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Dalton Firefighters Promoted

By Bruce Frazier:


Twelve Promotions Approved

Twelve Dalton firefighters had their promotions or reassignments approved by the Public Safety Commission at the board’s monthly meeting on Tuesday. The promotions filled positions left vacant by recent retirements and promotions.

Keith Dempsey was promoted to Training Division Coordinator, replacing Deputy Chief Ricky Busby. Dempsey had served as an assistant in the Training Division since June of 2005. He joined the Dalton Fire Department in August 2003. He holds a master’s degree in fire and emergency management from Oklahoma State University and holds an Executive Fire Officer designation from the National Fire Academy. He is a graduate of the prestigious FLAMES (Firefighters Laboring And Mastering Essential Skills) program.

Chad Young was promoted to the rank of captain after serving as a lieutenant for six years. Captain Young has served the agency since March 2001. Captain Young has earned praise for his leadership skills since becoming an officer in 2011. Dalton Fire Chief Todd Pangle noted on Tuesday that Captain Young can operate all positions within the Suppression Division, making him a valuable asset as a leader.

Dan Hudson and Mike Ballew were both promoted to the rank of lieutenant. Lt. Hudson joined the fire department in November 2003 and has held the rank of Firefighter III since September 2014. In that role, Lt. Hudson has had an opportunity to serve as an officer in a fill-in role and has performed well. He is a Georgia Smoke Diver and a FLAMES graduate. Lt. Ballew joined the DFD in February 2001 and has served as a Firefighter III since August 2007, which also gave him the opportunity to serve as the officer in charge on a number of incidents.

Jason Suddeth and Matt Asbell were both promoted to the rank of Firefighter III. Suddeth has served the department since February 1999, serving in recent years as an engineer. Chief Pangle noted that Suddeth has gained experience in a great deal of different emergencies and has emerged as an informal leader in the department. Asbell joined the department in January 2003, also serving as an engineer until this morning’s promotion. Asbell is active in assisting with training and also assists with maintaining the department’s SCBA air tanks as an SCBA technician.

Firefighter IIs Ken Hostetler and Barry Gilley and Firefighter Dale Reed were all promoted to the rank of engineer. Engineer Hostetler joined the DFD in March 2006 and is a Georgia Smoke Diver. Engineer Gilley also joined in the agency in March 2006 and is a paramedic in addition to his firefighting duties. Engineer Reed has served the fire department since July 2011 and is a Georgia Smoke Diver and FLAMES graduate.

Firefighters Brandon Glass and Bobby Blackwell were both promoted to the rank of Firefighter II. Glass joined the DFD in January 2013 and is a Georgia Smoke Diver and FLAMES graduate. Blackwell has served since July 2011, and has worked to compile an impressive training profile while also serving as a relief driver on multiple occasions.

Engineer Scott Hearn was reassigned as an Inspector in the Preventions Division. Inspector Hearn has been working with the Preventions Division to gain all of the certifications needed to move into the role.

Each promotion was approved by a unanimous 3-0 vote of the Public Safety Commission. Commission members Carlos Calderin and Keith Whitworth did not attend Tuesday morning’s meeting.


DPD Officers Honored For Life-Saving Effort

The Public Safety Commission also recognized three Dalton Police Department officers for their role in saving a man who stopped breathing at the Dalton Fairgrounds in June. Assistant Chief Cliff Cason presented a certificate of recognition from the American Heart Association to Sergeant Woody Cantrell and Officers Dexter Kapur and Blake Edwards.

The officers were dispatched to the North Georgia Fairgrounds at 500 Legion Drive on June 6th at approximately 8:00 pm with a report of a man who had stopped breathing. When Officer Dexter Kapur arrived, he found a 65-year old man unresponsive on the ground. Officer Kapur began to give chest compressions to the patient and continued while Sergeant Woody Cantrell set up an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) on the patient. The AED analyzed the patient’s vitals and advised that the patient needed a shock, which Sergeant Cantrell delivered. After the shock, the patient began to gasp for air and Officer Blake Edwards began to deliver air using a CPR mask while Officer Kapur resumed chest compressions. The officers continued CPR until Dalton firefighters and Hamilton EMS paramedics arrived to take over the patient’s care. The patient was transported with normal heart and respiration rates to Hamilton Medical Center and was expected to make a full recovery.

The Dalton Public Safety Commission is comprised of Chairman William B. Weaver, Carlos Calderin, Terry Mathis, Keith Whitworth, and Kenneth E. Willis.

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15-year veteran honored as Whitfield County Employee of the Month for May



Whitfield County Director of Communications


The Whitfield County 911 Center has made plenty of changes over the past 15 years, and one of the people helping make sure those improvements go smoothly has been David Metcalf, shift supervisor.

His positive attitude and willingness to tackle any job have earned him the respect of his co-workers – as well as Whitfield County Employee of the Month honors for May.

“David has worked diligently beyond his scope of responsibilities to assist in successful Sungard CAD, Motorola Radio, VIPER Phone, and Watson Furniture projects,” said Ashlee Zahn, deputy director. “He has ensured that the team has kept on task. David has kept a great attitude and made every effort to ensure that the department is growing and moving in a positive direction to create a better environment for 911 employees.”

