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Drive-by for Your Flu Shot in North Georgia

By Jennifer King:

North Georgia – Get your flu shot to go at one of six public health Drive-by Flu Shot Clinics coming soon to North Georgia. Just roll in, roll up a sleeve and arm against the flu this season while helping prepare communities for disaster!

Since 2008, public health departments in Cherokee, Fannin, Gilmer, Murray, Pickens and Whitfield Counties have conducted the annual Drive-by Flu Shot Clinics, serving residents safely, quickly and efficiently as they remain in their vehicles.

The four-in-one quadrivalent flu vaccine and the Fluzone High Dose vaccine for people sixty-five and older will be available at the clinics.

Quadrivalent flu vaccine protects people against four different strains of flu, including two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses.

The Fluzone High-Dose flu vaccine is for people 65 years of age and older because it has four times the amount of protective antigen for immune systems that tend to weaken with age.

The cost of the quadrivalent flu shot is $25 and the Fluzone High-Dose flu shot is $65. Cash, Medicare, Medicaid, Aetna, BlueCross BlueShield Health and United Healthcare Insurance will be accepted along with other forms of payment and insurance, depending on the county.

The Drive-by Flu Shot Clinics are for people ages 18 and over.

While arming residents against the flu at the Drive-by Flu Shot Clinics, public health staff and community partners test their plans for standing up a temporary Point of Dispensing (POD) to rapidly administer medication during a public health crisis. Participating community partners include local law enforcement, volunteers, businesses and first responders such as the county Emergency Management Agency, Emergency Medical Services and Fire Department.

This year, the Drive-by Flu Shot Clinics are scheduled in each county, as follows:

  • Cherokee:  Tuesday, September 26th, 9 A.M. – 2 P.M., *Woodstock City Church: 150 Ridgewalk Parkway, Woodstock, GA. Call (770) 928-0133 or (770) 345-7371 for more details.  *Please note this NEW Location for the Drive-By Flu Shot Clinic in Woodstock
  • Pickens:  Wednesday, September 27th, 8:30 A.M. – 3:30 P.M., Mt. Zion Baptist Church: 1036 North Main Street, Jasper, GA. Call (706) 253-2821 for more details.
  • Fannin: Thursday, September 28th, 9 A.M. – 3 P.M., The Farmers Market: East First Street, Blue Ridge, GA. Call (706) 632-3023 for more details.
  • Whitfield: Tuesday, October 3rd, 9 A.M. – 5 P.M., Dalton Convention Center: 2211 Dug Gap Battle Road, Dalton, GA. Call (706) 226-2621 for more details.
  • Gilmer:  Thursday, October 5th, 8 A.M. – 3 P.M., Pleasant Grove Baptist Church: 115 Pleasant Grove Road, Ellijay, GA. Call (706) 635-4363 for more details.
  • Murray: Tuesday, October 10th, 8 A.M. – 6 P.M., Murray County Parks and Recreation Department: 651 Hyden Tyler Road, Chatsworth, GA. Call (706) 695-4585 for more details.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations. The more people who get vaccinated, the more people will be protected from flu, including older people, very young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions who are more vulnerable to serious flu complications.

The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination. The most convenient way to get that vaccination in North Georgia is at the nearest public health Drive-by Flu Shot Clinic.

For additional details about the Drive-by Flu Shot Clinics, call the local county health department or log onto To learn more about influenza and flu protection, log onto the CDC’s website at

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10-year veteran at Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office Detention Center honored as Employee of the Month for July


By Mitch Talley:

If you need some clothes, a helping hand, good advice, or just a positive outlook on life, look no further than Officer Bill Robbins of the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office Detention Center.

That’s the word from four of his fellow lawmen who successfully nominated him for Whitfield County Employee of the Month for July.

“Officer Robbins is the type of person to give the shirt off his back if someone needed it more,” Sgt. Jason Tatum said. “He is also a positive role model for the new employees to the Detention Center. You will never hear a negative comment from him, and he gives everything he has day in and day out.”

