]," said Floyd. "Jackie heard about the arts guild and joined. They invited me in. I didn't think they'd want a photographer."

Perhaps Councilman Alan Tart summed it up best as he strolled around council chambers, studying each piece before the 6 p.m. meeting started.

"I am so glad this all worked out," he said.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

PHOTO GALLERY: The Travelers open new facility in Alpharetta

The Travelers Companies combined its Alpharetta and Duluth offices into one new facility on Windward Concourse in Alpharetta, bringing 900 employees together in one location. Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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'Drive' market shields Gwinnett from airfare hikes

A Travel Industry Association forecast that reports an uncertain economic climate is leading business travelers to change behaviors would have an affect in Gwinnett County and its 99 hotels if it becomes true. Business travelers are the strongest market for the city's hotels, according to the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The forecast said leisure travel is stable.

The outlook for business travel is for a 3.7 percent decline in volume projected for 2008 and another 2.7 percent decline forecasted for 2009, according to TIA's annual travel forecast. The forecast said companies are making decisions to scale back in the current environment and business travel is no exception. Business, meeting and convention travel volume is expected to begin to recover in 2010.

Caryn McGarity, CDME, executive director of the Gwinnett CVB, said as the county is known as a "drive" market, with more visitors driving than flying, airfare hikes and the distance from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport don't have as big an affect on the hospitality industry here.

New hotel construction will be stalled until the financial markets strengthen and occupancy will dip slightly. But the diversity of the hospitality industry in the county – shown by usage of Gwinnett Arena ranging from arena football and hockey to faith-based conventions – has a huge affect on the county to the tune of $1 billion.

"By no means is the sky falling," said Suzanne Cook, senior vice president of Research for the Travel Industry Association. "After years of growth, we're now looking at modest declines. The travel industry can manage the downturn, but it is in the country's interest to stimulate travel as one of the best means to stimulate our economy."

Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Janet Rodgers was asked what this means for Alpharetta:

How will Duluth, Suwanee and the rest of Gwinnett be affected by this?
McGarity: We anticipate that across Gwinnett, we'll mirror much of the Atlanta and national trends – we anticipate that occupancy will be down slightly county-wide, but that rate will remain steady or down only slightly. PKF Consulting, in their recent Lodging Outlook forum, reported that Gwinnett Place North (includes I-85, Duluth, Suwanee, etc) is expected to see the strongest increase in REVPar (revenue per available room) in metro Atlanta at 3.5 percent next year. That being said, much of that is attributed to the fact that hotels are keeping 'rate integrity' in spite of lower occupancies, and that supply has balanced out more than in the past – there is not a lot of new hotel construction in our market. We are seeing some of the same national trends – even when people are still traveling, they are spending less while they are here – holiday party bookings are way down, for example, as companies are cutting back because of the economic uncertainties.

Many hotels that are in the pipeline will probably remain so in 2009, and we won't see any or very limited movement on hotel construction in the upcoming year. We anticipate that if the credit/financial markets strengthen, then a percentage of those projects will move forward in 2010.

Will we have the same type of travel volume as these national predictions? Do we typically?
McGarity: Yes, our projections are very similar to metro Atlanta but there are some primary differences as we are much more of a drive market than downtown – so if the cost of airfare, etc becomes prohibitive, it doesn't have as much of an impact on us because we are much further from the airport.

What are our strengths in hospitality? Is it the business customer?
McGarity: Our business traveler market has always been our 'bread and butter' but over the past several years, our market has diversified considerably. However, we anticipate that the business traveler and or business training will continue to drive our market during the week. A lot of people don't realize how much the tourism industry plays a part of Gwinnett's economic engine – we have 99 hotels, the Gwinnett Center & Arena and our hospitality industry generates almost $1 BILLION dollars in economic impact annually.

