Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jan. 18 fire ruled arson

FORSYTH COUNTY — Forsyth County Authorities have officially ruled as arson the house fire Jan. 18 that burned down single mother Pam Graf's home on Lanier Drive.

The blaze has captured national attention because of what appears to be racially charged graffiti left on scene and the fact that Graf was a public supporter of President Barack Obama.

Graf maintains she was targeted for her political beliefs and said she'd received written threats in the weeks before the incident.

No one was harmed in the blaze, which completely destroyed the home. Graf's three children, ages 11, 14 and 17, were staying with their father, as she was on her way to Washington D.C. for Obama's inauguration.

Division Chief Steve Anderson, who is heading up the investigation for the Forsyth County Fire Department, said the arson ruling comes from information gained in interviews and from evidence on the scene.

"But we won't go into where it started or what started it," he said.

The Forsyth County Sheriff's Office and federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives have also been working the case. Anderson said ATF agents joined the case because Forsyth is a member of the agency's metro arson task force.

Because the graffiti could possibly be construed as a threat against the president, Anderson said the Secret Service and FBI have been contacted.

"They are only monitoring the case right now," he said. "Not actively working it."

Capt. Paul Talyor, head of Forsyth's Criminal Investigations Division, said the primary focus of their investigation is the graffiti.

"We're trying to determine who wrote it," he said. "Maybe that person can tell us what it meant."

Anderson said at this point, everyone is a suspect.

"We have not eliminated anybody at this time," he said. "The owner, occupant and operator of anything that burns have to be looked at and eliminated at this point."

Graf said she would expect nothing less. She said she's met with Anderson numerous times, as have her parents and the friend who was driving her to Washington D.C. at the time of the fire.

"Of course it's normal for me to be investigated," she said. "I mean, that's the first thing you do. I have nothing to hide — they know everything that I know."

In the week since the initial incident, the case has garnered a lot of attention from various local media outlets — some of it directed at Graf's past.

According to Forsyth County Sheriff's records, Graf is the filer of or mentioned in 11 separate incident reports dating back to September 2006.

They included various domestic situations with her estranged boyfriend — a man who goes by the alias "Reno Savetini" and against whom she'd taken out a restraining order — and accusations of shoplifting from a Browns Bridge Road Hollywood Video in late November.

The shoplifting case was a big mistake, Graf said. She said the store's manager has offered to back her up publicly.

The rest of the reports stemmed from "making poor choices" in who she "associated with years ago."

"It makes it sound like I'm a criminal," she said. "I don't see the connection in what happened to me years ago can somehow link me to blowing up my own house."

Graf said the only thing she can think of is the "obvious" choice: "They're trying to take the glare off the racial hate crime that's happened here."

She said the accusations have hurt her children.

"If I was a suspect and I was arrested for destroying my life and my children's lives, then I could understand pulling up every horrific thing this woman has ever done," she said. "But I am a victim here. If the point is to move this democrat out of Cumming, Georgia, it's working."

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Former Forsyth deputy, wife plead guilty in illegal alien case

A former Forsyth County deputy and her husband pleaded guilty in federal court for harboring an illegal alien to work her as a nanny for little or no pay.

Woodstock residents Malika Garrett, 43, and her husband, Russell Garrett, also 43, a former Forsyth County deputh sheriff, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Court Judge Orinda D. Evans to one count of harboring an alien for private financial gain. Malika Garrett also pleaded guilty to an additional count of making a false statement to the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias said harboring illegal immigrant domestic workers to work for little or no money is a crime of greed depriving of their civil rights and often, as in this case, their freedom.

"Coercing such victims with threats of jail and deportation, and lying to federal agents, is also an abuse of the legal system. Regardless of their citizenship or immigration status, crime victims can bring their cases to federal officials without fear of reprisal," Nahmias said. "In fact, such victims may be eligible for special visas that allow them to remain in the United States and vindicate their civil rights."

The defendants took advantage of their nanny's undocumented immigration status for financial gain, said Loretta King, acting assistant attorney general of Civil Rights, at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

"They exploited her by not paying her and preying upon her fears of deportation," said King.

According to Nahmias and the information presented in court: Beginning in February 2003 and continuing through June 2005, Malika and Russell Garrett, knowing that the the victim, a female Indian national, had entered the United States under false pretenses, thereafter harbored her from detection, and attempted to do so, all for the purpose of their own private financial gain.

At their plea hearing, the Garretts admitted that they caused the victim to work as a nanny, for which the victim was initially underpaid, and then later not paid at all. The Garretts acknowledged that they told the victim that, if she left their home, she would be deported and jailed for an extended period of time – a condition that the defendants understood would cause great shame to the victim, a Muslim woman.

Ultimately the woman was able to escape from the Garrett's home with the assistance of a neighbor. At that point Malika Garrett threatened to, and did, both malign the victim to her family, and submit false allegations concerning the victim to Department of Homeland Security officials. Malika Garrett also admitted that she lied, when questioned by special agents of the FBI and ICE, by denying that the defendants ever employed the victim as a nanny. Relating to the case, Russell Garrett was relieved by his department of his duties as a deputy on July 24, 2008.

Sentencing for the Garretts is scheduled for April 22 at 3 p.m., before Judge Evans. Malika Garrett faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison on the alien harboring and false statement charges. Russell Garrett faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison on the alien harboring charge.

This case is being investigated by Special Agents of the FBI and ICE.

It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Susan Coppedge and Richard S. Moultrie, Jr. and Trial Attorney Kathleen J. Monaghan of the Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

More local news available at

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

PHOTO GALLERY: Milton councilman Alan Tart at President Obama's Inaugural Ball

Milton councilman and FDA Regional Retail Food Specialist Alan Tart was part of a special FDA team that traveled to Washington D.C. for President Barack Obama's historic inauguration Jan. 20. These are photos from two of the balls he attended, one commemorating Vice President Joe Biden Jan. 19 and The Eastern States Ball Jan. 20. “One word sums up this experience,” said Tart. “Wow.”
Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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Johns Creek State of the City scheduled for Jan. 28

JOHNS CREEK - Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker will deliver his second State of the City address at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 28 at the Atlanta Athletic Club. The Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and the AAC are hosting the event. The cost for the luncheon is $20. Visit to register.

Bodker will also be giving the State of the City address to other community groups in the next few weeks. The city will record the event and post it along with the text and presentation on the city's Web site,

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Roswell police make arrest in home invasion

Roswell police have arrested one suspect in the Jan. 8 home invasion at Horseshoe Bend subdivision in which an upscale pawn shop owner and his family were beaten, tied up and robbed.

The suspect, Joseph J. Marino, 25, of Atlanta, was arrested Jan. 15 at the Waffle House on Holcomb Bridge Road near its intersection with Ga. 400 for possession of marijuana and possession of a schedule IV drug, said Lt. James McGee, a spokesman for the Roswell Police Department.

McGee would not say what lead police to Marino.

"We had a lot of good information on this guy," he said. "A lot of investigation went into this."

A second suspect, described as a black man in his mid-20s, is still at large. McGee said Marino is not cooperating with investigators to give them his name and location.

"He's lawyered up and isn't talking," said McGee. "But we have a very good idea of who [the second suspect] is. It's just a matter of time.

"It would be best for him to just give himself up."

Marino and the second suspect are accused of waiting for the owner of Sandy Springs' Happy Hawker Pawn Shop outside his Steeple Chase Pointe home. When the man went outside to walk his dogs at 10 p.m., they allegedly pistol whipped him, then tied up him, his wife, 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son in the home.

"They were all roughed up, especially the husband," said McGee at the time of the incident.

The men took an undisclosed mount of money - which police say was the motive of the crime - and escaped on foot while the family managed to call 911.

The family was taken to North Fulton Regional Hospital that night, where they were checked out and released.

Roswell police released a sketch of the they believed was Marino Jan. 9. He was booked into Fulton County Jail Jan. 17 on 15 charges, including two counts of armed robbery, four counts of false imprisonment, three counts of battery, and more.

McGee said homeowners in Horseshoe Bend were integral to the capture of Marino.

"The residents called and said they'd seen two guys matching who we were looking for earlier in the day," said McGee.

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Former Falcon found dead in Duluth home

Carlton "Shane" Dronett, a former Falcons defensive tackle, was found dead of an apparent suicide in his Duluth home Jan. 21, said Gwinnett County Police.

Cpl. David Schiralli, a spokesman for the Gwinnett County Police, said officers were called to Dronett's Bagley Passage home at 7:30 a.m. Dronett's wife said the 38-year-old had just committed suicide, he said.