Robbins has been involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program here for years and has been a foster parent to several children, adopting three and raising them in a loving home.

“Bill is the poster man of a genuine good person,” Tatum said. “He uses this to mentor new officers and often is the person that you go to for advice or if you just need someone to talk to. Bill will be there to help carry any burden that you may need help with. In my opinion, these are very special skills limited to only a handful of people each of us will ever meet.”

Lt. David Pickett said that Robbins helped develop the sanitation practices for the Detention Division and that his attention to detail is amazing. “Bill can tell if even the smallest detail is not correct or out of place,” Pickett said.

Capt. Wesley Lynch praised Robbins as a “dedicated employee who displays a great deal of love for his work as well as for his fellow employees.”

“He is unfailingly conscientious and helpful to others,” Lynch said, “and is dedicated to assisting his co-workers in any way he can. Officer Robbins is always respectful to other staff as well as to the inmates of the facility. Bill maintains excellent attendance and is on time regularly and consistently. He works hard to make sure that all of his co-workers are taken care of and makes great strides in ensuring a positive workplace.”

Lynch said Robbins’ most significant performance issue is his humility and the great concern that he shows for his fellow workers.

“Part of a positive work environment is a culture of mutual respect and cooperation,” Lynch said. “Bill goes far, far out of his way to make sure that he does right by others and that he is respectful of others’ feelings. Bill genuinely cares about the people that he works with and also acts as an arbiter when others have conflicts at work. He works hard at both his job functions and in achieving a respectful workplace.”

Sgt. Stanley Graham Williams called Robbins “a great employee to the county,” noting he always has “a great attitude and a smile on his face.”

“When called in for overtime or a special detail, he will always come in,” Williams said. “He has even changed his plans on several occasions to fill in on a shift so that they wouldn’t be short staffed. Bill is the person that would give you the shirt off of his back if you needed it, even if he knew he needed it more than you.”

To help local residents learn more about him, Robbins filled out the following fun questionnaire.

Name: Bill Robbins

Job title: Detention Officer / Deputy

Time with the county: 10 years

Where I went to high school: North Marion High School, Ocala, Fla.

My role as a county employee: To maintain safety and security at the jail.

What keeps my job interesting:  Every day is different with new tasks and challenges.

What gives me a sense of accomplishment on the job: Completing my goals for the day and feeling like I did a good job.

The most important thing I’ve done on the job: Looking out for the safety of my fellow officers.

Where I grew up: Ocala, Fla.

Family: Wife Vickie, sons Bradley and Julian, daughters Tracie and Courtney

After work, I enjoy: Spending time with my family.

Community activities: Habitat for Humanity

Favorite TV show: History Channel

Favorite sport/sport team: Football

Favorite meal: Steak

Favorite song: “Land of Confusion” by Genesis

Favorite Whitfield County restaurant: Chili’s

Favorite Whitfield County event: Prater’s Mill

I’m most proud of: Working for the Sheriff’s Office

Cats or dogs? Dogs

Cake or pie? Pie

Favorite car? Camaro

Host or be hosted? Be hosted

Early riser or sleep-in: Early Riser

Favorite vacation ever: Fishing in Florida

Pet peeve:  Laziness

If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s:  PERSEVERANCE.

Who has had the most impact on my life:  Ronald Reagan

What’s left on my bucket list:  Travel the U.S.

If I could have been in any profession of my choosing, I would have been a: Same job I have now

If I could have two wishes, they would be: Good health and peace.

The best advice I ever got: Fight through it.




Whitfield County Director of Communications


Working in the Whitfield County Tax Assessor’s Office, Lori Rowlette goes to great lengths to assist the taxpayers of the county.

That’s the word from one of the four co-workers who successfully nominated Rowlette as Whitfield County Employee of the Month for June.

Rowlette has achieved her Appraiser II certification from the Georgia Department of Revenue and is working towards her Appraiser III certification, scheduled to take the exam in August, as she strives to do an even better job for local residents.