The Arena at Gwinnett Center is a great example of how we have been able to diversify. Many residents may think of it as the place to see the Gladiators play, or see a great concert. However the Arena is the venue of choice for a number of large regional and national faith-based conferences that provide a substantial amount of room nights for our area – meetings including Salvation Army national meetings, Injoy Catalyst Conferences (youth) and the Jehovah's Witness meetings. Conventions such as these can book Gwinnett County to 80 or 85 percent occupancy while they are here. The Arena is also a prime destination for regional and national sporting events – Georgia State events; SEC and for next year, the NCAA Women's Round I and II Basketball games. We created the Gwinnett Sports Commission five years ago to bid, draw and create sporting events and they have been incredibly successful, working to bring more than 20 sporting events to Gwinnett annually. Our strengths are that we are a drive market; an affordable suburban destination with easy access to downtown; Lake Lanier and Stone Mountain and have a strong reputation for customer service and family-friendly destination.

We have also diversified to increase our exposure to the family reunion market. Gwinnett County Parks & Recreation were recently named as the No. 1 parks and recreation department in the U.S., and our top-notch parks and major emphasis on marketing and selling to the reunion market – we are up over 35 percent in family reunion bookings this summer over last, and we anticipate another increase next year.

Where does the leisure travel sector fall in our area?
McGarity: While it is not as big of a piece of the pie as business travel, it is very important to our hotels. Our primary leisure visitors are visiting friends and family; weddings; sports; reunions and day trips. A couple of very new and exciting leisure draws will be the new Gwinnett Braves stadium that will open in April 2009; we anticipate that the Gwinnett Braves will draw a certain percentage of its crowds from outside of the Atlanta MSA, and that is another great reason for excitement. One new development that has been perhaps a pleasant surprise is the draw of the BAPS Hindu Temple in Lilburn – it has drawn not only thousands of visitors, but new tours and considerable media coverage.

What are the GCVB, local hotels and others doing to counter any anticipated cutbacks?
McGarity: We are being pro-active and creative and working to anticipate any issues that may arise. We are offering incentives (i.e. gas cards) to meeting planners that submit requests for meeting proposals that will generate more than 200 room nights for our hotels; the Gwinnett Center is offering seasonal 'hot deals' for new bookings; many hotels are creating value packages and we have started applying for a number of grants to offset anticipated sponsor or budget cutbacks.

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AUDIOLOUNGE: Brigit Jackson

Artist: Brigit Jackson
Song: Trade It All Away

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Roswell's Barrington Hall celebrates Christmas in miniature

Great things come in small packages, and this has never been more true than at Roswell's Barrington Hall as it celebrates "Christmas in Miniature."

More than 75 miniatures – dollhouses, holiday scenes and room boxes, all hand-crafted – decorate the 1842 mansion built by the founder of the city, Roswell King, and his son, Barrington King.

The inspiration came from a couple of sources. The house received a miniature of Barrington Hall as a donation from Arthur Tompkins, the husband of one of the King descendants. Through their contact with Nancy Van Horn, a sales manager at Houseworks Limited, a manufacturer of miniature components, Barrington staff received the loan of dozens of exhibits from the Miniature Club of Atlanta.

Barrington Volunteer Coordinator Sandy Passman has a miniature home of her own that she put on display. It is that of her grandmother's domain.

"I think people enjoy miniatures because it is a chance to own something, at least in miniature, that they otherwise would likely never have," Passman said.

Her grandmother collected furniture over the years and loved to show off the house off, Passman said.

The house has become a real family project. Passman has added siding, windows, doors, chimneys and walls. An aunt and uncle put the shingles on it and her father wired it and made inserts to resize the windows.

"It is amazing the amount of detail people put into these miniatures. When you look at the pictures on the wall, you see a portrait done to scale," Passman said.

Meticulous large-scale dollhouses and recreated room boxes are featured throughout the house.

This is the fourth Christmas tour of Barrington Hall since the city acquired it and the surrounding 7 acres. In addition to the many furnishings and family possessions original to the antebellum home, it has the only antebellum public garden in greater Atlanta.

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Debt-free series offered in Alpharetta

A free preview of syndicated radio host Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University will be offered at Alpharetta First United Methodist Church on Sunday, Dec. 14, from 5-6 p.m.

The 13-week lessons on getting out of debt will begin via a video series Sunday, Jan. 11, at 5 p.m.

Ramsey has taught his principles to millions via radio, books, through Financial Peace University, at live events and online. More than 500,000 families have completed Ramsey's course. On average, they pay off $5,300 in debt and save $2,700 in 13 weeks.