Mefcalf has assisted in the hiring process and project implementations and has built relationships with client agencies to ensure smooth transitions to the Superion CAD/MCT systems with Whitfield County Fire, Hamilton EMS, and Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office.

“David has been supportive of his shift employees during these multiple projects that have been in conjunction with staffing issues,” Zahn said. “He has shown to be an effective shift supervisor and leader.”

To allow county residents to get to know him a little better, Metcalf took a few moments to fill out the following fun questionnaire.

Name: David Metcalf

Job title:  Supervisor / CAD Administrator

Time with the county: 15 years

Where I went to school: Southeast High School and Dalton State College

My role as a county employee: Serve the community

What keeps my job interesting:  The different types of training classes that I get to attend.

What gives me a sense of accomplishment on the job: Knowing I helped someone when they needed it.

The most important thing I’ve done on the job: Talking someone out of committing suicide.

Where I grew up: Dalton

Family: My wife, Alicia, and I have two sons, Deacon and Dawson. And a baby girl on the way.

After work, I enjoy: Watching my children play sports.

Community activities: Volunteering at my son’s schools and coaching tee-ball and youth soccer.

Favorite TV show: ESPN

Favorite sport/sport team: Georgia Bulldogs

Favorite meal: BBQ

Favorite song: “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin

Favorite Whitfield County restaurant: Lalos

Favorite Whitfield County event: Screen on the Green

You can pick four people to have dinner with (anyone from any time in history) – who are your four people and why?

  1. My Mom-Both parents passed away, would be nice just to see them again.
  2. My Dad-Both parents passed away, would be nice just to see them again.
  3. John F. Kennedy- Who wouldn’t want to have dinner with him?
  4. Herschel Walker- I would just like to sit there and listen to his stories about football.

I’m most proud of: My sons

Cats or dogs? One dog

Cake or pie? Strawberry pie

Favorite car? Land Rover

Host or be hosted? Host

Early riser or sleep-in: Early riser

Favorite vacation ever: Las Vegas

Best teacher you ever had: Mrs. Bramblett

Pet peeve: Procrastination

If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s: hard being an adult.

Who has had the most impact on my life: My Mom.

What’s left on my bucket list: Skydive

If I could have been in any profession of my choosing, I would have been a: Doctor

If I could have two wishes, they would be:

  1. For my family to be healthy
  2. No more gray hair

You’d be surprised to learn that I: Had breakfast with Brett Favre. Well kinda … he sat at a table next to me.

The best advice I ever got: Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.

Anything else you’d like to say: Go Dawgs!!



5,000-square-foot center dedicated in honor of Capt. Rick Swiney, who’s been with the sheriff’s office for 43 years



Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood congratulates Capt. Rick Swiney after announcing that the department’s new training facility would be named in his honor. Looking on are Maj. John Gibson (left) and Sgt. Tracy Davis. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

Years from now, area law enforcement officers will still be reaping the benefits of the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office’s new Training Center and Firing Range that was dedicated during a June 14 ceremony.

That was the word from Sheriff Scott Chitwood, who addressed a large crowd of area lawmen, county officials, and other well-wishers on a bright, sunny day outside the facility located on Old Prater’s Mill Road.

“This is a very special day for us,” the sheriff said. “This is going to be a facility that will be here for many, many years to come. When the time comes and we pass the torch off, we’re going to leave this facility and the jail in much better shape than when we entered law enforcement. The next generation’s going to have something to be proud of.”

Best of all, taxpayers didn’t have to foot the bill for the 5,000-square-foot facility, which was paid for with drug forfeiture funds. The metal and concrete block building features a large meeting room fitted with the latest technology, along with a kitchen, offices, restrooms, and storage rooms.

The site also still includes the firing range, the old training building, and the shooting house where instructors can oversee activity – all of which were also refurbished with funds seized from criminals. Construction and renovations totaled about $300,000, officials said.

Visitors talk inside the new Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office training facility on Old Prater’s Mill Road before a dedication ceremony on June 14. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

A highlight of the ceremony came when a sign outside the new building was uncovered, revealing that the facility was being dedicated to Capt. Rick Swiney, a 43-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office.

“I was totally shocked when I saw the new Sheriff’s Office Training Center and Firing Range was being dedicated to me,” Swiney said. “It was a total surprise, and a very humbling experience. It is a day and experience that I will always cherish. I appreciate Sheriff Chitwood and Major (John) Gibson for thinking of me and selecting me for such an honorable award. This administration has always been supportive to me and all the other employees of the sheriff’s office.”

Swiney said he has enjoyed his 43 years with the sheriff’s office, calling it a “very rewarding experience.”

“I work with a great group of officers who are very dedicated to their work,” he said. “They make coming to work each day an enjoyable experience.”

He also thanked his wife, Cathy, and other members of his family who were at the ceremony. “Cathy has always been by my side,” he said, “and supported me during my career at the sheriff’s office.”