Compliments from her fellow workers who nominated her for the award include:

“Lori has knowledge of all aspects of the office. She is willing to assist in any task asked.”

“Excellent customer service!”

“Very knowledgeable of rules and regulations on taxation and guiding taxpayers through the process of filing Business Personal Property and Freeport returns with courtesy and professionalism.”

“Lori is an expert on Freeport Exemption.”

Rowlette is also very active in charity activities, including the United Way Halloween Costume Contest, United Way Bake Sale, and Office Christmas Child, as well as helping with meals for office socials.

To help local residents learn more about her, Rowlette filled out the following fun questionnaire.

Name: Lori Rowlette

Job title: Personal Property Appraiser

Time with the county: Going on 11 years

Where I went to high school: Winder Barrow High School in Winder

My role as a county employee: Appraise business assets and the Freeport Exemption

What keeps my job interesting: It’s a new challenge every day plus I get to work with a wide cross section of people. It’s always interesting.

What gives me a sense of accomplishment on the job: Being able to help people.

The most important thing I’ve done on the job: Helping to demystify what we do and letting people know that we care about them and the county.

Where I grew up: My Dad was in the U.S. Air Force so we moved a lot. I counted one time that I had moved over 20 times by my 18th birthday, but Northwest Georgia has always been home.

Family: Single/never married – no children but 12 nieces and nephews

After work, I enjoy: Reading, listening to music, baking, DIY around my house and enjoying the mountains around our area

Community activities: Helping people when I can

Favorite TV show: Supernatural

Favorite sport/sport team: UGA

Favorite meal: I would love to have a spread like my family used to fix for Meemaw’s birthday. You would gain 20 pounds walking in her back door. It was a mix between Christmas dinner  and a cook out. Uncle Max would not eat for three days before the meal and would create a moat of food around the edge of the plate then fill the center in. I miss those meals.

Favorite song: It’s a tie between “Runaway” by Del Shannon and “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King.

Favorite Whitfield County restaurant: Town Square Café – Jennie is a sweetheart

Favorite Whitfield County event: I’ll have to say the employee luncheon. Starting in late summer/early fall our office is taken over by the decorations. It’s always neat to see what ideas Jennifer Jones comes up with.

You can pick four people to have dinner with (anyone from any time in history) – who are your four people and why? Oh Lord that’s a hard one. My late brother Michael Rowlette, Peter Carl Faberge because of his jewelry designs, Dale Chihuly to talk about his glass sculptures, hmmm the last one is a tie between William Morris and Frank Lloyd Wright since I’ve always been intrigued by their designs.

I’m most proud of: Never giving up and always trying to improve myself

Cats or dogs? Dogs

Cake or pie? Cake

Favorite car? 1965 Shelby Cobra

Host or be hosted? Host

Early riser or sleep-in: Lol, depends on the day of the week and my internal clock

Favorite vacation ever: Visiting New Orleans prior to Katrina circa 2000.

Best teacher you ever had: Oh this is a tough one. I have two. Mrs. Ann Landress who taught art at WBHS and Mrs. Jett who taught clothing at WBHS.

Pet peeve: Rude people and bad drivers.

If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s: Never give up and things are going to get better, just have to have faith.

Who has had the most impact on my life: My Dad. He is my rock. He is the one who introduced me to art and architecture.

What’s left on my bucket list: Lol, the whole bucket. Going to Murano, Italy and get lost among all the glass studios. Visiting Scotland and tracing where my family has come from. Just exploring the world.

If I could have been in any profession of my choosing, I would have been a: A jewelry designer or historical preservationist.

If I could have two wishes, they would be: To meet my granddaddy Clayton Rowlette and see my loved ones who are no longer with us.

You’d be surprised to learn that I: Have taken classes to be a certified gemologist through GIA  (Gemological Institute of America). I’m also learning how to make lamp work glass beads. Yes, me – an open flame plus molten glass!

The best advice I ever got: Take a deep breath and think before you speak.


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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