His program teaches participants to "get out of debt the same way you learned to walk, one step at a time."

Among the course topics are saving, cash flow planning, credit and spending pitfalls, mutual funds, real estate and mortgages, and more. To learn more about FPU, log onto For more information about the upcoming event, contact Mary Ann Gilbert at 770-475-5576 or

Alpharetta First United Methodist Church is in downtown Alpharetta, at 69 N. Main Street. For more information or to register, contact the church office at 770-475-5576.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Courteous robber knocks over two banks in North Fulton

Alpharetta and Johns Creek police are on the look out for a suspect who has robbed two banks in those cities in less than a week.

Amazingly, Alpharetta police reported in the Dec. 5 robbery at the Ironstone Bank on Old Milton Parkway the suspect made a big show of opening a business account with the branch's manager prior to the crime, and even stopped to thank him after taking nearly $3,000 from a teller.

As in that earlier crime, the Dec. 9 robbery at the Keyworth bank on Medlock Bridge in Johns Creek was characterized by the suspect claiming to have explosives.

Johns Creek police Capt. Brain Weaver said the suspect entered the bank at 12:30 p.m. and asked for directions while apparently scouting the building.

He filled out a deposit slip and handed it to the teller. It reportedly said "bomb."

He asked for money in $50 and $100 bills.

After receiving around $3,000, the suspect walked out without incident.

According to the incident report, in the Dec. 5 robbery the suspect walked into the bank and asked about opening an account. He spoke with the branch manager about the matter, promising a $20,000 wire transfer in a few weeks. He even took one of the manager's business cards.

After the meeting, the suspect walked up to a teller and handed him a note written on stationary from another bank that said "Give me your money." The teller said the man kept "telling him he had explosives on him and an accomplice outside watching every move."

The teller handed the man nearly $3,000 in $20 bills. The man left, shaking the scared bank employee's hand and thanking the manager on his way out.

Investigators reported the each bank's security cameras were able to record good images of the man.

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PHOTO GALLERY: 'Shop With a Cop' in Alpharetta

Alpharetta's Police Athletic League held the 10th annual Shop With a Cop Dec. 10 at the Wal-Mart on Windward Parkway. According to PAL CEO Jim Little, 76 children participated in the yearly event, which pairs kids with more than 100 police, firefighter and citizen volunteers to help bring holiday wishes to life. For the second year in a row, Milton's Public Safety department pitched in as well. “I invited them because tonight is about the kids,” said Little. Each child -- chosen by police working with school counselors and social workers -- was given $100 to buy anything he or she wanted. All the money raised for event was spent by those children, said Little. And the coolest part, said Little, is that most of the children buy gifts for others with their funds. “A lot of times they're not even thinking about themselves.”

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PHOTO GALLERY: Christmas parade in Forsyth

Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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Duluth woman raising funds to maintain new liver

Gloria Morrow has been sick for 18 years. However, she is hoping to soon be well again if she receives a liver transplant, but she has never used her condition as a reason to feel down.

"I'm hanging in there," she said. "I'm happy most of the time and haven't had a problem with depression. I've learned that you can be happy and still be ill. Some people think all sick people are unhappy."

Morrow's situation started with "flu-like" symptoms.

"I started feeling like I could sleep around the clock," said the 65-year-old. "My functions just never went back to normal."

It took years for doctors to diagnose her liver disease. During that time, Morrow went through periods of illness that would last for a few months at a time.

"Then I would get better," she said.

Now, her weekly routine involves what she calls a "date day" with her husband, Thomas. This date includes her regular visits to Piedmont Hospital.

"It sure is a terrible way to have a date," she said.

The date includes regular screenings and draining fluid off of her stomach, sometimes as much as 11 liters.

"We spend most of the day at the hospital," she said. "If I feel good enough, sometimes we go eat lunch."

Morrow has also taken classes on fund raising.

"It is my responsibility to earn $10,000," she said.

"They really treat receiving a liver transplant like a baby. They want to make sure you can nurture it for a long time and be good to this liver."

Morrow said a large portion of the money is to ensure funds to purchase the anti-rejection drugs. The Georgia Transplant Foundation, a non-profit organization providing financial, educational and emotional assistance to the state's transplant community, will match Morrow's $10,000.