Police found Dronett's body in the home and turned it over to the Medical Examiner's office, who will make the ultimate determination on the cause and manner of death, said Schiralli.

Dronett played college football for the Texas Longhorns and was picked up in the second round of the 1992 draft by the Denver Broncos. He joined the Falcons in 1996 when coach Dan Reeves came from Denver and played for five years, starting every game in the 1998 season that saw the team make their first Super Bowl appearance.

Dronett worked in real estate after being released by the Falcons in 2002.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Pee Wee hockey tourney at The Cooler

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Alpharetta firm named in $25M Ponzi scheme

Two federal agencies took action in U.S. District Court Jan. 15 to stop an Alpharetta company and its owner, a Dawsonville resident, from continuing an alleged $25 million Ponzi scheme involving more than 100 people.

Alpharetta-based CRE Capital Corp. and James G. Ossie allegedly ran a Ponzi scheme, using money from newer investors to pay older investors to guarantee returns. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) filed separate civil complaints against CRE and Ossie.

According to court documents, since early 2008 the company and Ossie raised at least $25 million from more than 120 owners promising to invest the money in Japanese currency exchange markets.

The complaint alleges that since June 18, 2008, rather than making money, CRM and Ossie — the company's president and sole owner — lost approximately $4.4 million trading. To cover up the gaffe, CFTC claims Ossie and CRE operated a Ponzi scheme.

CRE offered trading contracts that promised a guaranteed 10 percent return in 30 days, according to the complaint.

"Investors must run the other way when approached by anyone claiming to guarantee exorbitant monthly returns, like those promised by CRE and Ossie," said CFTC Acting Director of Enforcement Stephen J. Obie.

In its complaint, the SEC also alleged that CRE planned a $100 million stock offering early this year, selling shares at $2 per share, while claiming the stock were worth $40 to $45 per share according to an independent analyst's estimates. The complaint alleges that these projections were misleading because CRE was insolvent.

The day the complaints were filed, Ossie and CRM consented to an order granting the SEC's requests for a temporary restraining order, an asset freeze, an accounting of all funds raised, the appointment of a receiver for defendant CRE and an order expediting discovery and preventing the destruction of documents.

The complaint also seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions against future violations, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus interest and civil penalties.

The CFTC seeks restitution, disgorgement, civil monetary penalties and permanent injunctions against further violations of the federal commodities laws and against further trading.

Ossie was not available for comment.

What is a Ponzi scheme?
According to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) , a "Ponzi" scheme is one in which little or none of the money sent in by investors is ever invested as promised in the commodity markets. It is named after Charles Ponzi, its inventor, and also called a pyramid scheme because of its structure.

The operator of the scam steals the funds and creates the illusion of a successful business by using some of the money put in by later investors to pay phony "profits" to earlier ones. This tactic makes it appear to victims that their investment is actually making money, which in turn attracts additional people.


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Duluth officials urging construction that lasts

The new city hall has been completed a little more than one year. In that time, Chris McGahee believes the building has made a statement. And the Duluth Economic Development Manager said he's going to use the building to urge other developers to strive for the same level of construction.

"What you start to see are disposable buildings," he said, "meaning it lasts less than 50 years. I'm trying to get people to focus on legacy buildings. What you want is to have the city you occupy be the same city that your children and their children will live in generation after generation. This city hall is a great example. We need to build buildings that are timeless instead of buildings that are stuck in time."

McGahee said the city hall "makes a statement about the government."

"It says to any developer that they have to match that standard," he said.

McGahee said the building now occupied by Street Smarts, a privately held planning, design and engineering consulting firm, and Mathias Corporation, a privately held construction firm, is a perfect example of what he wants Duluth to strive for.

"The best compliment they have received at that building is that they did a great restoration job on the building," he said. "That's the kind of compliments you want to receive."

McGahee and the city planning staff is taking this idea and targeting the Buford Highway corridor where the city is the process of creating a Tax Allocation District (TAD).

"This allows developers to overcome challenges," he said, "and there are a lot of challenges on Buford Highway. For example, sewer costs could be prohibitive and might just stop a project."

Duluth Director of Planning Clifford Cross said site preparation is a "significant cost" to developers.

"It's hard to market a lot requiring a great deal of site preparation," he said.

McGahee said the TAD would allow taxes to be deferred for 20 to 25 years "so the development creates revenue for the TAD."

"The difference in taxes will be able to be poured into projects for the TAD so the TAD does the heavy lifting," he said.

Duluth staff is currently working with the county to draw out the boundaries of the TAD which McGahee said would include the downtown area.

"We will work with developers and existing owners to hopefully end up with legacy buildings," he said.

McGahee said he hopes to have the plan submitted to the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners by December.

Redeveloping areas of Duluth and creating character areas is important to the city since there is not a great deal of vacant land remaining, McGahee said.

"Duluth is mostly built out," he said. "That's where the redevelopment concept comes in.

"What do we do so someone doesn't have to come in here in 50 years and redevelop and build.

"The additional cost of a legacy building is paid off year after year. That's because they build it right the first time."

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

PHOTO GALLERY: West Forsyth Wolverines at State Duals

The West Forsyth Wolverine Varsity wrestling team brought home their first Top-5 state placement after finishing 4th at State Duals in Macon this past weekend. This is the first time the team placed in state in only their second year of existence since the school opened. The wrestlers will pursue another Top-5 finish at Traditional State in February. Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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Duluth Mayor to issue 'State of City'

The Honorable Mayor Nancy Harris and the Duluth Civitan Club are pleased to sponsor the fifth annual City of Duluth "State of City" address Jan. 27 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Korean Television Network located at 4675 River Green Parkway.

Admission will be $25 with a discounted rate of $175 for a table of eight. Lunch will be provided by Kurt's.

Deadline for reservations is Friday, Jan. 23. Contact Terry Crouch at or by phone at 678-242-0445 (no shows will be billed).

Payments should be made payable and mailed to Duluth Civitan Club, P.O. Box 1181, Duluth, Georgia, 30096.

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Jan. 18 fire in Forsyth due to support of Obama

In the unseasonable cold of a clear January morning, Forsyth County mother of three and ardent Barack Obama supporter Pam Graf was sifting through the charred, hellish remains of what was once her home on Lanier Drive.

Graf's home had been burned to the ground apparently by arsonists. No one was in the home at the time of the blaze. Graf said her three children had been sent to stay with their father while she driving to attend the presidential inauguration.

Her trip to witness Obama make history taking the oath of office was cut short midway Washington, D.C. Instead she returned to meet with county fire investigators and insurance providers. Now she's just trying to decide where to go from here.

In a time of jubilation for a large percentage of the country, Graf is stunned by the hatred to which she has been subjected.

"I can't even make out the rooms," she said. "It's like everything collapsed into the basement. It looks like a bomb went off."

Graf's home burned down early Jan. 18 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — in what authorities are calling a "suspicious fire." Most shocking to Graf, and to the county, state and nation at large, was graffiti the apparent arsonist left on scene.

Spray painted on the fence around the home it said, "Beware [expletive deleted] your black boy will die."

While Forsyth County fire investigators refuse to comment on the nature of the statement, Graf, who moved to north Forsyth from Dover, Del., three years ago, said there's little doubt as to its meaning.

"I do not think they were targeting me personally," she said. "It seems obvious that this is a direct result of my support of the president. They don't support the president, so they attack me. I'm a very easy target for someone's racial hatred."

The fire was called in at 4:30 Sunday morning, Jan. 18, said Forsyth County Fire Marshal Steve Anderson, who is leading the investigation. Investigators have no suspects and have not determined the cause of the blaze, he said.

For his part, Anderson would only say the fire is "actively under investigation."

"All I'm saying is it's suspicious," he said. "Right now we don't know what the graffiti means or who it was intended for."

He said if it is determined to be a threat against the president, appropriate action will be taken.

"We'll call in help once we can make those decisions," he said.

Graf said it would have been easy enough for anyone to know no one would be at the house.

"Everyone knew I was going to the inauguration," Graf said. "I told everybody about it, I was so excited."

Graf, who displayed Obama signs in her front yard and a bumper sticker on her car, has tempered her support recently at the urging of her parents, 30 year residents of Forsyth County. Though she planned on leaving her political signs up through Jan. 20, a few weeks ago Graf received a letter in her mailbox demanding she take them down.

It told her to "watch her back" and contained racial epithets.

Her parents thought some costly vandalism might result. Certainly nothing like what has happened.

"They told me someone was going to egg my house or key my car," she said.

Graf said she was aware of Forsyth County's racially charged past. In 1987, when Oprah Winfrey taped a show from Cumming following a Martin Luther King Day march protest, Graf was in town spending time with her parents. She was called by a producer of the show to participate, she said, but did not at the urging of her parents, who feared for her safety.