Sheriff Scott Chitwood addresses the large crowd that gathered June 14 for the dedication ceremony for the new Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office Training Center and Firing Range. Standing to the right of the sheriff are Maj. John Gibson and Bishop Reuben Graham, one of the chaplains at the jail, who delivered a prayer of dedication. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

His wife and a select few who knew about the honor were sworn to secrecy by the sheriff, “and it was the hardest thing to keep a secret from him,” Cathy admitted. “They didn’t tell me till last week because I can’t keep a secret. To look at him all weekend, I had to turn my head.”

She said the whole family is proud of him. “He’s a humble man and doesn’t like attention,” she said. “We’ve been blessed, and it’s an honor.”

Sheriff Chitwood pointed out that he and Capt. Swiney are the only two remaining officers in the sheriff’s office to have worked in the old jail on South Hamilton, the old jail on Waugh Street, and the current facility.

“He’s been with me for 25 years,” the sheriff said. “Eight elections if I counted right that he has survived – that is unprecedented. He’s got 43 years – and I’m not hinting for him to leave – with not only the sheriff’s office but with Whitfield County. He’s the fourth most senior employee of Whitfield County.”

The sheriff’s office has been using the old training facility for about 30 years, including for the annual Old Timer’s Shoot where retired lawmen from throughout Georgia earn their federal concealed weapons carry permits.

One such retiree who attended last week’s dedication is Mike Key, a retired lieutenant with the Dalton Police Department.

“I did firearms training up here for many, many years with the police department,” Key said. “This new facility is state of the art – a super thing for not only the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office but law enforcement in the region. There’s a lot of people who come here and train – very convenient. It’s just got good people, good instructors, good facility, a very rare combination of things that came together – the donation of the property, the labor and the buildings, and the use of drug forfeitures to build it.”

Cutting the ribbon at the new training facility are (from left) Capt. Charles Bunch, Maj. John Gibson, Capt. Rick Swiney, Sheriff Scott Chitwood, Capt. Steve Fields, and Capt. Wesley Lynch. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

In the 1980s, local businessman Jim Boring and former Sheriff Jim Stafford reached an agreement that the old training facility and shooting range could be built on Boring’s land, for $1 rent each year.

“Last year, Jim’s son, Marcus Boring, was kind enough to sign the property over to us, so now this property belongs to the sheriff’s office,” Chitwood said, noting that transfer allowed the county to make improvements to the facility. “Marcus, thank you very much. He’s certainly a great friend and great supporter not only of me but of law enforcement in general, so again, Marcus, we thank you very much.”

The sheriff also praised the efforts of Maj. Gibson, calling it “almost a personal dream of his to have a training facility to train officers – he was very, very involved.”

Chitwood likewise lauded the work of Sgt. Tracy Davis, who did much of the construction work himself with the help of inmate work crews and the county Public Works department.

“After the concrete slab was poured, after the beams went up, after the steel went up on the building, it was basically turned over and Tracy brought the trustees up here,” the sheriff said. “It is amazing the talent, the skills that this guy has. He put the fence posts up, got the sod and laid it, planted the shrubbery, did the insulation, the wiring, the carpet, the tiles in the bathroom and kitchen, got the cabinets done, remodeled the old building, remodeled the shoot house out there. We got a real good deal with this guy over here – Tracy, thank you.”

Chitwood also applauded the Mashburn Foundation, which made a “very, very generous donation” that will pay for a decision-making / shooting simulator that will be installed in the coming weeks at the old training center. “This will highly, highly enhance the training of our officers for many, many years to come,” he said.




Bill Hester was among the six Northwest Georgia SORBA members who cleaned up fallen trees on a trail at a Civil War battle site in Whitfield County. SORBA is among the groups that are helping develop hiking and mountain bike trails on the property, which was the scene of the first altercation of the Atlanta Campaign in 1864.

The scene of a major Civil War battle in Whitfield County was the site of a recent tree cleanup, thanks to the efforts of Northwest Georgia SORBA, the local mountain bike advocacy group.

The “Buzzard’s Roost” property, located on Rocky Face Ridge east of I-75 just north of  Dalton, is approximately 1,000 acres acquired with a generous grant from the Civil War Land Trust, Whitfield County funds, Lyndhurst Foundation and other local funds.

Buzzard’s Roost is of significant archeological value, as it was the site of the Civil War Battle of Mill Creek, the first altercation of the Atlanta Campaign. The property also contains unique terrain, slopes and ridges, and scenic views that offer significant outdoor recreation opportunities to local and regional residents.

Whitfield County and Northwest Georgia SORBA have agreed to develop hiking and mountain bike trails on this property to enhance the outdoor recreation opportunities while preserving the historic Civil War entrenchments as a nationally significant cultural resource.

SORBA members have been doing hikes up from the Grant Farm property to the top of the ridge over the past year to assess how to progress with trail development.