"That's their way of looking out for the liver," she said.

Morrow said raising the money is a "daunting" task.

"In this kind of economy," she said, "I feel terrible asking for money to save my life. I'm not comfortable asking, but I'm not sure anyone is."

Morrow said she wants people to understand any donations would still go to the cause, even if she passes away before a transplant.

"If I don't make it," she said, "it goes to another patient and helps with funeral expenses. People should know that it goes to another candidate.

When thinking about the process of receiving a transplant, Morrow said she is holding out hope for the best.

She finds hope in a story she once heard about a 200-pound man receiving a liver transplant from a 90-year-old woman.

"I feel if he can make it," she said, "maybe I can, too. You hear of miracles everyday."

Morrow said she "can't say enough good things" about Piedmont Hospital, particularly Dr. Raymond Rubin and Nurse Practitioner Suzanne Chaulk.

"They have just been great," she said.

"They all know my name and say hello when I come in."

Morrow has also received plenty of support from the community and St. Monica's Church.

"People have been really good to me in the community," she said. "I'm in good hands."

If you have questions or need further verification, please contact the Georgia Transplant Foundation at (770) 457-3796 or Gloria Morrow at (770) 623-1605. Checks should be made out to Gloria Morrow Transplant Fund and mailed to 1925 Noblin Ridge Trail, Duluth, GA 30097.

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Johns Creek police seek robbery suspects

The Johns Creek Police Department has asked residents to be on the lookout for a man believed to have information about an armed robbery and for a pair of suspects in a recent burglary at a local wireless phone store.

The male, possibly of Asian descent, is wanted for questioning as he is believed to have information about an armed robbery that occurred on Dec. 2. He is believed to be driving a smaller SUV type vehicle dark in color, possibly a Jeep Liberty style vehicle or something similar in style.

Two other suspects are sought for the Dec. 8, 5:30 a.m. burglary of the T-Mobile store at 11720 Medlock Bridge Road in Johns Creek.

The suspects entered through the front door and went straight to the back to the caged area, where they forced their way in. The two suspects left with two large garbage bags of merchandise. The exact amount is unknown, but all items taken appeared to be cellular telephones.

The store manager advised officers that the T-Mobile at 3384 C Holcomb Bridge Road No. 3384 C in Norcross. was also broken into, but nothing was taken. A similar burglary occurred in May 2008 in Peachtree City. It is believed that these are the same suspects.

Anyone with information on either of these two burglaries or who recognizes any of the suspects; contact Det. Kevin L. Rampley with Johns Creek Police Department at 678-474-1594.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

PHOTO GALLERY: Christmas in Crabapple begins new tradition

Hundreds of families braved the cold weather Dec. 6 and enjoyed an old-fashioned Christmas celebration in Crabapple. The event featured bonfires, a performance by the Milton Choir (who also sold s’mores) horse drawn carriage rides, pictures with Santa (including a toy) and shopping. A number of Crabapple businesses, including Millie Huckaby’s American Country Antiques, Bead Bug, The Broadwell Cottage, Classic Expressions, Crabapple Tea Room, Crabapple Vineyard, Flowers From Us, The Garden Within, Goddard School, Only Ewe & Cotton Too, Sip Wine and Strawberry Fields participated. Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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Friendly robber knocks over Ironstone Bank in Alpharetta

The Ironstone Bank on Old Milton Parkway was robbed Dec. 5 by a man claiming to have explosives and an accomplice, said police.
Perhaps most intriguing, the suspect made a big show of opening a business account with the branch’s manager prior to the crime, and even stopped to shake a teller's hand and thank the manager after taking nearly $3,000.
According to the incident report, the suspect walked into the bank and asked about opening an account. He spoke with the branch manager about the affair, promising a $20,000 wire transfer in about 2-3 weeks. He even took one of the manager’s business cards.
After the meeting, the suspect walked up to a teller and handed him a note that said "give me your money" written on stationary from another bank. The teller said the man kept, “telling him he had explosives on him and an accomplice outside watching every move.”
The teller handed the man nearly $3,000 in $20 bills. The man left, shaking his hand and thanking the manager.
Investigators reported the bank’s security cameras were able to record good images of the suspect.

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