After this latest tragedy, she's said she just doesn't know what to make of it all.

"My children want me to rebuild," she said. "But I have mixed emotions. I just need time to think about that."

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gwinnett students attend presidential inauguration

Collins Hill High Student Dorian DeRamus can tell her classmates what it was like to witness an historical event in the nation's capital.

Dorian was accepted into the People to People Presidential Inauguration program, and became part of a delegation of student ambassadors to witness the swearing in of Barack Obama, the 44th president and the first African American president, of the United States.

Another Gwinnett student, Brandon Ona of Mill Creek High, attended the inauguration at the invitation of the Congressional Leadership Council. He listened to keynote speakers, visited memorials and museums and attended the Inaugural Ball.

Dorian and fellow ambassadors also heard the inaugural address. While in Washington, she was able to gain insights into American leaders throughout history by having discussions with political experts. The group also toured the U.S. Capitol and National Archives, explored the newly reopened National Museum of American History, and visited Washington's monuments and memorials.

In addition, more than 100 Advanced Placement Social Studies students at Parkview High attended the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. The 111 juniors and seniors, along with teacher and administrative chaperones, boarded three school buses at Parkview High on Saturday evening, Jan. 17, departing for the nation's capital.

On the day of the inauguration, the students began their morning with a 4:30 a.m. breakfast, followed by a trip to the charter bus parking area in D.C. and a walk to the National Mall to clear security checkpoints and join the millions watching the Presidential Inauguration and the parade.

The students and their teachers visted local museums, monuments, and other historic sites, and returned to Parkview High that Wednesday.

Several Gwinnett schools were involved in class projects, and school activities, using this national event as a teachable moment for Gwinnett students.

For example, Charles Brant Chesney Elementary participated in a Mock Inauguration on Tuesday, Jan. 20, in the school's gymnasium. With "Hail to the Chief" playing in the background, the "official" swearing in of our new President-elect will be at 10 a.m. With balloons, ribbons, and banners flying, students sang patriotic songs and celebrated this moment in time.

Fifth-grade students at Norcross Elementary turned the school's gymnasium into a ballroom as they celebrated the president's inauguration with an Inauguration Ball. Numerous students dressed in suits, acting as the "secret service" providing "clearance" for the VIPs as they enter the ballroom. Participants dressed for the occasion. The "invitation-only" gala included a formal address by the student council president.

At noon, the entire Norcross Elementary student body watched the presidential inauguration from their classrooms.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration in Gwinnett

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Jim Boff working for Forsyth's District 5

Jim Boff hardly had the time to move into his new office before he was working with constituents. The new District 5 commissioner recently took office at the first of the year.

Boff said the staff has been "fantastic" in welcoming him to the position.

"People have been wonderful and supportive of me," he said.

However, Boff had to hit the ground running as local residents started demanding action on various local issues. One such issue has been residents demanding a traffic light at Turner Road because they feel it is unsafe.

"I have received quite a lot of e-mail over this small road," he said. "All of the comments have been very well thought out, established arguments."

Since the job provided a very short time span to learn about local issues and procedures, Boff said he felt very fortunate the commissioners allowed him to attend the meetings following the elections.

"Since the elections," he said, "I have been able to see who the players are and learn about the issues. I have been amazed at the variety of points of view the commissioners all have on different subjects. They are all very well considered positions."

Boff said one issue he would like to tackle is the importance of water, an issue he said would require some "education" on his part.

"How much we rely on Lake Lanier as a source of water has a massive implication on this county," he said. "Governments outside of Georgia have an enormous impact on the fate of that lake. I would like to look at a second source of water and study those options."

Boff said he would also like to continue looking for opportunities for transportation improvements and business development.

During the December training of new commissioners held at the University of Georgia in Athens, Boff said he attended with new District 4 Commissioner Patrick Bell. The training lasted four days with nearly 160 elected officials.

"The training was very, very good," he said. "I have found it to be absolutely indispensable."

More importantly, Boff said, was the time spent with his new colleague.

"Patrick and I learned a great deal about one another," he said, "and I look forward to working with him."

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March 1 is deadline for filing Homestead Exemptions in Johns Creek

City homeowners have until March 1 to file their applications for Homestead Exemption with Fulton County, but only those who have not applied previously or who qualify for new exemptions need to fill out the paperwork.

To qualify for any homestead exemption, homeowners must have owned and occupied their home as their primary residence as of Jan. 1 of the application year. Where an application is required, it must be filed with the Fulton County Tax Assessor's Office; the city and assessor's office have created a combined application process so there is no need to file separately with the City. Here are the exemption categories.

Basic Homestead Exemption

• $15,000 off assessed value of the residence.

• No age or income requirements.

• Automatically extended to all city homeowners who have previously qualified for the county's standard exemption.

• For homeowners not previously qualified, application with the Fulton County Tax Assessors Office for the county's basic exemption also serves as application for the city's basic exemption.

Senior Basic Exemption

•$15,000 off the assessed value of residence.

• Age requirement – 65 years or older as of Jan. 1 of the year in which application filed.

• No income requirement.

• Automatically extended to homeowners who have previously qualified for the County's Senior $10,000 Exemption.

• Application with the Fulton County Tax Assessors Office in person by March 1 for all other seniors.

• Proof of age must be presented.

Seniors who are not eligible for the county's senior exemptions, or who have not even applied for them because their income is too high, should take special note of this Exemption and the filing requirements.

Additional Senior Exemption

• $10,000 off the assessed value of residence.

• Age requirement – 65 years or older as of Jan. 1 of the year in which application filed.

• Income limited to the maximum amount allowed under Social Security for an individual and spouse.

• Automatically extended to any homeowner who has qualified for the county's senior $10,000 Exemption.

• For homeowners not previously qualified, application with the Fulton County Tax Assessors Office for the county's senior

$10,000 Exemption also serves as application for the City's Additional Senior Exemption.

• Proof of age and income must be presented.

Full Value Exemption Age requirement

• 70 years or older as of Jan. 1 of year in which application filed.

• Also available to disabled individuals.

• Income limited to maximum amount allowed under Social Security for individual and spouse.

• Automatically extended to any homeowner who has previously qualified for the County's Full Value Exemption.

• For homeowners not previously qualified, application for the County's Full Value Exemption also serves as application for the City's Full Value Exemption.

• Proof of age and income must be presented.

Senior homeowners are also eligible for an exemption that eliminates payment of the .25 mill of property tax to the State of Georgia. The Fulton County Tax Assessors Office can provide details.

For details regarding eligibility requirements and proper methods of applying for Homestead Exemptions, please contact Fulton County Tax Assessors Office at 404-224-0102 or access the Tax Assessor's Web site at The District 3 Office is located in the Royal 400 Office Park, 3155 Royal Drive, Alpharetta.

For other general information regarding the City's Homestead Exemptions, call the City of Johns Creek Administrative Services Department at 678-512-3200 and on the Web site at

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Monday, January 19, 2009

PHOTO GALLERY: Gwinnett Gladiators beat Stingrays

The Gwinnett Gladiators snapped a two-game losing streak on Monday afternoon with their 2-1 victory over the South Carolina Stingrays. Goalie Joe Fallon made 40 saves in his second start with the team. The Gladiators took the lead at 2:01 of the first period when Myles Stoesz came from behind the net and tucked the puck in under goalie Ian Vigier’s left skate. It was Stoesz’s second goal of the season. Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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Alan Tart: The Presidential taste tester from Milton

In olden days, royalty had what they called food tasters, a seemingly thankless and terrible job whereby someone would taste the lord's food – at considerable personal risk – to stave off the very real threat of poisoning.

Though the availability of poison has not have changed, the methods by which it is detected certainly have. And that's where Councilman Alan Tart comes in.

No, he not really the president's food taster. But close.

Tart, a regional retail food specialist with the FDA since 1999, is part of a specialized, 15-member team that steps in during "high security" events or disasters. It has been called upon for the G-8 summit, hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Rita, the Republican and Democratic national conventions and Sept. 11.

Tart said the Secret Service and FBI will contact the FDA and request the team if they believe food security may be an issue. The official inauguration of the President of the United States of America Jan. 20 fall into that category.

"Food defense has been a major issue for us," said Tart, who will leave Jan. 15 and return a week later. "It has been identified as a major weakness in our fight against terrorism."

But it's just food, right? Wrong, says Tart. The chances of something catastrophic occurring are great in a week where there will be more than 20 inaugural balls, all with extensive menus.

To make sure everything goes smoothly, the team exhaustively reviews all menus, the types of food served, the sources supplying the food and the transportation, distribution and secure preparation of all meals.