“In doing that, we noted a lot of trees had fallen across the current hiking trail and on the rock earthworks,” said Ginnie Dasinger, a member of the SORBA board of directors. “Whenever we see trees across trails, it’s just in our nature to clean it up. Plus, it looks better and allows other hikers to stay on the trail and not make side routes around trails (that is bad for soil erosion).”

SORBA has six certified sawyers through the National Forest Service, and they recently went up on three occasions and cleaned all the trees off the trail that runs along the spine of the ridgeline, which is where most of the Civil War rockworks are located.

Marcus Moore was among the six Northwest Georgia SORBA members who cleaned up fallen trees on a trail at a Civil War battle site in Whitfield County. SORBA is among the groups that are helping develop hiking and mountain bike trails on the property, which was the scene of the first altercation of the Atlanta Campaign in 1864.

Volunteers doing the work were SORBA members Bill Hester, Chris Zimmerman, Marcus Moore, Steve Harrell, Chris Hohol, and Dasinger.

“We are extremely excited about the future potential of Buzzard’s Roost/Rocky Face Ridge from both a trail aspect and Civil War historic standpoint,” Dasinger said.

Northwest Georgia SORBA has developed a preliminary trail route for about eight miles of trail looping around the ridge, laid out using Department of Natural Resources maps of plotted historic earthworks and rockworks.

“We made sure not to cross the trail over any of those sites,” Dasinger said. “Plus, we are intentionally keeping the trail away from the major rock wall along the ridgeline. There is a trail that currently runs beside the wall, but it is hiking only and will remain so.”

SORBA is continuing to work with the local Historic Preservation Committee to place the trail in a mutually agreed upon route that avoids areas where major fighting occurred in the February and May 1864 battles.

The final trail route must be approved by an archeological assessment group, Civil War Trust, and Georgia Piedmont Land Trust before any actual trail work can begin.

Spectacular view from atop Rocky Face Ridge.

“There are huge checks and balances occurring with this project,” Dasinger said, “but this is understandable since this is somewhat of a new venture of combining mountain biking and historic preservation.”

Most of the trails, she said, will be on the ridge and not on the Grant property in the valley since this was an area of major fighting in the February campaign. The Grant property will primarily be hiking only.



Bi-annual Conasauga Drug Court Talent Show allows people recovering from addiction to demonstrate their talents to the community – and themselves.


Donnie Ensley chops wood in half with his bare hand. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

Life hasn’t always given them a lot of reasons to smile.

But there they were, the participants in the bi-annual Conasauga Drug Court Talent Show, smiling, laughing, clapping, and jumping to their feet.

Drug Court Judge Jim Wilbanks believes the show – held April 14 before a packed house at Whitfield County Administration Building No. 2 – will provide yet another stepping stone in the recovery of the 92 people in the program.

“The goal of the show,” he said, “was to pull these folks further outside of their comfort zones because to successfully get into recovery and stay in recovery, you’ve got to be outside of your comfort zone. Their comfort zone is addiction.”

The show featured a wide range of talents, ranging from soulful singers to accomplished artists, from a board-breaking kung-fu exhibition to craftsmen able to turn wood into beautiful signs and cabinets.

“I don’t see these folks except in court on Thursdays,” Wilbanks said, “and I saw them in a whole new light today. I saw people singing who I didn’t have any idea could sing. I met some artists today. I even got mentioned in a country music song. That is the first time that has ever happened! So it’s amazing. It’s a spiritual event. I mean, God was mentioned several times today, and participants know that spirituality is the foundation of their recovery.”

Emily Hixon sings (left), then beams with pride (above) as the audience voices approval. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

It is easy for others to try to tear down those in addiction, the judge said, “but that is the last thing in the world that they need. They need to be built up. They need to know that they are loved and that the community cares for them. That is what this program does.”

Indeed, loud applause and enthusiastic cheers rang out through the auditorium after each performance. Just look at some of the photos accompanying this story. You’ll see folks showing an outpouring of honest emotional support for their comrades and family members.

Wilbanks has seen the hard road these folks are traveling.

Many Drug Court participants hit rock bottom in their addiction. “They lost their homes. They lost their jobs. They lost their families. Their parents put them aside. Their brothers and sisters put them aside. Their children were taken away from them. They had absolutely nothing, so they come literally from the ground up,” the judge said. He hopes the talent show gives participants a way to show others, and themselves, that they are still valuable members of society.

“This is just another way to show them – Look, you are somebody. Look, you have talent. Look, you have ability. Look, you can kick the addiction and stay in recovery,” Wilbanks says. “This is all about reinforcing who they are as individuals because a lot of these folks don’t have any self-confidence at all. They’ve been told they’re bad… Trauma is so prevalent among those in addiction. They were sexually abused or physically abused or emotionally abused. Really, addiction is about people self-medicating because their reality is so bad. They do not have the tools to deal with it.”

Kristy Millsaps delivers some heart-felt soulful singing. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

But the Drug Court program aims to give people in addiction the tools necessary to turn their lives around.

“It’s about supporting Drug Court participants, NOT doing it for them,” Wilbanks emphasized. “I want to make sure everybody understands that. We don’t do anything FOR them, but we will give them the tools and resources to get in recovery and stay in recovery IF they want it.”