Because of the volume of food needed for the crush of people coming to Washington for the historic event, the group must also inspect all refrigeration trucks and off-site facilities. That's not to mention the normal food preparation problems of proper cooking, storage and serving.

"You don't notice all this stuff until you really start looking," said Tart. "Any food served to a dignitary, especially the president, is sampled. After the sample is taken it is held in containment in case of an outbreak."

And lest the effort seem a bit much, Tart relayed the tale of some very real food terrorism.

In The Dalles, Ore. in 1984, the members of the radical Rajneeshee cult contaminated water and the salad bars of 10 local restaurants with salmonella, causing 751 cases of illness. They did it to sway the Wasco County elections, hoping that people would be so sick they couldn't outvote the cult's own candidates. Luckily, it didn't work, and no one died from the attacks.

"It can definitely be done," said Tart.

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Forsyth County water, sewer rates to increase

County residents will soon see an increase in their monthly water and sewer bills.

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Jan. 8 to pass the temporary increase. Commissioner Brian Tam voted against.

Chief Financial Officer Bill Thomas introduced the proposal and conducted a presentation illustrating the pros of accepting the proposal for temporary water and sewer rate increases.

In his presentation, Thomas recommended that for residential water rates the county should change from $12 for the first three thousand gallons to $12 for the first one thousand gallons. The senior rate will be changed from $9 for the first three thousand gallons to $9 for the first one thousand gallons.

For sewer rates, he recommended they should establish a base rate of $10 per residential customer and $20 for commercial customers. In addition, accounts will be charged a usage fee in accordance with existing rates.

Four Forsyth County residents voiced their arguments as to why the proposal should be rejected. Some said this was not a good time to increase the rates because of the tough economy.

Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse said this was a direction the county simply had to take.

"It is a bad time to raise rates," he said, "but the water and sewer fund is losing money and something needs to be done. "

Forsyth County's current financial policies do not allow for any fund to operate in a loss. The policy states, "The County will set fees for each Enterprise and Internal Service Fund, at a level that fully supports the total direct and indirect cost of the activity. Indirect costs include the cost of annual depreciation of capital assets and requirements for future capital costs."

Commissioner Jim Harrell voted to improve the temporary increase but mentioned to the public that he would like more public input in the future town hall meetings on this subject.

In other business, the Forsyth County Planning Commission will have some new faces in 2009.

Matt Murphy will be serving District 4 on the Planning Commission, replacing Bettina Hammond who resigned at the first of the year.

Jim Quinn will be serving District 5 and will be filling the spot left open after Mary Helen McGruder's resignation at the first of the year.

The county appointed Pam Livesay to continue her service on the commission.

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Dave Matthews Band coming to Alpharetta's Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre

Dave Matthews Band will perform live at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park, located just off Ga. 400 in Alpharetta for two nights on Tuesday, April 28 and Wednesday, April 29 at 7:30 p.m., along with special guests The Avett Brothers.

2009 season sponsors include: Verizon Wireless, Bud Light, AirTran Airways, Georgia Natural Gas, and Belvedere.

The band's yet-to-be-titled album is being produced by Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance) and will be released by RCA Records. The record is the follow-up to 2005's Stand Up, the fourth consecutive Dave Matthews Band studio album to enter The Billboard 200 at No. 1.

Formed in Virginia in the early 1990's, Dave Matthews Band has sold a collective 35 million units (CD and DVD combined). With more than 15 million tickets sold, the group has been named the top-drawing American band in the world by Billboard.

"Their set delivered the goods at Rothbury, and few would argue they didn't make the festival their own," said The Detroit News of Dave Matthews Band's headlining performance at last summer's first-ever Rothbury festival. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette praised the group's show there as "nothing short of inspired and inspiring" while The Oklahoman said: "this is a band that stretches out and thrives in the open air and under the stars." "Mr. Matthews' trade is to stir up a m̩lange of approaches Рfrom rock and folksy pop to bluegrass and smooth jazz Рto make doubt positive, make loss again, and make depression a celebration," observed The Dallas Morning News.

Dave Matthews Band is Carter Beauford (drums), Stefan Lessard (bass), Dave Matthews (vocals, guitar) and Boyd Tinsley (violin). Saxophonist LeRoi Moore, the fifth original founding member, passed away during the band's summer 2008 tour. Joining the group on the road this spring will be Tim Reynolds on guitar, Rashawn Ross on trumpet and Jeff Coffin on saxophone. They are also featured on the new album.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Mike Luckovich to Speak at Atlanta fundraiser

Greater Atlanta Hadassah is sponsoring a fundraising event at which Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist Mike Luckovich will speak about his life, work and the recent presidential election.

Signed 9-by-12 inch cartoon sketches will be auctioned, and a Luckovich caricature will be raffled off.

The event is Feb. 7 beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Atlanta-Perimeter NW, 6345 Powers Ferry Rd. Tickets are $30, and each includes one free ticket for the drawing.

Contact the Greater Atlanta Hadassah office at 678-443-2961, or visit the web site at

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Alpharetta's Metro Ballet hosts auditions for national companies

Ten of the most prestigious ballet companies and schools in the United States will hold auditions for their 2009 summer intensive programs at Metropolitan Ballet Theatre in Alpharetta in January and February.

Included are Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theater, San Francisco Ballet, Kirov, Washington Ballet, Kaatsbaan, North Carolina School of the Arts, Nashville Ballet, Alabama Ballet, and Montgomery Ballet, in addition to MBT.

Auditions are open to all serious dance students. National companies typically audition in several major U.S. cities, choosing the most promising dancers for their highly selective summer programs.

Metropolitan Ballet, directed by prima ballerina Maniya Barredo, is located at 11460 Maxwell Rd, Alpharetta.

For specific audition dates and times, visit

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Patrick Bell ready to serve Forsyth's District 4

Patrick Bell has already been impressed by the volume of information he has received as a commissioner since he took the District 4 office at the start of the year.

"It's unbelievable the volume of information you have to digest," he said. "I appreciate all the help current commissioners provided in the previous months. I couldn't imagine walking there my first day without any preparation. It would have been information overload."

Bell said he is ready to get started. His passion is to encourage business development in Forsyth County.

"We really need to create that community that allows people to live, work and play here," he said. "Right now, we are borderline because we are really still a bedroom community for Atlanta. We need to have a diverse tax digest and raise revenue without burdening the residents."

Bell said he fears what will happen in Forsyth County without more business development.

"If we do not balance this tax digest and raise revenue," he said, "it will fall back on the property owners and I don't want to see that happen."

Bell said there are many issues that are important such as transportation and water, but he felt business development is "key," as is "rebuilding bridges" with Cumming, the Forsyth County Board of Education and other agencies within the county.

Bell said he appreciated the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners allowing him to attend meetings shortly after he won the election.

"It was really amazing how much the board opened up to me," he said. "They all helped to explain things and their thoughts on different issues. They were as open and as candid as possible."

Bell said the training he received in December while attending a four-day series of classes at the University of Georgia in Athens was a "tremendous opportunity." The classes included training on everything from budgets to ethics to open records requests.

But Bell said it was also important to spend time getting to know Jim Boff, the new District 5 commissioner.

"I think he is going to make a great commissioner," he said. "He is thoughtful and considerate. I am looking forward to working with him."

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Norcross chiropractor sent to jail for fraud

Stephen Catterton, 39, of Norcross, was sentenced Jan. 14 by United States District Judge Jack T. Camp on charges of health care fraud and possession with intent to distribute testosterone.

"This defendant lied to insurers about what services he was providing to patients, defrauding the insurers of more than $1.2 million," said United States Attorney David E. Nahmias. "False claims like these underlie many of our health care fraud cases, and lead to higher health care costs for everyone."

Catterton was sentenced to 3 years, 1 month in prison, to be followed by 3 years of supervised release, ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1,288,598.26, and ordered to serve 300 hours of community service. He pleaded guilty to the charges on Sept. 30, 2008.

According to Nahmias and the information presented in court, Catterton was a licensed chiropractor. In 1998, he opened two chiropractic clinics, "Catterton Chiropractic, P.C." and "Citadel Healthcare Group," both of which were located in Norcross.

In 2006, the FBI initiated a criminal investigation into the activities of Catterton for the submission of false claims to federal and private health insurance companies. As a result of the FBI's investigation, it was determined that between June 2001 and December 2006, Catterton billed in excess of $3 million, and was paid in excess of $1.275 million from various health care benefit programs for services he never performed or provided. In some instances, billing codes for more advanced procedures were used when in fact patients only received massages.