While most of a judge’s duties involve reacting to problems in people’s lives such as divorce, lawsuits, and crimes, Wilbanks says he enjoys the proactive nature of Drug Court.

“I’d rather be proactive,” he says. “I’d rather prevent the lawsuit. I’d rather keep families together. I’d rather prevent addiction – that’s what I’m about.”

Drug Court helps reunify families. The Judge – who has been leading Drug Court since January 2016, but has been involved since retired Judge Jack Partain started the program in February 2002 – says it still amazes him to witness mothers whose children were placed in foster homes or with family members who now are regaining custody of their children due to their successful recovery efforts. People work to get apartments, cars, and driver’s licenses. Judge Wilbanks sees Drug Court as a lifelong way to help people get into – and stay – in recovery.

“Once participants leave the program, they know they’re always welcome to come back here,” he said. “Our doors never close to them. We have an alumni program that is very successful. This is all about building the recovery community, and in building the recovery community, we are being a very positive influence on the whole community.”

Addiction affects men and women from every background and socio-economic status. Almost everyone knows someone who is affected by substance abuse and addiction. “Addiction is killing our community. It’s killing our families,” the judge says. “The Drug Court program is about being proactive and helping people get their lives back.”

Olivia McDonald shows her painting of a lion. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

To support efforts to help people proactively overcome their addiction, Wilbanks says it is important that someone on the Drug Court staff be available 24/7 to counsel participants in the program. All Drug Court participants take part in additional community-based support programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery, and local churches. Many participants find their spirituality and build connections to a church family during their recovery journey.

Events like the talent show are an integral part of the recovery process, he says.

“It takes a lot of guts to be in this show,” Wilbanks said. “Before they went up front they were all saying they were scared to death and nervous. It’s just butterflies, and I’m sure they all felt them. They were really outside of their comfort zones. But they did it! They did it, and everybody applauded and supported them and yipped and yelled and said ‘That’s great.””

Now the next time a Drug Court participant is faced with a difficult circumstance, whether it be performing again or walking down the street and seeing somebody from their past who is horrible for them, they’ve been empowered. They are strong enough now to keep walking and not respond to that person who was a negative influence in their life. They can just wave them off and keep walking.

“That,” the judge says, “is what it ultimately is all about.”




As Judge Jim Wilbanks stood outside Whitfield County Administrative Building No. 2 on a sunny spring morning last month, talking about the Drug Court program, he paused for a moment to greet one of its participants walking past.

Jose was on his way to his car with a sketch he had just shown in the annual Drug Court Talent Show.

“Jose, that is amazing,” the judge said.

A few seconds later, Wilbanks explained that Jose is beating his addiction and now works at a local restaurant – on his way up the management ladder after starting out as a dishwasher.

“He is well on his way to doing whatever God’s plan is for him,” the judge said.

The same could be said for hundreds of local people who have successfully turned their lives around in the Conasauga Drug Court program started by Judge Jack Partain in 2002 and now led by Wilbanks.

Here, in his own words, Judge Wilbanks explains how Drug Court works:

First, people get charged with a felony. Either the charge is possession of drugs or another felony related to their drug addiction. Many burglary charges in our circuit stem from addiction because people steal things in order to sell them to support their addiction. Those people – either through themselves, their families, or their defense attorney – make a request to join Drug Court through the District Attorney’s office (Susan Beck is our assistant DA who serves with our team).

Each person who requests to join Drug Court must meet certain eligibility criteria in order for the District Attorney’s office to recommend them for entry into the program. Once deemed eligible, candidates go through assessments with treatment staff to evaluate drug dependency and readiness for an intensive out-patient program.

Entry into the Drug Court program is completely voluntary. No one is forced to join. If the team determines that a person is eligible for entry into Drug Court and the person wants to join, that individual will be discussed at one of our weekly Drug Court staffing meetings. This meeting consists of representatives from probation, law enforcement, the District Attorney’s office, Public Defender’s office, Drug Court staff, and myself. Sometimes a detective or probation officer will say, “This is a bad dude. This is somebody who is actually involved in trafficking. He doesn’t just use them, and I don’t think he needs to be in the program.” I listen, and after having a discussion, I make a decision – either this person is not coming into the Drug Court program or this person is coming in. If he is not coming in, the conversation is over. If he comes into the program, he is placed on my docket.

The Conasauga Drug Court is a post-conviction program. That means that part of a participant’s sentence is that they are going to be on probation, and they are going to comply with the Drug Court contract that is a special condition of their probation. If they violate the Drug Court contract, then the balance of their sentence could be revoked and they could go to prison.

Once a person is in the program, we help determine where they are going to live and who they can and cannot have contact with. If they have contact with someone on the “no contact list” and we find out about it, they will be sanctioned. Sometimes a participant will come to me during a Drug Court meeting and say, “Judge, I need to add my sister to the list because I thought she was in recovery but she’s not and I need to stay away from her.” I’ll order her to stay away from her sister. I tell participants that I am happy to be the bad guy. This gives participants an out and a way to walk away from people who are bad influences.

I tell participants that the Drug Court staff will be involved in every aspect of their lives – where they live, who they live with, everything. We have several folks who stay at Providence Ministries because their home is full of people in addiction who are not seeking recovery. You cannot build recovery if somebody is living in a home that has addiction in it. So we get that individual moved into Providence. While they are there, we find them stable, clean, and sober housing. Once a participant moves into proper housing, then we’re off to the races.

The Conasauga Drug Court is a 24-month program. A lot of people are in it for longer than 24 months because of sanctions that set them back. Sometimes they get sent to PDC (Probation Detention Center). Sometimes we send folks who need more intensive residential treatment to Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) programs that are run by the Department of Corrections. RSAT is a nine-month program operated inside of prison where participants are monitored 24/7.

Our Drug Court is an outpatient program. Participants regularly report to the program directors and go home. We do not monitor them 24/7.  However, I do have three community-based law enforcement officers and probation officers who check on participants 24/7. Before participants enter the Drug Court program, I tell them “we’re all in your business. If you don’t like that, don’t come in the program. But we’re all in your business.” I mean that!

This program changes lives. A lot of participants have never had any structure in their lives. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline to stay straight. Somebody might call them on the phone and say, “Hey, I got a bag – let’s go use.” If they say yes, they are done. I had a participant who had been clean for 10 years! She told me her kids are 9, 11, 14 years old. She got a call from a friend who invited her to do meth. Sometimes people who are in recovery think, “I can handle this. I can do it one time and it’s not going to affect me.” You cannot do that with meth. I hear repeatedly that people can be addicted to meth after one use! This participant used meth for the first time in 10 years and she went off the cliff. Now she has lost her kids, her home, her relationship, and her job. She bottomed out again, and I had her in court yesterday. She’s coming into the Drug Court program.

I often ask participants how long they have been in addiction. They usually respond that they started using alcohol, marijuana, or their parents’ pain pills when they were 12, 13, or 14 years old. Then they tried meth, then somebody offered them some pills, and then they try cocaine or heroin. It’s just … 12, 13, 14 years old. It is astounding.

People can overcome their addiction and live full lives in recovery. The Conasauga Drug Court can help.

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As a result, property owners should see major reduction in their homeowner’s insurance bills


Property owners in Whitfield County can look forward to a big savings soon on their homeowner’s insurance bills, thanks to an upcoming change in the county’s ISO rating.

County Commission Chairman Lynn Laughter received word Friday from the Insurance Services Office, which said a recent analysis of the county’s fire suppression delivery system has been completed and Whitfield County’s ISO rating has dropped to a Class 3 from a Class 5.

“That’s huge,” said Whitfield County Fire Chief Ed O’Brien. “We had hoped to drop to a Class 4, so we are very excited to hear that we actually are going down to a Class 3.”

The new rating takes effect on Sept. 1.

“ISO’s Public Protection Classification Program plays an important role in the underwriting process at insurance companies,” said Alex Shubert, manager, National Processing Center, ISO. “In fact, most U.S. insurers – including the largest ones – use PPC information as part of their decision-making when deciding what business to write, coverages to offer, or prices to charge for personal or commercial property insurance.”

O’Brien said the new rating – which will place the county in the top 11 percent nationwide – should lead to lower insurance rates for homeowners and commercial property owners, by as much as 20 to 25 percent, and he urged residents to contact their insurance companies after Sept. 1 to be sure the change is reflected in their premiums.

“Earning a better ISO rating takes years of work,” O’Brien explained. “The department started as a full volunteer service back in the early ’70s, then it became a county department where one person was duty  at each station Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the rest of the time it was still volunteer. Then we moved to a 24-hour shift with one man on every truck, and now we’ve progressed to two men on every truck. It’s been a long, slow process.”

But one that has been well worth the effort, he said.

The chief  praised residents for being willing to fund an increase in staffing levels (to 25 firefighters from 14 per 24-hour shift) through the special fire tax, as well as approving the 2015 SPLOST that is paying for new radio communications equipment and two new ladder trucks, as well as new turnout gear and other badly needed equipment for firefighters.

“It’s not just, hey, let’s drop a lot of money in the fire department because we want a good one,” O’Brien said. “You actually get a reward if you have a good fire department – you pay less on your homeowner’s insurance.

“You can have a class 5 department and be okay with it and give the money to the large insurance companies,” he said, “or you can pay the money right here in your community and have a better class 3 department. That way you’ve got more people working, you’ve got the protection when these storms come through, and you have us running medical calls. I mean, there’s so much more than just fighting fire that we do.”

The new rating will affect a large portion of the county, though O’Brien did point out that four areas will remain at a higher ISO for now. “If a structure is more than five miles from a fire station, it’ll remain Class 10,” he said.

Two of those areas – Cohutta and Riverbend – should see lower ISO ratings when two new fire stations open in 2018, and homeowners along the Whitfield-Catoosa line could drop to a Class 5 rating if an automatic aid agreement with Catoosa is worked out.