Catterton modified the billings for the services that were actually performed to maximize his reimbursement from the insurance companies. In addition, when agents executed a search warrant on his business in October 2006, they seized bottles of injectable testosterone, typically used for anti-aging and hormone replacement therapy. Catterton was not licensed to distribute such materials.

As part of his plea agreement, Catterton agreed to make full restitution to the victims.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Youth killed in Alpharetta police chase

A juvenile boy is dead and his two teen cohorts are in stable condition at North Fulton Regional Hospital after they crashed on North Point Parkway Jan. 14 while being chased by police for a string of alleged armed robberies.

According to Alpharetta and Roswell authorities, the young boy, believed to be between 12 and 15 years old, has not been identified. Police said the two suspects with him at the time of the crash, 19-year-old Montreal D. Gray and 17-year-old Jaree D. Beatles, both of Decatur, have not been cooperative at all with investigators, who are searching for the boy's family.

The three were being chased for their alleged involvement in a string of armed robberies in Roswell apartment complexes that night, police said, and were darting in and out of traffic when Gray lost control of the stolen Toyota Camry they were driving. No one was wearing their seat belt according to preliminary investigations, said Alpharetta police.

The car flipped on North Point Parkway near the Cypress Point apartments, and Gray allegedly immediately began fighting with police, despite the fact Beatles was seriously injured and the boy lay dead in the back seat, said investigators. Officers reportedly found a number of items stolen in the earlier crimes in the vehicle.

"It's absolutely heartbreaking that a young man had to die because of these senseless acts," said Alpharetta police spokesman Officer George Gordon. "The crash scene was absolutely horrific."

Lt. James McGee, a spokesman with Roswell police, said his officers initially got the call at about 10 p.m. that a 26-year-old female had been beaten and robbed at the Rosemont apartments off Ga. 9 south of Hembree Road. The victim said she had pulled up with her two children to pick up her mail when three men walked up to her car.

One hit her in the back with his forearm, knocking her to the ground, she said, while another stood over her with his hands in his pockets. They never displayed a weapon, said McGee, but demanded money and took her purse — all in front of her two young children. The three suspects drove off in a dark Toyota after trying to break into another car, said the victim.

"You can imagine how traumatic that was," said McGee.

While Roswell investigators were on scene, another armed robbery was called in at the Eagles Crest apartments, off Mansell Road near its intersection with Ga. 9. This time a 37-year-old man was beaten and robbed by two men who showed a gun. They also drove off in what was described as a dark Toyota Camry.

"We surmise the other suspect stayed in the car for that one," said McGee.

McGee said an undercover officer was in the area due to recent car break-ins, so he immediately spotted the dark gray Toyota Camry and began tailing the car. A check of the tags showed it was stolen from Decatur in a carjacking incident Jan. 9, said authorities.

At some point, the suspects realized they were being tailed, because they began driving erratically and pulling in and out of businesses to lose the officer, said Gordon.

Gordon said Alpharetta police were listening in to the radio calls for help, and joined in at 10:20 p.m. They caught up with the chase at the Toys-R-Us on North Point Parkway, and it wasn't long before the car had flipped and both departments were left to deal with the tragedy and many unanswered questions.

"It's one of those things," said McGee. "You think of kids stealing apples, but now they've graduated to murder. It's a sign of the times."

Gordon said the medical examiner has the unknown boy's fingerprints and is searching for his identity. He was not related to the suspects, he added, because both Gray and Beatles' parents said they did not know the youth. No one has reported a missing child to either department, Gordon said.

"We're pulling out all the stops on this [to find his identity]," said Gordon.

Both Gordon and McGee expressed shock that someone so young might be involved in the string of crimes that lead to his ultimate fate.

"It's fair to say as a passenger of the car he knew what was occurring," said Gordon.

Both departments will consult with the Fulton County District Attorney's Office to formulate charges for Gray and Beatles, but both McGee and Gordon mentioned armed robbery, fleeing and eluding police and possibly vehicular manslaughter.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Gwinnett Gladiators vs. Florida Everblades

Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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Gwinnett Gladiators Fall to Everblades, 4-2

Two goals by Matt Siddall was not enough to continue a three game winning streak, as the Gwinnett Gladiators lost to the Florida Everblades by a score of 4-2 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. With the win, Florida stretched its own winning streak to six games.

After a scoreless opening stanza, the Gladiators put the first goal on the board 7:29 minutes into the second. After a bevy of penalties for both teams, forward Matt Siddall scored on a four-on-three advantage. Jean-Claude Sawyer passed the puck across right to left, and Siddall put a slapshot past Florida netminder Anton Khudobin for the 1-0 score.

The action quickly heated up midway through the period. Florida tied the game at 10:06. Ernie Hartlieb carried the puck behind the net to the left wing corner, fired a pass in front of the net to Ryan Lang who shot it past Gwinnett goalie Joe Fallon to make the score 1-1.

Florida took the lead at 2-1 just :29 seconds later, Steve McJannett scored his second goal of the season on a rebound opportunity. Matt Auffrey and Peter Metcalf picked up the assists.

Gwinnett scored the equalizer only :18 seconds later. Matt Siddall scored his second goal of the game on a breakaway opportunity to make the score 2-2. The goal was his eighth of the season; Josh Engel and Dirk Southern tallied the assists.

The three goals scored came in a :47 second span, which set a Gladiators team record for shortest time for three goals to be scored by both teams. The previous record was :54 seconds, set on December 10, 2004, against Charlotte.

Kevin Baker scored the eventual game winning goal for Florida with just under two minutes remaining in the second. Mark Lee brought the puck around the net, threw it to Baker on the right boards who put it past Joe Fallon for his 29th goal of the season, which ranks him second for most goals in the league.

Ernie Hartlieb scored 1:33 into the third period, Joe Fallon stopped a wrap-around attempt, but the puck slid to Hartlieb on the left wing side. The goal made the score 4-2, which is how it ended.

Gladiators outshot the Everblades 28-17 on the game.

With the loss, Gwinnett falls to 15-16-0-4, while Florida improves to a division leading 25-8-1-1.

Gwinnett gets a chance for revenge as it continues action January 17, against the Florida Everblades. The game is the annual Teddy Bear Toss.

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Master Gardeners plan two January seminars

Master Gardeners in Forsyth County will offer two seminars at the Forsyth County Library in Cumming during January.

The first will be an encore presentation on pruning by Alan Stagg, Jan. 17 from 2-3:30 p.m. "The 3 T's of Pruning: Tools, Technique and Timing" will include the how, why and when to prune, tools you need and when to use them, and pruning techniques such as shearing vs. thinning, pencil pruning vs. topping and "Crepe Murder," will be addressed.

The second presentation will be a youth program, coordinated by Master Gardener Lou Vanek, Jan. 31 from 2-3:30 p.m. Master gardeners will present topics such as: Worm Composting (Chuck Cornwell); Bats - a visual presentation (Joan Harbin); Make and take bird feeders (Charlie Strong and Linda Hanna); Make and take terrariums (Fred Mullins, Dorothy O'Kelly, Shirley Thomas, Nancy Wilson). There will also be a storytelling period.

All materials will be provided. Children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Reservations for the Youth Program need to be made through the Forsyth County Extension Office at 770-887-2418. This program is limited to 50 children (ages 3 years through fifth grade).

Planning is underway for a spring library series and tour of the demonstration gardens.

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Roswell PD need help in finding this man

Roswell police need the public's help in identifying this suspect wanted for questioning in regards to the home invasion Jan. 8 at Horseshoe Bend.

In the crime, which occurred at a home on Steeple Pointe Drive, two armed suspects attacked the owner of the Happy Hocker pawn shop, then took he and his family hostage.

The family was able to call police and escape serious injury, but the men escaped.

This is believed to be one of the suspects. During the crime, he was seen with an unidentified black man.

If you have seen this man, please call the Atlanta Crimestoppers Tip Line at 404-577-TIPS (8477).

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lockwood wants Milton zoning case revisited

Milton Mayor Joe Lockwood asked City Council Jan. 5 to take another look at a Dec. 15 rezoning that passed after having the total square footage allowed on site cut by a third.

The rezoning will be heard again at the meeting Feb. 2. It concerns a proposed home fashion business which is to be on a 2.26 acre lot fronting Ga. 9 and is planned for 28,260 square feet of space.

It was previously zoned through Fulton County for a little less than 19,000 square feet – the number with which the majority of council felt comfortable after citing concerns about tree coverage and too much density on site. That majority was council members Julie Zahner Bailey, Tina D'Aversa and Alan Tart.

They outvoted Lockwood and Burt Hewitt, who were in the minority of a motion that might have been different if Bill Lusk and Karen Thurman were able to attend.

"After the meeting, I was approached by certain council members, staff and our city attorney – they had concerns," said Lockwood. "It's unfair. After the vote the applicant was walking away with a rezoning he didn't ask for.

"He had no input on what he got and now has less than what he had originally."

Both staff and planning commission had recommended approval of the project, but members of the design review board said the density was too much. Zahner Bailey cited their opinion in positing the motion that the density on site be lowered.

When Lockwood brought up revisiting the issue, Zahner Bailey asked City Attorney Ken Jarrard, who also was absent at the Dec. 15 meeting, if the city was in danger of being sued over the decision.

"They haven't done what they need to challenge," said Jarrard. "It is not an immediate legal threat."

Though this is the first time a zoning issue has been revisited in Milton, Jarrard said it is not altogether uncommon.

"But you would obviously hope it would not be used that often," he said.

Zahner Bailey said she can't understand why the issue would need to be revisited if it poses no legal threat or violated any procedures.

"A majority legally approved this rezoning on Dec. 15," she said.

"It was consistent with board policy adopted from Fulton County and with what our citizens are requesting."

She said her motion was the best compromise, as it allowed trees to be saved and business needs to be met.

"I'm a huge proponent of appropriate development on Ga. 9," she said. "But this project was more than it could hold."

D'Aversa said though she voted for the downgrading of the project, she understands why it is important to look at the issue again. And, she said, it's not a simple "re-do."

"The mayor has asked for a rehearing because the applicant wasn't prepared," she said. "It's in fairness to everyone."

D'Aversa said it was clear that the applicant believed their case was a "slam dunk" because it had been approved by staff and the planning commission. Thus, they were not prepared for the final vote of council that could drastically affect the fate of their business.

"It was kind of an abrupt decision," she said. "They weren't prepared for their specs to be changed. I'd like to give them a chance to have changes they prefer to make — rather than just making them ourselves."

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Young skaters take to ice in Alpharetta

A group of 12-year-olds will be smashing their sticks around this weekend as the Atlanta Freedom Cup 2009 Peewee Hockey Festival comes to The Cooler in Alpharetta.

Fourteen teams have signed up to participate from as far away as Tennessee, Florida, North and South Carolina, and as close as Duluth and Alpharetta.

"What we are trying to do is make Atlanta a hockey destination," said Gina Bennett, tournament director.

Most tournaments have several age groups, pitting only four teams against each other in each category.

Bennett said sticking to one age group creates more competition and excitement.

"We are trying to make it a public event as well," she said, inviting local families to watch the action.

The tournament starts with an All-Star Peewee Skills Competition on the ice at Philips Arena at 1 p.m. Friday.

The Atlanta Thrashers are sponsoring this event and offering discount tickets for that night's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Visit for details.

Play begins in earnest Saturday morning, with games starting as early as 6:45 a.m. and as late as 5:30 p.m.

Sunday morning begins the same, with seeds set for the afternoon games.

On Monday the championships will be held at 9:15 and 11:45 a.m., with award ceremonies following each game.

Bennett said hockey families spend a lot of money sending children to Detroit, Chicago and other places.

"But we have some pretty good hockey here," she said. "People are generally surprised that we tend to whomp some people ... It would be nice if the traveling was reciprocal, and get more of those teams to enjoy what Atlanta has to offer."

Discount hotel rates were established for visiting teams. She said the tournament fees were designed to offer a lot, with a four-game guarantee and scheduling to make sure local teams don't play each other for every game, and that visiting teams from each state have the chance for some new competition also.

"Our goal next year is to have 32 teams for this tournament," Bennett said.

At the end of the day, that will mean more children playing hockey here, so parents don't have to travel as much, either.

"I don't think that's an unreasonable goal or an unreachable goal," she said.

Public skates are available throughout the weekend, with morning and afternoon skates on Friday and Saturday for $7, with a $3 skate rental fee if you don't have your own.

Public skating also is open from late Friday and Saturday, and from 2-5 p.m. Sunday.

The cost is $7 or $8, with a $3 skate rental fee.

Vendors will set up to offer face painting and silent auction items will be sold.

A photographer will take pictures at the games, with proceeds benefitting the Atlanta Fire Peewee Major AA team, which won the right to participate in the annual Quebec International Peewee Hockey Festival, an 11-day tournament that draws 2,300 players from 16 countries.

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West Forsyth Wolverines advance to State Wrestling Duals

The West Forsyth Wolverines will participate in the State Wrestling Duals in Macon Jan. 16 and 17 after clinching the Area Championship. After a slow start against Creekview High School, the Wolverine grapplers rebounded with a great effort in the semifinal match against White County and came out on top with a 37-28 victory. Reice Thompson won the final bout of the meet in an exciting match. In the championship finals against Lumpkin County, the Wolverines started fast and never looked back. After building a 24-0 lead, the team mathematically clinched the Area Championship when Matt Hatcher won his match at 160 pounds. The final score of the dual was 45-27. The Wolverines are led by head coach Dennis Stromie. Click here to view the rest of the gallery.

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Duluth leader undaunted by demands of new job

Mayor Nancy Harris's first foray into politics won for her the seat of mayor in her hometown.

She must now follow in the footsteps of her popular predecessor Shirley Fanning-Lasseter, not always an easy task. It also has brought her into one of the most serious economic crises brought on by the worldwide recession.

Harris has completed her first year in office and agreed to sit down with the Gwinnett Herald to talk about that first year and her plans for 2009.

Gwinnett Herald: What would you say was the biggest surprise of your first year in office?

HARRIS: The biggest surprise I guess is how this can be a full-time job. I was not surprised about the issues and problems the city has. When I decided I might want to run for mayor, I began attending City Council meetings about two years before the election.

So I really had a good idea of the issues we would be dealing with, so I can't say anything really surprised me.

But the amount of time the job demands is not a complaint. I am retired so I knew I would be able to devote the time needed to the job. But I always go home feeling I've left something unfinished.

GH: What would you say has been the toughest part of the job?

HARRIS: The toughest part has been being understood. That goes back to communication. I am surprised when I hear things I supposedly said. As a principal I was used to brainstorming and dialoguing with people.

Now I realize when I say something, it is taken as my position, when what I might be doing is exploring or just floundering or reaching for ideas so I can hear other ideas.

GH: And what has been your proudest accomplishment so far?

HARRIS: I'm most proud of paying attention to the Buford Highway Corridor. Many people have told me it is an embarrassment as the entrance to the city and the first thing people see.

We have hired an economic planner to analyze the challenges Buford Highway presents and how to make it attractive to new businesses. It may seem odd at this economic moment to be hiring someone to expand our economic capabilities, but we are not just looking at one area of the city but all of it.

At the end of this summer we adopted the Buford Highway Overlay plan which lay out our guidelines for redevelopment. We spent months working with Clifford Cross, our planning director, to work on what we wanted Buford Highway to look like and feel like, not just today but 25 years or 50 years or 100 years from now.

Before we could attract the kinds of businesses and development we want, we needed to have a plan in place. And now we have that plan.

GW: What is the big problem or job that is on your plate right now?

HARRIS: My biggest dilemma is for the old City Hall and how it can be saved. I have definitely shifted my time from many of the projects I came in hoping to accomplish. Perhaps that is why I haven't got other things as far along as I would have liked. For instance I am still working on an arts task force. I've just had to put things on the back burner.

I do not agree with where the old City Hall block is headed. I think the focus should not necessarily be on saving it, the focus should be on economic sustainability. I am concerned about putting more commercial development on that block right now. I think the timing is wrong now.

We have a lot of empty strip malls and storefronts already within the city limits. I just don't think it is the time to be building more. A lot people are upset about destroying those buildings and replacing them with a huge parking deck on that block.

There is also the historic preservation side of it. But we already have a traffic problem right there. With the railroad coming through town, we will always have a traffic problem in this town.

GW: What is the city doing to meet the harsh economic realities of 2009?

HARRIS: First, we will have to see what actions the General Assembly takes in its session. That will have a big effect on what we can do.

We have some major transportation projects in the city for 2009. We want to add a lane to Abbotts Bridge Road [Ga. 120], and we want to put a new entrance in for Duluth High School. We also plan for a connector road to join West Lawrenceville Road with Abbotts Bridge.

But we can't do it without state and federal funding.

We also have concerns about the revenue from SPLOST. With sales tax revenue down, we may not have the funds to do all that we wanted with the SPLOST projects.

We have already called on departments to reduce spending and plan on no new employees. However, we have not announced any hiring freezes for existing positions so far.