“When you spend money on a fire department to improve your ISO rating,” the chief said, “you’re gonna see the result. Yeah, you may be paying the government more, but you’re saving in a different account in your home budget. And that’s what I think is just great about whoever built this ISO system.”



Last year, Whitfield County Fire Chief Ed O’Brien gathered the following data about potential insurance premium savings for the median home value here.

Class 5 department with frame construction, $150,000 value – premium is $843

Class 4 department with frame construction, $150,000 value – premium is $677

Savings of $166, or 24.5 percent reduction


Class 5 department with masonry veneer, $150,000 value – premium is $775

Class 4 department with masonry veneer, $150,000 value – premium is $625

Savings of $150, or 24 percent reduction



Insurance companies use ISO ratings to help establish fair premiums for fire insurance – generally offering lower premiums in communities with better protection. By offering economic benefits for communities that invest in their firefighting services, the ISO program provides an additional incentive for improving and maintaining public fire protection. Under the ISO program, called the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule, communities can score between 1 and 10, with Class 1 being the most exemplary and Class 10 being the least. Historically, residential communities with the worst ISO ratings have had fire losses that were more than twice the amount of losses in communities with the best ratings, according to studies conducted by ISO. Here’s how ISO comes up with the rating.

Fire Department (50 points) – Focus is on a community’s fire suppression capabilities based on the fire department’s first-alarm response and initial attack to minimize potential loss.

Water Supply (40 points) – ISO evaluates the community’s water supply system to determine the adequacy for fire suppression purposes. Also considered are hydrant size, type, and installation, as well as the frequency and completeness of hydrant inspection and flow-testing programs.

Emergency Communications System  (10 points) – A review of the emergency communications system focuses on the community’s facilities and support for handling and dispatching alarms for structure fires.

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Dalton Summer Concert Series returns on June 2nd

For the second year in a row the Downtown Dalton Summer Music Series returns to the Courtyard at Crescent City. The Series began last year and was a huge success. “We are hoping to exceed the success we had last year.” Said Anthony Luke, the Marketing Manager for the Dalton CVB. “There are several other organizations involved this year, and their help and input has been tremendous.”

The Summer Music Series is a collaborative effort between the Dalton Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creative Arts Guild, Dalton-Whitfield Community Foundation, and the Downtown Dalton Development Authority. The Series starts on Friday, June 2nd and takes place every Friday night through September 1st. There will be a variety of music genres from Southern Rock, to Mariachi, and much more. Specifics on each band can be found on

The Series will be held at The Courtyard at Crescent City (formally Peacock Alley), and begins each Friday night at 7:30 PM. For information go to or call 706-270-9960.

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Gabriel Benjamin of Tunnel Hill Elementary prompts emotional response from audience with his first-place DARE essay at 12th annual recognition program sponsored by Whitfield Sheriff’s Office, Kiwanis Club of Dalton


Gabriel Benjamin brought the audience to its feet – and a tear to the eyes of his listeners – after reading his award-winning essay at the 12th annual DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) recognition program held May 15 at the Dalton Trade Center.

Gabriel Benjamin of Tunnel Hill Elementary receives a standing ovation after reading his first-place DARE essay during the annual recognition program. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

“I will never do drugs because of all I have lost, and I hope you won’t either,” the Tunnel Hill Elementary fifth-grader wrote in his essay. “I am lucky to have a father who chose me over drugs, but I know there are some children who are put into foster homes with strangers and will never see their real family ever again because of drugs, either because they can’t quit or they’re in jail for a very long time.”

Benjamin’s essay was  honored as the best out of the hundreds written by this year’s DARE graduates from 13 elementary schools in the county.

“Can you imagine the courage that it takes to write an essay like this when you’re 10 years old?” emcee Terry Phelps asked the audience after listening to Benjamin  read his essay. “Wow! Great job!”

Benjamin (who has since turned 11 in February) and the other school-level winners were recognized and treated to a buffet lunch by the Kiwanis Club of Dalton and the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office.

As first-place winner for the county, Benjamin received a wooden plaque and a $100 cash prize. Arianna

The Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office and the Kiwanis Club of Dalton honored these fifth graders for writing the top DARE essays in their schools during the 12th annual DARE recognition program May 15 at the Dalton Trade Center. Pictured are (from left, front row) Rylie Pinson, Pleasant Grove Elementary; Octavia Woodward, Valley Point; Tina Quintanilla, Cedar Ridge, third place; Sandra Ramirez, Varnell; Rachel Mason, Cohutta; Tristyn Sutton, New Hope; Gabriel Benjamin, Tunnel Hill, first place; Abby Stanley, Antioch; Danahi Reza, Dug Gap; Litzy Reyes, Dawnville; Shea Poe, Beaverdale; and Amaya Cruz, Eastside; (back row) DARE leader Lt. Wayne Mathis, Deputies Nathan Center and Ron Kirby, Sgt. Tammy Silvers, Sheriff Scott Chitwood, and Sgt. Darlene Crider. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

Garcia of Westside, second-place winner and recipient of a plaque and $50 cash, was not able to attend the program because she has transferred to a school in another county. Tina Quintanilla of Cedar Ridge received a plaque and $20 cash for her third-place essay.