The city is also planning a huge software investment to modernize all of our city functions. This is not necessarily a good time to do that. But on the other hand it will save us money and free up employees who duplicating a lot of work. That is a big decision we will have to make.

On the good side, we are going to work smarter, and spend more time planning for the good times. It is a time for re-evaluation.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Land purchases move forward in Forsyth

Although not everyone was pleased with the process, the county government is moving forward in purchasing two properties for the purpose of greenspace using a portion of the nearly $40 million approved in February 2008 by 70 percent of voters.

Voters approved the $100 million Parks and Recreation Bond that had about 40 percent intended to go toward land preservation for greenspace with the rest going toward active recreation.

Local residents filled the county administration building Dec. 30 during a public hearing regarding the possible acquisition of two properties (Wallace Tatum and Harrison).

Some were for the purchases.

"I see limitless possibilities [with the Wallace Tatum property]," said county resident Cindy Mills. "I applaud you for this purchase."

Others felt the price was too high.

"Greenspace is great," said county resident Bill Dickerson, "but you don't have to pay these huge prices. Nobody's buying property right now and we're going to pay top price? It's just too much for greenspace."

County resident and property appraiser Terry Smith told commissioners they should get another appraisal on the Wallace Tatum property.

"There should have been another appraisal done," he said. "The one you are using is out of date. We need one that is valid in today's environment. I beg you to hold off and get another appraisal."

Smith said he wanted the county to get the most for its money.

"Make this money count for the citizens of Forsyth County," he said. "Your decision will tell Forsyth County citizens whether you care about them or the process. Find out the true cost of the land and purchase it."

Commissioners were not united in their support about the greenspace land purchase process.

Commissioner Jim Harrell said while he likes the two properties being discussed at the Dec. 30 public hearing, he wanted more public input.

"I have a problem with the lack of substantial county wide input," he said. "Now at the 11th hour, we are hearing legitimate concerns regarding the price. I would like to postpone until the pricing is addressed and more public input is gathered."

Commissioner David Richard said he didn't want to wait for the price to go down and then see a "foreign bank gobble it up."

"They would then hold it a couple years and sell it for 400 homes," he said. "I wasn't elected to accelerate growth. I was elected to slow down growth."

Commissioner Linda Ledbetter said she thought the entire process has been "flawed."

"We've been trying to buy land since March," she said. "Maybe [the Wallace Tatum property] is overpriced but it's a beautiful piece of property that could be used for greenspace, recreation and a library. To put this off might mean we're not going to get it. I don't understand this process. It's been moving at a snails pace. We couldn't go any slower."

However, Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse made the motion to postpone the acquisition of the Wallace Tatum Property because it "might not be the best price we could get."

"We owe it to the people of the county to be fiscally responsible when spending your money and it is your money," he said.

But Richard said he wouldn't support the motion, which failed to pass 2-3 with Harrell and Laughinghouse casting their vote in favor.

"You have wanted since day one to have complete control over this process," he said.

"You have delayed this time and again."

Ledbetter agreed.

"I have listened to a lot of lies the last four years but this one takes the cake," she said. "This is nothing but you and Jim trying to control the greenspace."

Laughinghouse said he didn't see how they could be accused of delaying the process.

"This board of commissioners operates under rules," he said. "The majority is three. I don't see how you think Commissioner Harrell and I can turn our two votes into three."

Harrell said he vows to have more public input in 2009.

"I want more public input instead of three people deciding what residents want," he said. "We will have more public input at the first of the year."

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Monday, January 12, 2009

PHOTO GALLERY: Weezy's Jazz & BBQ Cafe in Johns Creek

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PHOTO GALLERY: Fitness Pro opening in Roswell

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Gwinnett Gladiators Beat Checkers 5-3

Gladiators netminder Kevin Nastiuk made 26 saves to help the Gladiators to a 5-3 win over the Charlotte Checkers on Friday night at the Time Warner Cable Arena. With the win, Nastiuk snapped a personal 6 game losing streak for the netmdiner while it was the Gladiators 5th 2-goal come-from-behind win this season. Gwinnett moved back to .500 and is now 15-15-4 on the season with the victory.

After a scorelss first period, Charlotte to jumped out to an early lead in the second period. Jeff Miles ripped a slapshot from the top of the right wing face off circle past Nastiuk for the marker at 4:03 of the second period. Michael Leveille added an assist on the goal for the Chekers.

Julian Brouillette pushed the Checkers lead to 2-0 just 35 seconds later. Nastiuk poked the puck out of pile up in the slot but it bounced right to a waiting Brouillette who whipped the puck past Nastiuk for the marker. Mike Bayrack and Matthew Ford notched the assists on the goal for the Checkers.

Gwinnett battled back in the later stages of the second period to tie the game at 2-2 before the second intermission. Adam Hobson collected his 6th goal of the season shorthanded just two minues after Charlotte's second goal of the game. Hobson finished a 2-on-1 break with Adam Berti as he beat Checkers netminder Jeff Jakaitis to the shortside for the marker. Brennan Turner collected an assist on the shorthanded goal for Gwinnett at 6:26 of the period.

Jean-Claude Sawyer tied the game at two with his first goal as a Gladiator with 2:29 left in the second period on the power play. Sawyer's shot was deflected in the slot and shot high in the air before landing behind Jakaitis and rolling into the net for the goal. Andy Brandt and Matt Siddall notched the assists on the goal for the Gladiators.

Gwinnett jumped out to a 3-2 lead on the Checkers at the 14:31 mark of the third period on Matt Siddall's 6th goal of the season. Parked on the goal line, Siddal was able to knock a loose puck past Jakaitis for the goal. Jeff Mason and Pat Bateman had the assists on the goal for Gwinnett.

Charlotte answerd just mintues later at the 15:58 mark of the third period to tie the game at three. Ford posted the goal for the Checkers as he was wide open on the left wing circle and ripped the puck past Nastiuk for the marker. Bayrack and Mike Taylor had the helpers on the tally for Gwinnett.

Travis Fuller answers just 35 seconds later for Gwinnett to regain the lead for the Gladiators. Fuller picked up a loose puck in the slot as he trailed an odd man rush and beat Jakaitis on the put-back for the marker. Chris Cava and Jeff Dunne notched the assists on the goal for Gwinnett at 16:33 of the third period.

Adam Berti collected his 5th goal of the season with 1:43 left in the final period to put the contest away for the Gladiators. Berti took an outlet pass from Siddall along the Charlotte blue line and walked in untouched on Jakaitis before beating the netminder for the tally.

Gwinnett went 1-for-5 on the power play in the win while Charlotte was 0-for-4 on the man advantage while giving up a shorthanded goal to the Gladiators in the contest.

Gwinnett continues action in the 2008-09 season on Wednesday, Janaury 14th as they host the Florida Everblades at the Arena at Gwinnett Center at 7:05 p.m.

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'Southern Comforts' roots for love at any age in Roswell

As Yogi Berra so memorably noted, "It ain't over 'til it's over," and that is true in baseball and in love. That is the message of "Southern Comforts," one of the best romantic comedies to come along in years.

Georgia Ensemble Theatre is kicking off the New Year with this funny, warm examination of relationships at the far end of the spectrum. A loosely biographical memoir of her grandmother, Kathleen Clark's play examines the December to December love story of two unlikely 70-somethings discovering love decades after they thought they were beyond such foolishness. Lord what fools these mortals be.

Gus is a New Jersey widower set in his ways. Amanda, a widow, has come north from her Tennessee home for a visit with her daughter. Gus and Amanda meet, find an attraction and then must decide if opposites can attract at their age.

Of course they agree about very little: She's a good southern Democrat, he's a good Yankee Republican. She's a church-every-Sunday Christian, he's somewhat less enthusiastic. He's taciturn and set in his ways, she is feisty, vivacious and still has the charm of the belle of the ball.

Well, love has conquered larger obstacles than these. But can they happily ever after?

"Southern Comforts" has continued to grow in popularity on the regional theater circuit after its debut in 1987 and ran successfully off-Broadway in 2007.

Georgia Ensemble Theatre Artistic Director Robert Farley has directed it twice and now is bringing it to GET for the third time in 11 months for a run in the suburbs.

"This play is so lovely and so drop-dead funny," Farley said. "And what you learn from this is that meeting later in life is just as compelling and in some ways more complex than falling in love at a much younger stage of life."

This older generation doesn't just sit back and watch the sunset. They get out and make things happen, Farley said.

His first run at "Comforts" was with the Theatrical Outfit downtown, then he directed it again at the Florida Studio, Florida's second largest theater. Both had hugely successful runs.

"It's one of the most popular romantic comedies today. Theaters all over the country are producing it," Farley said. "It's a comedy for the chronologically gifted."

He said it is easily the most popular play he's done since "Daisy" (as in "Driving Miss ..."). And that is no faint praise being compared to the most popular play ever presented in Atlanta.

But what "Southern Comforts" offers is what we all want out of life. A second chance.

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'Nonstop great things' in Suwanee

Dave Williams knew being mayor would be a mixture of hard work and fun. And his first year as Suwanee Mayor didn't disappoint.

"The last year has just been a whirlwind," he said. "There has been almost a nonstop series of great things happening."

When looking back over the past year, Williams said it's hard to believe so many big events happened in Suwanee just this year. From the Tour de Georgia beginning Stage 5 downtown to the Life is Good festival as well as a new Lowe's opening and the grand opening of Sims Lake Park, the city has seen its share of large events.

"There has just been a tremendous amount of volunteers this year," he said. "It's been great, just one fabulous event building on top of another."

Increasing and encouraging civic engagement was one of Williams' goals when he took office.

"I wanted to help lead the effort to increase civic engagement," he said. "I wanted to help create many opportunities for people and businesses to get involved."

Williams and the city have helped increase involvement through the water system study group and the downtown master plan steering committee, among others. He said the Suwanee Day base had grown and Trek or Treat saw 700 families take part.

"I think we have been doing a better job of tracking those participants and capturing data," he said. "This has helped us find out what people liked and what they thought could be improved."

For example, Williams said a survey with Suwanee Day vendors was a great help.

"We had extraordinary results from vendors and a couple hundred people," he said. "It's easy to confuse activity with results. This way we can make sure our efforts are effective as they can be. You can be busy, but that doesn't mean you're successful."

Overall, Williams said 2008 has been a "pleasure" and he attributes that to the wonderful city staff and council.

"I think it was a seamless transition," he said. "The staff is so great and I really think the government works well together. The staff and government body trust one another. This attitude has allowed us to get past what we might not agree on and that is what has made Suwanee distinctive. I want to help preserve that."

To preserve that, Williams said Suwanee must continue its foundation based on trust.

"Our foundation is a group trust," he said. "If we don't have that, nothing else matters. It allows us to work effectively toward our common goals. I'm aware something could come along and take that away, so one of my goals is to help maintain that attitude."

Williams said Suwnaee can "pick our future" and that many of the current projects show what the city government and residents are capable of.

"Sims Lake Park is a great example of that," he said. "We said we wanted a world class park and we set out to do that. Now, I think we have it."

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

North Fulton Regional Hospital reflects on successful 2008

December is here, the holiday season is upon us, and 2009 is just around the corner. North Fulton Regional Hospital looks forward to the coming year with great promise as it reflects on an eventful 2008.

The People
New leadership helped drive some of the innovation that took place over the past year. Wes James joined the hospital team as Chief Financial Officer while Kathy Young, former Director of Quality Management for the hospital, was appointed to the position of Chief Nursing Officer.

The Technology
Technological enhancements also served to push North Fulton Regional Hospital ahead as 2008 progressed. Some of these innovations included the custom-fit knee replacement option, 5-day targeted radiation therapy treatment and a recently adopted computer system to convert the radiology department into a virtually film-less operation. With the custom-fit knee replacement procedure, surgeons are able to preserve more bone and ligaments, allowing for better implant fit and alignment. Benefits include shorter surgery time, easier post-op rehabilitation and the potential for better longer term results.

Patients receiving radiation treatment for breast cancer after surgery are now able to do so using a much quicker method. Using a five-day, targeted radiation therapy model, physicians are able to achieve comparable results to traditional radiation therapy, which can take up to six to seven weeks. Patients now have options for this method of radiation therapy, increasing flexibility and enhancing the level of care they can receive.

The Radiology Department has also seen its share of technological improvements. North Fulton Regional Hospital welcomes the addition of PACS, Picture Archiving and Communication System. This computer-based system digitally processes and displays medical images taken of patients.

The Quality
The most advanced technology in the world would not mean anything if the people utilizing it don't adhere to the highest standards of quality and medical care. In 2008, North Fulton Regional Hospital was the recipient of numerous quality awards and prestigious designations, helping to once again set it apart from the many other hospitals in the state.

From winning second place in a contest of the Georgia Hospital Association (GHA) for achieving a 95.5 percent reduction in ventilator associated pneumonia through an infection control project, to being placed on GHA's Honor Roll, to winning the Circle of Excellence Achievement Award through Tenet Healthcare, to being recognized for quality respiratory care by the American Association for Respiratory Care, North Fulton Regional Hospital has been busy.

The Community Commitment
While North Fulton Regional Hospitals excels at caring for patients who are in need of medical care, it also is committed to community education and outreach, helping to keep people healthy and informed and providing support wherever possible. In 2008, the hospital, along with

Harry's Farmers Market in Alpharetta began a seminar series to address timely health topics. From stress management to supplements, baby safety to skin care, the Whole Body, Whole Health Seminar Series offers attendees direct communication with physicians and other health experts, all free of charge. The success of this program has led to its extension into 2009.

Other events, including the annual Roswell Woman Expo as well as the 50+ Health Expo, provided free health screenings for the community. This year also featured the first CPR Marathon at the hospital.

The Silver Milestone
To help end the year on a positive note, North Fulton Regional Hospital celebrated 25 years of caring for the community. On Nov. 6, joined by elected officials in the surrounding communities, hospital governing board members, community business members, friends, physicians and staff members, North Fulton Regional Hospital "cut the ribbon" to signify movement into the next phase of the facility's history.

The Next Steps
The end of one year signifies a fresh start and a new approach for the coming months. North Fulton Regional Hospital looks forward to 2009 and all it has to offer in high-quality patient care, new technology and new programs for the community. The hospital will leverage the many successes of 2008 and parlay them into new successes. From moving to a digital platform in mammography to expanding community services, the future already shines.

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Johns Creek plans first Relay for Life

Bev Miller wondered why Johns Creek didn't have its own Relay for Life event. Her civic experiences and position on City Council should have made her realize what she was getting into when she asked Ron Redner, a Roswell Rotarian and organizer for that city's Relay for Life. But now that she has spent about a year helping organize Johns Creek's first event, she has no regrets.

Relay for Life Johns Creek will be held overnight Friday, April 17 at Taylor Road Middle School.

"It probably all started about a year ago when I realized we didn't have a Relay for Life in Johns Creek," Miller said.

That's when spoke to Redner and he suggested she start it.

"He planted the seed and we started talking about it," she said.

Miller has had no problems getting cooperation.

"Everybody that I asked was just so willing to help and say, 'Tell me what you need from me and I'll do it,'" she said.

The Fulton County Schools system and churches have helped. Taylor Road Middle School will host the event April 17.

Scott Gentry of Georgia Power, her co-chair, has experience with Relay for Life. When she first got started with the organization, she asked why don't they just all write checks rather than staying up all night to walk. Gentry took her to the Alpharetta Relay for Life, which answered her question.

"Once I saw it, I said, 'Oh my gosh, we have to do this,'" Miller said.

The sense of community that brought everyone together convinced her to put the pen and checkbook away, and get to work.

Miller said the Johns Creek group is starting out small, hoping for 40 teams and between 200 and 250 cancer survivors to join the walk. She estimates 750 people will walk, but the committee is planning for 1,000.

"The response from the community has been just great.

The Relay for Life committee has gotten plenty of help from Michelle Meyer, their coordinator with the American Cancer Society. Meyer has worked with Relay for Life events at Rockdale and at colleges, bringing more experience to the team.

Organizers of Johns Creek's own Relay for Life plan a kickoff celebration Thursday, Jan. 15 at Rivermont Country Club. The event is an opportunity to learn more about Relay for Life Johns Creek, and how it helps fund the American Cancer Society's research efforts. The committee, survivors and their caregivers, and representatives of any teams that have registered are invited.

The Jan. 15 kickoff will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and includes complimentary hor d'oeuvres and a cash bar. RSVP to with your name and e-mail address.

"I think we just need to raise awareness of cancer. Everybody has been touched by it in some way. Everybody has a story – theyknew someboyd, or know somebody, or they have it in their family," Miller said.

Tim Young of Village Market, who is a cancer survivor, will be one of the kickoff speakers.

Macy's IT of Johns Creek will handle entertainment. CH2M Hill will take care of logistics. Emory Johns Creek is the presenting sponsor and plans to field three teams.

Committee members are checking with all of the companies in Johns Creek to find sponsors and volunteers. Volunteers are needed to help run the event while the teams walk. Or the companies might want to have their own teams.

"We want you there all night. The idea is doing it all night, because cancer never sleeps," she said.

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