Other school-level winners who were recognized during the program – with family, school officials, and Kiwanians looking on – included:

  • Rylie Pinson, Pleasant Grove
  • Octavia Woodward, Valley Point
  • Sandra Ramirez, Varnell
  • Rachel Mason, Cohutta
  • Tristyn Sutton, New Hope
  • Abby Stanley, Antioch
  • Danahi Reza, Dug Gap
  • Litzy Reyes, Dawnville
  • Shea Poe, Beaverdale
  • Amaya Cruz, Eastside

E’lan Watson, who won the DARE essay contest in 2010 while at Varnell Elementary, returned to talk about how DARE has continued to influence her life, even as she is slated to graduate from The Baylor School in June and head to Auburn University in the fall where she plans a double major in Spanish and Business Analytics.

“This time seven years ago I was sitting in this room about to read my DARE essay for the county competition,” Watson recalled. “When I won I was of course overwhelmed with feelings of pride and joy and excitement because I accomplished something that was so important to me. I wanted to win primarily because my older sister won two years before me.

E’lan Watson, who wrote the first-place DARE essay as a fifth grader from Varnell Elementary School in 2010 , returned to talk at this year’s recognition program about how DARE has continued to influence her life. She is slated to graduate in June from The Baylor School. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

“But now I realize that my DARE experience was much more than a contest,” she said. “DARE has been an extremely important part of my life. It’s more than a program about substance abuse; it teaches important life skills like decision-making. It has completely altered the way I make decisions and approach situations.”

Watson said she even used DARE to write her college essay.

“The essay question was similar for all applications: tell a story of an event that has changed your life and turned you into the person that you are today. I immediately thought of the DARE program. I remember making a promise to Officer Silvers and myself to remain completely drug and alcohol free, and I have no intentions of ever breaking my vital promise. I think the most important thing I’ve learned from this entire experience is that knowledge is power. There’s a quote that I love by Anton Chekhov that reads: ‘Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.’

“I think that’s important to keep in mind, especially for the fifth graders that are about to start this really exciting journey into middle school,” Watson said. “Remember what you learned and don’t be afraid to teach others the value of the DARE program. Also don’t be afraid to say no.”

Jarrod Wright, a student at Southeast Whitfield High School, spoke about his role as a state representative for the youth advisory board for the DARE program and offered words of encouragement to the fifth graders.

E’lan Watson, who wrote the first-place DARE essay as a fifth grader from Varnell Elementary School in 2010 (shown reading that essay seven years ago), returned to talk at this year’s recognition program about how DARE has continued to influence her life. She is slated to graduate in June from The Baylor School. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

“As you go through your life, things will get tough and you’ve got to make sure that just because you wrote an essay doesn’t mean that you’re automatically drug free,” Wright said. “You have to make that promise to yourself and keep going with it all the way through your whole life, really.”

Sheriff Scott Chitwood said that over the past 26 years, the DARE program has reached more than 26,000 youngsters. “As I said at graduation, are we making a difference? I think so because if we save one life, that was worth it,” he said.

The sheriff thanked County School Superintendent Dr. Judy Gilreath and the schools for allowing the DARE instructors to come onto their campuses and teach the DARE program. He praised the school-level winners, saying “these are products of the Whitfield County School System. These are outstanding young men and women, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

DARE instructor Sgt. Tammy Silvers said the program “is all about the kids, and them putting forth that effort and making that commitment to us that they’re going to stay drug free and they’re going to make good choices in their lives. That’s going to lead to a good track in life.

“If you want to be successful in life,” she said, “you have to follow through and think about the things you are doing in making good choices, choosing your friends wisely. That’s what this is all about is laying that foundation for these kids to make good choices in life.”

She called the essay winners “the cream of the crop,” but pointed out that their victory is just the beginning of their journey. “This is where you take your knowledge and you use it for the rest of your life,” she said, “and you start making those good choices and it’s an everyday thing. You have to do it for the rest of your life.”

Fellow instructor Sgt. Darlene Crider called the essay winners “the leaders” of their schools.

“You see where all these adults are sitting today?” she said. “You may be sitting in one of these places one day or even something else that is your dream. You follow your dreams, but in order to get there, you have to make good decisions and we said that over and over and over in class. You can make one bad decision in your life and it’ll follow you the rest of your life. We don’t want that to happen, so start here.

“You’re going to middle school and on to high school and college,” Crider said, “and do whatever it is that you want to do in life. So you have to start somewhere – you just started, you made a great decision, you wrote a good essay, and  you’ve promised everyone that was sitting in your classroom, your teachers, your principals, your officers, and  your friends, most of all yourself.

“I say this to my students: who is going to be with you for the rest of your lives? Not us. We will be supporting you, and we’ll be there if you need us. But you will be everywhere you are for the rest of your life, so it has to be your decision and if you make a bad one, you’ll stand accountable for that decision. So make good ones.”



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